Foolish, perhaps, but I decided to run the 2017 Reading Half Marathon. I wonder that my previous half marathon experiences did not put me off, perhaps they have been blocked from my mind. This time, I did not run for charity but if you want to make a donation to a charity of your choice then let me know in the comments.
Training this time was a bit hit and miss. I had two (separate) weeks off with illness, time off to care for my girls who were ill, family commitments, and some problems with my right hip. As a result, I was not expecting to come near to my personal best (1:58:48 in Reading in 2015).
Sunday 19th March 2017 dawned a windy but dry day. The air was warm but the wind had a chilly bite to it. Runners were finding every bit of shelter they could from the wind. The shopping tents were crowded but not many were shopping and runners huddled like penguins on the leeward side of tents and marquees. I left it as late as possible to strip down to my running kit and hand in our bags to the kit drop off. Now only in a vest and shorts, the chill of the wind was even more noticeable. I found a discarded foil blanket in a bin, removed the only contamination (a banana skin) and wrapped it around myself. After some warm up exercises and a last visit to the toilets (no queues, amazingly), I joined the throngs en route to the start line.
I was in the green start zone, those of us with estimated finish times between 2:00:00 and 2:05:00. It was quite a large wave. While we waited for the start, I was glad of the foil blanket. There was someone on the PA system trying to get us to do a warm up routine but there was not much enthusiasm for it, at least near where I was standing. One woman ten feet in front of me was visibly shivering from the cold wind, she did not look very cheerful.
Eventually our wave started. This time there was no getting stuck behind slower runners so well done to both the organisers and the runners for getting their estimated times correct (that or they all set off too fast). The start of the course is a loop back to the stadium before heading off around southern and central Reading. There are more hills than I remember, I think that I may have deliberately blocked them from my mind. On the plus side, I was feeling really good, perhaps the sickness-enforced rest the week before had done my legs a lot of good.
The wind was both a help and a hindrance. When it was behind me, I felt like I could run for days but when it was in my face, it felt like running in treacle. Despite the bitter wind, there were huge numbers of supporters; I lost count of the number of children I gave a high five. My name was printed on my race number so as the miles ticked by and I started to tire, a shout of “Come on, James!” from the crowd spurred me on. Cheered on by the crowd, I soon reached the 11 mile marker where we turn and start to head south along the A33. This is the most soul-destroying part of the course along a mile of dual carriageway with no shelter from the elements. The stadium at the finish seemed to stay on the horizon and not get any closer. I could hear the two hour pacemaker shout to his flock behind me, “Remember, the mind is stronger than the body!” At this point, neither my mind nor my body felt strong but I managed to keep going. There was no way the pacemaker was going to overtake me, we had started about 30 seconds apart and I had overtaken him part way round the course.
Eventually, of course, I climbed one last hill and turned into the stadium to a wall of noise. The finish line came at last and I could finally do what my brain and body was telling me to and stop. After staggering through the medal and freebie bag lines, I was free to make my way home. My time? 1:59:01 so not bad at all considering the disrupted training. Strava even suggested I had run an extra 300 m so thinks I ran 1:57:17 for the half marathon distance. If only I had taken the inside line on every corner…
After the race I was so hungry that I had a Burger King on the way home and an Indian take away that evening. The next day I saw my physio and had a sports massage too. My legs felt a lot better after that but it is four days later and I have not run again yet, plenty of cycling though.
No doubt I will tell myself that I will not do it again, until the next time!