Monday 26 September 2011

Tonbridge Half-Marathon 2011

The Race:

I was awake and filling myself with toast just before sunrise. I wanted to make sure I ate something but didn't want to eat too close to race time. Once I had done that I had time to kill so fired up the laptop to do a bit of early morning tweeting. Thanks for all of the good luck messages!

Once I had managed to drag the two ladies in my life out of bed it suddenly dawned on me that race time was drawing near. We only had to walk down the high street to get to the start line but we were cutting it extremely fine. We arrived at about 9:43 (not that I was checking my watch or anything). I immediately said my goodbyes and went into the start funnel. The wife whipped out our lovely camera so she could capture lots of photos for the blog. As usual I am extremely grateful.

waiting to start (aka the sun always shines on 7t)
There was supposed to be a system in place where runners line up in certain zones, each zone corresponding to an estimated finishing time. By the time I arrived the funnel was already backed up to the 2:30 zone. I did my best to filter through to the sub 1:45 zone but could only get as far as the back of the 1:45-2:00 zone. Not the best starting place for me, but I was happy enough to had got that far considering my non-early arrival time! To be honest, I think a lot of runners were ignoring the system. Another thing quite a few runners were ignoring was the ruling that personal music players were not to be used during the race.

Wrapped up in my own pre-race nerves while the speeches took place I fiddled with my phone, making sure my GPS tracking app was ready for action. Dame Kelly Holmes took hold of the mic and got a really good reception from the crowd. The people of Tonbridge really love her and it showed.

dame kelly holmes
Then we were off, or at least the people at the front were. From my position it took 22 seconds to shuffle through to the start line, I know this because I started my stopwatch when the air horn was blown. In retrospect I should have started it from the start line, but it didn't matter because I only used it as a rough guide while I was running.

The weather was amazing, although not necessarily good for racing. Most of the course was in direct sunshine, so when there was a chance to escape into the shade, I did. I had taken a bottle of Lucozade sport with me. I shouldn't have bothered because I couldn't drink it on the move. I managed a few sips but my stomach wasn't happy with receiving liquid while running at race pace. I should have just thrown the bottle away at one of the water stations but I kept hold of it in case I needed it later.

The course was really nice, but it felt hillier than the google maps hill profile that I had been studying for weeks had suggested. Once I got into some clear air I locked myself into a comfortable pace and admired the beautiful Tonbridge countryside. Living in the centre of the town it's sometimes easy to forget the beauty that is just a few minutes away.

course map
 I continued like this until I reached the village of Leigh (pronounced: Lie), where the reception was amazing! People had lined the streets and I waved as I passed them. I think I saw a gazebo on the village green. It was like a mini summer fete! Then the route took us on a huge loop before returning to Leigh to start the final 4 mile stretch back into the centre of Tonbridge. Just after this point I saw the last placed runner. He had just reached 3.5 miles (just over 5km) as I was approaching 10 miles (16km). He was going to be out there for a very long time. (In the results he is listed but doesn't have a time, I think they packed away the timing gear before he got back).

It was on this last section that the course took it's toll on me. At the 10 mile mark I remember thinking, this is good, we can have a nice sprint finish. But somewhere in between that point and the 11 mile mark I had completely changed my mind. All of a sudden just keeping going got considerably harder. I passed a couple of people that had resorted to walking and one that looked like he was about to see his pre-race meal again.

During my long training runs I had always wondered what the end of this race would be like. I had imagined myself smiling and sprinting towards the finish line. 'Bring it home' was always the phrase that came to mind. But today none of that happened. At 12 miles I was done, everything had gone. I had no energy, no smile, and my feet were hurting. The easiest thing to do would have been to stop. I honestly wanted to. I would never have forgiven myself if I had slowed down to a walk, let alone stopped completely.

approaching the end
I pushed on. The route came off the main road and onto a narrow country lane. Towards the end of the lane some people had gathered and were encouraging the runners by pointing out that the finish line was only three minutes away... My thought was 'I have to keep running for another three minutes? Oh crap!'. Then I reached the end of the lane and out onto the final 300 metres.

