“Are You Mad?” – The security guard was looking at me with a benevolent yet slightly quizzical expression on his face. I’m still not sure if he was joking.
It was 7am. The skies were still dark. It was minus five degrees Celsius outside my nice warm car – cold enough that my windscreen washing fluid was still frozen after 40 minutes’ commute from Woking.
I wish I could report to have come back with a snappy one liner, but sadly I can’t. Instead I mumbled something about ‘half marathon’, ‘winter’ and ‘parking’ and he pointed me towards a vacant lot and indicated there were some parking volunteers still huddled in their vehicles in that direction. I may have got there a bit early then.
I’m not mad (although this morning’s excursions would certainly indicate a certain level of eccentricity) – this was all chaotically thrown together after I’d tailgated Grey (from Ginger & Grey fame) and decided to run a race I saw he’d entered sometime in the latter half of last year.
It was supposed to be the first Ginger & Grey outing of 2017 and the first of a number of ‘warm up races’ for my MOOAR (my inaugural 70.3) in July. Sadly the ‘Grey’ half of the equation was a non-starter as driving from Essex to Surrey in minus five to run a half was deemed above & beyond the call of duty. Not something I can argue with. So here I was, alone, in the dark and cold, being gently mocked by security.
Enough background. What was it like? Parking was a bit tricky to find – although it was well signposted up to the point you got off the A325, both myself and another party-goer missed the vital last sign and ended up circling the business park we’d soon be running around. Everything was well in the end, he and I ended up asking a man with a hammer and a sign and were soon parked up and shivering in the pre-dawn mist.
The start line was advertised as ‘a 15-minute walk’ from parking, which if you walk the speed of an asthmatic aunt with heavy shopping, could be accurate, but we did it in about 5.
The race village itself was situated by and under the “iconic” (read old) air-ship construction hanger – which also constituted the start / finish pen / line. It wasn’t much to look at. There was a High-5 information tent, which was ignored. 20 or so port-a-loos (the flush mechanism of which had frozen solid so you were treated to, quite literally, a streaming pile of poo if you went in one that had been used for #2). Finally, three or four white tents manned by the girl guides where you collected race numbers / electronic tags / bag tags based on the race number you’d been e-mailed a week before and then dropped off your bag once you’d sorted yourself into race clothing.
Ah, now then, race clothing. A word of advice, if you are a fat sweaty middle aged man, be careful of over-dressing. It turns out that gloves, hat, snood, base layer, technical layer and running outer layer from failed London lottery entry (unsurprisingly, there were quite a lot of these around) was over-dressing. I could have lost the outer layer and been much more comfortable. If I ever race in sub-zero again, I’ll know. Words of wisdom now tell me to add 10C to the temperature to work out what you should be running in. I’ve yet to test that theory.
There was the usual ‘hurry up and wait’ pre-start with the obligatory overly-enthusiastic compere muttering inanities over the PA… and mere minutes after the advertised start time the runny bunnies with race timings on their backs appeared, and we were off!
The course was classic two halves affair: the first of which was a boring and painful (lots of cobbles) loop around and back, and around, and around and back, and around the business park that encompassed the start / finish area (an indication was that mile markers 1, 4 and 13 were all within spitting distance of each other): I suspect this was to get the length correct and utilise as much of the same closed roads as possible, before heading off on the second bit, which was a much more interesting run around the airport followed by some off-road stuff (which was an unexpected bonus), then along a canal, through some country lanes, then back onto the road and finally looping back to the finish where the roar of the crowds pulled you over the finish line to be given a goodie-bag (which consisted mostly of useless advertising twaddle that went straight into the recycling) and obligatory medal (that will go into a drawer and then the metal recycling in about 2 years).
I clipped along at a nice just-sub-five-minute pace for most of it. Only really started to struggle a few KM out and by that point the end was in sight.
Link to strava for course and profile here:
I was too hot for most of it. Sweat dripping off me, wringing the seat out at the car too hot. Lesson to be learned.
The pacing bunnies joined the starting pen too late and were far too close to the front – so I spent the first 3k or so trying to catch the 1:45 lady up.
The course marshals were generally informative and polite – but there were some hazards (in particular where the course went from five-man wide road to line breast single track dirt) which should have been highlighted.
There was a headphone ban, so I didn’t wear any, but it didn’t look like it was enforced at all.
Despite the cold it was good fun.
The repetitive first bit of the run meant that the crowds were well catered to as most of the first third was in a confined area.
It was pretty much pancake flat, apart from a gentle but fairly long incline between 11 and 13km
As usual, I didn’t find runners as chatty and friendly as triathletes, but then if all I did was run I’d be miserable too.
I managed a PB of 1:44:30 and was texted almost as soon as I crossed the line to let me know that.
Once found, parking was plentiful and free and close to the event village.
Would I do it again?
Probably. It’s early season so there isn’t much in the way of competition – Reading and Surrey are a few weeks away yet and it’s quite a good one to go for if you’re doing an early marathon.