Any of you unfamiliar with 1970’s sitcoms (starring Windsor Davies at his shouty best and displaying all the political correctness of seven Jim Davidsons and half a Bernard Manning) might want to mentally change the title of this blog post to “Silverstone Half Marathon 2012 race report”.
Having plodded my way round two half marathons now, I was starting to feel like a bit of an old hand at them. In fact, I was one step away from being the old bloke in the pub, nursing a dimpled pint of Knackington’s Olde Peculiar and regaling the youngsters with tales of how “in my day, 13.1 miles used to mean 13.1 miles. We had none of your internets helping us then y’know”. But although I was feeling a bit less daunted by the distance, it didn’t stop me from spending the night before the Silverstone Half 2012 in a blind panic, obsessively ticking my way through a meticulously crafted checklist of kit but still convinced I’d end up forgetting my knees. At 11:30pm I was still I laying out my gear on the dining table like some sort of OCD gear-layer-outerer, knowing damn well that no matter how thorough I was, I’d still end up checking it all again in the morning (just in case gremlins had eaten my shoelaces).
It’s occurred to me that in my last two race reports I’ve spent so long describing the preparations for the race that I’ve ended up having to split the report into two parts. As I’m starting to run out of far-fetched-but-definitely-true cliff hangers I think that this time I’ll just fast forward a bit…
I’d heard a few horror stories about traffic jams getting into the place followed by mad mile-long dashes from the car park to the starting area, so I made sure I set out nice and early. As it turned out, there was hardly any traffic and I was parked and enjoying a gentle stroll towards the track with well over an hour to spare. It was warm and sunny, the birds were singing, and just when I thought things couldn’t get any better I spotted a Mr Whippy van in the race compound. However, I somehow managed to resist the lure of the Fab lolly and the siren song of the Funny Feet, and instead opted for a pre-race coffee.
A few minutes later I spotted a welcome sight, as Gruff’s beaming face emerged from the crowd*. You may remember Gruff as the Bin-bag Avenger from my Bedford Half race reports, but this time he’d eschewed that look and was sporting a British Heart Foundation shirt, as were his support crew the Gruffettes (aka the wonderful ensemble of Mrs Gruff, Gruff’s Mum, Little Gruff and Girl Gruff). Aren’t I saying “Gruff” a lot? I’ll move on…
We were soon lined up in our starting position, close to the 10 minute/mile pacer (more on him later), and by now we’d been joined by Steve, also known as Kirkleyrunner from RunnersForum. Considering there were well over six thousand runners and thousands of spectators, the whole thing seemed incredibly well organised. Any event involving this many people has the potential to be a logistical timebomb, but from where I was standing it seemed to go without a hitch – fast and efficient bag-drop, plenty of refreshments, and only a couple of minutes delay at the start.
There were a lot of us bunched together shoulder to shoulder, but as soon as the race started I felt the crowd drop into that now-familiar group surge, all moving as one, mainly because the only other alternative was to fall over. The huddle didn’t really start to open out until we were approaching the first mile, and I was still happily trotting along next to Gruff, my rational brain assuring me that the runner in front dressed as Supergirl surely must be wearing pants, despite what my eyes were telling it. Maybe the Shoelace Gremlins had gotten into her kitbag the night before too, or more likely their distant cousin the Knicker Troll. Anyway, we were a couple of places behind the aforementioned 10 min/mile pacer, and my plan was to cruise along at that speed and just see how I felt as the race went along. My legs felt fresh and my training had been going well, so I felt confident that I could maintain that pace for the rest of the race, which would land me firmly in PB territory by a good few minutes. Anything on top of that would just be an added bonus.
