Looking back on the race

As I’m starting to write this it’s a week since our first half-marathon.  That was a phrase I’d never really imagined needing to use up until last summer, but now we can look back on the race. Like at lunchtime today I asked what we were doing this time last week. At the time it was standing about on the old start/finish straight waiting for the start.

I wanted to find some good photos of the event to help bring alive some of my memories of it, and in the end I found something much much better – a time lapse video of one guy running the event in 2012, which had a near-identical route.

That video does move very quickly (you’ll be pleased to hear. I certainly don’t want to sit through all 2+ hours of it!), however it does seem to get across a part of what the event was like and it’s certainly put small tales and stories into my head.  These are those stories. References to time heading each represent a place in the video. I haven’t tried mapping out my run so no idea what time it really was when I was anywhere.

0:00-0:28
I described the start of the race a little in my previous post, so won’t repeat myself here, however one thing that has jumped out when watching this was the crowding before the start of the race, even where we were towards the back. Then it crowded a bit more as people walked towards the line, and then the crowds just parted as everyone found their space to run in. I don’t know how but it just worked.

I found it really difficult to find a pace I was comfortable with. I probably spent too much time and energy worrying about everyone else and making sure I gave everyone more than enough space. This became more important as the race went on.

0:39-0:50
I think it was around here that the scale of the event struck me.  I looked over my shoulder and as far as the eye can see you’d see runners across the whole track, and exactly the same thing looking forward. All just setting out.

0:55
Just about here the delirium was setting in. OK that’s not fair but it was around this corner we dealt with most of our side challenges – singing Eye Of The Tiger and making silly squealing tyre noises while cornering. It just had to be done OK?

0:57-1:04
Running along the new pit straight didn’t mean much to me on the first lap, as I don’t recall noticing it, although I dare say I did. The return trip near the end of the race was a bit special though.

1:12-1:22
I found this bit of the race mentally quite tough. I was running on my own by now, and overtaking people while trying not to get in anyone’s way. I think I found this bit of the circuit a bit dull too. Also, this section was where they had a drink stop. This was my first ever drink station in a “proper” race, and picking up a drink when you don’t know how many tables of them are there is tough. Of course there were loads so I shouldn’t have worried but after this first one I’d learned.

1:27-1:36
Running through the old pits was a cool idea but you don’t see a lot. Along here I threw my drinks bottle to a marshal. I guess this section was good for atmosphere, because there weren’t many supporters along here, but lots of volunteers and marshals.

1:43
Along here somewhere I lost my cap, which was a tad annoying. It was also very wet with a fair amount of standing water in puddles creeping across various spots on the route.  The problem with this section was simply that I didn’t know it as well as the circuit itself, and therefore it wasn’t as much fun – at the time at least.

2:09
At this stage, I was still very much in the infield section of the track but in my head I was replaying the race map in my head, and thinking “OK we must be coming up to the wing soon”. It didn’t come for ages though. This was slightly heavy going mentally, but not dreadful I suppose.

Then the back of the Wing complex came into view, but I wasn’t sure exactly where we were going. Suddenly the route turned right, and were sent through what looked like this tiny gap in the building (actually it was probably something dull like a door or a gap between two buildings with a shared roof, but it LOOKED like a tiny gap)

At the time I was really confused about the next bit and I still am. I’m not sure if we ran along the “real” pit road or an access road behind the new pits. If it’s the real pits then I’m amazed that the track is actually below the level of the rest of the circuit.  I’ll be watching this year’s Silverstone GP with greater care to try and figure this out.

Then we criss crossed the paddock area behind the wing. One thing about this section is that you run past everyone who hasn’t yet got to the Wing section. I looked out for Jean but no sign of her.

2:46
This section differs slightly in the video to the 2014 race but after running a bit along the International circuit, we turned right. I never noticed this at the time, but actually we turn right to run over the bridge we’d just been running towards. Which meant a sharp little climb you really don’t need half way through a half-marathon. I seemed to cope with this climb better than most which just meant lots of people were in my way!

2:55
For what seems like a lovely green place there weren’t many trees around. These trees were though and they stick in the mind now thanks to the line of guys having a pee against them. Thanks for that all of you.  Actually just around by these trees there was an ambulance on the course too. The conditions were pretty awful so it’s hard to be surprised at that.

3:00
About here they had another bridge crossing but for our race this part of the circuit was packed with supporters. The atmosphere up here was absolutely brilliant, but again it seemed I coped better with the climb than most, but this was a really narrow path so overtaking was tough. (I hate to sound uncharitable but I caught a blind runner and their guide here so this really wasn’t the time for shoving my way through)

3:38
After a fairly uneventful bit around the perimeter access road, about here I caught another one of the paced groups. It seemed as though one other person was running similar to me because the two of us were trying to nicely force our way through. She was far quicker than me though so eventually I got stuck and slowed down a little. Having someone to race with did pick me up a bit though, which no doubt helped my final time.

3:55
Unlike the guy who recorded this film I didn’t have a toilet break!

4:18
Here we rejoined the GP circuit so I knew we had just the final lap to do.  That was a great feeling and it really felt that I could start to count down the distance left, which it turned out I underestimated a bit because I ran extra distance according to my GPS probably due to weaving in and out passing people.

