My preparation for this race was very poor. I didn’t exactly train towards a half-marathon and certainly didn’t get enough long runs in, so I was ever so slightly aprehensive about this one when I woke up yesterday morning! I didn’t even take it easy on Saturday, instead opting to cycle up lots of hills to Highgate Wood to have some active fun climbing on fallen trees and picking up acorns and leaves for Hector’s new nature table. I am a bad, bad runner.
I had read lots of good reports about this half on the Runner’s World website and had the feeling it would be quite laid back and have a good atmosphere, so that eased my tension a bit…and so did the bike ride there. The race was due to start over at Hackney Marshes at 11am, with the registration closing at 10.30 and the best and most direct way for me to get there was to cycle the four or five (or more?) miles along the canal.
It was such a gorgeous morning and quite a rarity for me to be cycling along by myself. I could sense already that it was going to be a real scorcher, so I took it easy, not wanting to completely knacker myself out before I even got there.
There were a few people (this is a small race with only around 400 runners) milling about, some in the shade of the trees, reading the Sunday papers and chatting with friends. All very civilised. I locked up my bike and registered with the very friendly volunteers then put my bag in the tent. As I was registering I got chatting to the man behind me. We were joking about our race numbers – I was 4 and he was 1 – saying it made us seem like elites. It turned out this was his first race and he had reached this point via an extreme feat of losing around four stone. Aaron was aiming to run in around two and a half hours, so I wished him luck and admired his sheer dedication at getting to the start line in the first place. I made what felt like my one hundredth trip to the loo (they allow you to use the facilities at the club house to get changed and showered) then settled down under a tree. Eventually we were asked to make our way over to the start where a lovely man who turned out to be the first ever winner of The Gladiators (!) did a ‘warm-up’. It was ace! It certainly calmed any nerves and made us acknowledge the other runners as we did a sort of Usain Bolt dedication dance, complete with the arm movement and posturing.
And we were off.
One thing that made me waiver about entering this race was the fact that it consists of six laps of the marshes, and I feared it might be sheer hell, but I soon realised I love laps, they rock! By now the sun was blazing down (maybe an earlier start might be a good idea) so it was a welcome relief to find ourselves running alongside the river under the dappled shade of the trees. This was my favourite part of each lap, but was soon followed by the very exposed and rubbly area nearer the Walthamstow end of the marshes. Here you had to watch your footing and wipe away the sweat dripping from your slowly burning brow. As this is a lap race, you pass the marshals a few times, getting to feel a familiarity which is emphasised as they consult their list of names and call out a personalised encouragement (being number 4 I was easy to find, so got a shout-out nearly every time!). As you approach the start/finish area each time, you bear left, taking in the drinks station and a group of drummers, enduring their own challenge as they beat out an encouraging rhythm on a selection of bongos and the like.
Things were going really well and I have realised that I am much more suited to this type of race: small field, rural (sort of) setting, laps, but I was finding it tiring constantly overtaking then being overtaken by the same group of people, as we were obviously running at a similar pace and playing catch-up throughout. The race organisers were very trusting and asked us to keep track of our own laps, and I was doing alright until I hit a point where I wasn’t sure if I was in the fifth or final lap – I started running faster then took a look at my Garmin and realised I had a bit further to go than I thought. Damn. It was ever so tempting to veer right on the fifth lap and take a glory finish up with the whippets, but I thought better of it and took on my last two miles or so.
I hadn’t really had a plan about how I would do it all, just knew I might find it hard through lack of focussed training (and the heat), but I hadn’t imagined I would walk. A woman ahead of me (one of the ones I kept playing catch-up with) started walking and I thought ‘I’m not going to walk. I’m not going to walk. Oh, damn it, I’m walking!’. So the last lap was a bit trying, doing the ‘only to that tree, then I’ll run’ thing. This final saunter round gave me a chance to thank all the lovely marshals for their encouragement and support, it can’t have been much fun sitting in direct sunlight for a few hours for them either! So towards the finish line I headed, surrounded by the amazing cheers of the group of women at the end, they were just fantastic! I hadn’t had much to drink on my way round, just a few sips from my bottle of Lucozade Sport and some water in the last lap – I didn’t want a repeat of the dreadful cramp at London Marathon, so now I was ready to glug down as much water as I could get my hands on and the women at the water station were only too happy to keep on filling up my bottle.
I’ve done lots of races where you get a goody bag filled with odd bits of useless toiletry items, like mini deodorants and so on, but this was probably the most useful goody bag I have ever received: a giant bagel, a knife, some margerine, jam and cheese, two bananas, an orange and a muesli bar. Perfect, just what you need after running a half-marathon! I sat near the drummers and scoffed it down. As I sat there I saw the winners collecting their cups, fast types they were too, finishing in 1.09 and 1.30. But the real winner hobbled towards me a little later, beaming from ear to ear. Number 1, Aaron had finished in 2.29, just under his target time. Excellent!
I shall be entering the UFDance Half-Marathon again next year.
Time: 2 hours 15 minutes 10 seconds
Distance: 13.07 miles
Average Pace: 10.22
Best Pace: 7.18
And some stats from a run around Finsbury Park last week:
Time: 40 minutes 19 seconds
Distance: 3.69 miles
Average Pace: 10.56
Best Pace: 8.53