For the second year in a row, I made my way up the M1 for a long weekend in the North. It wouldn’t be a holiday without incorporating a race of course and so we found ourselves once again in Larne for the Antrim Coast Half Marathon. I did try to convince my other half to sign up for it, but he decided to stick with the role of bag carrier and photographer.
After spending Saturday sightseeing, we were up and out early on the Sunday for the race. In keeping with last year, the elite race went off first at 9am followed by the mass race at 11am. I did hear a rumour that they will merge the two races next year which would be better. The early start for the elites meant that road closures were in place from the early morning. We parked the car on the outskirts of Larne just after 9am. It had been impossible to find a map of the course before the event, only a video of the route had been made readily available which was helpful in one way but didn’t allow us to clearly pinpoint KM markers or even be sure of the exact direction of the route. From a quick check of the live stream, I figured we might catch a glance of the elites on the main street so off we went. They were already quite strung out when they passed us despite only being 3km into the race. After cheering on most of the elites as they went past, we continued our way towards the Sandy Bay Playing Fields down by seafront which was the designated race hub for the day. The hub backed onto the finishing straight, so we were able to watch the elites finish. The first male, Jemal Yimer, finished in an impressive time of 59:03, with the lead female, Yalemzerf Yehualaw, finishing in 1:04:22. Both Yimer & Yehualaw set UK all-comers’ records. Feeling suitably inspired by watching the pros in action, we headed back into the playing fields and awaited the call to go to the start line. While waiting there, I saw Paul Hamilton making his way up to the front of the holding pens. Paul seemed relaxed and informed us that after a recent holiday he was aiming for sub 1:30. Oh to be so fast…]
Last year, there were a few issues with the start, but a change to the start line and pre-race hub location meant that the event was much better organised this time and we promptly got going at 11am sharp. This was my fourth half marathon of the year after completing Bohermeen, Wexford & Salzburg before the summer so you would think by now that I would know what I was doing. However, like a complete novice, I took off like lightening. A quick check of the watch after 1km said I was going too fast. I wasn’t worried though at that point – plenty of time to reign it in. No such luck though as I went through 2km just as quickly and clocked 22:30 for 5km. For context, that would be in my top 5 parkrun performances. There was no way I would keep that up for 21km and sure enough, slowly the wheels started to come off. I got through 10km in 48 mins, so I was still OK timewise but starting to really feel it. There was no water until almost 9km which didn’t help as it was a warm day. By the time we passed the water station I was gasping and inhaled far too much in one go. The route takes in the town & harbour areas before heading out onto the coast road, up to the lovely village of Ballygally where we did a loop and turned around to head back to Larne, again passing through the town centre, and finishing on the promenade. The coast road is relatively flat with most of the hills featuring in the town sections. As I approached Ballygally, I decided to chance taking on a gel hoping it would give me a second wind and take me flying back in to the finish line. At this point, I could see the 1hr 30 min group on the other side of the road with Paul nicely settled into the group. There was a good crowd and buzz around the village which was lovely. Sure enough, I did get a second wind and started to pick up the pace a bit before a stitch struck me down. At this point, I could feel the 1 hr 45 pacers coming up behind me and while I would have liked to have held onto them, I was just didn’t have it in me. After the stitch passed, I got into an OK rhythm and just focused on getting to the finish line. The lead in to the finish line on the promenade was packed with people cheering and despite the disappointment with my time I could still smile as I crossed over the timing mat.
Overall, the race was well organised & it’s an event I would really recommend. On a good day, the coast road is beautiful and the support along the route was brilliant. I might even go back for a third go next year as I feel I have unfinished business there. My time & performance was way off where I feel I am. I have set PBs at 10km, 10 miles, and half marathon already this year and only the day before had set a new Parkrun PB at Belfast Victoria when I finally broke the 22minute barrier (21:29). My focus this year has always been on the marathon though and with less than 4 weeks to Berlin I’ve learnt a valuable lesson about pacing. My training has gone well and once I start off slowly then I should be OK.
We met Paul in the race hub afterwards for a debrief. He executed his race plan perfectly and was able to pull away from the pacing group and beat his pre-race target. This is only the start for Paul as he is running three half-marathons back-to-back as he gears up for the Valencia Marathon later this year.