With the Secret Half in the East set to be the highlight of the Secret London Runs 2017 calendar, I caught up with Richard Lawrence to quiz him about the half distance.
I first met Richard when he came to a Secret London Runs event in the summer - I couldn't help but notice him as he has exactly the same name as my Granddad.
Richard's been back a few times and I've had the pleasure of getting to know him a little better. Not only does he have a truly excellent name, but he is a keen runner and a delight of a man. Maybe we're related (shut eyes, cross fingers)...
Richard on the left, celebrating victory at his Secret London Runs debut
Vanessa: So Richard, how did you get into running?
Richard: Ran a bit at school (cross country and middle distance), then only as training for other sports until I got too crocked to play cricket. I'd had a vague hankering to run a marathon (like many people), so started again from scratch in 2011 and ran the London Marathon (very, very slowly) in 2012. After a few months away, I realised I missed it, and started running - I also joined my local running club (the bizarrely named Hogweed Trotters) which helped considerably.
Vanessa: And down to business, how many half marathons have you run?
Richard: Not sure - 8-10, I think, together with various off-road ten milers (which feel about the same overall).
Vanessa: What do you like about the distance?
Richard: It's long enough for there to be a bit of development to the race - you've time to adjust to how you're feeling on the day - but not so long that you're spending your time worrying about which bit of your body is going to stop working properly next.
Vanessa: I certainly know how that feels...On the flip side, what don't you like about the half?
Richard: If it's not going well, it can feel like a very long way.
Vanessa: Out of all the half marathons you've run (until the Secret Half in the East of course), which has been your favourite?
Richard: They vary a lot (another good thing about half marathons) so it can be hard to pick one. My favourite course is probably Chippenham - lovely balance of town and country on a quick course - but I ran it jetlagged three days after flying back from the US, and it found me out badly in the last few miles. My quickest was on the sea front at Weston-super-Mare - it's pretty flat, and apart from a biting sea breeze at one point, easy running. But in many ways the best experience was my club's mad "Hilly Half Marathon" through the southern Cotswolds, run at the tail end of a big storm - I improved my time despite battling through 30+mph winds blowing you backwards and sideways.
OK, I admit, this is an image from an internet search 'race on the beach' and not Richard smashing his PB at Western-super-Mare...
Vanessa: Impressive - now, my favourite topic. Food. What's your secret half-marathon food?
Richard: Even better for longer distances, but flapjack works for me. Jelly babies are for afterwards - nothing for a post-run wind down like biting the head off a baby - and garibaldi biscuits, but I don't like either when actually running. I prefer to avoid gels at this distance, but may need one during a race
Interesting wind-down tip: go on - bite the head off a baby!
Vanessa: What stops you aching afterwards?
Richard: After a race, a sports massage is great if you can get one. After a long run, a hot bath with some Epsom salts.
I'm sure Richard mentioned a glass of vino too?
Vanessa: How do you train for a half marathon - what do you do to prepare? Do you have a strict schedule?
Richard: I'm not much of a planner, so I've never had a strict schedule that I've kept to for more than a week. If you're running 15-20 miles a week you can get round (I've run one where I barely ran in the previous month, and while it wasn't my best it wasn't a disaster), so if you're used to that sort of mileage training is for working on doing it well. Main things are doing a long run once a week so there's nothing daunting about the distance (I probably would get the long run up to half marathon distance, but at a rather slower speed), and with some practical midweek miles rather than "just a run" every time - intervals at race speed are a good plan for one midweek session, hills or a bit more speed another.
Vanessa: Any race day rituals?
Richard: Not so much. I tend to dress comfortably, get there in pretty good time and not go to the loo just beforehand, but that's just trying to relax properly for the start.
Vanessa: Any tips before you go for a half marathon first-timer (like me - I'm running the Hampton Court Half in Feb)?
Richard: Warm up properly beforehand - running and some dynamic stretches. Have a fair idea of your race pace and start off accordingly (starting off like a headless chicken is obviously not good, but I also find that starting too slowly makes it difficult for me to run well) - a good rhythm is your friend. Relax into the race - I've had a number of good chats during half marathons, and I don't think it's ever affected my time much (not that I'd be rivalling Mo Farah exactly).
Vanessa: When's your next race?
Richard: My next half marathon is the truly insane Doynton Hard Half Marathon in January. I've not tried it before, but my friends tell me that it's best run in wellies and that you should get your tetanus shots up to date first.
A race I can get on board with.
Vanessa: That sounds like my cup of tea. I may well see you there. Thanks Richard - a pleasure as always! Have a wonderful Christmas and can't wait to see you in the new year.