Although I still hadn’t run a race at the time I entered for this Half Marathon in March 2013, I thought it would be a good idea to have what seemed like an ambitious goal to aim for. I also thought that if I wanted to try a full marathon then this would be good training for that. So on the lead up to the 6 mile run for Sport Relief, my first event, I started to plan a programme of training for the months that would follow that to ensure I could get to the 21K distance in time for September. This soon changed though and I decided that if I was going to stand a chance of doing a marathon in the near future I’d need to manage a half marathon sooner than that – so I set myself a target to run 13.11 miles by the end of May 2014.
I did manage this, and by the end of April had run my first 15 mile run. However for the two months that followed that my runs were few and far shorter due to a knee injury that left me having to take it easy. By the end of June though I’d decided on a 16 week training program for the marathon and this fit in with the time of this Half Marathon perfectly. The only challenge now was to get back up to 13.1 miles without causing any further injury. If you’ve seen my race report for the Atherstone 10K then you’ll know the training didn’t go without any bumps in the road, so I won’t repeat that again here. After that 10K though I did skip a few of my training runs – two of the Friday interval sessions (which the plan said I could cross train instead for), but then following a 15.3 mile run I then missed two consecutive runs and replaced the Friday interval session with a slowish 5K. The week before the Robin Hood Half Marathon I went for an 18 mile run, and it felt incredibly tough for the last 2 miles – but I finished it.
I got up at 05:45, though I’d probably been awake for half an hour by this time. Unusually for a long run I had breakfast before heading off as I knew it was a 09:30 start and would be finishing around lunchtime, so it made sense to eat something first. When I got to Nottingham it wasn’t totally clear where to go for parking, even after asking one of the officials (they told me to take the first left, but it seems they meant the second). By the time I was parked up and in the race village I’d still got 2 hours to go before the race so I saw them setting up some of the equipment.
To start with I wandered over to where the finish line was and decided on a marker that would tell me it was time to start sprinting to the finish line later. It wasn’t totally clear from there where to go for the start line, and I did have a few people ask me – even though I didn’t know myself. Eventually wandering around I found the zoned areas for each wave of starters. By this time I’d still got an hour to go so alternated between sitting down and going for a walk. At around 09:00 the pens started to fill and they started off a group warm up (but I didn’t bother warming up for this). By the time our group moved forward to the start line my watch still hadn’t picked up a signal after almost 15 minutes – fortunately seconds before the gun my watch picked up a signal and I was able to start it going.
It was a very slow start with hundreds of people trying to cross the start line. It wasn’t until about the half mile mark that it started to thin out a little, but even then it was necessary to weave in and out to keep at the pace I wanted. To make up for lost time here I admittedly did the stupid thing of speeding up and it wasn’t until I passed the 2 mile marker I’d realised I’d forgotten to slow down, so dropped back to a steady 8min/mile pace. The support from spectators along this route was brilliant with them cheering not just their family and friends, but everyone.
The first water station was just before the 3 mile marker and it seemed the water there confused quite a few people until someone shouted out to bite off the tab at the top as these weren’t your normal water bottles, but these weird gel like packets. As it was only 3 miles in I didn’t bother, thinking I’d get some water closer to the end if I needed it. At this and almost every other water station there were people passing the water out to runners as they passed. At this one there were also some cheerleaders.
I was surprised how many people had used bushes as make-shift washrooms within the first mile, and even up to mile 3 this was still happening. I could only assume they’d taken on too much water before the start and then not used the facilities. For a lot of the time that followed this I kept thinking to myself things like “almost at mile 4, that’s almost a third of the way through” and “hey that’s mile 5, not long until half way”. At around mile 7 it starts to go up hill into the University grounds – this hill didn’t feel as bad as I thought it would, and unlike the Lincoln 10K, as we funnelled through archways it was done very civilised and didn’t really require any slowing down. I can only remember 2 or 3 times up to this point where a fellow runner had run across in front of me, one of those times was when they came from behind and shoulder barged their way through.
It wasn’t long before mile 10 when I passed a runner I actually recognised from the #ukrunchat community. I didn’t say “hi” though as I didn’t want to risk putting them off. At this time I also spotted the 1:50 pace maker in front of me so I decided that instead of focusing on other runners to catch up on I would fixate on the pace maker instead. I think it was a train station we passed by the time I overtook, and from then until the finish I was starting to pick up the pace again. Eventually the marathon runners broke away from our group as we carried on into the park and alongside the water. At this point I slowed down due to pedestrians darting across in front of the runners – I’m not sure if there was a way for them to have walked around us instead.
At the last water station I’d intended to get some water, but there wasn’t anyone attending it – just water pushed to the back of the table which would have meant I’d have had to have slowed down or stopped to have got some. Instead I made the decision to carry on – it wasn’t that much further to go. Every mile marker up to this point my watch had beeped further and further before the marker leaving me wondering if the course was actually going to be more than 13.1 miles (as it happens things sorted themselves out at mile 12).
The run along the side of the water seemed to last forever and I was starting to lose concentration a little, until I heard someone behind me starting to sing “Reach” by the band “S Club 7”. This actually made me smile and I was ashamedly I was reciting the words in my head until sometime after we started looping back on ourselves. As I’d slowed down a bit once we’d passed the mile 12 marker I decided it was time to start picking up the pace again. I could see the race village not longer after, it was in the distance, but it was there so I had no intention of slowing down.
Around this point I started to wonder if a sprint finish would be possible – there were a lot of people still about and it hadn’t thinned out as much as it had for previous races. As we reached the grass I figured we’d hit the 13 mile mark any time, I then saw the building they used for commentating from and as soon as I rounded the corner I very quickly speeded up to my sprint pace and pushed as hard as I could for the remainder. It turns out that I had done that stretch at 3:16 min/mile.
It was a relief to have crossed the finish line, and even more of a relief to have a bottle of water to drink. I wasn’t sure if I was dehydrated or not so I sipped at the water slowly as I slowly moved forward to get the foil blanket and race goodies they were handing out. Once passed the tent I dropped to the floor and sat down to drink some water. The race goodie bag consisted of a mars bar and fruit & nut bar – both of which provided much needed sugar to help with the recovery. Those of us that had sat down there were soon moved on though as they needed the space for more runners to get through. Instead of sitting down again I wandered over the the engraving tent.
The engraving tent charged either £5 or £6 depending on what you wanted on the back, though unlike at the Lincoln 10K they had no way of finding out what your time was – you had to give them your race time from your watch. I’d asked them about this and apparently this year the organisers had changed and the results would not be available until the next day so they had no way of knowing. This felt a little silly getting it carved with a time that is not official, but I decided I’d do it anyway.
It had been a really warm day, but I was pleased with the result of my very first Half Marathon race. I think overall the organisation was good, but it was a shame about the lack of results. It didn’t bother me that much though as according to my watch I’d set a new personal best of 1:42:54. Later the official results were released and I finished 1115 out of a field of 7130 runners (almost into the top 15%), with a chip time of 1:42:52. On top of the 7,130 people running the half marathon, there were a further 1,495 amongst us doing the full marathon – so it was quite busy!