|Merton Farm [photo:7t]
This event took place on the August Bank Holiday Monday. I had made a note about it in my race calendar a number of months in advance of the event, but I didn't enter it until about a week beforehand. When I finally entered, I did so through the runbritain website and paid the affiliated fee of £16. Unaffiliated runners had to pay an extra £2.
The event hq was clearly signposted from the main road in the town centre and free car parking was available on an open grass field within the extensive grounds of Merton Farm. The toilets were provided in the form of portaloos - they were mostly single occupancy units but the addition of a male urinal-type unit which could accommodate about six men at a time was a welcome addition.
|queue for the portaloos [photo:7t]
Race HQ contained the number and timing chip collection desk, the late entries desk, an official race t-shirt retail area, and a massage area. These were all under gazebo-style covering right next to the start/finish, which was handy because it was absolutely pouring down!
The race start time was 10am, which was a good time for me - it meant that I didn't have to get up too early to make it there in time. As I understand it, there was a 2 mile fun run and also a children’s race. They were both due to take place once the half-marathoners had set off.
|#teamslgr kit on and out into the rain [photo:dani]
The Half Marathon itself got under way on time and despite starting a little too far back, I managed to head out at a reasonable pace. In order to filter all of the runners over the timing mats, the start line was quite narrow, so it took a little longer than I would have hoped to reach and filter through the start line.
The good news is that as it was chip timed each runners’ individual time was not actually affected by this - it’s just a little disheartening watching the runners ahead of you charge off into the distance while you are still standing still. Anyway, that’s how these things work and the fact that I've mentioned it shouldn't be taken as a complaint.
|the start area [photo:7t]
The course is best described as a lollipop (although not quite in the traditional shape). The stick part is run at the beginning and the end of the race with a big loop (the sweet part) run during the middle miles. It’s hard to remember every detail of the course so I’ll run through it the best I can remember.
The first kilometre was slightly downhill with the following 3 kilometres taking the runners on a gradual incline. There was then a 500 metre or so downhill section that got very steep at one point - most of this part allowed an increase of pace, but the steepest point saw the brakes come on a little as the marshals were warning of slippery patches.
|during the race (409) [photo: funk dooby]
The course flattened slightly before returning to a downhill where the runners entered the village of Petham. It’s only a small place but it was really great to see the locals out on the street in the rain supporting the runners - I gave waves and thumbs up as I passed to show that their support was appreciated.
If I remember rightly there were 4 opportunities to pick up some water on the course, and with the weather being cool and raining, they were more than sufficient. In fact, I only took water at two water stations and even then I didn't actually drink that much during the race. There were a few people out on the course supplying unofficial jelly babies or something similar but as I couldn't be sure if they were suitable for vegetarians, I just ran straight past.
|the stick part of the course [from the official webpage]
At around 9.5 kilometres into the race, the route passed through the village of Waltham before heading out deeper into the countryside during the rest of the loop. On the course not all of the roads were closed but they were extremely quiet. The drivers that I encountered were all very respectful of the runners and most had pulled to the side of the road to allow space for us to pass.
I hadn’t set myself a specific time goal for this race because I had read that it was a tough course and approached it with a ‘see how it goes’ mind set. However, as I approached the halfway point, I worked out that I was on target for a possible sub-1.30 finish time - something that I hadn't even considered when reading about how hard some of the hills were.
|the lollipop part [from the official webpage]
One of the most memorable parts of the race came around the halfway point. The course reached its highest point and the views from here were breathtaking, and that is coming from someone that had glasses covered in raindrops on a day when the cloud cover was low and thick. On a clear, sunny day this could be one of the nicest views from any race I have done so far.
The descent from the halfway point came in the form of a long, fast downhill section. It lasted for around a kilometre and when I glanced down at my Garmin I saw that I was flying along at 3.20 per kilometre pace (5.22 minutes per mile). I didn't glance for too long as I didn't want to risk slipping on the wet surface.
|the hill profile
After this, I started to think about the uphill sections that were to come. And before I knew it, I had completed the loop and was heading back through Petham - this time it was uphill, and much steeper than I had remembered as I had descended into the village a short while earlier.
The road flattened out for a brief stretch and then began the hill that I had read so much about in previous years’ online reviews. I slowed down, kept my effort level the same and forgot about pace. As I reached the steepest point I was barely moving faster that walking pace, but I was firm in my intent to maintain a running motion and not to be reduced to a walk.
|finish area [photo:dani]
In the end, it wasn't as bad as I had prepared myself for and I then hit the 3 kilometre long section that had been slightly uphill on the way out. Now being slightly downhill, and with only 4kms left to go, I naturally opened up my stride and began running a series of sub 4 minute kilometres - It was an amazing feeling and I loved this part of the course!
Then as my Garmin beeped to notify me that I had reached 20 kilometres, the final steady incline started. Some sections felt steeper on the way back than they had at the beginning of the race but I soon saw the 13 mile marker, and then the finish line appeared. I crossed it, collected my participation medal and wandered over to race HQ to find some water.
|all done [photo:dani]
In addition to the water, I was pleased to see a few sweet treats so I tucked in before chatting to some fellow runners and then heading back over to the car to change out of my dripping wet kit. About an hour later I had worked my way through a couple of bouts of back seat cramping (don't ask) and finally managed to get into something dry and headed off.
The official results were up online later that day. I completed the course in 1:28.49 - only five seconds off my personal best which I set at the Paddock Wood Half-Marathon earlier in the year. There were 446 runners listed in the results and I was the 38th runner to cross the finish line (35th fastest if you go by the chip times), meaning that I finished well within the top 10% (8.5%).
I was pleased with my performance but at the same time I'm slightly disappointed that I hadn't realised how close to setting a new personal best I was going to be and in retrospect could have pushed a little harder during some parts of the course. However, given that it was a undulating/hilly course, I think that overall it will still go down as my best Half-Marathon performance to date.
The participation medal was nice and I really liked that it was a bespoke offering rather than one of those generic ones you get at a lot of races. I thoroughly enjoyed the race and would definitely run it again. I would just request a nice clear day so I can really enjoy that view at the halfway point!