My legs are finally mine again after the punishment they received at the Bath Half Marathon.
After the Cardiff 10k, I started making plans for my spring race with Silverstone being the likely candidate again. Silverstone is cheap and easy to get to with good PB potential. Sadly, it’s not particularly spectator friendly and Lis requested that I race in Bath as a change of scenery. Who am I to argue?
Fast forward several months and Lis, Dave and I found ourselves in Bath the day before the race. Reccying the Runners’ Village, we bumped into Dom and we got to see a number of cars being towed away from Great Pulteney Street – guess they didn’t get the memo that the race was coming to town… We parted ways, due to meet again later for dinner and we checked into our hotel. I’d only recently found out my Travelodge was located in the centre of the nightlife district, with a club right underneath the hotel. Thankfully, I found out early enough and I made a request to be located in a quieter part of the hotel higher up and towards the back.
At dinner (pasta, of course), we discussed race tactics and pacing strategies as well as recounting races of old. In a single night, mine and Dave’s pace plan changed several times and we finally settled on starting with an 8 minute mile, then upping the pace by 5 seconds at every mile marker, with an aim to get to 7:30 minute miles as quickly as possible.
It was time to call it a night and we all parted ways, returning to our respective hotels for the night. I normally fail to sleep well the night before a big race and especially so when it’s an unusual bed and hotel room. Needless to say, I didn’t sleep well that night…
The next morning, I found myself waking naturally at around 7am and stayed in bed until 7:30am when I got up to shower and have breakfast. Rather than risk not having a cafe to go to, I opted to bring my own breakfast with me, consisting of cinnamon and raisin bagels with marmalade, washed down with a beetroot juice and Lucozade. I got all my race gear together and headed out for a short jog to warm up for the day’s exertions. Once warmed up, we headed into town to meet up with Lis’ friend, Ellie, who would also be spectating. We then moved on to meet Dave at his hotel and collectively headed towards the Runners’ Village.
Despite the location being a muddy field, this was one of the largest and best runners’ villages I had ever seen, with plentiful bag storage, toilets and more. We bumped into Dom again and began to run down the clock until it was time to head towards the different pens. The 11am start was a welcome change to the usual 9am starts for big races, though I found we were ready to run by 10am; people that travelled down on the day probably welcomed the later start. Dom went on to check his luggage in whilst Dave and I headed to our start pen. Registering for the race with sub-1:40 finish times, we were placed in the white group, nearer to the front and amongst the faster paced runners. We did some sprints and strides in the pen, which had started to quickly fill up with fellow runners. Most of us were dressed to race, with only a few in costumes and were representative of the talent on hand. We noted how it felt like an eternity to get to 11am, with a countdown signalling everybody to get ready get their race on…
The starting gun fired and the crowd began to shuffle forward, all of us getting progressively faster towards the start line. A sea of ‘beeps’ could be heard from everybody activating GPS and stopwatches to help track their speed and time and we were off. Dave and I ran together again, both agreeing that our abilities were close enough to really push each other on. The first mile of a race is always tricky to navigate with crowds to contend with, particularly those that are clearly in the wrong paced group. The first mile was gently downhill and we decided to take advantage of this, effectively getting a free boost to compensate for the uphill return later. Jostling for position was stressful at times and required swift feet to get around any slower runners that blocked our way. Running a clean racing line was difficult, so I anticipated running slightly further than 13.1 miles with all the early wide corners we had to take.
We quickly settled into our goal pace and I don’t know about Dave, but I had stopped sweating after the 2nd mile or so due to how cool it was with overcast skies blocking out the sun. The pace felt easy, though it was noticeable how much more concentration was required to stay on target with only minor drops in performance having a negative impact on overall speed. Before we knew it, we had arrived at Queen Square with Lis and Ellie somewhere in the crowd… I missed them completely but Dave did see them as we zoomed past in our yellow clothed glory.