4:35
About here we were back running on the circuit in front of the new pits. This bit was quite odd. There was a right hand bend leading on to this bit of track but everyone felt that they should run as close to the pit wall as possible all the way down rather than straight-lining it by drifting across the circuit right-to-left. Not a massive difference I’m sure but it still seems odd looking back now.

4:44
From about here we’re doing the first part of the race backwards, and we were on a bit of the track I knew fairly well. The crowds were just starting to grow too.

5:21
Here was about the 13 mile mark so we all knew that we’d more or less finished. In my case the realisation that not only was I about to complete my first ever half-marathon, but also I’d ran every inch of the whole thing. The crowds built really quickly here so I was looking out for the kids and family (they’d done the sensible thing and got out the cold and rain actually). There was a fantastic atmosphere, kids reaching out to give high-fives which I was delighted to return, music and commentary from the PA system, including shouting out for the finishers to pick songs he’d play.

Then, I noticed the finish in the distance so I had a little “sprint” (relatively!) I finished strongly anyway, and although I was a little disappointed in my time the feeling of crossing the finish line was amazing. I felt a little lost actually. All around were people either looking unwell, or enjoying themselves, or on the phone, or getting treatment. And there was me. Right there in the middle of it. Feeling OK considering and wanting to catch up with everyone else and see how Jean did too. It was over though. And while I loved getting my finisher’s pack, putting on my medal, getting my photos taken and all that, it was hard not to feel a little anticlimactic. It was done. 8 months of planning and effort came together well but were essentially over.

I guess the good feelings we carried (and still have) about the race will see us do it next year. I’d love to break two hours next year. The evening of making my last post I discovered that my official time had a few seconds off my estimate so my race time was 2:09:20, but that was still a few minutes longer than I’d wished for. A wonderful experience and just possibly the first run of many!
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Race day

Sunday

Not too early a start to the day and a fairly relaxed breakfast followed by a slightly less relaxed dash down to a nearby petrol station to buy a few drinks.  Then some packing and it was off to the track for the race.

We were meant to be there by 10:30 but us being us we left about 9:45 for the twenty minute drive, which went fine until we were about 6 miles from the circuit which is where we joined the queue to park. Eventually we parked just before 11 and started the long walk to the start, but not before stopping off at the circuit hotel to meet our cheerleaders for the race!

This was a very long walk – at least it felt it, especially when later we realised that we’d have to walk back that way too. The anticipation for the race itself growing all the time, helped along by a bit of photography on the way. The whole thing was really well organised. Fast runners sent one way (for psychological assessment presumably) and us normal people sent towards the start. Fortunately we didn’t have to suffer the indignity of a public mass warmup, led by the likes of the now elderly Mr Motivator. Or something. We did however have a predictable selection of  inspirational tunes – Don’t Stop Me Now and errmmm…Barbie Girl. Right………

Actually to be fair the atmosphere and the build up to the race was great. Apparently there was a klaxon to start the race but frankly I knew nothing of that and just slowly made my way up to the start as everyone else moved forward. We crossed the start line just under 5 minutes after the actual start of the race.

Looking back now it’s difficult to pick out clear memories of the race.  I’m going to look some time at a copy of the course map and see if more comes to mind. One of my early reactions was awe at the sheer number of people all around. Also surprise at the number of runners who were clearly in huge difficulty at a very early stage in the race.  As planned, Jean and I ran together for the first twenty minutes and then I forward to set my own pace.

One of my challenges therefore was to clear the massed numbers of (and I have to be frank here) slower runners. There was a huge cluster of them following a pacemaker who was getting a bunch in for just under two and a half hours, and because of the volume they weren’t all that easy to clear. Later on, I reached the 2h 15m pace group and they were even harder to clear but in the end I got past. Actually through the whole race I spent most of my time overtaking people, which was very encouraging, even if it meant I ended up running a good few hundred metres longer than the regulation distance.

I’ll post more about the race another time when I’ve seen some of the pics and reminded myself of the course but for now I’ll just say I was delighted with my time of 2:09:23 and enjoyed the day hugely.

We enjoyed a hot cuppa with our family after the race, although I felt sitting down was bad for my legs. Actually as I’m sitting here now writing this my knees are still throbbing but that’s just about the only negative effect so far, so I’m happy with that.

Think we might just be back next year!

The shopping before the race

Saturday

Not much to add today, partly because we’ve left today largely as a shopping day, but also because we’re spending a second night in the same hotel in Northampton.

In the hotel here, we went swimming which was good and relaxing, but I had my last treadmill run before the big day. All good.

Shopping was good although some of that was interrupted by a football match taking place at the “Stadium MK” (continuing a theme of earlier in the week I noticed that the stadium is actually in Bletchley, not Milton Keynes and certainly not in Wimbledon!).

We also did some shopping in Bedford which was a surprisingly pretty town, with a very pleasing liking for free parking on a Saturday afternoon.

So, tomorrow’s the big race day. Our first ever half-marathon. I am getting a bit fed up of having sore shins all the time, so I’ll be glad when it’s over but I dare say I’ll keep pressing on with the running, but let’s get tomorrow out the way first before thinking about that. I’m as ready as I can be.