The Big Half | PB chasing

I've been working really hard recently. No not at work work (well yes at work work but that's not what I meant). I've had a training plan and I've really stuck to it. I'm talking paces, strength work, rest days, foam rollering even. You name it I've done it.

I've not raced a half marathon properly in about 2 years so I knew that I had a PB on the cards. The only question was by how much. Back in 2017 I'd run the Cambridge half marathon (still one of my favourite races ever) in 1:50:47 so as I walked towards the start line of the Big Half I knew that to achieve anything that started with a '4' (ie 1:49/1:48 etc) would be fantastic.

But I had wanted more. I specifically wanted to run 1:45:49 at some point in 2019. This year I'd goal set and I'd goal set hard: I have goals for PBs at 5k, 10k, HM, marathon and 70k. 70k I'd already done in January this year as I took over 50 minutes off my time at Country to Capital squeezing in under 8 hours. The key goal this Spring was to work towards a dream marathon time on 1st June that, if successful, will see my qualify for the London marathon. But before that, I wanted a half marathon PB.

The Big Half is, well, big. There were 13,660 finishers this year. That makes the start slightly overwhelming but if you've got your eyes on a big city marathon then large crowds and awkward bag drop times are useful things to practice. I don't think there was any need for the organisers to have bags dropped off at least 45 minutes beforehand but unlike most races I was impressed with the number of loos near the start.

Bag dropped and bin bag donned it was a cold and nervous wait in the pens (honestly if you're new to marathons wearing a bin bag pre race has to be one of my top tips: it will keep you warm and dry and you can chuck it in one of the collection bins just as you are about to start.) I'd decided to go big pace wise even though the weather was forecast to include crazy gusts of wind of up to 60mph. I would set out at 1:42 pace (4:52/km) and see how it felt. If at any point I wanted to drop back I could. It's strange having got faster in the last year or so. I was so focused for so long on getting a sub-4 hour marathon that the pace of 5:41/km is ingrained in my brain and it's been quite hard to budge it. I was delighted at the start to bump in to my friends Priya and Ness from Adidas Runners London and that really calmed me down.

After high fives with my Dad 
And then just like that we were off. The course was brilliant apart from the Limehouse tunnel which I would be so bold as to say I hated. It was loud, claustrophobic and hot. In fact I hated it so much I don't think I'll do the Big Half again. Tunnel aside though, the course took us East from Tower Bridge, through Canary Wharf (which was horrifically gusty), back over Tower Bridge and down towards the Cutty Sark to finish in Greenwich. Crowds were pretty sparse but those that were out there made up for it particularly as a high proportion of them seemed to be my friends and loved ones. Particular shout out to my amazing parents who saw me 3 times on the course.

I was feeling strong until Canary Wharf and then the wind really took its toll. It was such hard going and at points it felt like I was going backwards. You can watch a great video someone captured of poor Big Ben trying to get through the winds to give you an indication of how bad it was:

I was so excited to run across Tower Bridge that when I got to it and the wind knocked me sideways it was a bit disappointing. I came off the bridge pretty tired but bolstered on by the cheers from my friends on the other side of the bridge. About 8 miles I eased off the pace slightly. My legs were exhausted from fighting the wind and I let myself slip back to an end goal of 1:45.

Once round Cutty Sark I was dying for the end. I'd never run for this long at this kind of pace and I was really beginning to have to dig deep. I had my race mantra: 'You are stronger' written in sharpie on my hand and I was willing my legs to keep going and not get lost in an ultra runner shuffle - "KICK, KICK, KICK!"

The final 2 miles or so was hard and the final bend to the finish seemed cruel as I dreamt for the end to come. As I approached the final kilometre I got passed by the wonderful Ness who I'd lost at the beginning and it took all the willpower in the world to hang on to her pace, albeit, slightly further back. I could see the clock ticking up towards 1:45 and I really threw myself at the final 100m. Kick, kick, kick, kick, kick and I was over the line. 1:45:06. Then classic: I burst in to tears.

Delighted doesn't begin to cut it and it's so much bigger than being happy. I worked really hard and that hard work paid off. That doesn't always happen so I was grateful. I've always seen 1:45 as a time held by 'fast runners' and so just like that I'd become one of the 'fast' girls.

Celebrating with a pint afterwards I heard friends talking about how hard it had been out there, "obviously I didn't get a PB on a day like that," "it was like running in a washing machine," "it was really tough out there". It made me all the more proud of that 6 minute-ish PB and the destroying of my 2019 half marathon target. And it's also given me confidence that I'm on course for my marathon time. It's going to be really hard but I know if I put in the work, I can achieve that London marathon qualifying time.

Total time: 1:45:06
Average pace: 4:58/km

Finishing position: 3,397 (out of 13,660)
Finishing position (gender): 644 (out of 6,443)
Finishing position (age-group): 472 (out of 3,631)

10k split: 49:14
15k split: 1:14:22
20k split: 1:39:51

To find out more about how to enter the 2020 race go to:


  1. You're a superstar Fiona! It's really horrible running in strong winds (we had them in Paris too that day) and to run a 6min PB is FAAAB. Curious though - why a goal time of 1:45:49 and not the traditional sub-1:45?
    - Julia

    1. Aww thank Julia! I guess in my head '1:45' was the half mara goal rather than '1:44' hence the 1:45:59 or under. Also 1:45ish already seemed bonkers so setting a goal of sub-1:45 seemed impossible!


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