10 February 2008

Wokingham Half Marathon

I've long wanted to run this one, and last year was only prevented from doing so when I woke up with the symptoms of a cold on race morning. Mind, that was when I was having a lot of trouble with my knee, so it might not have been ideal anyway. Today's race has given me a tremendous boost, after many months when not much seemed to be going right: some more miles on my training schedule and there is no reason why I shouldn't get down below 1:30.

The instructions asked us to be at the start an hour before it was due to take place, so it was quite an early departure from home. Signs for the car parks in the town centre tended to set you in a direction then stop - it worked OK if you kept going straight on from one sign to the next, but I'd have felt more confident if there had been more signs. An event of this size monopolises the parking facilities, so it was important to ensure that I got there in time to find a space to dispose of the car. Then it was a fairly lengthy jog to the start - few other competitors going at more than walking pace - which was also unwelcome, and the start area was pretty congested.

The course is nice and flat, and the weather was absolutely perfect for a half-marathon. Quite bright, not too hot, distinctly cool where the route was shady and hanging around at the start, but no wind. The sky was cloudless, and Heathrow-bound aircraft hung in it apparently stationary. Support from spectators almost all way round the course was superb and generous. However, my enjoyment (and those of others I spoke to) was marred by a very crowded start, and the fact that I was still passing joggers for two or three miles. I wondered out loud to the lady who who I was running alongside at about that point whether we had passed all the joggers yet, and she remarked that she had never seen such a bad start from that point of view. Timing was by chip, but from gun to finish, so the couple of minutes it took me to reach the start will be in my official time.

A little later I caught Jean-Luc and exchanged a few words before we had to pass a slower-moving group and became separated again. It's a constant proble: you think you're running at the same pace as someone, but as soon as you have to speed up or slow down you lose contact again. After that I kept company with a guy called William, running his first half for three years and doing it rather better than I did - I finally lost him when I stopped for a drink.

Just before half-distance, I found myself running with a lady from the Serpentine club called Phil, who has at least once come steaming past the about 4 K on the last Friday of the month race. (Checking the results she was one place in front of me in December.) I was ahead of 7 minutes 30 schedule at that stage, and knew that I was definitely taking it too fast, just enjoying the weather and not paying enough attention to pace, so just as in the last Friday races I let her go.

But for a lengthy stop for a drink to a water station about 10 miles I think I would have been on that schedule until about two miles to go to. By that stage, however, my legs had definitely lost interest in proceedings, and I pulled over to walk a few yards to recover just before the 12 mile mark. The I summoned enough energy to get back to running, but when I turned the corner towards the finish I knew that 1:40 had slipped by so my sprint for the line, which wasn't going to recover those missing seconds, left quite a lot to be desired. The time my watch showed that I missed out by 41 seconds, and I suspect the official time will show there are 22 minutes longer. I stopped at the water stations for much more than 41 seconds, so I can probably count it as sub-1:40 with a clear conscience though this will not be borne out by the official results. I can also say I ran a good 12 mile race: pity that it had over a mile still to go at that stage ...

The finish area was not as crowded as the start had been (many people were still on the course, naturally) but even so I doubted I would bump into anyone. But there was Rachael, with Mark too: she reckoned she'd been seventh woman home, which is pretty good going given the problems she has mentioned on her blog, and the fact that Liz Yelling was running. I collected my bag from the marquee where it was mysteriously raining inside (OK, not really a mystery, but certainly a bit odd) then also bumped into William. Everyone parted saying "See you at Reading", but of course the chances of seeing any particular person at Reading are vanishingly small. Still you never know.

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