So you know that really annoying person who sets a goal, trains towards it, is happy it’s achievable but challenging… but then changes it and is disappointed not to have reached the new, harder goal? Yeah, that person is me.
If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you’ll know that I have been trying to get back into slightly longer distance running by training for the Reading Half Marathon. I set myself the target of going under two hours, an achievable challenge considering my PB is 1:49:34. So why I took it upon myself in the last few weeks of training to think “hmm… maybe I could get a PB” I have no idea. I don’t think I need a spoiler alert here to say (as I’ve already blogged about my result) I didn’t.
A race of four quarters
For some reason, in my head this race is broken up into four quarters, plus a bit on the end. This is how it went down…
The start of the course was through Green Park (also a business park) and then through an industrial area towards the residential parts of Reading. I knew from this first three miles had decided my fate and my average of around 8:30 min/mile for this section meant I wouldn’t be getting a PB – I’ve never been good at a negative split, and I certainly think they’re risky if you get tired legs.
Between miles two and three there were two very definite hills. Reading is, despite these hills, a very flat and fast course, but I’d expected it to be completely flat so couldn’t help but feel despondent when I saw the first incline ahead of me. What made it slightly worse was that someone had set up an ad hoc water station just after mile 2, which had been emptied by the time I got to it (I was in the fourth of six waves). I didn’t need a drink at this point, but wasn’t sure where the next water station would be so it threw me a little to see an empty one.
The next three mile section took us through the University grounds, which is part of the change to the course. There was quite a lot of support here and a couple of bands, which really lifted the mood. I was feeling quite good on this section and had picked up to do a couple of 8:15 min/miles. My legs felt fresh and my lungs clear after the hills. I’d had a tweet from a Twitter friend to say he was supporting at the University and I’d forewarned him about my “ridiculously bright leggings”… I wondered if he might spot me!
After this the next three miles were twisty-turny (yes, I really used those words in a race report!) through the town centre where the support was also really good and there were several DJs and bands. As I turned out of the final part of the town centre I passed a pub, who had kindly laid on cups of beer for runners to help themselves to! I sight for sore eyes, but I resisted. At this point I could really have done with another water station, the last one had been at mile six, and this was now mile eight. On an ordinary day it would have been fine, but it was abnormally hot on Sunday in Reading and I was gasping for a drink. I had a jelly baby from my stash in the FlipBelt I was wearing for the race, but could barely chew it and felt really awful at this point.
Eventually I reached the ninth mile, and the third water station, which perked me up a bit for the last quarter of the race.
This was the real challenge for me. After a fairly nice party atmosphere up until now, miles 10-12 just felt really lonely. The support was a lot less through these last sections, especially the long straight mile back towards the stadium. It was at this point as well that I was starting to feel really hot as it approached mid-day. I was praying for some shade or a gust of wind but neither came and may pace started to slow towards the 9 min/mile mark. My spirits lifted slightly when I saw a sign for a final water station, and I willed myself to reach it. Guzzling water I carried on and then it was the countdown…
“1200 metres to go”, “800 metres to go”, “400 metres to go”… and then I slowed to a walk. I was literally rounding the stadium, but I was walking. Supporters who had lined up to see these final moments started calling out my name, which was (very welcomingly) printed on my race number. After what must have only been about 60 seconds, I started to run again, thinking I couldn’t walk into the stadium. I saw the finish line and tried to pick up the pace towards the gantry, seeing the time I was amazed I’d finished in 1:52:35… just three minutes over my PB. So close but yet so far…
More About The Race
- The Reading Half Marathon was held at the Madejski Stadium, just off the M4 in (obviously) Reading on Sunday 22nd March.
- It was so easy to get to; I drove and had pre-booked parking in the pink car park, which was in one of the local business parks, about 10 minutes’ walk from the stadium.
- The start line was about another 10 minutes’ walk from there, but because of the crowds this ended up being more like 25-30 minutes.
- The facilities were good; I was lucky to have a press place so made use of toilets in the conference area of the stadium, but there were also plenty of loos available around the stadium.
- The course is definitely fast and mostly flat, I’m not sure I would have gotten so close to my PB on another course.
- The last stretch can be a little depressing, so prepare for this – you’re not allowed headphones, though I saw hundreds of people wearing them… including a pair of very obvious Beats!
- The medal is amazing… almost certainly my favourite so far.
I wore a FlipBelt to hold my press pass and jelly babies during the race and, unlike the pocket on my jacket I wore at Brighton Half Marathon, it didn’t bounce around at all. I have run with my phone and a key in it as well, which is no mean feat as my phone is pretty big (HTC One), but it still doesn’t budge. There seems to be a “sweet spot” for everyone when it comes to placement of the belt, but I find that it sits best directly over my iliac crests (the bones at the front of your hips). I didn’t even notice it was there, until I took it off and realised how warm it had been! Cooling air holes might be an idea for future models perhaps?
I’d definitely recommend it for long runs, it has a handy little clip to tuck your key away safely, and would easily fit gels, a smart phone, and debit/oyster cards. At only £25* I’m now considering ordering a couple more in different colours so I can always be coordinated!
* Price correct at time of writing.
Thank you Promote PR and Vitality Race Series for the race place and hospitality on the day, and FlipBelt for the complimentary belt, it came in very handy indeed.