Water of Life Half Marathon – Oct 2015

Trek and Run were supported during this event by;

Salba Chia 

Saucony

Columbia Sportswear

&

Helly Hansen

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Photography and words by Dave Sherman

Without a doubt, the Half Marathon is my favourite distance when it comes to running. Yes, shorter distance events are still a challenge to runners depending on your level of athletic ability or the amount you push yourself, but there’s something special about the challenge of that 13.1 mile distance, and even telling people you’re taking part in, or have completed, a ‘Half Marathon’ sounds so much more impressive than a mile or kilometer distance.

While I love the distance, not all half marathons are equal and an enjoyable run can easily turn into 13.1 miles of torture if a few basic elements aren’t covered, so did Purple Patch manage to tick all the boxes? Here’s how I found the event…

Leading up to event day

Firstly I have to say this event is great value for what’s included. The Half Marathon costs just £24 (£22 if you’re England Athletics affiliated) and the 10km race on the same day is just £15 (£17 affiliated), both of which are great value for an event on the edge of Greater London! A full ‘competitor information’ pack was available on Purple Patch’s website a few weeks before race day, an online ‘start list’ offered a way to confirm your entry, and regular emails kept us informed of race day instructions and anything we should be aware of (including the fact the clocks went back at 2am the morning of the race – something easily forgotten!).

It was also great to see a kids race had been arranged – something I feel is important at events now as more and more race organiser’s work to improve the spectator experience and find ways of making events into a day out for the whole family.

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The start area

A race’s event village doesn’t have to be huge as long as it’s well organised and this was definitely the case as we arrived at the Abbey Sports Centre in Bisham. Well, I say at the Sports Centre… the carpark was in a nearby field but this was well marshalled with one particular volunteer clearly loving his job as he enthusiastically using paddles to guide cars into parking spaces in the style of an airport Marshall.

A short walk took us to the race village where collecting our race number was quick and easy in the registration marquee (“What’s your name? Here’s your race pack with your number and bag tag – have a great race!”), baggage was handled by ‘Handy Moves’ with helpers loading bags into the back of a van, and best of all, a gorgeous old building was used as the race HQ offering competitors cooked food, indoor toilet facilities, and a great place to relax and prepare for the race. As the race was in support of Water Aid, a charity which raises funds to provide clean water in Africa, a ‘chuck the poo in the toilet’ game was very popular with some of the kids at the event, and before our race started a representative from the charity told participants where money from their race entries would be used.

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The course

Besides a few small sections on the road when we left the Sports Centre and as we passed a pub just before the final loop, the majority of the course consisted of pathways alongside the Thames and mud, gravel and grass making it truly multi-terrain. The majority of the route was undulating which would usually mean personal best potential, however the course crossed a few narrow bridges (some with steps or rutted slopes) and passed through hinged ‘kissing gates’ so you often had to slow your pace considerably to pass through these safely.

The flip-side to these obstructions of course was the fact the route truly made use of some beautiful countryside and some of the views really were amazing! Quite a few times I found myself looking across wide open fields reminding me just how much I love trail running and how awesome some of these events can be when they take advantage of the beautiful scenery the English countryside has to offer. As the course ran alongside the River Thames we also passed a number of water-front holiday homes ranging from small caravans to gigantic mansions, and throughout the morning we also saw people making the most of the great weather by sailing boats (again ranging from small cabin cruisers to huge yachts) and a number of groups paddling row boats, canoes and kayaks.

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The course was served by 4 water stations with cheery marshalls offering water in cups (always a pain to drink while running, but acceptable at an event with a low entry fee) and throughout the course plenty of marshalls were dotted around to offer guidance and support. Even though the course mainly passed through fields and along towpaths, there were also a number of people out running or walking their dogs who were all happy to say hello and offer a cheerful “Well done!”

It’s worth noting this event is described as an out-and-back course, but unlike at most events where you’ll turn at a cone and head back, the route incorporated a large 2.5 mile loop of countryside offering a chance to keep the course interesting, while also minimising the amount of people encountering runners on their way back while they’ve still got miles to go.

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The finish

A final sprint back into Sports Centre took us over the finish line where we were handed our finishers t-shirt and medal (a great chunky piece of race bling displaying the outline of Africa), and we could help ourselves to water and goodies including fruity Mentos sweets and bananas. We were also able to pose for our finishers photo on the finish line podium where we were also joined by a lady from ‘Water of Life’ dressed as a toilet (it was quite a warm day so the costume must’ve been baking!), and there was a great atmosphere throughout the finish area where it was clear everyone had enjoyed the race and had a great time.