The 'bring it home' from my training runs didn't even cross my mind. I enjoyed and was thankful for the cheers from the crowds but everything I had went on trying to stay upright so, and I feel sad to admit it, I didn't interact with the crowds at all at this stage of the race. I was completely focused on reaching the finish line. Then, at last, I could see the blue timing chip mats on the floor up ahead. In the past I have commented on being glad to reach the end of a race, this was no different.

the end of the race
I crossed the line, relieved that I could finally stop running.

As expected, Dame Kelly Holmes was there to present the runners with their medals. She may have said something to me but I honestly can't remember. Everything was fuzzy. I needed some water, and I needed it straight away!

the wife tried to get a photo of dame kelly holmes giving me my medal
 I was glad there were marshals to tell me what to do because, with my mind in its current state, I had no idea. At some stage someone removed my timing chip, then I wandered along the finish area and saw some volunteers holding out goodie bags, so I took one. I was very specifically told 'there is water in the bag'. I must have looked like I needed it!

I left the finish area and went into the school grounds adjacent to the finish line. And there I saw a whole table full of cups of water. I took one, then another, and then another. Thirst partially quenched I turned around to find the wife and the baba approaching me. I presented the wife with the many things I had accumulated since the end of the race. The I popped back to grab another cup of water!

still a tad confused (why am i wearing a medal?)
I heard an announcement that the first batch of runners' times were now online. Unbelievable. So impressive.

After a brief sit down on some steps to rest (which I thought may be my final resting place) the wife showed me something special she had managed to get while I was running (see photo below).

a message from dame kelly holmes
We then went off to pick out a souvenir tech t-shirt, which were being sold for £12:50 each. I really didn't have much brain power left for shopping, but I was faced with a decision. They had lots of different colours to choose from. There was a really nice green but that was only available in the women's fit. I then narrowed it down to a deep red and a navy blue before finally scrapping that idea and going for a royal blue one.

Now for some stats:

I checked my stopwatch at each mile marker, these are the ones that I can remember. The times below reflect what my stopwatch said, which was based on gun time and not my chip time, not that it really matters.

1 mile - 0:08:00
2 miles - 0:14:32
3 miles - 0:22:30
6 miles - 0:44:??
8 miles - 0:59:53
10 miles - 1:15:??

In addition I have checked my GPS km splits and I am very pleased with the way that I held quite an even pace right until the end. I won't list them here but you can take a look at my runningAHEAD log for the km splits if that kind of thing interests you.
  • Overall: 98/820 (or 94/820 if you go by the chip time) Top 12%.
  • Gender: 80th / 514.
  • Senior Male: 46th / 233
  • Age Grading: 59.55%
  • Steve/Steven/Stephen: 3rd/20 - I'm pushing my luck here.

My Time: 1:39:42

Other things:
  • There was a race programme. It had a list of all of the competitors names. That was a nice touch.
  • The race director stayed in regular contact via email in the run up to the event and sent an email out the day after. I liked this.
  • The race pack included everything required to race. Meaning that I could just turn up and run without having to queue to collect the timing chip on the day. 
  • In my opinion the event ran very well. There were loads of marshals, the course was clearly marked, the volunteers/marshals were all very friendly and offered loads of encouraging words as I passed them.
  • The results were available online almost instantly. This was impressive.
  • The only piece of information that I didn't see on the website or in the race pack was whether the course would have mile markers, kilometre markers or both. In the end it was mile markers, which I thought it would be. I would have preferred to see both, I love to check my splits as a go around.
  • The goodie bag wasn't as good as at some other events. But this event did have a much more reasonable entry fee, so it makes up for the lack of goodies in the bag.
  • My only real disappointment was that my name was not called out at the end of the race. I heard a marshal radioing my race number to mission control and was listening for my name but I didn't hear it, neither did my wife. I had been looking forward to that.

Are you still here?

Thanks for sticking with it, I know it was long.


P.S. I enjoyed it thoroughly and will definitely be back next year! 

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