It was with a small amount of horror I realised that I had not yet written about the Reading Half Marathon despite promising some of my sponsors that I would do so. Here then, rather belatedly, is that report.
On the 22 March I, and over 13,000 other runners, lined up at the start line in Green Park. We were all itching to get away – a combination of nerves and the stink from a nearby sewage works exposed to the otherwise glorious sunshine (or perhaps someone had dodgy bowels). The weather was, for now, cool and dry and ideal for running. I was excited and nervous; months of training and fundraising had led to this moment and I was hoping for a PB. The fundraising took on even more importance as the previous day my wife’s aunt had passed away through cancer only four weeks after my mother-in-law. I was determined to do well for them and my sponsors.
The start was a bit of an anti-climax. We sere set off in waves according to our estimated time. I was in the 2:00 to 2:15 wave despite estimating my time at 1:55 to 2:00. We were set off about 20 minutes after the elite athletes. It was immediately obvious that those around me were either taking it very easy at the start or had underestimated how long 13.1 miles would take for them to run. Either way, I breezed past them and never saw them again. The two-hour pacemaker had set off in the wave in front and I caught up with him after a couple of miles. Thinking that I had overcooked it, I slowed a little and kept pace with him.
The weather remained sunny and there was a huge number of supporters lining the route giving encouragement. At the first big hill (Reading is not as flat as the organisers make out) I overtook the two-hour pace maker and the increasing group of runners running with him. For the rest of the race I could here the crowd saying “Look! There’s the two-hour pacemaker!” I didn’t look round but kept on running.
As well as the crowds, there were a number of excellent bands lining the route. As we ran under the IDR, a percussion band was playing. The beats bouncing off the flyover and nearby buildings seemed to focus on the runners and something very primitive in me responded positively to the rhythm. The town centre was packed with supporters and I got a huge cheer from the Macmillan cheering point but I was running out of spare breath and all I could manage was a cheery wave in acknowledgement. The town centre is only about half way and now the sun was climbing and getting rather warm. Having cursed the vest and shorts while waiting on the start line, I was now glad of them. The side of course was becoming littered with discarded clothing.
As we left the town centre we began to climb again. Turning left and up a hill, the pub on the corner was offering beer to the runners, an offer that I politely declined. As we passed the drinks station at Prospect Park I knew that I was OK and was going to make the finish. Not all were so lucky. There were a few runners scattered along the course and we had to move over to allow more than one ambulance through.
The last mile and a bit was a long, straight haul along the A33 dual carriageway back to the Madjeski Stadium. It was now gone noon, hot and with few supporters it took some mental strength to keep the pace up. There were a lot of runners walking by now but the stadium is visible at the end of the straight and it was getting nearer. I was spurred on by the knowledge that the course had changed since I had last run it and went straight into the stadium; two years earlier, it had snaked around for another mile before going in. All of that mile had been added at the start this year.
Soon I was climbing the small hill up to the stadium and making the turn into the stadium itself. The crowd inside was amazing and the roar was deafening. I crossed the line with the clock showing 2:19:10 and stopped my watch. Had I done it? Had I set a new PB and crept in under two hours? I looked at my watch. I had! My new half marathon PB was 1:58:48. I was the 7,119th runner to cross the finish line and 6,753rd by finishing time out of 13,336 finishers (PDF results).
I felt a wave of relief. The training had been worth it and so had the fundraising. In the process of dragging myself around the course and running hundreds of miles in training I had raised £547 for Macmillan Cancer Support. Thank you to all my sponsors for their generous donations.