Reading Half Marathon 2017

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!

Race Report: Reading Half Marathon

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.