2011: A Race Odyssey (part two)

Race photographers: Instead of saying "Smile" would it kill you to say "Breathe in"?

You may laugh about the possibility of a velociraptor attack, but there’s no denying we’re long overdue for one.

If anyone’s reading this without having first read part one of my race report, then the above sentence will make no sense whatsoever. But you should all be used to that by now.

Anyway, where was I?

Ah yes, so I was lined up in the back third of the pack, Gruff beside me sporting that old favourite of running couture “le sac poubelle”, or the humble bin bag to you or I*. I know that many people laud bin bags as an ideal way of keeping warm and dry at the beginning of a race, with the added benefit that it can be quickly discarded once it’s no longer needed. However, I also know that if I tried it (knowing myself as I do) there’s a reasonably good chance that I’d forget to cut holes for my arms and head, resulting in a very short race sprinkled with several bouts of concussion and rounded off by the local news headline “Race ruined by mysterious black sweary shape. St John Ambulance resources stretched to breaking point“.

The race began, and I settled into a steady 10min/mile(ish) pace while waiting for the pack to open up a bit. The fact that I’m never in much of a hurry means that I really get to relax and enjoy this part of a race, treating it as a gentle warm-up while listening to the cheerful banter all around me. To say there was a positive atmosphere would be one of the understatements of the year, up there with “Scotland’s a tad breezy at the moment”.

Ooh, topical.

On I plodded, and after the first couple of miles Gruff started to pull away ahead, leaving me to pootle along in my own happy little world, enjoying the scenery and the reassuring feeling of the morning tarmac under my feet**.  As I’ve mentioned in recent posts, I sort of sprung this race on myself, signing up for it just a few short weeks earlier as a way of dragging myself out of a mojo recession. Since then, I think it’s fair to say that my training had been a bit inconsistent and I certainly hadn’t been building up the mileage as much as I had with my last HM, so I’d been feeling more than a little apprehensive about this race. But from the very first step, all thoughts of trepidation and anxiety disappeared, replaced by a mounting feeling of excitement. This was going to be a great run.

And then the hills happened.

From speaking to people who had done this race before or who knew the area, I’d had the route variously described as “pleasantly undulating”, “a bit hilly”, “a tough course” and “the mother of all bastards”. Most comments were towards the latter end of the scale, so I was expecting it to be unpleasant, but that didn’t do much to soften the blow when my whole world started to slope upwards.  For those of you who don’t know the route, things start to get hilly at around mile 2, and there’s a general slopey-upness (real word) to varying degrees for the first nine or so miles, with the nastiest hill coming in at around mile three or four. But that hill isn’t the worst bit. The smaller hills that come before it are far worse, because with each one I found myself thinking “This is it. This is the big one. It has to be. I’ve just got to get over this bit and then it’s all… oh bugger”. I’ve never been a fan of hill running; if god had intended us to go up hills he never would have invented cable-cars. Or Holland. It was during one of the first hills (aren’t I saying “hill” a lot?) that I made my first faux pas, of the kind that I’ve now come to accept are a kind of soundtrack to my day to day life.  I was plodding up a hill (see, I’ve done it again) behind a group of young ladies wearing rather fetching yellow shirts that had a skull and crossbones motif on the back, when I spotted a taxi parked up on the right hand side. Feeling a bit Oscar Wilde, and seeing that everybody around me seemed to be working as hard as I was to get up the slope, I quipped*** “they’ve obviously spotted a niche in the market”. Unfortunately for me, one of the yellow pirates in front must have thought I was having a dig at their outfits and replied “well somebody has to wear them”. It doesn’t take much to send me spiralling into social awkwardness, so I was quite relieved when their pace picked up and my embarrassment became a yellow blur in the distance.

I didn’t have to wait long for embarrassing moment number two to come along. There’s a steep hill just after the first water station, at around mile 3, and I briefly stopped at the top to take off my jacket, holding my drink bottle under my arm while I tied it around my waist.  One thing I learned that day was that those bottles have lockable caps for a reason. Another thing I learned was that if you have something tucked under your arm it’s remarkably easy to accidentally squeeze it quite hard. My final lesson of the day was that are few things guaranteed to startle a fellow runner more than having a jet of approximately 250ml of sweet sticky pink liquid fly mere inches in front of her face at high pressure, arcing from one side of the road to the other. I think the look on my face said it all, and my comment of “that wasn’t supposed to happen” seemed to be enough to save me from having to go on some sort of register.

After that, the miles seemed to fly by, and I can honestly say that I enjoyed every single step. As the race progressed, the atmosphere seemed if anything to get even more positive and friendly. Okay, so some of that was possibly down to the truckload of endorphins currently having a party in my tummy (or wherever it is that endorphins live. I’m not a doctor), but the marshals played a huge part in keeping the mood upbeat too. At times, there seemed to be as many marshals as there were runners; they were everywhere, and every one of them without exception seemed intent on dragging us through the race with smiles on our faces. The shouts of encouragement and offers of jelly babies really made all the difference, so hats off to them for a superb job (especially as it was bloody freezing, and they didn’t have the luxury of running around to keep warm like we did).

