05 April 2009

White Horse

As I drove past the Williams F1 factory on my way to the start of the White Horse Half Marathon this morning, I idly wondered how they might get on at the Malaysian Grand Prix which started at the same moment as my race. In fact, as we set off round the edge of Grove, Nico Rosberg grabbed the lead away from the startline, and I expect there was great excitement on the other edge of town (I'm sure the factory is far from empty on race days).

Still suffering from the tail-end of my cold (several coughing fits over the next 13 miles bearing witness to that), I intended to run a steady race at a modest pace. Perhaps 8 minute miles, like Jean-Luc who passed me after a couple of miles with a friend who complained that he was exceeding the promised pace. I let him drag me along, as I was feeling good in the spring sun, and I clocked a series of miles in the 7:35 - 7:50 range until half-way came up and the wheels came off. There was little for it other than to stop for a cup of water then continue at a much more suitable pace.

The course is a good, flat one, great for personal bests if you feel up to it (it's where I recorded mine, three years back) - which I certainly didn't today. The railway bridge at about 1.6 miles isn't pleasant (and at 12 miles, on the way back, it's infinitely worse), and on the way out the road drops quite sharply after that Heartbreak Bridge (meaning another climb near the end) before climbing to Denchworth and turning right on a loop through the countryside to the north. The flat countryside is saved from monotony by plenty of trees and hedges lining the roads, and there's a bit of a climb up to about mile 5 (plus another just short of mile 11 up into Denchworth again), but the runner I chatted to as we found ourselves side-by-side who suggested that it should be described as "undulating" must have been from Holland, or the Fens. Larks, and other less easily-identified birds, sang on each side of the road. On the edge of Charney Bassett, two horses watched quizzically over their stable doors as we ran past.

"It's difficult not to take a short-cut" protested a voice behind me as we rounded a 90-right, me on the left as the signs (and rules) instructed: how did he know there was no traffic approaching? Nothing difficult about it at all - if you have the will-power to run a half-Marathon, I'm sure you can find the will-power to go the long way round a corner. Otherwise, this was a disciplined race, and everyone (possibly excluding the presumed Dutchman, although he didn't seem unhappy) was good-natured. My report for Runner's World will be quite easy to compose: it is a really nice event, though I mustn't get too carried away with praise for the organisers (house style). I can say it here, though - great job, as always - this is my fifth White Horse half.

In Malaysia the heavens had opened, but we enjoyed perfect running weather for the whole distance. My second-half pace varied wildly from one mile to the next, not helped by a pitstop, and I passed and was repassed by several others.

Jean-Luc had pased me when I made my pit-stop, but I caught him again before Denchworth: he was having a hard time with leg problems. As we entered the village, a marshal assured us that we were doing well: I told her she was lying, as far as my performance was concerned. A lady runner objected that she was having a good run, and I told her I was very pleased for her. She pulled away from me, and I found myself passing and repassing (and sometimes running with) a Headington Road Runner with his name, Andrew, across his back. He'd speed up, then slow to a walk: I remonstrated, telling him he'd been inspiring me, and he got going again, though I found a little more in the tank after the railway bridge ("I love this bridge!" I called to the marshall as I shortened by stride and passed a few others on the way up it) and caught the girl for whose performance I had expressed delight, and also a couple of Andrew's team mates, one of whom repassed me just before the line. I summoned up enough of a sprint to hold my place after that, which turned out to be fortunate.

I was happy to be able to run at all, and content to get round in just over 1:50 - and to be handed a spot prize voucher (thanks, I realised later, to the lady who passed me at the last minute!), which I redeemed for a bottle of Valpolicella before heading home. My first-ever running prize, apart from what I have brought back from INTA 5ks in the past (not this year, again, sadly).

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