Vitality Reading Half Marathon – 3rd April 2016

Trek and Run were supported during this event by;

Salba Chia 

&

Helly Hansen

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Photos by Vijay Algoo, Steve Kimberley and Marathon Foto

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Part 1 by Dave Sherman

The Reading Half Marathon and I have history – and it’s not good… Back in 2012 Reading had been my second ever half marathon and I’d gotten so carried away with the atmosphere on race day (including accepting a beer from the unofficial 11km pub drink station) that I’d spectacularly blown up late in the race resulting in a finish time of 1h52m37s…

Admittedly this isn’t a bad finish time and I’d loved a number of elements of the race including the stadium finish, awesome medal and huge amount of support throughout the course, but the final few miles had involved quite a bit of walking and a hell of a lot of pain. I’d left part of my soul out on that course, vowing to return again one day for revenge… 4 years later and I’ll admit I headed into the 2016 event feeling slightly cocky. My previous 2 Half Marathons had been on hilly courses, but had resulted in personal bests of 93m 21s and 92m 50s, and the Reading Half Marathon race organisers offering a new route and a claim that their race was the UK’s fastest half marathon (in 2014 & 2015 the Reading Half Marathon saw more runners crossing the finish line in under 70 and 80 minutes than any other UK road Half Marathon) alongside the claim that in 2015 18 of the 50 fastest times run by UK male athletes were run at the 2015 Vitality Reading Half Marathon.

In my mind this meant maybe I’d be able to drop under the magical 90 minute mark in this race! What could possibly go wrong…?!

Leading up to the event a number of emails prepared us for what to expect regarding start times, race-day schedule and even the predicted weather, and email headers counting down the days built up the excitement so much that when race day finally arrived and we headed towards the stadium the atmosphere was absolutely buzzing! I’d remembered how much grief the traffic around the stadium had caused us back in 2012 so we’d chosen to travel by train which took just over an hour from Essex to Reading (once we’d reached Central London the fast train from Paddington to Reading took just 30 minutes), and with a number of coaches waiting for at Reading station, the journey from station to stadium was nice and simple adding only another 10 minutes to our total travel time. The race village was well laid out with plenty of stalls, portable loos and all the usual necessities, and apart from a slightly congested walk from the stadium to the starting area due to an abundance of what seemed unnecessary pedestrian barriers, it wasn’t long before we were in our pen and raring to go! Rather than just going for a minor PB I’d decided to attempt to knock almost 3 minutes off my best time and go sub-90mins – a goal which Steve also decided to attempt – so as we waited to start we hunted out the 1h30m pacer, said hi, and posed for a quick photo…

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Now I’ll admit that while pacers can be a great idea for some runners, I don’t have a very good track record with them as in most cases they’ll stick to equal splits throughout the race whereas I prefer to run at negative splits (i.e. start gently, ease into the race, then attempt a fast finish) so this may have been a risky strategy on my part. I’ve also found that as pacers need to be comfortable with the pace they’re representing, they tend to be runners who race at a much faster pace – i.e. a 2h pacer may usually complete a half in 1h30m, or a 1h30m pacer may finish in 1h15m – which means there’s a risk that the pacer will go off at their usual speed – which was exactly what our pacer did!

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As we crossed the start line we were suddenly running at 6:10 minute miles instead of the 6:45s we should’ve been covering, and it took a good half a mile before the pacer realised his mistake and slowed down enough to compensate! He later said he’d planned this to compensate for the hills which were to come later in the race, but this early hiccup meant I felt I burnt out very early on and it wasn’t long before I was struggling to keep up with the pacer. This inevitably meant that after just a few miles I found I was watching as his flag gradually disappeared into the distance…

Now without going into too much detail or describing the course mile by mile, the route of the Reading Half Marathon really is subtly awesome. It begins a short distance from the stadium and besides a few quieter sections where you pass through an industrial area and alongside some of the larger carriageways, the majority of the course is within local roads or through town centres and the Reading University campus, and as a result the crowd support was absolutely brilliant throughout.

Closed roads meant you could enjoy nice wide open spaces to run without any concern about being stuck behind a bunch of runners, and with water stations every 3 miles, a few spray stops (vital when the temperature rises, as it did on the day we ran!) and an army of happy volunteers marshalling the route this resulted in a great stress free run.

Back to my race and despite the earlier pacing stress, once I got a few miles in and found my own pace I started to really enjoy myself – mostly because of the great route and excellent crowd support – and I pushed the stress of hunting out a PB to the back of my mind. I’d learnt from last time to ignore the beer stop at 11km and I‘d although I’d argue the race organisers claim of a ‘fast and flat route’ is definitely debatable (according to Strava we encountered 273ft of elevation including a long climb at the beginning from 1.5 miles up until 2.9 miles – something I would’ve tacked completely differently if I hadn’t been following the pacer!), getting the worst climbs out of the way early on meant you could enjoy the latter half of the race and I eventually crossed the finish line in 94m 01s – 1m 21s slower than my personal best but almost 20 minutes quicker than my 2012 time!

The final stretch alongside the Madejski Stadium football pitch really made for an amazing finish and that awesome moment when you’re hit by a pure wall of sound from the supporters cheering as you enter the stadium makes this a race I plan to keep coming back to tackle again and again – if only for that breath-taking experience!

Through the finish line and back out of the stadium and it was time to collect some goodies, and this is where I love Vitality’s events as you’re guaranteed a great medal, finishers T-shirt and goody bag.