As I went on I actually found myself quite enjoying the hills (although in hindsight that might have just been one of the early symptoms of altitude sickness), and it dawned on me that bringing those two defibrillator-trained sherpas along was probably just overkill on my part.

The course profile for the Bedford Half Marathon 2011. I think.

I caught sight of Gruff again at around mile eight. Well, actually I heard him before I saw him, as he was still wearing his bin-liner and the rhythmic flap-flapping carried quite well on the otherwise quiet morning air. The familiar sight spurred me on, and I was able to gradually close the gap until I drew level and we had a few minutes of chitchat about how we were enjoying the race so far. After that, I found a reserve of energy from somewhere (most likely from an energy gel kicking in, rather than from any kind of fitness or natural running ability) and began to pick up my pace enough to start picking off some of the runners in front of me. Well and truly in the grip of the fabled “runners high”, I kept this up for a good few miles**** before settling into a slower pace for the last ten minutes or so of the race.

Just to backtrack slightly, I wouldn’t be doing the course justice if I didn’t mention the stunning views that greeted me during the last miles of the race. At around nine-and a half miles “pleasant” gave way to “spectacular” as the scenery opened out into miles and miles of panoramic rolling hills. More importantly, these were miles and miles of panoramic rolling hills that I didn’t have to run up, as from that point on it was all downhill (geographically, not figuratively). It was as if the course was saying “Here y’go, you’ve worked hard so now I’ll treat you to an easier bit, with some nice stuff to look at while you’re at it”. So idyllic and quintessentially rural was the view, I half-expected to be overtaken by Compo rolling down the hill in a bathtub on wheels, chased by James Herriot and some wombles.

And then I was in the final mile, where things got a bit tougher as my energy levels began to wane. I occupied myself on this last stretch by trying to remember the difference between a llama and an alpaca. Given the way my mind works, I probably would have ended up pondering this even if I hadn’t seen a couple of them in somebody’s garden at around mile 12. After a bit of post-race googling I’m now fairly certain they were alpacas. Or possibly llamas, but standing further away. As well as giving me something to think about, this lent itself to a running mantra to pull me through that gruelling final mile. Typically, a running mantra will be a phrase like “you can do it” or “feeling stronger, getting faster” repeated over and over again. I opted for repeatedly singing the theme tune to popular CBeebies show Nuzzle and Scratch in my head.

Here we are, Nuzzle and Scratch
Best by far, Nuzzle and Scratch
We’re Alpacas from the Andes
With hooves instead of handies
No two others can match Nuzzle and Scratch

I crossed the finish line and headed straight up one last hill (okay, admittedly more of a grassy knoll) to cheer on Gruff. He finished moments later, still wearing the bin-liner which made him look a little bit like he’d run a thirteen miles dressed as a half-hearted Batman.

The results were announced, and my time was exactly the same as my last Half Marathon (2:13:18), which was a bit spooky. So no new PB for me, but I’m still over the moon because it was a much more challenging course, and regardless of the time I enjoyed every single second. My final position was 1384th out of 1524 finishers, which on the face of things might look a bit crap. But when you think about it, that’s 1384th out of 1524 people who got up on a cold December Sunday morning and ran a half marathon, so I’m in pretty impressive company.

A final well done to all my fellow runners, and a massive thank-you to the organisers and marshals for putting together such a fantastic race.

Now, if anyone has any tips on how I can get the theme tune from a certain kids TV show out of my head, I’d be extremely grateful. It’s been over three days now and I’m starting to think I’m an alpaca.

Or a slightly further away llama.


* Unless you’re French, in which case just I.
**I’m pretty sure this is the same stuff as the mid-afternoon tarmac and teatime tarmac; I was just being colourful. I’m not suggesting that little elves come out at various points throughout the day and resurface the roads, although that would be awesome to watch.
Besides, we’ve already established that those little elves are far too busy going around fixing holes in fences. The bastards.
*** You see, there was my mistake. Someone who “quips” is only a tiny step away from being that “wacky” guy in the office who wears novelty ties and gets punched a lot.
**** To the point where miles 10-12 were only a few seconds away from a 5k PB, stat fans.

Please. Stop. Singing!!!!!!


6 thoughts on “2011: A Race Odyssey (part two)

  1. What you have to do is replace it with some thing better. Like this:

    Although granted, it may not be ideal for a tough last leg of a race. Still, you never know.

  2. Pingback: Race Report: Bedford Harriers Half Marathon 2013 | Born to Plod

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