Reading Half Marathon – Sunday 17th March 2013
I’ve finally got the feeling back in my fingers enough to type up a quick re-cap of today’s very windy and very cold half marathon. I signed up for this race as a ‘tune-up’ race for the Edinburgh Marathon at the end of May. I thought it would be good to run in a large race (the Reading half has 17,000 runners) before Edinburgh (which has 30,000 runners), as the last few races I’ve done have been pretty small. My best friend, and Berlin marathon 2012 finisher, Rach, had also decided to sign up and keep me company. I wasn’t planning on going for a PB (my HM PB is 1:54:18 set at the Preston half in October 2012), but Rach was hoping to go sub-2:00 for the first time.
After a step-back week in training and a couple of days of rest my legs were feeling pretty fresh this morning. We were up bright and early on en route to the race with our boyfriends in tow by 7:30am. The race started nearby to, and finished in, the Madejski Stadium, meaning lots of toilets and somewhere to shelter from the drizzle. By the time we’d made our way to the race village and dropped off our bags it was really chucking it down. Luckily we’d both grabbed bin bags, the poor runner’s poncho. The kit drop tent was quite chaotic with runners and spectators attempting to shelter from the rain. After a couple of toilet breaks (portaloos were plentiful, well done Reading!) we made our way to the start area, which wasn’t brilliantly signposted.
After finding the blue start we thankfully didn’t have to wait too long until we were on the move. The plan was to run steady 9:00 minute miles all the way around to come in around 1:58. What immediately struck me when we got underway was the sheer volume of runners – I’d forgotten what it was like to run a bigger race. I’m used to weaving my way around people while I’m running – I live in London after all – but when two of you are trying to stick together it becomes a lot more difficult. However, after running together for several years, Rach and I are pretty telepathic when it comes to runner-dodging manoeuvres.
We settled into a nice even pace after the first congested mile, and chatted our way around the first 10k. The route was pretty un-scenic, as many town/city half marathons are. Crowd support was great considering it was such a miserable day, and the water stops were plentiful. In fact, I’d just like to rave about the water… instead of bottles the water was in plastic squeezy pouches, meaning that there was no risk of tripping over bottles, and the pouches were really easy to carry.
Just as I was beginning to think that we were fortunate the rain had eased off it began to ease back on again. It was freezing and we were soaked to the bone. Miles 7, 8 and 9 were pretty grim, especially when big hailstones started bombarding us. Rach was tripped by a man in a Paddy’s Day morph-suit, but managed to stay on her feet. From this point onwards it was all about gritting our teeth and getting on with it.
Seeing the mile 10 marker came as a big relief – only 5k to go! The final stretch of the race was along a dual carriageway, crowd support was somewhat sparse, and although we could see the stadium up ahead it never seemed to get any closer. Close to mile 12 we turned off down a short out-and-back with lots of drummers and music to cheer us on. We were nearly there and Rach was kept staring at her watch like it was about to tell her the meaning of life.
Eventually we turned into the stadium and the finish line was in sight! Finishing in the stadium was great, with loads of supporters cheering in the stands. I felt like an Olympian or something! A sprint to the finish and we were finished in 1:57:40 (chip time).
We were funnelled out of the stadium to receive our foil blankets, medals and goody bags, then wandered round to the race village to pick up our bags, containing our nice dry clothes. For possibly the first time in the history of the universe the queue for the women’s tent was non-existant, while the men had to queue out of the door. We gratefully received our bags, before sadly realising they were absolutely soaked through – our nice, dry, warm post-race clothes were just as wet as our kit. Shivering, we made our way to get changed in the stadium.
All in all, I think the organisers did a good job with the race, but when you’re freezing cold, shaking and soaked, all the tiny mistakes, such as wet bags and a huge queue for the shuttle buses back into town, can really get you down. On a sunny day there would have been no problems, but my overriding memory of Reading will be of being extremely cold and uncomfortable, and for that reason I probably won’t do it again.
I’m so pleased with how the race went for us – Rach got her sub-2:00 and a new PB, and I proved to myself that I’m right where I want to be at this point in the marathon training. After getting the bus back to down we chowed down on some delicious burgers with some friends who had also run, and began to get the feeling back in our toes.
I can’t say I’m excited about the next 10 weeks of marathon training, especially if this nasty weather continues. But getting a medal today has kind of reminded me why I do it…