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Admittedly these aren’t vital and of course you pay extra for the privilege, but when a Half Marathon can be a huge milestone for many people it’s great to have some decent memorabilia to remember the event by (and of course to show off to your work colleagues/friends/family/anyone who’ll listen the following day), and as usual Vitality didn’t disappoint. This year’s medal was a spinner (the centre piece of the medal could be turned to reveal a slightly different image on the reverse – similar to the medal we received in 2014 for the Nottingham Marathon) and although the t-shirt was cotton rather than technical making it unsuitable for running it, it’s good quality and a t-shirt I’ll be happy to wear again unlike some race t-shirts which are chucked straight into a bag for charity! Overall my 2016 Vitality Reading Half Marathon was a mixed bag… I’d loved the route, crowd support, stadium finish, goodie bag – in fact almost all of the race! – but that hiccup with the pacer had cheated me out of my personal best and I’ll admit that had tarnished my experience! However that’s the way it is with racing and it gives me a great excuse to come back again in 2017 and give it another go – and next time I’ll be ready to roar as I enter the stadium and smash through that stadium finish line!

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Part 2 by Steve Kimberley

Now if you’ve ever dreamed of running onto the pitch at a giant football stadium to thousands of cheering spectators, then the Reading Half Marathon is surely one to add to the bucket-race-list of any runner.

This was my first time running the Reading half marathon, and there were a few things about it that have really left an impression on me. From the sheer size of it, to the number of participants, I really have to give credit to the organizers for handling such a large scale event so efficiently. Since the starting locations were quite out of the way, the race organisers had very kindly set up a free shuttle-bus service to take you from the station to the stadium. This proved invaluable for the hundreds of runners who had arrived by train, including ourselves.

Now considering the number of runners, each starting wave is made up of at least a few thousand runners, meaning that they were of a considerable size. So if this is your first large-scale race, you must really make sure that you follow the pre-race instructions and get to your starting position in plenty of time, as the gate to your wave may be a good 10 minute walk from the drop off point.

There were regular drink stops giving out either water or Lucozade, which I think is a winning combination to help both hydrate and refuel you on your run. What was a real pleasure to see however, were local spectators also giving out cups and bottles of water. In fact, there was a little stall outside one of the pubs that were offering small plastic cups of beer and ale to passing runners. As tormenting a gesture as this was, most people seemed to appreciate the humour of it, and I even saw one guy neck a small cup of ale before powering up the hill that followed.

The crowd themselves were out in full force throughout almost the entire route. There were numerous musical acts (including a steel drum band, covers singer, and even a DJ on the High Street) and several groups of cheerleaders to provide atmosphere and morale on your way around.

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The day itself was, in all fairness, a little bit too hot to be ideal running weather, which made the drinks stations all the more welcome. I had hoped for a chance at a PB since the course was advertised as being flat, however the heat really took its toll on me early in the race after too quick a start, so the possibility of a PB went out the window. Additionally, while the course was mainly flat, there were a fair few ascents that were a real struggle at times, especially in the heat. I feel as if I have run flatter half marathons that have not actually described themselves as ‘flat’. But to me, the greatest moment by far was running into the stadium of Reading Football club to several thousand spectators. The echoing roar of cheering resonated outside, as you passed through the last kilometre of the race. The noise gradually built up until you ran onto the track surrounding the pitch itself. It was a truly awesome feeling and one that really sets this race aside from others that I have done in the past. After being ushered away from the finishing line, you receive your medal and finishers bag (which contained a plastic sports bottle, your cotton finishers T-shirt) before being able to head back into the stadium to watch the remaining finishers.

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While waiting for the rest of team Trek and Run to finish, I saw some truly brilliant finishes of people in costumes as Power Rangers, Stormtroopers and even a toilet. But what was truly inspiring was the visible second wind many people seemed to get from entering the electric atmosphere of the stadium and pushing themselves on for a sprint finish. So overall, the Reading Half marathon is a very well organized and truly memorable race, which I am very proud to have taken part in. Definitely one where a PB is possible, providing you pace yourself well and the weather doesn’t set out to smite you.

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Part 3 by Vijay Algoo

On the day of the race I wasn’t feeling in great shape. I had just started to come down with a bout of man-flu and hadn’t really slept the night before. Never the less I had run a half marathon a few weeks prior to this with no training and not feeling great so I thought even if I struggle I’ll get through it. Once we arrived at the venue, on the bus from the local station, we made our way to get changed and ready for the race. After this, we made our way to the start line, which wasn’t as straight forward as we had thought. When we first asked a steward they had been informed to send people back towards a help desk in the opposite direction of the race, which seemed odd but they didn’t try and stop us from heading forwards and finding our own way.

Once we found our way to the start line we had a bit of a wait before we set off and I believe the first wave got going about 10:10. Once I set off it took a while to for the crowds to spread out and be able to start getting into a rhythm without getting caught behind someone.

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By the time I had got running it the sun had come out and the heat was noticeable. I’ll be honest I really struggled with this race, it was not a fun one for me. Going through the first few miles seemed to be just trying to get a steady pace going which was a bit more difficult than usual given the amount of people in the race.

At around the half way mark was one of the more enjoyable parts of the route, mainly as this is where there was a high concentration of spectators on the course. It went through the town centre with everyone on the sides and the atmosphere was amazing, I was really struggling at this stage and this was the best thing to keep me going. After this we started to head away from the centre again. The route was still busy with runners the whole way round and in the last few miles the route started looking familiar and I could see we were not far from the stadium. The approach was great fun, the atmosphere picked up again and for the last couple hundred metres you ran into the stadium to cross the finish line which was the best part of the race by far!

To find out more about the Vitality Reading Half Marathon and sign up for the 2017 event, visit: www.readinghalfmarathon.com

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