Malmesbury Half Marathon 23rd September 2012

After setting the alarm for 8, I was hoping for a good night’s sleep before the Malmesbury Half. Young cat had other plans though, so it was a slightly grumpy racer who got up to eat porridge at 8am. After seeing the awful weather forecast I was quite pleased to see that it wasn’t actually raining at this point.

We set off a few minutes later than planned, but were still on time to first pick up a friend who was also running, and then my brother-in-law who was running his very first race. The rain had started very gently as we parked up and walked to the registration point (this included a long flight of steps up – not great before the race had even started!)

We collected our race packs, and retired to the changing tent to shelter from the increasing rain. Despite my worries about being late we still had an hour before the race started. We hid from the ever-increasing rain, pinned on our numbers, and slowly (somewhat reluctantly) peeled off our layers down to ‘Lycra’ level.

A 5 minute walk to the start line in the High Street (up another slope) took me to find the wide street full of soggy runners, with sadly no indication of where to line up according to your pace. I was just thinking I had better take my black bin bag off before the race started, when suddenly I heard “GO!” and people around me started moving. I frantically struggled out of my bag just before I crossed the line, and even found a bin to put it in.

The race started quite fast, as a downhill slope encouraged everyone to speed over the line and round the corner. Feeling like an experienced racer now I didn’t worry about this, but just waited until the crowds thinned out and there was space for me to run at my own pace. The rain was pouring down now – those big fat drops the look like hail stones. I was passed my a chap from the Veteran’s Association in a hand cranked racing wheelchair. He made me an offer I nearly couldn’t refuse – if I helped push him up the hills, he’d give me a lift down the other side. I then found myself next to another lady and we started chatting. Turns out she was practising running at 2:20 pace (so 10:40 Minute Miles) as she was pacing someone at Swindon Half in a few weeks time. This was quicker than the 11 Minute Miles I’d planned to run at, (which would give me a 2 hours and 25 minutes finish) but it felt comfortable so I stayed with her.

I rang with this lady for the first 4 miles or so, then came a hill and she left me behind. I chatted to a group from “Slinn Allstars” for a mile who were pacing a lady to a 2:30 finish (although they were going faster than that!) before I overtook then. I could see my 2:20 friend just in front, so reckoned if I stayed between her and the Slinn Allstars my pace would be fine.

Made it to the 6 mile point, and then the 10K split. I managed to mess up my Garmin at this point by trying to press the ‘Lap’ button and actually pressing the ‘Stop’ button instead. Some frantic fumbling with cold fingers sorted it out though.

Somewhere around this point was a long slope down, and then a horrible slope up – really tough. This was hard work, but I was determined not to stop running as I’d finally warmed up and didn’t want to get cold again.

Pressed onto the 7 mile marker, and thought gratefully that I was over halfway. Then I realised my legs were feeling tired and had a little panic that I’d set out too fast after all. My pace was still hovering around the 10:40 mark. Had to talk some sense into myself, remind myself that the route (overall) sloped upwards for the first half, then downwards towards the finish. I decided to have my Gel with caffeine at the 8 mile point. I reckoned this would then kick in coming up to mile 10 and would give me a boost over the final 3 miles. At this stage of the race I was just making it from mile marker to mile marker. I had my gel (yum yum) (not) and as I finished it I ran past an open wheelie bin so popped it in (how convenient!).

By now the runners had really strung out, and at a few junctions there wasn’t a Marshall, just signs. I found myself running all by myself down a deserted, wet road and had another panic that I’d taken a wrong turning. Somewhere along this section of the route I ran past the best named pub ever – “The Cat and Custard Pot”. I’m still not entirely sure if this was real or a hallucination. Fortunately as I rounded a corner I could see other runners up ahead – a great relief. I could still see my 2:20 lady, and was amazed I was still keeping up with her.

