Before the race:
- registration online months before, straightforward
- race pack received in the post a few weeks before the race, the most challenging part of that is remembering where I put it on the day
- race pack include baggage drop label
- the timing chip is integral to the race number label, so no mucking about attaching it to shoelaces.
- I had some late injury worries from a stumble in which i mashed my knee, pulled a hamstring and tweaked my groin. This was 10 days out and I did think that my race was done before it started. In the event those injuries did not persist and cleared up sufficiently to run on the day.
- the Reading Half is one of the larger races in the UK, with over 10,000 runners. I think it’s the secnd largest after the Great North Run. It’s quite exciting being part of such a large event!
- it’s a road race so much of Reading is closed off for the race, making getting there more than usually challenging. In the event I scrounged a lift to the nearby B&Q and walked the few hundred metres to the race village.
- being quite a big event the race village is extensive. Plenty of portaloos which kept the queues down for the essential just-in-case final pee
- very efficient bag drop, three big tents, each number range manned, matter of seconds to drop my bag
- I remembered from last year a very slow, crowded shuffle to the start zone which is a good half kilometer from the race village. This time I set off a little earlier and had plenty of room in the start zone for a warm up and stretch pre-race. It did get pretty crammed closer to the start time.
- the start zone was lengthy and zoned by target time which you specify at registration. your race number is coloured to match start zone, no dodginginto the wrong zone, the marshalls check your colour.
- the weather was overcast but dry, a little windy which made for a cool wait for the start. after seeing it last year, I employed the common bin-liner approach to staying warm in the start zone.
- there are pace runners at 5 minute intervals, clearly identifiable by the blue flag which they carry in a back-pack arrangement
- I was in the Blue Zone, stood right on the shoulder of the 1:50 pace runner. Turned out I knew him from work a few years back so had an unexpected catch up on old colleagues. I planned to stick to him like glue for the duration as 1:50 was my race goal.
- the race started bang on time at 10:15am, I crossed the start line about 10 minutes later, there’s quite a crowd to get through the start line. I managed to start my Garmin exactly when crossing the line.
- closely following a training plan for most of the 12 weeks prior to the race seemed to be paying dividends to begin with. I was comfortably sitting just behind the 1:50 pacer for the first few kms, pretty much bang on the 5:10 km pace I needed for the 1:50:00 target.
- There’s an unwelcome climb at about 3km in. It’s only about 50m of elevation but you know about it at the top. Fortunately that is followed by several km of downward slope as the course takes a circuitous route back down into central Reading via the University campus.
- it was on this downward section that I left the 1:50 pace guy in my rearview mirror, letting gravity assist. The course wiggles about in the uni campus so I was able to check where he was and I’d lost sight of him, a good sign I thought.
- I went pretty well for the middle 10k, thoughts of nailing the 1:50 goal with a couple of minutes to spare began to creep into my head. Such hubris! More on that later. My splits for the middle 10 were pretty good, in fact, remembering that anything under 5:10 pace is banking time against the goal.
km 06 – 4:50
km 07 – 4:40
km 08 – 5:00
km 09 – 5:03
km 10 – 4:44
km 11 – 4:52
km 12 – 5:07
km 13 – 5:05
km 14 – 5:50
km 15 – 5:18
- the time in km14 is due to a hill climbing out of central Reading towards Tilehurst. There’s a pub on that hill which gives out little plastic cups of beer in a unique take on the routine water stop. I did not partake.
- talking of drinks, there were plenty of water and lucozade pitstops. water came in either pouches, bottles or cups, the first two more useful than the latter. on balance I prefer water to lucozade, the latter being a bit sickly sweet for me.
- throughout the race, there were many people lining the route, cheering flagging runners but most importantly providing jelly-babies. I did partake!
- at various points along the route there were live bands, DJ sound systems, a steel drum band, bongo drums, all very welcome encouragement and adding to the general ambience of the event I thought.
- the final 6 km were a bit more of a struggle. I think this was mostly a mental block rather than a physical one. Yes I was tired, and yes my legs, particularly quads, were protesting, but this is a long distance race, they should be protesting! Anyway, at several intervals in the final section of the race I paid too much attention the the little voice in my head whispering “go on, just have a little rest, you’ve got time”. I left a good minute, minute and a half on the course through this lily-livered business. Splits for the final stretch were less impressive than for the middle 10:
km 16 – 5:11
km 17 – 5:19
km 18 – 5:08
km 19 – 5:45
km 20 – 5:43
km 21 – 5:26 plus a bit to complete the official race distance.
- actually you know what, writing them down, the first 3 are bang on target pace, more or less, helped by a slight downhill section from the A4 down to the relief road. The final 2 or 3 km seem to take FOREVER. When you’re on the A33 it feels like the stadium (the finish) is RIGHT THERE, but it’s still a good 2.5km away, still plenty of running to do. At least it’s flat.
- as you can see from the splits, this is where I lost the plot a bit in focus terms. I walked for 3 or 4 100m sections in that last 2-3 km and that is what cost me the 1:50 goal. In fact, it was in this section that the 1:50 pacer caught me up and left me in his rear view mirror. Payback! That was enough to snap me out of it and I ran the final kilometre, albeit a little off target pace.
- the final 500m or so are around the football stadium, a final insult. You can almost touch the finish line but can’t see it. The finish is quite fun though, a temporary running track is installed over the pitch so you do half a lap of the stadium to the finish line.
- The stands closest to the finish line are pretty full so there’s quite a nice noise in the stadium which is a good pick-me-up, adding a certain fizz to the legs for the close.
- the net result was that I finished bang-on 1:51:00, my Garmin agreeing exactly with the chip time. While I missed by one minute my arbitrarily round goal of 1:50:00 for the race, I did beat my PB for this distance by 3:42, so I’m happy enough with that. Room for improvement next year I think.
After the race:
- there was enough space in the finish chute to stretch etc, where I bumped into a friend of my sons who had rocked up with very little training, age 17, knocked out 1:48. In stark contrast to me, he didn’t look like he’d run at all. Git.
- Outside the stadium the medals were handed out and goodie-bags too. The bags were graded by t-shirt size so that made it easy to find the right one. The post-race grub on offer was a bit disappointing to be honest, just a Mars bar and peanut/oat bar. The Mars bar was a winner though, very welcome, I pretty much inhaled it. The grub was better at the Goring 10k, flapjacks, bananas and jelly babies.
- Plenty going on in the race village but I met up with a local friend for my lift home and we skidaddled after bag collection.
- my kids unanimously dissed the medal, last year’s was better because the lion span round, it seems. sigh.
- I had an epic 2hr snooze on the sofa in the afternoon, properly sparko.
- the next day, my legs are sore in the expected places, but no ill effects from the pre-race injuries so all’s well.
Overall, an enjoyable race experience, and a PB to boot. Can’t be bad.