We were firmly in the first lap of the course and commented how there were already more undulations than we originally expected. Unless a race advertises itself as completely pancake flat, take any claims with a huge pinch of salt. None of the hills were difficult so early in the race, though I was conscious that they would elevate my heart rate too soon. Dave and I were able to casually chat and still hit our target times. As the race unfolded, I noted how dull the scenery was around us, with the expectation that we would run through more of Bath city centre rather than heading out of town towards industrial estates. Somebody on runnersworld.co.uk raised the question of why a two lap race out of the centre of town would cost so much; a very fair question I thought and one that the organisers are probably reluctant to answer.
Our pace was still on the rise, helping us to overtake and reel people in. Those around us varied between keen enthusiasts and club runners; all good moving targets to chase after. The first water stop came by with so little warning that I missed it entirely and as a result, I also missed my first scheduled energy gel. I forgot that drinks stations would appear on the left and given how crowded the first water station in races can get, it was probably better that we ran right past it. The next station was a Lucozade one and wasn’t too far away, though I was becoming increasingly thirsty due to taking on less liquid to avoid having to visit the toilet so often.
The course continued to be quite congested, though we managed to weave our way through the crowds without too much difficulty. I soon began to question the correct lane to be in, because none of the marshalls were directing us to be in either one. This quickly made me believe that the less scrupulous runners amongst us could be tempted to just run their two laps using the inside lane and actually run less than the prescribed 13.1 miles. A lot of runners are quick to whine that a course measured long on their run, forgetting that the official measurement will have been conducted using a perfect racing line with no congestion to contend with. I also believe race directors purposely add an extra metre for every kilometre to prevent a course being classed as short. Saying that, races do occasionally and embarrassingly measure up short due to courses not being marked out properly, or a stray cone or barrier being put in the wrong place.
We began our return to town and not long after our Lucozade fix, I noticed a familiar figure ahead of me wearing a Coppafeel vest. It was, of course, none other than Dermot O’Leary! As we got a bit closer, I said to him, “Nice to see you out here, Dermot!”, to which he replied, “Thanks fella!” as we zoomed by. Interestingly, the next two miles happened to be our third and fourth fastest and we were still in the early stages of the race! Dave and I named this the “O’Leary effect”, where you get a temporary boost after spotting a celebrity in a race and don’t want to lose to them.
We continued our approach back to town, where most of the runners around us continued to be from clubs or were keen enthusiasts. A few costumed runners could be spotted every once in a while, such as the chap dressed as Dennis the Menace, attempting to break the world record for fastest half marathon ran as a book character. The congestion was starting to ease up and we found our pace more closely resembled everybody else’s around us. As we turned the sharp corner into lap two, this served as our signal to really knuckle down and keep our speed up. There was no room for flabby pacing here and we had to maintain our average to hit our target of a 1:38:30 or better.
Queen Square was coming up again and I was determined to spot Lis and Ellie. What didn’t help was that all of the streets started to look the same to me and I really struggled to spot where they were. Eventually, I saw them and waved, blocking Dave from Lis’ photo of us… This must be my party trick, because I seem to do it with such regularity!
The halfway point was well behind us and we both found the pace had become increasingly difficult to maintain. What was noticeable was how we both seemed to struggle at different points; we had to pull each other through these tough patches and sometimes I would lead and pacemake, and other times Dave would. I did notice a runner wearing a Cardiff 10k t-shirt and had a quick chat with him before moving on.
I don’t remember much of the second lap due to how much of a struggle it was. We turned at the sharp bend back to town and I knew this was it, the final long straight road towards the finish. We pushed on and despite the increased effort, we weren’t actually going any faster than our prescribed pace.
