I LOVE the Lille Half Marathon for many reasons. In 2017 it was my second attempt to break the 2-hour half marathon mark, and I did it in an astonishing 1:53:30, knocking nearly 8 minutes from my previous PB. Lille is also home to one of my favourite cheeses – Maroilles. It’s the stinkiest, but tastes nothing like it smells. Trust me on that one.
Back to the course. Lille is flat as a pancake and FAST. I mean FAST fast. It’s the perfect place to go smash PBs, and my only knock against the course is that everyone starts together, making the first 5K a bit crowded. But even with that, this course is FAST.
Which made my goal for this one a bit tough. Due to it only being 2 weeks ahead of Berlin, Coach said it needed to be run slow. 1:55-1:57 slow. Knowing it was only 2 minutes slower than PB time, I knew it could be done, and I was actually looking forward to taking this easy.
No pressure on the morning of meant that I didn’t have my usual runners nerves. We ate breakfast, we walked to the registration and then we queued for the loo. After that it was a 5-minute walk to the start line for our pre-race photo and then time to begin.
The course is a looped out and back, meaning out, then back, turning around back out, then back again for the finish. This is slightly different from last year’s course, which had a shorter loop than this year’s (at least I think that was the case.)
We started at the back of the race pack, which was fine because I wasn’t racing. First mile in was a slightly fast 8:40, but that was fine because I tend to start fast and then settle into pace. Next mile was 8:25, slightly faster. I just told myself to slow down, not to worry about getting stuck behind anyone or slowing down when it got narrow through the underpasses because I wasn’t racing. Next mile: 8:27.
The elites came whizzing past me about this point, then I saw Willy, followed by the 1:50 pacers and I knew the first turnaround was just around the corner. I was trying not to focus too much on pace, except to keep things simple.
I finally settled into a pace between KMs 5-10, averaging 5:38/km or 9:03/mile.
After that, things picked up again and I ended up negative splitting the second half of the course. This goes back to the crowds thinning out and having more space to cruise.
Throughout, I felt like thing were really easy and I wasn’t pushing. My breathing remained controlled and everything felt relaxed.
At mile 10, when I hit 1:26, I momentarily thought about throwing control out the window and gunning the last 5K for a PB, but remembered the longer goal: Berlin. Having the long goal in mind was a great tool to keep control and focus.
Those last 4kms flew and I saw the arches signalling me to the finish line. A quick glance at my watch told me I had the very real chance to PB again if I pushed just a bit, so the last 1km was about picking up the pace and pushing to get that finish.
When I crossed the line, my watch read 1:53:25. The tiniest of PBs, but given I didn’t push until the very end, I couldn’t be happier.
It’s incredible to see where I’ve come in one year. Last year I gave what I had to get 1:53:30 and break that 2-hour barrier. This year I didn’t even try and came up at 1:53:25, fractionally better. It’s a confidence boost heading into Berlin, and a reminder of what I’m capable of, and what I’ve been working toward. 2 weeks until the ultimate challenge and the smile from yesterday’s finish says it all.