Gloucester Half Marathon

Melanie Niven has written a great (and amusing) race report on her Gloucester Half Marathon experience.

So Sunday morning dawns cool and dry and my first thoughts are Gloucester Half Marathon. “Well why not?” I hear you say. After all its Sunday 20th January, the day of Gloucester Half Marathon. Surely the race is our first waking thought on race day?  Well rewind one week to the previous Saturday which saw me run a flat ten miler with park run in the middle. All good, no problems until I decide to fall backwards down the stairs on my way to the shower argggghhh. One dodgy, painful leg later and no running for a week. Everyone was really helpful with good advice. Don’t run if you are in any doubt. Don’t jeopardise your marathon plans for one half marathon. Look at the bigger picture. Three days of being completely pain free and I awake thinking that I won’t run the planned nine mile marathon training run with friends, with options to pull out if I get any pain. No, stubborn old me is going to attempt a two lap, flat, road half marathon with every intention of pulling out at any stage should I need to. 

Fast forward to 9.30 am. Allocated free parking in the Waterwells Park and Ride and a 1.5k walk to race headquarters. Massive queue to pick up the two rubber arm bands that you will need to wear, to drop one at the end of each lap. Fortunately a lovely guy came out and shouted that the long queue was for registration only and as I had pre-registered it was just a case of fighting my way through the throngs to collect my two rubber armbands, then just a short wait for the baggage drop. I just love the inside of race headquarters. The smell of deep heat and hot coffee. The hustle and bustle and hum of runners and supporters chatting. The pinning of race numbers to club vests. Looking to see if I know anyone. Exciting and nervous anticipation of what lies ahead and will I get a PB. 

 But first off to tackle the toilet queue. The toilet queue was about ten miles long despite a good supply of porto loos. Yayyy for me though because there right in front of me were Jenny and Lizzie in the queue already. A big hug with them both and I had secured myself a prime spot in the queue whilst trying to ignore the looks from the runners behind. I take no prisoners and it’s all fair in love and running races right? 

Mel, Lizzie and Jenny (and a burger van)

Jenny and I said our goodbyes and good lucks to Lizzie who was running the marathon and made our way to the starting line. We were pretty much at the back of the pack which probably explains why we didn’t or couldn’t hear the race briefing or starting gun. Before we knew it the pack was moving and we were off.

There followed a 1.1 mile flat road run to the start of the two loops which were 5.5 miles in length. The thought of two laps had initially put me off because I think psychologically, covering the same ground twice can be soul destroying, but in reality the quiet, flatish, car free country roads were an absolute joy to run. I felt comfortable, my breathing was steady and with no pain in my leg. The conditions were great. The weather was cool, dry and overcast. It was a perfect route to get into the zone and just enjoy the rhythm of putting one foot in front of the other at a pace that felt comfortable. 

There were two water stations on the 5.5 mile loop and I used the first one as an opportunity to take my first gel. I’ve only recently started fuelling my runs and I wanted to use this race as an opportunity to see how my body would cope with my chosen method of fuelling. I’m quite partial to cherry flavoured SIS gels so popped my first one and drank half a cup of very cold water. I’m always shocked to see that runners don’t make an effort to place their rubbish in a bin and this race was no exception, however, in all fairness I didn’t see any bins. I can’t run and drink so I used my fuelling time as an opportunity to walk slowly for about 30 seconds whilst sipping my water and just enjoying a little rest before cracking on with the race. 

From time to time I checked my watch to sneak at peep at what my running pace was. I had decided that I would just treat this race as a comfortable marathon training run especially considering my leg injury and not wanting to put myself under pressure to get a PB. I had planned 10 – 10.5 minute miles and I was surprised to see each time that my pace was about a minute quicker than this. Because the pace felt comfortable and my heart rate was fine I decided just to continue and reassess as necessary. 

Jessica Ennis……

Up ahead the other side of a railway bridge I could see the official race photographer. I made sure my running vest was straight and planted a massive smile on my face. As I ran under the bridge I gave the photographer a big thumbs up and cheesy smile. At that moment I was Jessica Ennis running like a pro with my head held high. I was feeling fantastic and thought yes, at last, a good race piccie of me.  Two days later and the official race photographs are on line. Definitely not Jessica Ennis but certainly someone who was having fun and for once enjoying a race.

Towards the end of the first lap I heard my name being shouted. Hayley and Caroline, it was fantastic to see them both especially as my family who usually come and support me were not there this time. Probably the only race that my daughter and husband had not been able to make. 

At the end of the main loop of each lap we were asked by a race official to remove a wrist band. The half marathon runners had two wristbands, the marathon runners had four and the 50k runners had five wrist bands. Half marathon runners ran two laps, marathon runners four laps, and 50k runners five and a bit laps. Because there were three distances within the same route I did find the distance markers somewhat confusing especially as they were all in the same colour. 

Once all of your wrist bands were removed you were directed by race signage to the correct route to take towards the finish. This was another 1.1 miles along a busy main road with marshalls stopping the traffic to allow runners to cross. This was for me the worst bit of the race. With just a mile to go I had increased my pace because it had become clear that with a little bit of effort I could achieve a PB. Because the final road section was not a closed road all runners had to run on the pavement. This was past pedestrians and runners coming in the other direction who had already completed their race. I found at times that I was having to step into the road to get past people or to avoid folk with dogs and buggies. It was for me psychologically distracting as my legs were tired and heavy with the effort and I mentally just wanted to stop and walk. I couldn’t even see the finish line at this point and the road seemed never ending. Then eventually we crossed the road onto a pavement still thronged with spectators and race finishers coming in the opposite direction. The support was incredible with everyone shouting “come on, not much further, you can do it”. 

And there it was, the finish, just another 100 or so yards away, but first, another bloody official race photographer. There was no way I was feeling anything like Jessica Ennis now. I felt like I was going to vomit at any moment and my legs wouldn’t hold out long enough to cross the finish line. But finish I did and with a new official race PB of 2.05 although I’m going with my Strava time of 2.04 hehehe.

Race goodies included a medal, a tshirt and a bottle of water. The medal for me is always the best bit but the Gloucester half marathon medal left me feeling disappointed. It was of poor quality and not representative of the race I had run. The tshirt however is a perfect fit and with a fabulous motif on the front. The fabric is good quality and it’s fairly well made and I will definitely get lots of wear out of it. 

Would I run this race again? The cost was about £26 ish so not too expensive and on mostly car free roads. The marshalls were super friendly on the whole and very supportive. I’ts a fantastic race for getting a PB as it’s mostly very flat with just a few inclines that certainly wouldn’t trouble an Allrunner.  Nice and local with free parking. What’s not to like really, so yes, I will probably run it again next year.