I had a new first today, running for England in a Masters’ England versus Wales half-marathon competition. I am going to split this write-up into three parts, 1) how the race went, 2) how I qualified to run for England (and what does it mean), 3) how you could start winning medals, running for your county, region, state or country.
1) Today’s Race
The event was the Chester Half-Marathon, a race with 4041 runners. The Masters’ International event was run as a small part of the wider event. My club, Redhill Road Runners, had two of us running in the Masters competition, myself and Barbara. The two of us travelled up on Saturday, stopping overnight in Chester, ready for a 9am race start. In Chester, on Saturday afternoon, we met the England team managers and picked up our age grade back numbers. On our fronts, we wear our race numbers; on our backs, we wear our category (so I have M65 – showing that I am running in the men’s veteran group, aged 65 to 69 years).
On Sunday morning, the England team met at 8am, had a group photo, and then we made our way down to the start. At the start of the race, we were given the slightly intimidating honour of starting in the group before the elite runners (people who were going to be running the half-marathon in about 66 minutes). All of the Welsh and English team members gathered at the front of the race, with me keeping well to the back and side of this group.
Before the race, I had aspirations of starting the race by trying to keep with the 3:30 pacer – even though my personal best is 3:33. The gun went and off we went. Because we started ahead of all the other runners, a constant stream of runners went past me, as I ran along, waiting for the 3:30 pacer. However, when the 3:30 pacer arrived, he zoomed straight past me. It was immediately obvious to me that today was not going to be a PB day.
My plan B for the race was to run the race at about 139 to 140 beats per minute. When I am racing, I wear a chest band to monitor my heart rate. 139 beats per minute is a level of exertion I know I can sustain for the time it takes to run 21km. My Plan B was to run the race at an even pace, at my target heart rate, and not to worry too much about my place in the race and my overall speed.
As you can see from the race timings below, my plan B worked. I ran the four 5K segments in: 22mins 34 seconds, 23 minutes 48 seconds, 22 minutes 57 seconds, and 22 minutes 38 seconds. Given that my 5K ParkRuns are taking about 22.5 minutes, I am pretty happy with this performance. In my races, I try to run negative splits, which means running the second half of the race is slightly faster than the first half. Today, the first 10K took 46 minutes 22 seconds and the second 10K took 45 minutes 35 seconds – job done.
There were 53 men aged 65 to 69 years, and I came 17th. Not fast enough to get a medal, but in the top third. Overall, my ranking was better than in my age group, I was 459 out of 4041 runners, in the top 12%.
My teammate Barbara did even better, finishing second woman the 65 – 69 age group.
2) How did I get to run for England?
This race is part of a series of races between England and Wales for Masters athletes, including 5K, 10K, half-marathon, and marathon. To be selected for the England Team you have to run in a qualifying event and finish with a high enough placing to be selected. For today’s race, I took part in the Bath half-marathon last October and finished with a good placing. A good placing amongst all those men, 65 to 69 who had registered that they were interested in being selected. My time in the Bath event was 1hr 34 minutes. To be selected, you have to register for an event, express your interest in being selected, and run a good enough race.
Today was my first run for the England Masters, I will be running again in October, this time for the full marathon. I am not going to take it too seriously (this is not like the athletics you see on the TV), but I am going to thoroughly enjoy the surreal joy of wearing a national strip.
3) Perhaps you should be running in events like these?
If you are a veteran (over 35 years) there are masses of events to take part in. I take part in regular events that have age categories and I take part in Masters events (via Midland Masters, British Masters, and even World Masters).
If you are over 50, even better if you are over 60, and especially if you are over 70, there are lots of chances to take part in age-grade events. Make sure you are a member of a club and register with your national athletics association. Consider joining a regional masters club as your second claim club.
Take part in events and see how you do. To be honest, unless you are a top runner, whether you get a podium place or whether you are selected for a team depends on who else enters the race. For example, in some half-marathons, I am the fastest 65+ male. But, in today’s race, I was 17th out of 53 – because a lot of fast MV65s entered.
Find out what events suit you, and then train for them. If you train, you will get better. For people like me who never won medals at school or as a young adult, there is a special joy in being to win them at this stage.