As part of my preparations for Brighton Marathon, I booked myself in to run the John Austin Half Marathon, a small race raising money for charity, down in the New Forest.
Sunday morning saw us up very early – 6.30am, and I was eating my porridge before 7.00am. The rest of the Black and Tabby clan had decided to come with me and cycle whilst I ran, meaning I had company on the journey, but also meant I had to organise sandwiches etc for them as well as getting myself ready.We finally left the house a little later than planned at 7.30am but still in good time. Even with an unscheduled stop at a services for a nervous-tummy-loo-stop we arrived after 2 hours just in time at Brockenhurst College.
Husband unpacked the bikes whilst I went and registered, collected my number, queued for the loo (again!) and generally got myself ready. It was a mile walk to the start line, and I could hear the PA telling runners to start making their way. I left bicycle repair man still putting bikes back together so I could follow the crowds to the start (as I had no idea where I was going!) I thought I’d slowly jog to the start, as a little warm up, but we were walking en masse along a narrow pavement with cars whizzing by, so I could only follow the crowd and hope walking would be enough.
My family turned up just as we were called to the start line and just in time for me to reluctantly take off my fleece jacket and hand it over for safe keeping. The wind was bitter, and I thought I smiled nicely for a start line photograph, but the evidence proves otherwise.
A klaxon sounded, and we were off. Starting at the back I took a little while to actually reach the start line, so I only started my Garmin then. Then I was off, trying not to start out too fast, but trying to make sure I didn’t slip into the slow pace I’ve been running my long training runs at. Within the first mile, my shoelace came undone. Not a good start!
After 3 miles of running through fairly sparse fir trees I was starting to wonder if this was going to be the lovely scenic race I had thought it would be. The gravel tracks were dusty, the wind was cold and I still hadn’t seen any of the famous Forest Wildlife. By mile 4 I was telling myself that that was my warm-up finished, now I had to knuckle down and run the middle third of the race, concentrating on keeping to my pace. This was more difficult than it sounded, as by the mile 5 marker my Garmin was only saying 4.8 miles. I was hoping that my ever-so-clever watch had simply lost the satellite signal under the trees and so mis-measured the route.
At this point we emerged from the forest trails onto Beaulieu Heath. Boy it was windy here – despite the route on the heath almost completing a circle the wind somehow seemed to be right in my face the whole way round. The phrase ‘the blasted heath’ kept springing to mind. I had a gel at mile 8 (or 7.8 on my Garmin) and dutifully handed my sticky packet to a marshal to avoid littering. It was a relief to come down off the heath and out of the wind, and see a water stop which helped wash the gel down.
From this point on we turned off the paths and tracks, and headed off road. We had been told that this section could be muddy, and even with a few weeks of dry weather there were some boggy sections. It was fairly lumpy and bumpy here, with the odd very muddy section. At one point, there was a huge section of ankle deep mud which you had to go through to get to the gate. The very helpful marshal gave me a hand over this bit, literally, helping me jump from a log in the middle onto the path. What a Gent – thank you Sir!
At mile 10 we were back on paths again, and suddenly we were in a really beautiful part of the forest. It was also sheltered from the wind which was a great relief. Little winding paths lined with daffodils, twittering birds, and some surprising undulations. At mile 11 there was a long uphill, and the group of runners I’d been chasing for most of the way round had all stopped to walk. I was delighted to plod past them.
The railway bridge with the concrete steps was a nasty surprise to my legs, but then I could see the college and knew we were nearly back. I came around the corner of the college, knowing the finish line was just there, but was directed to run around the field first. Curses! When I had nearly reached the last corner, the man just in front of me suddenly staggered and fell to the ground. I stopped to check he was okay, and encourage him to finish, and someone (who obviously knew him) came running out of the crowd shouting “He’s asthmatic”. He got to his feet and continued on to the finish line, with his friend shouting at him “just to the clock! Just make it to the clock!” He did make it to the clock and staggered over the line with his friend and myself behind him. The marshals had already alerted the St John’s Ambulance people, who seemed delighted to have a genuine emergency to deal with.
As I crossed the line behind him, I noticing the clock said 2:16 something. I collected my medal, got held up behind the marshals helping the wheezing man away in front of me, had my number taken and then made it into the blissful warmth of the hall.
Goody bag, hot drinks and cakes to buy, changing rooms to do the best I could with some wet wipes and fresh clothes, and then my wind swept family returning from their bike ride, all red and glowing in their faces. What more could you ask at the end of a race?
All in all, the final few miles really made this race. The marshals (who must have been frozen to the bone) were all cheerful and encouraging. The blasted heath was memorable for all the wrong reasons, but it may have been good training for a windswept ‘along the seaside’ Brighton Marathon (if the weather isn’t kind to us on 14th April). Oh – when she came in my daughter spotted the asthmatic man sitting on a seat wrapped in blankets, but looking fine, which was a great relief.
The other good news from the day? Taking my Garmin time, I have a new Half Marathon PB. Very happy with that!
Rest day today, as I think I’m going down with a cold, and spent the night awake and coughing. My muscles are feeling a little sore now – pass the echinacea and the foam roller!