Mile 9 was grim – was having a real wobble. The wind had shifted and was blowing into my face. My eyes were stinging from the rain, and my whole body was complaining. I heard my phone ‘bing’ to say I had a text, and managed to get my phone out to read it. It was from my husband, asking how I was doing. I replied saying I was wet, and at mile 10. After I stuffed my phone away again, I realised I was only at mile 9 – wishful thinking, obviously.

Mile 10 went past in a blur. At mile 11 I passed another runner, and commented how I was fed up of the rain now, and was just thinking of my warm fleece waiting at the end for me. She agreed, and added she was thinking of a Hot Chocolate from the drinks stand. I practically drooled at this thought and added it to my mental list of ‘things to get me to the finish line’.

We passed the ‘Welcome to Malmesbury’ sign, and seeing the Mile 12 marker was great. I’d seen the mile 13 marker as we left the registration area, so could visualise it and feel it getting closer. I has no idea where I was as I don’t know Malmesbury very well and had completely lost my sense of where we were. It was a surprise to suddenly see signs to the pool were I used to take the children for swimming lessons, and exciting to think “I know where I am!”

Just one (and 0.1) of a mile to go – I’d been assured there were no more hills, so easy right? Actually, no. This final section cut along a footpath that ran between the backs of houses (well, that’s what it felt like). It sloped down, and up again. It was narrow and full of people with umbrellas coming towards me. It was full of runners clutching goody bags and medals coming the other way. At this stage there was no way I could weave between everyone – one runner advised me just to shout to get everyone out of the way.

It was a relief to get out of this path, and onto the final downhill road to the finish area. At this point I realised I was next to the 2:20 lady and gasped at her “I didn’t think I’d catch you up!” She kindly moved aside, and said “I’m slightly ahead, so if you push on you’ll get 2:20”.

Smile of Relief. Now where’s my hot chocolate?

I overtook her and dashed down the narrow path to the finish area. I passed the Mile 13 marker I’d been visualising. I could see the clock saying 2:19:56 as I entered the finish ‘funnel’. I could also see my soaking wet family waving and shouting me on. I stumbled over the line and stopped my Garmin.

I gasped that I thought I’d done 2:20, and then bossily ordered my husband to get me a hot chocolate NOW! (Remember – I’d been thinking of it since mile 11!) Saw my friends, who’d also had a great race. Friend had been hoping for sub-2, and had got 1:56 so he was very happy.

I sipped my hot chocolate, collected my bag and struggled into some dry clothes. As the tent was just an open tent I just had to pull them over the top of my wet running clothes meaning my trousers were soaked through in about 3 minutes.

We waited to cheer my brother-in-law in. As his first race, and with plans to walk parts he’d been hoping to break 3 hours. We cheered a few more people in, and then my children ran up the final straight to see if they could see him. Just a few minutes later they reappeared, escorting BIL in. They left him to cross the line by himself, and I was very proud to see him pull off the only Usain Bolt impression of the day. Despite being similarly cold and wet, BIL was delighted that he’d  achieved all his aims for the day: he’d finished, he wasn’t last and he’d beaten 3 hours – by about 10 minutes.

It was a great relief to arrive home, to get clean, warm and dry, to have something to eat and then slump on the sofa. The children lit the fire for the first fire of the winter.

It was the first time this half Marathon had been run, and they’d limited the numbers to 500. Although the route was mainly lovely, there are things they’ll need to change if they’re going to run this even again with greater numbers. On the whole though, a good race, and a GREAT medal!

My offical Gun-to-Finish time is listed as 2:20:09, but my Garmin (which is the true Start-to-Finish time) is 2:19:46

For the geeky nerds amongst us, my splits are:-

Mile 1-10:18
2 – 10:37
3- 11:01
4 – 10:52
5 – 10:43
6 – 10:40
7 – 11:21 (this is where I messed up my Garmin at the 10K split, but I think its right!)
8 – 10:43
9 – 10:46
10 – 11:03
11 – 10:38
12 – 10:25
13 – 9:54
final 0.1 run in 53 seconds, at 8:46 pace. Amazing what the smell of a finish line can do!

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