Lions Half Marathon, Horsell Common, June 18th 2017

Preamble

I’m ginger. I’m the gingerest person I know (excluding my offspring, and when I was their age I could give them a run for their gingerness). You lose it over time of course, and become auburn or white, but at the core of it you’re still ginger.

There are some great things about being ginger, but there are also some draw-backs. One of the draw-backs is that we don’t deal with sun very well (a tendency to burn). Heat, whilst it can be acclimatised to, isn’t where the ginger gene was evolved from – I’m thinking far northern climes had more to do with it.

Which brings us to Sunday the 18th June at around 9am when I was cycling to Horsell common to partake in the Woking Lions Horsell Half Marathon. It was hot. Damned hot. Oppressively hottest-day-on-record hot. Arriving at the airport where parking, registration and finish was, was somewhat surprised that no-one had thought what to do with cyclists and where they should lock up their rides – this at an event with ‘limited parking’ and ‘please car share’ in the literature. Given the start list (there were 5k, 10k and 21.1k options) and the proximity (or rather, lack thereof) to public transport, I would have expected a reasonable percentage of cyclists and therefore a planned area. Maybe not.

Before the race had even started the organisers had also allowed the 21k racers to drop to 10k due to the predicted heat, which I think was a sensible option that I probably should have chosen.

Registration and race village was in a recently mown field and consisted of: a tent which housed registrars and a bag drop, a small medical tent, a small shaded area with benches and the ubiquitous inflatable finish line. An ice-cream van and a fruit stand turned up at some point as there was more there by the time we walked to the start line. There were some port-a-potties but I didn’t require them so I can’t really comment on their cleanliness.
Searching for friendly faces I saw several people I vaguely knew and tried to make friends with the remainder of the field with limited success.

The photographic evidence suggests I was a sweaty mess before we’d even walked to the start:

The start was a good km or so from the finish and with about 20 minutes to go we were ushered gently towards the starting pen. The ushering would have been more forceful but the loud-hailer apparently wasn’t working for the usher, who then waved it around like an oversized flag.

21k (ish)
Penned in with the other runners I finally found Mike, whose great idea this all was. Without much further ado the race briefing was upon us. The big news was that for the half marathoners there was going to be a cut-off time at the end of the first lap (at approximately 10k) for “elf and sobriety” reasons (I think he said): it was sensible given the sun beating down and the fact that if you took that long you’d be running in the midday sun. There were some nervous groans as the 90 minute cut-off time was announced – I was concerned it was going to be around the hour mark so was reasonably happy.
The 5k runners were then split off to start somewhere else, and the 10 and 21k were left where we were (thankfully in the shade) and gently amused by a loud-hailer-less man who chatted inanely until the starter horn went.

The route was well marshalled and signposted – which is good as there were splits aplenty dividing the various routes down different paths, I’m struggling to think of a good word to describe the route: Meandering? Rambling? Wandering? You certainly had to pay attention.

The majority of the run (more than half at least) was under the cover of Horsell’s trees but we did go onto uncovered paths at points – which is when the gingerness reared its ugly head. Happily I’d applied a bucket load of P20 before the ride to the race so wasn’t too concerned about getting burned. Being out in the near-to-noon sun was no joke however.

Dehydration and over-heating were genuine dangers. As previously advertised, Gingers are genetically disinclined for this weather, so it was no real surprise when I started to struggle. The organisers have no control over the weather, and they had added a third water point on the course, but it did feel like they came all at once rather than being spread over the course, and by the final water station five cups of water were going down.

The various splits and switchbacks meant that I seemed to be overtaking slower 10 and 5k runners for the first half of the first lap, although that died down as they split off to go and finish.

The first 10k wasn’t too bad, but kilometres 12-18 were miserable – it was difficult to keep the heart rate in a sensible zone whilst maintaining a pace that was going to keep the target time of 1:50 within reach. Fairly quickly the target was moved to 2 hours in order to maintain sensible pace in the heat. It wasn’t worth collapsing for after all.

Sometime in the second lap Mike dropped slowly away, which left me to “the loneliness of the long distance runner” – the field size meant that there wasn’t anyone else to actually run with. I tracked down one final runner, was told by a marshall that I was currently in 13th place (it was a small field) before the final drag up past the airport to the finish.

Over the line, presented with a much needed water, an apple and medal, I retired to the covered seating area. Started chatting to a fellow 21k competitor who bought me a lemon sorbet ice cream. Nothing has ever tasted so nice, and I’ve never been so grateful.

Ruminations

Overall; 12th of 41
Vets: 5th of 14
Men: 12th of 32

The marshals (some of who were on cycles shepherding us around) were excellent: approachable, friendly, knowledgeable.
Catering for cycling parking would have been nice.
The race village was a bit agricultural – I’ve probably been spoiled by the bigger races.
No swag to talk of other than a (very nice) medal. Free photos on facebook!
I prefer an early race, which would have mitigated the heat somewhat.
It was cheap.
I’ll do it again next year if it doesn’t clash with an A-race.
In terms of PB potential: it’s offroad, so unlikely. I’ve done three half maras this year, the fastest was in March at Surrey, both the others have been in extreme temperatures. I preferred the cold to be honest.

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