When we passed a car dealership, I knew we had less than a Parkrun left to go and the dreaded hill back towards the finish line was getting closer with each step. A mantra I saw at the beginning of the race was, “Pain is temporary; pride is forever” and I began using this to get me through the closing miles. Dave had perked up again and this was another occasion of our mis-matched efforts, so he served as my pacemaker. My breathing had become hard and laboured as my body struggled to get the oxygen it so badly needed. The hill wasn’t as steep as I was expecting, but it still caught a lot of people off guard and we found ourselves overtaking plenty of folks on the course. The familiar architecture you associate with Bath started to surround us and I knew we were close to our turn back on to Great Pulteney Street. I waited. And I waited. And I waited. The turning took an age to arrive and I told Dave to push on without me. Finally, I started to see people turning towards the left and I knew this was it and I had to muster what strength I had for a final sprint. I noticed the astronaut that was in the same holding pen as us was just in front of me; this served as a target to push towards to get me through to the end because I wasn’t going to be beaten by a costumed character!
Despite running at my fastest for the entirety of the race, everything appeared before me in slow motion. My legs felt like lead and the astronaut wasn’t getting any closer! I kept pumping my arms and legs and slowly, I started to gain momentum and speed – the astronaut was growing larger in my sights and I was catching up to him. With only seconds left to go before crossing the finish line, I managed to get past him and had officially completed the Bath Half Marathon. I checked my watch and it registered a 1:37:16 finish, a whole 46 seconds ahead of my target time. I later found out that chip timing had given me a two second boost for a 1:37:14 finish! As I regained my breath and caught up to Dave for a hug and a high five, a marshall came over to check I was OK since I was still breathing heavily; I gave him two thumbs up and thanked him for his concern. We exited the finish area and grabbed our medals and space blankets to stay warm and then joined the queue for the obligatory finishers’ photos where we spotted Dom. I noticed that the official photographer that handled the race campaign was present to take photos for next year’s event. Dom caught up to us and we signed the requisite forms and had a photo taken together – wouldn’t it be awesome if we were the faces of the 2014 race? Dom had run an impressive 1:36 on an injured foot and without the injury, he’d have achieved a time nearer to 1:30 – an incredible feat.
We quickly met up again with Lis and Ellie to share our war stories. Dom had to dash off to collect his bag and looked like he was in some immense pain, initially thinking he’d done something to one of his metatarsals in his foot. We bid him farewell and said we’d be heading for food, where he was welcome to join us. I then went to collect my bag and by now, the queues had swelled in size due to the peak period for finishers coming through. I wasn’t entirely sure whether I was in the right queue or not and had to rely on checking fellow runners’ numbers to make sure. The queue didn’t appear to be moving and this was obviously bad news for runners cooling down without anything to wear. I passed the time by chatting to those around me and there was clearly a good vibe in the air with everybody achieving new PBs. The queue promptly started to speed up and once I’d reached the front, I was quickly handed my bag and off I went.
What has now become a post-race tradition, we made our way to Nandos for some chicken and carbs. Surprisingly, there was no wait for a table so I can only guess most runners had decided to head straight home.
I won’t bore you any further with the story of our farcical train journey back to Newport.
So, my thoughts on the Bath Half Marathon… It’s a race I’ve wanted to compete in for a while and I’m happy I can now tick it off my list. The course has PB potential but will bite you in the arse if you haven’t at least done a bit of light hill work as part of your training. It’s not a scenic route and any thoughts of running through Bath’s Roman roads will leave you sorely disappointed. The cost is eye watering for a half marathon at £41 (it’s gone up to £42 for 2014) along with all the other expenses like staying in a hotel, travel and eating out. The Runners’ Village deserves praise for the thought that clearly went into it, unlike most others I’ve seen over the years consisting of just a few small tents for charities and nowhere near enough portaloos.
I still think for an enthusiast runner chasing after a PB, the Silverstone Half Marathon is a better bet. It’s half the price, just as well organised and has arguably more PB potential. You do lose out on the big race feel with Silverstone and any supporters you have will be bored to tears, but you can drive there and back in a day without any trouble thanks to the 12pm start.
Bath is still a good race and I challenge most not to enjoy it. Thanks Bath for the PB!