By Laura Kimberley
Photos by Dave Sherman
Gathered at the start line waiting to go I was hit by a supreme moment of sheer panic. I felt sick and had a horrendous case of the nervous giggles. I’d known this event was coming up and although I’d trained for it more than I’d trained for any of the previous 4 half marathons I’d done, for some reason I really felt the pressure of this one.
Over the past few months I’ve been attempting to find a real love of running and have been taking part in a number of Purple Patch events along the way as the races I’d booked up were nicely spaced apart and located in really cool locations. This event was the big one, the half marathon distance and my penultimate event in this series – the final being the Reading 10k which would be my gentle recovery event. I’d eaten well over the last few weeks, including a nice big pasta bake the night before for the carbs, and toast with banana for breakfast that morning for the potassium. I also had some energy gels for later on and an isotonic drink to run with. I should’ve felt totally prepared…and yet still, despite all these reassurances from my fiancÃ© Dave, I was worried. Maybe it was the prospect of having to run by myself as my running buddy Nicola had ended up having to work. Whatever the reason, I had no choice but to get on with it.
The start area had been well organised, as I’ve come to expect from Purple Patch events. Entries were arranged alphabetically to shorten wait time and the volunteers on the desk were efficient and friendly. Although there were long queues for the toilets, these moved fairly swiftly as there were a great number of cubicles and facilities were very clean and well stocked with loo roll and hand sanitiser. There were also plenty of food options that catered to a range of tastes for runners and people there to support. Parking was located near to the start area as outlined in the emails leading up to the event and everything was clearly signposted. Pacers were spread out inside the start pens to give runners an idea of where to place themselves heading off and I was loitering sheepishly near the back behind all of them.
I’m not quick and if I’m really being honest I don’t have the kind of drive or determination Dave does to be faster each time. My PB for this distance is 2 hours and 38 minutes but my slowest was 3 hours and 7 minutes. Realistically I was just hoping to come somewhere in the middle of these times and to not have gotten slower. But a little part of me would love to get a new PB and prove that I’d accomplished something over the last few months.
As the gun went off and people began moving through the start I waved bye to Dave and tried to remember all the advice he’d given me about checking my pace, and not getting caught up in the beginning rush and starting too fast.
I slowed my breathing and just concentrated on finding a pace that was comfortable where I could enjoy the scenery around me and soak up the atmosphere of the race. As we made our way through the town centre and then headed down towards the river I forgot my nerves and really began to enjoy myself. The route was beautiful. We ran along the river where there were boats and lovely Tudor style buildings, then through country lanes where I saw fields of cows and sheep, passed a few country pubs where I was more than tempted to sneak a cheeky cider and through parks and residential streets that had a terrific amount of support from the locals. My personal favourite being the lady with the sign reading ‘Your feet only hurt because you’re kicking so much ass’ around mile 9. That really gave me a chuckle.
The volunteers were fantastic and really encouraging and events like this really couldn’t happen without the wonderful people who give up their time to stand around for hours showing us crazy runners which way to go so a massive thank you must be given to them.
Along with people giving directions there were the people manning water stops which were well placed near to 3, 6, 9 and 12 miles. The only change that might be worth considering is having bottles rather than cups as it’s really difficult to drink from a cup whilst running, and for someone like me who dehydrates really quickly it can be worrying when your bottle runs out and you know it’s a while until you’ll get to drink again. I do understand the waste involved with bottles as some runners only take a sip then throw it away but perhaps if water stops had both it would allow people to choose what suits them best.
In previous races I’ve completed of this distance I’ve found it took me a while to get into the flow of things and I start to really enjoy myself about 8 miles in. That was not the case this time. I started off really comfortably at almost exactly 12 minutes to a mile. By the 5 mile mark I was getting really excited doing the maths in my head and thinking if I could keep that pace it should secure me around a 2 hour 36 minute finish and a PB time!!! Unfortunately around the 9 mile mark I started getting really horrible pain and cramping in both knees and hips and my times started slipping. I was aware that if I slowed to walk it would be really difficult to start running again so I just kept to a slow and steady shuffle with the “just keep swimming” quote from Finding Nemo going round and round in my head. Coming up to the last 200 metres and the finishing straight I somehow found the energy for a little sprint to the end getting me a finish time of 2 hours 40 minutes. So no PB this time but only 2 minutes to shave off so I’m pleased enough with that and despite the pain I experienced during the event itself, I felt much better and a lot less sore or stiff in the days following the race than I ever have post event.
I was greeted at the finish by a gorgeous chunky medal and a bottle of water and after locating Dave I jumped (hobbled carefully) onto the finishers podium for a picture.
I totally loved this event and would recommend to athletes of all abilities. This would make a great first half marathon as the route is mostly flat as well as it being a good event for seasoned runners to chase their fast times. Thank you Purple Patch, as ever it’s been a pleasure.