The pacer seemed to be going a bit fast, and according to Mr Garmin seemed to be hovering around 9:30-9:45 min/mile**, but he was still far more consistent than I could ever be. I’m constantly being surprised by my Garmin, and generally have the pace awareness of someone wearing a blacked-out soundproofed crash helmet who’s just spent half an hour on a waltzer being fed gin through a funnel. That said, I soon started to feel like I was running the pacers race rather than my own, if that makes sense, so decided to try and get out in front of him a bit. I was still feeling comfortable, gently breathing through my nose while my legs felt light and nippy, and it was at that point that I started to feel a bit conscious of my T-shirt, which had this printed on the back….
If I’d attempted this race when I’d had this T-shirt printed, the slogan would have been bang on the money. I would indeed have been lingering at the very back of the pack, trying to breathe through my ears while my legs felt heavy and sluggish. But that was nearly a year ago now, and these days while I’d still pitch my tent firmly in the “plodder” camp, I was still ahead of a good couple of thousand people.
Correction: A good couple of thousand half-marathon runners.
Correction: A good couple of thousand half-marathon runners who would be well within their rights to feel offended by a shirt that was essentially flicking the Vs at them and calling them a stinky stinky slowcoach*** and who’d be keen to give the wearer a jolly good slap. It was a catch 22 situation – Speed up and risk winding them up more, or slow down and risk them catching me. Luckily, I was distracted from my chronic over-analysis by someone overtaking me dressed as an oompa loompa and was able to just get on with my run.
Speaking of T-shirt slogans, it was lovely to see such a huge number of people racing for charity, and as I read each one I felt a warm glow of compassion for my fellow runners. There were a few occasions where I had to bite my tongue to avoid shouting out what I considered in my endorphin-addled brain to be words of support such as “Woooo! Helicopters!!!” (Warwickshire and Northamptonshire Air Ambulance) and “Yay, hearts! I’ve got one of those. They’re brilliant!!!” (British Heart Foundation). The one charity not represented as far as I could tell was the Race-Litterpickers-Head-Trauma-Benevolent-Fund, who need every penny they can get, judging by the number of unintentional headshots I witnessed from runners throwing their half-empty drinks bottles off to the side with poorly-judged aim. I counted at least four litterpickers with sore heads and a look of hurt bemusement****, coupled with at least four genuinely mortified and apologetic runners.
Under normal circumstances that sort of embarrassing situation would be the sort of thing I’d find myself in, but fate had something much more cringeworthy in store for me that day. At around the seven mile mark I noticed that I was running alongside a chap wearing the same top as me, so decided that this was an ideal opportunity for some light-hearted banter to pass the time. Nodding in the direction of his shirt I quipped “Ha! What sort of bloke wears a top like that!?” before looking down at my own… completely… different… top…
After the longest couple of seconds in the world it became apparent that, despite my prayers, the ground was not going to swallow me up any time soon. With an awkward “bye then” I picked up my pace and put some distance between myself and the scary looking bloke who was wearing the same top that I’d been planning to wear, had it not been in the bottom of the laundry basket.
By mile 9 I was still maintaining a comfortable pace of around 9:45 min/mile, and more importantly I was having a lovely old time of it. This was the biggest race I’ve done and while it lacked the intimate camaraderie of the Bedford Half it made up for it in other areas and certainly wasn’t without its charms. As I edged towards mile ten I had visions of smashing my previous PB of 2:13:18 or even (if I really turned up the gas for the last three and a bit miles) romping home in under 2 hours.
