Heartbreaker Half Marathon

Heartbreaker bib and medal

The first time I ran the Heartbreaker Half Marathon (14 miles) was in February 2012. The course changed slightly in 2012 to remove a downhill start and move the turnaround point, so that it is now 13.1 miles and not almost 14 miles, however, that hasn’t affected my time very much:

  • 2012 2:16:56
  • 2013 2:14:53

I chose not to run the race last year, but Stuart persuaded me to enter this year as he thought it would be a good preparatory race for him as he’s doing London Marathon in April.

Heartbreaker Half Marathon route

The course is quite picturesque. It takes place in the New Forest and most of it runs along a ridgeway. Essentially, the course is shaped like a capital T – runners start at the bottom of the letter, run up the ‘stem’, turn left and head out to the east, before turning around and heading across the top of the letter to the west, then turning around until the ‘stem’ and heading for home. (That’s not my best description – it might be easier to look at the map).

My aspirations

My goals for today were to beat my previous times and to go under 2:10. An optimistic goal was to go under 2:05, with an optimistic goal of going under 2:00… however, having been ill recently, I knew that would be a very optimistic goal.

Race prep

We got up early and I ate a bowl of apple and cinnamon porridge before we headed out to the car. We had a hailstorm last night and then when the temperatures dropped overnight, everything froze, so the pavements were quite slippery. Stu’s car was also covered in ice, but the magic of a heated windscreen and wing mirrors meant that we didn’t have to scrape the ice off (I wish my car had such luxurious features!)

I had checked the weather forecast several times: dry, but cloudy until midday when rain was expected. The New Forest looked beautiful as we drove out to the start of the race. We had to arrive quite early to collect our race numbers and didn’t want to get in the way of the marathon runners who were to start at 9am. Fortunately, we didn’t have to arrive quite as early as the marshals. My friend, Donna, from tri club, was helping out at the event and she managed to snap several beautiful shots (including the one below) before getting down to work.

View of Godshill with early morning sky
© Donna Lovelock, 2015

Waiting around before the start

We parked the car at the campsite (which is humorously called ‘Sandyballs‘) and said hello to various members of Lordshill Road Runners before heading off to race registration. I was given number 543, which I pinned to my SOAS vest. Stu and I then went to sit in the briefing room to wait for 45 minutes.

It wasn’t long before we were joined by some other runners that we knew. I also saw some running celebrities, including Martin Yelling and Steve Way. (I’m told that Tony Audenshaw [who records the ‘Tony’s Trials’ section of Marathon Talk] was also there, but although I recognise the sound of his voice, I’ve never seen Emmerdale [the soap opera that he appears in], so I have no idea what he looks like.

There was a lot of discussion about what people were going to wear, based on the ice outside. However, I didn’t think the temperature was too bad. As a consequence, I had opted to wear my SOAS vest, a pair of double-layer shorts and calf guards. I chose not to wear gloves or a headband. I thought I would probably warm up so much on the first hill that I wouldn’t need them. My main acessory was my inhaler, which was definitely a good move as I was so nervous at my last race without it! Most of my friends were wearing long tights and long-sleeved tops. Many of them were also wearing jackets, gloves and hats. This made me start to question my choice, but I know that I get a lot hotter than most of my friends when I run.

…and they’re off

Eventually, it was time to start. We were led down to the bottom of a deep ravine and then the race started. I tried to pace myself cautiously as I knew how hard I had found the first hill previously, so I started with a 6:27/km pace. This turned out to be a sensible move as it didn’t take me long for me to recover my breathing.

After leaving the campsite, we turned to the east and headed out along the road. After a few minutes, I was passed by Lisa, a club mate. I know that she is running very well, so I didn’t try to stick with her. We then turned off the main road and out onto a forest trail. It was a lovely long downhill… but it was also a little daunting as we could see the long uphill that came after it… and there were already runners all of the way up the next hill.

It takes a while for my breathing to relax, so I found the long hill quite challenging. At one stage, a runner I know who is 30 years older than me came alongside me, which made me want to fight harder and push on. Finally, I was onto a flat section, when Jenny a friend from Southampton Tri Club and Run camp said hello to me. I had completely forgotten that Jenny was doing this race. I tried to keep Jenny in my sights and when we came to the next downhill, I was able to pass her again. A male runner called out something about taking care of my knees, but I love running downhill and didn’t intend to slow down.

Water – to cross and to drink

Then came a section that I had been dreading – a river. It’s not large, but I knew I would have to cross it and that it would be cold. One year, it was so dry that I could leap it, but not this year. Fortunately, I was able to spring across fairly quickly and didn’t notice my feet getting wet.

On the next uphill section, another member of LRR, Paul, passed me. Again, I decided not to try to stick with him as I wanted to maintain a steady race and just do the best that I could do. Chasing someone else’s time would jeopardise my ability to stay strong until the end.

We then arrived at the aid station, where we had to turn left to head out along the ridgeway. I love this part of the course as the runners all pass each other and shout encouragement (especially as there were already plenty of marathoners out there). It’s also very difficult to see who is running the marathon and who is doing the half – maybe next year the organisers could give people different coloured numbers.

Heartbreaker Half Marathon is a sociable race

I was watching out for runners I knew and managed to spot Andy Griggs, but I couldn’t work out how close to the front he was. It looked like maybe he was about 5th. Then I saw Mike Akers, who also looked to be having a strong race. Stu was aiming for a steady tempo run as part of his marathon training, so it was a little while before I saw him. He looked to be running well, which was a relief as he has had severe back problems recently. A short while after Stu, I saw Steve who I used to lead a running group with. He looked like he was running really well, so I felt pleased for him.

