London Landmarks Half Marathon – Race Report

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SHAEF Shifters Running Club
by Elena

Being ever hopeful that my application for this year’s London Marathon would be successful (it wasn’t), I took up the invitation from the RSPCA in January to run the London Landmarks Half Marathon to kick start my running year and get back into the groove, post Christmas. My only previous half was in the New Forest in September 2021, when I’d followed a Runner’s World training plan and achieved a time of 2:04:34. So I resolved to train for sub 2 hours, which given the flat course, should be doable. As the proud owner of a new-ish Garmin Forerunner 245 Music, I looked into the Garmin Coach functionality and selected Greg McMillan to get me through the training. I was pretty impressed with the process: select your race date, select how many times a week you can train, any days you can’t do, when you want to do your long run, and Garmin fills out a training schedule for you. You do a benchmark run up front to assess where you are to begin with. I’m a bit of a control freak, so having a great plan to follow really appealed to me. But if you do skip a run or need to change something, it adjusts to keep you on track – perfect! And the ultimate beauty for me, is that all you need with you is your watch. It takes you through your warm up at an easy pace, then beeps instructions and paces at you as and when needed. Really simple to follow, and I was reassured by reports online that others had successfully followed Garmin Coach.
I opted to train five days a week for 14 weeks, and would do yoga and strength training on my rest days. I was surprised that most of the running was at a steady pace, with fairly minimal speedwork. You can only see a week ahead on the plan, so you don’t worry too much about what’s coming up. And the training runs are interspersed with useful articles and videos to watch to maximise your chances of success. Lots of handy stuff about nutrition, rest days, gear, staying motivated – I found it all brilliant. I did find some of the speed work challenging and my other half was questioning whether if I struggled to run for half an hour at goal pace in training, I would be able to manage two hours on race day. I said I trusted the plan. But I also searched online and found some criticism of Garmin Coach and began to worry around week 11 whether my steady training would backfire. My watch began telling me some of my runs were ‘unproductive’ and I wondered if the plan had been a bad idea after all. Anyway, I was by now aiming for 1:56:00 so I thought even if I mess it up, I should still manage sub 2, which would still be good. 
In the weeks running up to the race, I bought myself a fab Evadict 10L trail running bag from Decathlon, which I really love, and totally recommend. It was a trade up from a bum bag and allows me to take up to 2 litres of water without the faff of getting a bottle out. Strava was reminding me that I’d done more than enough running in my Asics, so I popped to Up & Running and decided to try New Balance for a change. Happy to get my Shaef 15% discount! (Although I blew it on two pairs of blister busting socks). An injured friend had donated a stash of out of date Maurten gels to me, so I was pretty much all set.
Having read Born To Run last year, I’ve been making the ‘chia fresca’ drink before my long runs, and absolutely had to have this on the day. You make it the night before with 3 tbsp chia seeds, a good squirt of agave syrup, the juice of one lime and 500ml water. Overnight the chia seeds swell and get a bit frogspawny and gloopy, but if you embrace the gloop, it’s quite delicious! I had a week off the booze before the big day, and slept really well the night before.
Despite the wobble that my training plan might not work, I woke up on Sunday 3 April feeling excited, optimistic and was raring to go. I had scrambled eggs on toast for breakfast and packed a banana and my chia fresca to have closer to the start time. Although I’d pretended I didn’t care if anyone came to watch or not, I was delighted to have my fan club of two to support me – husband, David and my eldest, Xav. It was a chilly start forecast to be around 3 degrees I think, and I was glad of the advice from the LLHM organisers to wear a top at the start that could be left behind and donated to charity. I have to say that all of the organisational material sent before the race was excellent, as was the actual organisation on event day.
The train and tube journey was smooth and uneventful, and the race waves organised in pens according to expected finish time was great. There was no bunching up and the runners were nicely spread out. As a massive charity event, the crowds, cheerleaders and entertainment was almost overwhelming. I did feel quite emotional at the start and welled up a bit. But I soon pulled myself together as we got over the start mats. I had decided to give Garmin’s PacePro a whirl and set myself target km splits starting at 5:40 and ticking down one second per km to 5:22 at the finish. Fellow Shaefer Matt Rogers had warned me that GPS reception was poor in places on the course, which I was grateful to know.
I felt absolutely fantastic from start to finish. I made sure not to get carried away and go too fast at the start. I stayed hydrated and got through one snack bar and two Maurtens during the race. I basically enjoyed the ride. All of the entertainment laid on was a bit of an assault on the senses, but I loved it! Although the quiet moments were welcome too. The bit I didn’t really take on board was all of the London sights, because I was trying to stay focussed. I think the map will do a better job of describing the course than me:
My pacing seemed to be going like a dream. My Garmin PacePro was telling me kilometre after kilometre that I had banked spare seconds until I was almost up to 3 minutes ahead of schedule with only about a couple of km to go. There was a lady in a neon top that I had been yoyo-ing in front of and behind for quite a while. Although I had all this banked time, I could see she was putting on a good finish, so I decided not to let her go and kept my pace going as best I could. She pipped me at the line, and I was astonished to see that rather finishing 3 minutes ahead of my target time, I’d only just scraped 1:55:38 – 22 seconds inside my target time. I realised that the messed up GPS reception must have somehow affected PacePro, so I had been running with a totally false sense of security! With hindsight, I actually think that the confidence it gave me was beneficial as I just felt like I was flying along, rather than battling to hit my time. And thank goodness for Neon Lady who kept me fighting to the end!
Chuffed to bits with my race and with raising £500 for the RSPCA. My takeaways would be:
1 Take the time to find or create a training plan that you feel happy with and can commit to.
2 Practise everything you can beforehand – your gear, your refuelling and your tech.
3 Stay as positive as you can in your training and on race day…and don’t beat yourself up if things aren’t perfect.
Full marks to LLHM for a great course, location, organisation, supporters and fab weather.
I missed out on the London Marathon, so I booked for Amsterdam 2022 instead. Anyone up for it???
Splits according to Garmin
1- 5:35
2- 5:25
3- 5:36
4- 5:19
5- 5:19
6- 5:12
7- 5:22
8- 5:16
9- 5:32
10 - 5:19
11 - 5:27
12 - 5:59
13 - 4:49
14 - 5:41
15 - 4:56
16 - 5:10
17 - 5:27
18 - 5:14
19 - 5:29
20 - 5:23
21 - 5:20
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SHAEF Shifters Running Club
SHAEF Shifters Running Club @shaef_shifters

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