In the run up to the 2014 London Marathon, I signed up for the Wokingham Half Marathon, which was cancelled a few days before race day due to flooding. My place was transferred to 2015 and I forgot all about it.
At the end of 2014 I realised that I had 12 weeks until the race and put together a wildly optimistic training plan that I ignored until I forgot all about it.
To top this preparation off, I got ill at the beginning of January and it took several weeks before I felt better; then two days before the race I developed a cough and lost my voice.
Unperturbed, I looked up how to get to Wokingham. It turns out Wokingham isn’t near Woking!
I arrived in Wokingham in the sunshine. The organisers had posted out an info pack with a map of how to get to the start but it wasn’t needed as they’d put up signs, which reduced the risk of getting lost in a strange town.
Milling about at the race start I chatted to a few others, my voice having upgraded from a whisper to a croak. A chap on a loud tannoy read out all sorts of stats about the race – it reminded me a little of an antiques auction. Eventually we were asked to queue up according to our predicted finish time. I wasn’t sure where to put myself so stood at the 2 hour mark, feeling cold and wishing I’d brought lipbalm.
Finally we were off, and I jogged along in a crowd as we left the park and headed onto the roads. I’m always surprised by how congested things are at the start of races, and equally surprised at how it thins out and becomes more manageable. Within two miles I’d seen someone walking back to the start, which must have been gutting for them.
I was feeling alright, as long as I didn’t breathe too hard, running around 5:30 minute/km. I was actually very surprised at how okay I felt and had to stop myself chasing people. I entertained myself trying to think of names for my new bike, admiring the scenery and rehearsing difficult conversations in my head. I’d studied the map beforehand so had a rough idea of where we were at all times.
I ignored the first water station, taking some water and a gel at the next one (8k). I trundled on, starting to need a wee and feeling surprised every time I checked my watch at the progress I was making. I knew the next water station (12k) had toilets but I couldn’t see them and decided to press on as I could feel my motivation ebbing a little.
The course had a loop where you could see the runners about 1.5k ahead and it disproportionately pissed me off to know I had to run 1.5k instead of 15 metres to where the other runners were. I walked for a minute, trying to get the zip of my jacket unstuck, then jogged on to the 15k mark, where I stopped.
I sat down against a tree and had some words with myself. What, exactly, was the problem? I was coughing a bit and couldn’t take deep breaths, but I felt okay. My feet felt a bit sore and I could feel a friction burn on my back, but it was nothing bad. I watched a few people run past. Come on, lambface. Get up.
I dragged myself to the water station at 16km, then unashamedly put my game face on for the camera. A few other runners had headphones and I was jealous of their music as I could have done with a bit of a boost.
I kept overtaking and then being re-overtaken by a lady who probably thought I was a pain in the backside – she was going at a nice constant speed whereas I was all over the place. In the final stretch she suddenly stopped running and started walking! Noooo! I patted her arm and told her to run with me and she started running again. Afterwards she thanked me, she’d thought the finish line was one corner closer than it was and had run out of steam.
Overtaking people double my age as I neared the finish line, I sprinted (unashamedly, again) over the line in 2:06:02, picked up my medal and free hot chocolate, and had a chat with some new friends I’d met earlier as they were vaselining their nipples.
I got changed in the baggage drop tent, which I think was actually allowed (nice touch having the tent split into male/female) and wandered back to the train station, finishing my hot chocolate as I went.
All in all, a good event. There were around 3000 runners and the marshalls were unfailingly cheerful. I ate enough before and didn’t have any stomach “issues”. It was sunny (too sunny at times for the amount of reflective gear some people were wearing – on closed roads I think it’s a bit unnecessary to wear high-vis and reflective clothing!) and it was easier to get to Wokingham than I thought.
I got a new personal best, taking 13 minutes off my previous half marathon time. That’s a minute per mile, despite not being 100% well and having such a bad second half. It’s not a time that’ll set the world on fire but I feel buoyed by this as it’s a step in the right direction at least.