All was going well until, as is often the case in these things, stuff happened. Since the start of the race I’d been vaguely aware of the heat, but until now it had only registered as “warm”. As I entered mile ten, fatigue started to kick in and I became acutely aware that it was perhaps a bit more toasty than I’d realised. This wasn’t helped by the fact that I was running on tarmac, which was soaking in the heat and giving no respite whatsoever. I don’t tend to do too well with heat, so this knocked the wind out of my sails a bit. Not only that but as I went on I started to see more and more people being treated by medics at the side of the track, and in several cases stretchered into the back of a waiting ambulance and driven away at speed. The combination of scorching (for March anyway) heat coupled with the fact that I’d probably started off too quickly was bad enough, but now on top of that were the mind games that started to sneak in. All those people who’d had St John Ambulance bods swarming over them… what had they done differently to me? I’ve already said that I don’t cope well with heat – was I just a few steps away from keeling over or throwing up? I became all too aware of the couple of gels I’d necked throughout the race, and it now felt as if they were sitting in my stomach ready to make an impromptu appearance at any second. I’ve never thrown up mid-race before, but I’d like to think that if it happened I’d just nip off-track, do what needed to be done, rehydrate myself and then get on with the race. But the Johnners were clearly on high alert (Code Beige, I think they call it) and I was worried that if I so much as slowed to tie a shoelace they’d be swarming all over me and I’d find myself splinted, stretchered and stuffed full of Murray Mints before I knew what had hit me. So on I plodded, and now it was plodding, Gruff passed me near to the end, by which point I was shuffling along at nearly 12 min/mile.
Where the first ten miles had sped past in the blink of an eye, the last three seemed to stretch out forever. That’s not to say I didn’t still enjoy it, because I did, but by the time the finish came into view, all thoughts of storming across the line with a shiny new PB had been replaced with a desire to just finish the race without falling over in a squelchy heap. I was in a cluster of half a dozen people as we crossed the line, and someone next to me keeled over literally as they stepped over it. As sad as it is to see someone in trouble, you have to admire the sheer grit that allows a runner to drag themselves over that finish line even when they’re in such a bad place (by which I mean heat exhaustion, not Silverstone). As the marshals ran over to look after her I breathed a sigh of relief that it wasn’t me, but only after giving myself a quick pat down to check that it definitely wasn’t me (those post-race out-of-body experiences are a bitch).
As I came to a halt I felt a bit light-headed, but otherwise fine, so went off to swap my timing chip for a goodie bag. I haven’t been given a goodie bag since I was about five years old, so I’d been looking forward to this since the moment I booked my Silverstone place. My disappointment at the lack of cake or a balloon was far outweighed by the other lovely stuff in there, including a very nice medal, a T-shirt and a big bag of pistachios. I’m easily pleased.
After a fond farewell to Gruff (who’d finished a fair distance ahead of me – good work Gruffalo) and a bit of stretching, I made my way back to the car park. This was the only real sour point of the day, as it took nearly two hours to drive a hundred metres or so while the parking marshals ran around with panicky expressions, looking like they’d rather be in an angry-baboon-infested minefield than here. As I sat there in a continental drift of cars I made good use of the pistachios, wondering whether I should perhaps ration them out a bit, but they were too delicious so I decided that if was stuck there for more than another half an hour I’d just start eating one of my feet. As I’ve already said, it’s a massive undertaking to handle the various logistics of a race of this size, but it’s a shame that they fell at the last hurdle as everything else really did run like clockwork. It’s as if the majority of the event was organised by the suave sophisticated Enrique Silverstone, only for the responsibility of car parking to then be left to his strange cousin, Elmo Silverstone, who’d been allowed out of his basement for the day and paid with a bucket of onions.
My official time was 2:14:09, so a little slower than usual, but I put that down to the aforementioned heat (and 68% humidity) and also the fact that as it was such a wide track that I wandered off the racing line quite a bit and ended up doing 13.31 miles from start to finish. I’m not bothered by that though – these things happen and a good race is a good race, regardless of the result.
Congratulations to the amazing Scott Overall who sailed into first place at an astonishing 1:09:46, although the congratulations aren’t so much for his result, but more for the fact that he somehow avoided being beaten up by disgruntled fellow competitors after making the comment “This felt an easy run for me today”.
Rumour has it that the only reason he escaped intact was that most people were more incensed by rumours of a short ploddy bloke wearing an offensive T-shirt who, to make matters worse, was running around making fun of other peoples shirts 😉