Monday, 22 February 2016

RACE RUNDOWN: Wokingham Half Marathon 2016

It seems like it was only five minutes ago that I started my Hal Higdon half marathon training plan. After a failed attempt two years ago at Reading to secure a sub 1.45, I decided to follow a plan for Wokingham Half Marathon that I entered for 2016. 

I won't go into too much detail on my training as this post is more about the race itself but you can see my progress in previous posts documenting this journey. However, to summarise, I took the method to follow a plan which focussed around me running a 7.55 mile pace come race day. It consisted of paced and tempo runs, speed work and long weekend jogs. I also incorporated a swim each week to bring in an element of cross training - something I highly suggest for anyone following a half marathon plan. 

I have really enjoyed the last 12 weeks and come race day, I was feeling a mixture of excitement and apprehension. Would I break the dreaded 1.45 barrier - something that haunts me. Or would I creep in just over again? The latter terrified me.  

Wokingham Half Marathon has been running for 30 years and has become a very popular race for club runners and those looking for a PB. Described as 'fast and generally flat', I was instantly attracted to this course, especially as many fellow runners at my club had secured their best times here. 

On race day, the skies were grey but the temperature was mild. Despite it being dry (yay to no rain!) the winds were incredibly strong, which concerned me. Parking in the town centre, we had a 10 minute walk to the start line, which was in Cantly Park (it may be quicker but we were fighting gale force winds!). The main base is rather small and basic, but has all the amenities you need (changing tent, kit drop off and several port-a-loos). The start line itself is very long and narrow, with pen markers for you to line up beside. Sadly no pacers are at this race, which can be a concern for some, so it was super important we line up in our correct time slots. I popped myself in the 1.45 pen, which was very far down the track. When the gun went off, it took me three minutes to cross the start line.
Starting off, we set headed down country roads with the first mile and a half feeling slightly downhill. I resisted the urge to set off too quick (my biggest fail at Reading 2014). It was quite busy in the first couple of miles and I did find myself weaving in and out of a lot of people who, I presume, did not place themselves in the correct pen at the start. This peeved me a bit but by 5K, it had petered out. I was relieved to feel no winds what so ever and the first 10K whizzed past. Running down mainly country roads, we passed through small villages where locals came out to cheer. Most of the course seemed flat, with a few short uphills to cross a couple of motorway bridges. I found myself running 7.35s and whilst I was concerned this was way too quick, it felt really comfortable. The water stops are at 3.5, 5.5, 7.5 and 9 mile markers. These are simply water in plastic cups, which I do struggle to drink whilst running so I did find myself stopping to have a quick gulp. I also took an energy gel between miles seven and eight. 

So, as I say, by 10K I was feeling fresh and strong. However, this suddenly changed as we turned back on ourselves to make our way back up to Cantly Park. It seemed that we had ran the first half with the wind behind us which only meant one thing - facing it head on in the second half. My god, was it strong! It also seemed to get worse the closer we got to the finish. Miles 7-10, it was bearable and I managed to run 7.50s but the last 5K was hell on earth. The winds were houling and at times, I felt myself swaying and trying to not topple over. To add to this, the course was starting to become a climb uphill, crossing back over the motorway bridges and taking some long, subtle uphills back up the roads. I dropped down to 8.15s and was absolutely shattered. Not only were my legs heavy as lead, I felt like I was running through treacle fighting the gales. Everyone around me was the same but we all trooped on. By the time you reach the 13 mile marker, you turn a sharp bend and the finish is in sight.  With all my might, I sprinted (well attempted to) to cross the finish in 1.42.40. 
Overwhelmed with joy at my time mixed with stress from the last 5K of windy torture, I felt delirious crossing that line. There was a good bunch of crowds around, which including my parents who were waiting on the sidelines for celebratory hugs. After dropping my chip in the buckets provided, I collected my medal and skipped round to the side where the crowds were standing to cheer in my friend that was also running. Once she had crossed the line, we walked back to the base camp to have a quick change and collect our bags. We also treated ourselves to the tech t-shirts on sale that had all competitors names printed on (short sleeved: £10, long sleeved £15). I opted for bright orange. 
To summarise, Wokingham Half Marathon is a lovely race that has the perfect balance of popularity yet intimacy. I loved that it was much smaller than the big wigs in half marathon events (e.g. Reading, Bath, Bristol etc..) yet it had a brilliant turnout of dedicated runners. There were around 3,500 runners, with most of them being club runners. Despite this though, there were a mixture of abilities making it a great choice for anyone. The course itself is very open, with the right amount of turns to keep you interested. After Reading and the dreaded dual carriageway at mile 11, it was nice to have a course that gave you lots to look at. The only downside for my race was of course the crazy winds but this cannot be helped. Although I do wonder if I could of got a faster time if these had not be so disruptive...

If there was anything for race organisers to improve on it would be to maybe introduce pacers, mainly due to the fact that runners of all abilities were mixed together, which meant chaos for fast runners caught up with the slower ones. However, this is only a minor criticism. Overall, I would highly recommend Wokingham Half Marathon. Priced at a reasonable £24 (£22 for affiliated runners), it offers a great PB course for anyone looking to secure a shiny new time. 

To read more on this event, you can visit the website here


Course: 4/5
Scenery: 5/5
Facilities: 3/5
Water Stations: 3/5
Medal & T-Shirt: 4/5

My time: 1.42.40 (February 2016)


Lipstick Runner.

1 comment:

  1. Congratulations again for breaking your PB.

    I also found the last few miles into the wind pretty hard - the wind kicked in just when I was starting to flag. I have had a quick look on Strava at some of the other runners and most people seemed to suffer from a similar slow down in those last few miles that you and I both did. This feels reassuring!