Lisa was just ahead of me at the turnaround point and I was then able to see how far ahead of my other friends I was. It was lovely being able to shout hello and cheer on Jenny, Gary, Carol, Paul, Sarah, Rachel, Loraine, Sharon, Cary, Inez and Mike D. I also cheered on a couple of girls who had spoken to me at the start and told me that it was their first half marathon. I didn’t know their names, but hope that my words of encouragement helped them.

Inspired by my friends

The path back to the aid station included a steep uphill. I ran up most of it, but decided to conserve energy and power walk some of it. Fortunately, I didn’t feel the need to walk for long and was soon running again. Gary passed me on the hill and looked to be catching up with Lisa. When I got to the aid station, Lisa was having a drink and Gary was tucked behind a bush! I grabbed a cup of water and chose not to stop, but I knew that Gary and Lisa would pass me again soon.

As I expected, Gary and Lisa passed me, but I didn’t mind as I was enjoying myself. We had had a tiny bit of drizzle that had cooled me down and the sun was starting to peep out from the clouds. I kept watching for my club mates, but the very fastest ones had already passed by. I was delighted when I saw Stu and he was still looking strong.

The path to the west felt like it was going on forever, so I was happy when I saw the long downhill to the turnaround point. I ran down it as quickly as I could. It felt great to be passing other runners. At the turnaround point, I could see Gary and Lisa. This helped to spur me on and I knew that I would see plenty of other friends as I was heading back.

When the going gets tough…

As I neared the top of the hill, I could see an official race photographer. Why do they do that? It’s so mean! There was nothing for it, but to grit my teeth, smile and do my best to run with perfect form… however, I haven’t seen the photos yet, so I probably still look terrible!

When I got back to the aid station, I took a sip of energy drink and also some water. I had no idea what the energy drink was and I can’t even remember the flavour, but my stomach is generally fine with such things. In hindsight, I probably should have drunk more, but I didn’t want to stop. I headed down the hill towards the river. Unfortunately this time two men were crossing it very gingerly, so I had to slow down. This meant that I didn’t spring through it and my feet got wet 🙁

…the tough get going

I was starting to get tired, but I would not let myself slow down as I knew that wouldn’t help, so I just kept pushing myself to catch up with whoever the next person ahead was. On the last big descent, I passed a few men who gave me a cheer and encouraged me. I knew I had to make the most of it as my legs were feeling strong, but my lungs weren’t. I did my best to charge up the final hill. Halfway up, I knew that I was slowing significantly. I decided that I would walk as quickly as I could for 100 steps and then would start running again at that point, no matter where I was. Fortunately, this strategy worked and I was back in my stride by the top of the hill.

I turned left back out onto the road and was pleased that I was nearly back at the campsite. Unfortunately, I was also feeling really tired by this point and although it was mainly downhill, I just couldn’t muster up any more energy. Also, the road had become quite busy. There were uneven grass verges at the side of the road and the gutter at the edge of the road was made of rough paving, so running in the road was preferable, but the traffic meant this was not possible.

My Heartbreaker Half Marathon support crew

I was really starting to flag when Stuart arrived. I hadn’t expected him to run back as he has had back problems, but he decided to extend his run and come for me anyway – what a hero! Stu had a bottle of water with him, so I took a sip. I also asked him if he had a gel, but he didn’t have one on him. He said a few encouraging things and kept reminding me of how close I was to the finish.

Eventually, we could see the turn into the campsite. Donna was waiting there cheering people on. I put on a massive final sprint (registered at 3:07/km on my Garmin), so that I looked strong crossing the mat.

My result

I had done it! My final time was 2:04:21, so I achieved almost all of my goals. It’s 12 minutes slower than my HM PB, but it was a tough course!

I received a lovely medal and a bottle of water. Baggage collection was mercifully swift as it started raining hard shortly after I finished. I quickly put on my hoodie and tracksuit trousers, but that wasn’t enough to stop me from getting cold. I had the free soup and roll that was on offer, but Stu and I decided not to make use of the swimming pool and hot tub as we were both tired and just wanted to go home. Overall, the Heartbreaker Half Marathon is a great race.

Heartbreaker Half Marathon bib and medal

My Garmin data shows that my average pace was 5:55/km, which I was pleased with. My fastest pace (excluding the final sprint) was 3:27/km, which was when I got to a lovely downhill. I LOVE downhill running – it’s so much fun! Sadly, this is a net uphill course, with a 337m elevation gain.

I’m now feeling tired, but happy (and no, I don’t intend to have a spliff to help me push on to a longer distance next time – Marathons and marijuana: the loneliness of the long-distance dopehead!)

Well done to Andy Griggs for finishing 2nd overall (1:24 ahead of Martin Yelling!) and to Mike Akers for finishing 11th. Coach Carol from LRR was 3rd female Supervet (what a great category name!) Despite Stu’s plan of ‘jogging it’, he finished in 1:36:03 and was 21st. I was 138/272… which is frustrating as I was hoping to finish in the top half. However, I was 27/111 females and 17/98 in my category, so that’s not so bad!

What’s next?

Salisbury 10 mile race logo

My next race will be Salisbury 10 mile on 8th March. I’ve had mixed experiences at this race. It is my 10 mile PB course (87:44 in 2013), but I’ve also had some horrible runs there on the two years it was hot and they ran out of water (2012 and 2014 – 96:08 and 1:40:42). I’ve run 11x 10-mile races and my times for this race rank 1st, 8th and 10th. Anyway, I’m hoping the weather will be kind for the race this year – preferably cold and dry. I’ve been emailed my race number: 647. Let’s hope it’s a lucky number and that I get my first PB of the year!

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