Spring burst into life this past weekend in the UK with no less than four of the big Spring Half Marathons taking place. I had entered The Reading Half back in December partly because it is local but also for its iconic finish inside the Madejski Stadium. I was delighted to find out that nine other members of my Tri Club had the same idea, so on Sunday we all headed over to Reading, 30 miles away, mob-handed.
The journey to the event was hard work. Early start, meet up with Lisa, Pete and Louisa; drive to Reading and park in city centre car park and then join a huge queue to get on a shuttle bus. Two and half hours after leaving Lisa’s we arrived at the venue which under normal circumstances is a forty five minute drive. Not the build up the coaching manual recommends.
Eventually I was changed, bag checked in, warmed up and heading to the start. As my start area was several zones beyond the elite start it was a bit of a hike, so I saved myself some time by hopping the fence into a zone a few in front of mine and immediately bumped into three of my club mates, most of who had done the same.
We waited in our starting pen as we were introduced to a man doing the race with a fridge on his back, we were taken through a Zumba style warm up and then stood patiently through some “motivational” words delivered by the breakfast DJ from the local radio station – I don’t know either! Eventually the hooter sounded and we were off.
I was carried along at a 7.30 mins/mile pace by the crowd of faster runners for the first few miles and although I felt fine, I knew that it was too fast. I was brought to my senses at about the 3-mile mark when I saw the 1.30hrs pacer’s lollipop about 50 metres in front of me. One of us was in the process of getting this race spectacularly wrong and my hunch was that it was me – time to ease off. After about 4 miles of running things settled down and I was able to establish some rhythm at a cruising speed of about 7.45 mins/mile.
Once I hit my stride there was lots to enjoy on the way round. There was the fantastic band of drummers playing in the underpass on London Road, then the pub that had set up an aid station on the road serving beer to runners, the cheer leaders trying to lift spirits in the last few miles and the fantastic local support which seemed to go on from start to finish.
Apart from a bit of dip at after 8 miles I felt OK for most of the run, although I had a mini crisis of confidence when I was overtaken by an ice cream cone at 11 miles. I checked my watch and figured I was on course for something like a 1.42 finish, and he was going faster than me. I don’t know what was happening in my scrambled mind but I remember saying to myself: “That’s quick for an ice cream!!”
At around 10 miles, the Madejski Stadium came into view for the first time – the beginning of the end but there was a sting in the tail. The last few miles of the Reading Half are a heartbreaker. First a long drag down the main A33 into the wind to really test your spirit. Then as you approach the stadium the course veers away for a cheeky extra one-mile loop up and down the adjoining road. You won’t get any surprises if you keep your eye on the mile markers, but if all you focus on is the stadium, like most people did, then it is very discouraging.
With a bit of grumbling we all processed round the out and back mile and finally we were on our way into the stadium. You can hear the music blaring and crowd cheering inside as you make your approach. Then as you run through the tunnel the noise hits you.
At this point a sub 1.42hr time was on the cards for me if I could summon up a fleet footed finish . So I put my head down, found the outside lane round the runners waving to their loved ones in the crowd and gave it all I had. The good news is that I crossed the line in 1.41:52. The bad news is that the effort meant that the whole stadium thing, one of the highlights of the race, was completely lost on me. But I’d run a PB, so I wasn’t complaining.
As quick as we were into the stadium, we were ushered out of it again into the car park for medals and goody bags.
Post race is a story of two queues. The first one was to collect baggage which took some people 45 minutes, although somehow the lane for my number wasn’t busy. Having retrieved my bag I went to meet my team mates.
Once we had all gathered, had a cup of tea and compared notes, we headed for the second queue which was for the shuttle bus. We stood in that queue for well over an hour and a half – longer than it took me to run the race!
The Reading Half is a great event, a good interesting course, lots of entertainment and fantastic local support. I don’t know where things went awry, but the edge was taken off the day by poor logistics. Standing in a queue for 90 minutes getting cold and seizing up is not the lasting memory you want of your big day.
On a positive note I ran a half marathon PB by 3 minutes and ran with my fantastic club mates. Amongst them I should make special mention of Nick Wall who went under two hours for the first time (1.56hrs) and the fabulous Andover Tri Ladies who showed the men the way. Louisa Vere clocked 1.35hrs, Judit Leszkovich ran a PB of 1.38hrs and Lisa Hill who hadn’t trained for four weeks because of a chest infection (and a skiing holiday!) turned up and punched a half marathon straight on the nose. Well done ladies, fantastic effort. But none of us to got close to Dan Mason who ran 1.25hrs.
I should also mention Pete Holt who by his standards and his own admission had one of those days – but it was nothing a large bag of salt and vinegar crisps and a Twix in the car on the way home couldn’t put right. He was soon smiling again.
Another positive was the great medal the Reading Half rewards you with. A proper chunky medallion worthy of the effort is how I would describe it. Cate on the other hand thought it looked more like a Borough Council manhole cover! It was definitely one of those days.