Steve and I had decided to take our time and enjoy the event finishing in 74th and 76th place out of 183 runners in around 1h 52m, however top spot for the lads went to Pedro Upton in 1h 18m 56s with the fastest female, Melissah Gibson, finishing in 1h 28m 05s. Meanwhile, the fastest Male 10k finisher was James Silvey in 35m20s, with the fastest female finishing in 43m 14s – all excellent times for a course which was deceptively tough compared to your average road race!

Purple Patch’s website describes a number of honors their Water of Life Half Marathon has been awarded including; 2nd place in Runners World 2012 ‘Best Half Marathon’ 2012, Running Bug 2011 ‘best overall event’ and the Runners World 2011 5th best half marathon in the country, with the 10km event gaining Running Bug’s 2011 best 10k award, and I’m confident as trail running continues to grow in popularity this event will continue to grow in popularity every year!

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Part 2, by Steve Kimberley

When Dave first called me and asked me if I was free for the ‘Water of Life’ half marathon, my initial though was that I had never heard of the event. On his recommendation that it would be a good run, I agreed to join him (although I never really do say no to any races). So without much time before the race, I did a limited amount of research and saw that this little half-marathon had ranked pretty highly on several half-marathon polls. Intrigued, I probed further to find that there is very limited information, apart from the organizers website, out there in the vast dimension that is the internet.

But why? I thought to myself. If a race is this enjoyable that people are voting for it in polls then why is it still so small, and why is there so little to read about it? Well I assumed that it being a relatively new race would have something to do with it, but my attitude had changed and I was now well up for taking on this race and seeing if it lived up to the whisperings of hype that I had picked up on.

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On race-day, Dave and I were around halfway to the location of the race, Bisham Abbey Sports Centre in leafy Buckinghamshire, when Dave asks me if I brought trail shoes with me.

I told him that I, of course, had not as I was under the impression that this race was on the walkway along the Thames, and being a popularly voted for half marathon I assumed meant ‘flat’ with the possibility of getting a PB. This however, was not the case, and was apparently clearly explained in the pre-race information that was emailed out to all runners in the days leading up to the race, and that I had seen in my inbox however had not even opened.

Suddenly, I felt very amateurish and really wish that I had not been so naive. With the limited information that I had found out about the race, you’d think that I would have jumped at the chance to read any pre-race notes, but no. I had really shot myself in the foot here.

As we arrived at the sports Centre which would serve as the start and finish for the race, I was quick to notice that almost all of the other runners had not overlooked the pre-race notes and were well equipped with trail shoes. Damn.

The atmosphere in the modest race village was very pleasant, and the staff and marshals were all so friendly. There was a table with the awards for finishers, including medals for the first finisher from each age category, and a small drumming quartet adding a bit of culture and ambiance to the chilly Sunday morning. We kitted up and dropped our bags off at the baggage drop (a pair of chaps in the back of a van: something I’ve never seen before at a race but ok) and headed off to the starting line.

The race organizer took a quick speech to go over the cause that proceeds go towards, and how the past few years of this race has had a positive effect on those in Africa without clean water. I feel that this short, yet heartfelt speech really gave you the impression that you were running for something.

There was no pre-race warm up (which I was really thankful for) but you quickly noticed the cold, which I would say was a little bit too chilly for ideal running weather.

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The overall race itself was definitely multi terrain. The track ranged from flat roads and pathways to full on grassy fields complete with mud. There were several wooden bridge crossings that you had to cross, and one or two country gates that you had to squeeze through. Throughout the whole 13.1 miles of the race, the limited number of marshals refused to lose their vigor, and kept giving you that little bit of extra support when you passed (including one Marshall who gave me a handful of jellybeans at around mile 11, whom I shall love forever).

Along with the amazing house lining the river which filled me with jealously and made me want to move out of the city, the country pubs and rows of tiny boats that you pass by on the route make you almost forget that you’re running a half-marathon and let you believe that you’re just on a countryside ramble. The finisher’s medal was also a real beauty. It had a custom printed ribbon with an outline of the race logo on the medallion, which is not the sort of finishers medal you tend to see on such a small race.

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Overall I really enjoyed the Water of Life half marathon, which is surprising considering that I ran a multi-terrain race in road shoes and finished with my ankles in mild agony. I think that on top of the picturesque scenery of the run, it was the organizers themselves that really made the race what it is. The whole event encapsulated the ownership and local pride of a smaller, local half marathon, without losing the friendly atmosphere or sense of accomplishment that can sometimes happen.

My piece of advice to anyone planning on giving it a go next year (and you really should!) would have to be: bring trail shoes and read the pre-race email!

To find out more about the Water of Life 10k and Half Marathon and Purple Patch’s other events, visit: www.purplepatchrunning.com/index.php/water-of-life-10k-half-marathon

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