Well, as races go, the build-up to this one has got to be one of the most stressful I’ve ever had.
I’ve been following a training plan for months, and then the week before race day Storm Ciara hit the UK and races across the country were cancelled amid safety fears.
Well, I thought, at least that’s over with. And then Storm Dennis decided the UK looked like a nice place for a holiday.
In the 3 or 4 days approaching the race I was probably the Met Office apps biggest user as I checked it approximately hourly. Or maybe I wasn’t as I started to see concerned posts from other runners on the event page just casually enquiring about the chance of this being cancelled.
Tunbridge Wells Harriers insisted they were checking the weather forecast and all would go ahead unless the weather forecast worsened. Then the forecast was upgraded to an amber weather warning and they still insisted it would go ahead.
As I sat in my hotel room on Saturday night listening to the wind howl and the rain lash the windows and knowing how prone to flooding the roads were I still wasn’t 100% sure I’d be running a Half Marathon the next day. And neither was anyone else, except, apparently the Race Director who sent an email that said it was all fine and the race would be starting on time.
At 7am on Race Day while Mr LLL was reassuring me that if I wanted to drop out no one would think any the less of me, a further update on Facebook stated that the race had been postponed for an hour “to make a decision”, whatever that means.
So I ate my porridge, had another coffee and delayed my trip to the start for an hour. When I then found myself standing in a big sports hall wearing a bin bag and waiting for an update.
At about 9:45 people started shuffling off to the start line. To be fair, the wind had dropped significantly, and the rain wasn’t too horrific at that point. I’ve certainly run in worse conditions, most recently the Marriotts Way 10k, but knowing the country roads the route took in I had no idea what it would be like later on.
When I started training I’d hoped to hit under 2 hours 11 minutes, or at least a PB (under 2 hours 18 minutes) but recently I had adjusted my goals slightly as I realised the hilly course was going to slow me down a LOT and the weather certainly wasn’t going to make it any easier. So I lined up just behind the 2 hours 20 minutes pacer.
I had a strategy. I was going to do 1 mile easy, 1 mile hard. It worked in my last long run and meant I didn’t feel like I was suffering for too long.
It worked perfectly for the first 4 or 5 miles. I was overtaking the 2:20:00 pacer, and then dropping back to run with them on my easy miles. And then, at about mile 5, we hit the first big uphill.
As I watched pacing group pull far ahead of me I felt a little sad, but not surprised, and I slowed to a trot, then a walk and felt confused because I thought the big hill was at about 6 miles and this was too early, but it definitely felt like a big hill.
Then we hit our first bit of flooding as the river had burst its banks, flooded the fields and was lapping at the road giving me slightly soggy feet.
Then I found the actual big hill.
Everyone at my pace walked. It was a stupid long hill. It was hard to even walk up. I wished I was wearing a t-shirt that said “I come from Norfolk, we don’t do hills” and at that point I gave up all attempts at mile on/mile off or sticking to an average pace and just tried to keep moving.
There was more flooding, some of it pretty deep and icy cold and we also had to deal with oncoming traffic. Ostensibly on the other side of the road, but in reality, often heading straight for us as we all tried to keep out of the worst of the flooding. At one point another woman and I had to wave our arms at a car to get them to slow down as they threw up waves of floodwater to about head height drenching us as they sped through the flooded roads.
I’m happy to say it leveled out a bit around mile 8, but the last 5 miles are a bit of a blur.
The rain was getting worse and I was very grateful I bought a visor to keep it off my face, a nice lady was stood outside her house handing out slightly damp jelly babies and the support on the course was lovely.
I would say that as a slower runner, this is the first race I have run where I really started to feel a bit like an afterthought as I reached the end. I’m not sure if the delayed start time affected road closures, but I had to dodge on and off pavements, avoiding pedestrians and dog walkers, and even stop to wait for traffic to cross a side road, which I wouldn’t normally expect to have to do in a race (lets say that added 10 minutes to my time and I’d have totally got a PB otherwise, right?)
The final straight was on fully opened roads, but a coned off area had been added along the edge, it was pretty narrow so I couldn’t overtake a few people and was a little slower than I could have been (That’s probably another 10 minutes right there, I’d probably have made 2:11:00 if it hadn’t been for those cones.). I think we can all enjoy how happy I look in that final mile.
And then it was over. We turned into the Sports Centre, navigated a couple of speed bumps, and I very nearly missed the finish line because there was no big arch due to the wind.
I swear on my life I thought I was smiling in this photo as I came up to the finish, but my face obviously just didn’t agree and went with “grimace”.
And then it was over, there were no goodie bags (Though there was a free t-shirt collected before the race) just a medal and a banana. I didn’t see any water at the finish either, but that might just been because I was blinded by the amount falling from the sky.
Mr LLL came to meet me, and as we walked back towards the sports hall we bumped into a couple of my friends, both sub-2-hour half runners, who were just leaving, so I hugged them and then promptly burst into tears.
By the time I’d engaged in some slightly elaborate in-car changing and drying off the chip times were published, and I’d managed 2 hours 27 minutes and 15 seconds. That makes it faster than my last Half Marathon in 2014 by about 1 minute and 30 seconds, or a bronze medal according to the goals I set when I started training.
Honestly, given the conditions and how VERY different the hilly course was to my previous Half Marathons (Total elevation of 828ft compared to 415ft according to Strava!), I’m pretty pleased with that time.
So, do I think it should have been cancelled because of the storm? I’m not sure, is the answer. In the end, it was mostly ok. I’ve run through worse even if the flooding was a bit frustrating and could have been dangerous with oncoming traffic. However, I have heard that flooding worsened after I passed it, and some people weren’t able to finish the course. I also don’t believe that they could have known for sure that the course was safe and that encouraging 1500 people to travel to the event in high winds when official advice was to stay home unless necessary was a little irresponsible. If it wasn’t cancelled, I do think that the decision to delay the start could have been taken much earlier as well. The forecast didn’t change from the night before and people had already left, eaten their pre-race meals at the wrong time and were forced to hang around even longer in the rain and wind.
I’m glad I decided to run, I’d worked hard to get there and it would have been a huge anti-climax, but I also hope this is the last time I have to run in weather so bad they named it.