On Sunday 1st September I ran my first half marathon race. It was a good day.
My chosen event was Bridgwater Half Marathon – a small, local event in support of Cancer research UK.
By Sunday morning I was extremely nervous. Although I had ran the distance a few times in training, finding myself feeling very unwell at the end of one of these runs had dented my confidence. My near-collapse experience had probably been the result of trying to restrict calories too much before a long run. In the last few days before the race I did my best to ensure I was carb-loaded and well hydrated, but it is a tricky business trying (needing) to lose weight while fuelling your running.
My main aim for the race was to get round the course safely. My secondary aim was to complete the race in less than three hours. My training times had varied from 2:55 to 3:10. Less than 2:55 would be icing on the cake. Although these targets may seem laughably slow to some, to me (52, overweight, running less than a year) they are a challenge. And I really didn’t really mind if I came last – someone has to. But not coming last would be a bonus.
In spite of nerves, I had a reasonable night’s sleep and managed to eat some porridge (oatmeal) for breakfast. The race wasn’t until 11 am, but I set out just after 9 am, to allow plenty of time to find a parking space.
The race was based at Morganians Rugby Club, just outside Bridgwater. There was plenty of parking on a football pitch. Once parked, I forced myself to eat a banana and a Nakd bar to ensure I was fuelled up for the race. I collected my race number, and realised that I had probably arrived far too early – with over an hour still to wait.
The venue – sports club in a rural location – had a lovely friendly atmosphere, and it was handy having everything close together. I really liked not needing to use a bag drop (although there was one available) and being able to pop back to my car for things. However, there wasn’t a great deal to do. There were some food stalls, and the usual facilities for runners, but not much for spectators.
I spent the next hour pacing up and down, warming up, and joining the queue for the porta-loos a grand total of four times (no toilets on the course – something else to worry about!). Then it was time to go.
The course was on quiet country roads around the Somerset villages of Chedzoy and Stawell. The roads were open for the whole course, although traffic was held at the beginning of the race to ensure that we all got underway safely. In-ear earphones and headphones were not permitted, due to the nature of the course. Traffic, however, was very light and there were plenty of marshals out on the course.
The route is a single lap, with a large looped section and an out-and-back section near to the end. The out-and-back bit seemed to go on for ever.
I have seen the profile of the course described by different sources as flat, flattish and undulating. There were some flat sections, and also quite a lot of undulation. I didn’t mind the undulation though, as ups are usually followed by downs. Besides, hills work different muscle groups and make a change from the same relentless motion. They can also provide justification, should you need it, to take a bit of a walking break.
As I ran along the first stretch of road I noticed how similar it was to my regular running routes around my home village. This immediately made me feel at home and more relaxed. Unfortunately, I didn’t take any photos as I was too focused on the race. But it was a lovely sunny morning, and there were many gorgeous views of green fields and distant hills.
I started the race right at the back of the field, and kept pace with the other runners. I had Nike Run Club running on my phone to keep an eye on my pace. At 1 KM and 2 KM I could see that I was going a little quicker than I’d planned. I tried to slow down but it was difficult. I was already right at the back, and some instinctive need to not be left behind seemed to be speeding up my steps. Besides, I try to focus on effort rather than pace, and I felt that my effort wasn’t really that great. I felt good.
We quickly came to the village of Chedzoy, where we were cheered on by spectators, and conveniently timed church bells.
The 10K was due to start fifteen minutes after the half marathon, and so it didn’t seem long before the faster 10K runners began to catch up. There was a straight, flat section at the end of which the 10K runners would turn around to return back towards the rugby club. So it also didn’t seem long before the 10K racers started to pass us coming back the other way.
As I passed the turning point and the 5K marker, I realised how much better I felt than I had felt at the previous week’s Severn Bridge 10K. I also realised that I had probably beaten my 5K PB, not something that I would be aiming for on a long run.
When we were clear of the 10K runners, I looked back and realised that I was no longer the last person. I was mostly on my own for the rest of the race though. But when I was on my own, I pretended that this was just another training run, and I enjoyed the peace and quiet. I listened to the sound of the wind in the willows at the side of the road, or the sound of birds singing. When I was near to other runners, I chatted.
By about five miles I started to doubt myself – thinking about the eight miles still to go. It had got very hot (in spite of the forecast promising cooler weather and wind), and at this point the course had been climbing for a while. I had to have a serious internal talk with my negative brain, and remind myself how well I was doing and that I actually felt pretty good. I reminded myself of how I felt at the same point during the previous week’s race – and how much better I felt now. Often it is the mind, not the body, that makes us give up. I kept going.
At 10K I knew I was still making good time. I also realised that I hadn’t seen the second water station, although there had been a sign for one a while back. I caught up with some other runners and asked them about the water station – perhaps I’d managed to run past without noticing it? They were also quite keen to find the water. We wondered whether it had been packed up as we were slower than the bulk of the runners. This seemed unlikely. I asked several marshals about the missing water, until one was able to tell me that it was ‘just around the corner’ and that ‘they’ had moved the water station but not the sign. About half a mile later, at around mile eight, I was very happy to see the water, have a good drink and fill up my now empty bottle.
All in all the course had plenty of water stations, and jelly babies, but it was absolutely ridiculous, and frustrating, to have a water station sign around two miles before the water.
During the second half of the course the wind picked up, and the temperature cooled a little. By now I was keeping my fuel topped up with dried apricots, pieces of Nakd bar, and the odd jelly baby from the water stations. I had none of the lactic build up that I’d experienced before. As 11 miles (my usual point of crisis, or wall, or whatever it is) came and went without pain, I breathed a sigh of relief.
At the out-and-back section of the course, from about mile 10, it was good to see other runners returning back the other way towards their finish. This section of the race was psychologically demanding. I had arrived back at Chedzoy thinking that I must be nearly back and congratulating myself on how well I was doing. I suspected I’d achieved new Strava PBs for both 10K and 10 miles. If I could just keep up the pace….
Then this long bit of road went on and on. I took some walking breaks, even where the road was sloping nicely downhill and would have been easy to run. I just needed to give my legs a break. There was another water station at the bottom (fourth or fifth water station?) just before the turning point.
Turning around and knowing that I was on the last stretch felt fantastic. And I was now able to give encouragement to the few people who were behind me as we passed each other. Unfortunately, my legs didn’t feel fantastic. They now felt very tired and heavy (although still no lactic acid). I also felt bloated and queasy, probably from all of the sweet food that I’d been swallowing, but probably not digesting. Even so, as I had no lactic acid burn, something must have been working.
The last mile was hard. I did run/walk a little. But I made sure I ran the final kilometre and arrived back at the rugby club smiling. There were almost no spectators left as I ran towards the finish line, but my youngest son and daughter had turned up to cheer me on, which was icing on the cake.
As I crossed the finish line, I was given a bottle of water, a medal, and a sachet of moisturiser (a little unusual). From comments on the race’s Facebook page, I think people may have grumbled about the medal. The race is organised to raise money for charity, and was very cheap to enter (I think I paid £18). What more do people want?
I was pleased with my time, cutting about three minutes off my previous PB. I felt that I could have put more effort in over the last couple of miles, but I was being careful not to push myself to the point where I might feel unwell again. I wanted to make sure I finished.
The following day, Monday, I felt good and had no aches and pains. I was even able to begin a new job feeling fabulous.
I thoroughly enjoyed the race. There were a few organisational hitches, but this was more than made up for by the course, the marshals, the glorious views, and the support from local people. The event was also fantastic value for money, and in a very worthy cause.
I will definitely be back next year.