Wokingham Half Marathon – 08/02/2015

Taking part in a half marathon as part of the build up to a spring (or in fact any) marathon is standard procedure for many runners. It offers a good guide to how much improvement has been made over the hard winter months, and it also gives you a chance to have a bit of fun – racing against other people is a lot more enjoyable than running around a park 6 times on your tod.

Katie and I had managed to bag a couple of entries to the Wokingham Half Marathon at the end of last year, so when putting together the marathon training schedules we were able to build these around races such as this. I had a half marathon personal best of 1 hour 26 minutes set at the end of last year, but back then I had spent time training specifically towards this distance, so would’ve been fairly pleased with anything around this time again.

Not having the luxury of a car in London, it was a very early rise on Sunday morning to get some breakfast in before heading off to catch the train out to Berkshire. During the week temperatures had been well below freezing, so it was a case of throwing on as many hoodies as possible and embracing it. It’s safe to say the 7.21 from Clapham Junction to Reading was very sparsely populated, with most sane people still in their warm, comfortable beds.

Luckily, when we arrived in Wokingham, Costa was open and so we dived in there to avoid hanging around in the cold for too long. This was a bit of a life-saver, as unfortunate train timings meant we’d arrived an hour and a half before the start, and had a bit of time to kill. Whilst the other early morning punters enjoyed a hot chocolate and a pastry, I made do with half a bottle of Evian and a vanilla flavoured energy gel – the rock star life of a below-average fun runner.

After warming up nicely inside, we ventured back out into the cold and headed over to the starting area in Cantley Park, around a 20 minute walk from the station/town centre. By the time we arrived the park was heaving with runners, but everything appeared to be running very smoothly, and it took a couple of seconds to drop the bags in the baggage tent and get in the line for the portaloos. After the obligatory run up and down to get ‘warmed-up’ (this time on a tennis court – a new one for me), it was time to get lined up down a small lane next to the park.

The organisers had put up boards with predicted finishing times along the road to allow you to position yourself in an area with runners of a similar ability. I rather optimistically lined up in the 1 hour 25 area, which seemed to be quite empty compared to the 1 hour 30 area behind which was rammed. I immediately made a friend – Ian (didn’t catch his surname), and we had a little chat about expectations for the day and past experiences. He’d run at Wokingham before and confirmed what I’d heard in the build-up – the course was basically flat aside from a couple of motorway bridges we had to go over.

The Start
The Start

Slightly before 10am (the first time I’ve ever known a race to start early) we were away and out into the Berkshire countryside. I’d allowed myself a 2 day mini-taper in the lead up to the race and knew I was going to give it absolutely everything and just see what happened – if I blow up then so be it. Things spread out quickly at the front and I rattled off the first 3 miles in 6.24, 6.25 and 6.23, but that didn’t feel too hard, so felt optimistic that I was in for a decent day. For some reason, I decided to wear this stupid hat for the first couple of miles.

Good hat mate
Good hat mate

By this time, small groups had formed out on the road, and I found myself running along with a few club runners for the next couple of miles, trying to tuck in behind to get a bit of a ‘draft’. The miles were flying by and I was being incredibly consistent, with the next 3 miles being 6.25, 6.20 and 6.21.

This meant that I went through 10 kilometres in around 39.25 (I had a quick glance at my watch), 5 seconds quicker than my PB for that distance. Oh dear. The last time I ran 10K (39.30), I promptly collapsed over the line and couldn’t walk for the next 4 days. This time I’d have to try and sustain this pace for another 7 miles! However, I was feeling remarkably good, and found myself constantly moving forward through the field, picking off runner after runner and just focussing on maintaining the pace. In fact, I accelerated slightly with the next 3 splits 6.16, 6.17 and 6.19. Around this time I found myself going past the ladies who eventually finished 9th and 10th (no chance of catching the lady that finished 2nd – Mara Yamauchi, Olympic marathon runner!).

There were around 4 water stations out on the route which were well spread out, and I got into a routine of taking a quick sip before throwing the rest of the water over my head. I’m not sure the chap behind me appreciated it when I dropped a cup over his feet at the second station – sorry mate! In terms of support, there weren’t that many people spectating with the course taking us through a number of small villages and past farms and bunches of houses. However, anyone watching (including the marshals) were excellent and offered tonnes of support to everyone.

Thumbs up - but hurting
Thumbs up – but hurting

Miles 10, 11 and 12 are where it really started to hurt, which resulted in a slight slowing in pace (6.25, 6.29 and 6.19). I wasn’t the only one hurting though, and I continued to pass a number of fairly athletic looking club runners. I hope they didn’t get too worked up about getting passed by a rather widely-set midget. I’d told myself before-hand that I was really going to make it hurt today, and with a mile a bit to go I gave it absolutely everything.

From this point onwards you could actually hear the PA system at the finishing area, which was painful as it made the end feel much closer than it was. I was at the absolute limit now, throwing absolutely everything into the last 6 minutes or so. I knew I’d run well but had no idea of the time, so I just turned onto the final stretch and gave it some welly, passing another runner with around 200m to go.

Last 200m
Last 200m

I crossed the line, stopped my watch, and crumpled into a heap in a ditch next to the finish line – I was absolutely spent; couldn’t have given anything more. I turned my head to look at my watch and probably would’ve fallen over if I wasn’t already on the floor. 1 hour 23 minutes and 10 seconds. A full four minutes quicker than Milton Keynes 2 months ago, which is a huge chunk to take off in a half marathon. 128th out of the 1674 registered finishers. Not bad at all, and a massive confidence booster ahead of London in April.

A happy man
A happy man

After grabbing some water, I made my way back down the course to offer some support to the other runners and look out for Katie. I knew she was also going to run hard and was looking for a PB, and when I spotted her in the distance I gave her a massive shout as she looked strong in the closing stages. She ran 1.47.12, a best time for over 2 minutes, placing her 164th of the 523 female finishers, well up in the top third.

Katie finishing
Katie finishing

Free tea, coffee and hot chocolate for the runners capped off a finely organised event, and it’s definitely one I’ll look to do again, hopefully as soon as next year. After the fun of racing, it’s back to the early mornings and long miles that comes with marathon training. Remember – this is meant to be for fun!

3 thoughts on “Wokingham Half Marathon – 08/02/2015

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