“For yet seven days, and I will cause it to rain upon the earth forty days and forty nights; and every living substance that I have made will I destroy from off the face of the earth.”– God, Genesis 7:4, KJV.
There are often days when you look at the time when your alarm goes off and think “nah, I’ll run in the evening”. Or times when you think “y’know what, I’m too tired for this track session”. Or you peel back the curtains, look at the weather and say “Jesus, Mary and Joseph, I am not going for a run today!”
Sometimes that day is a race day. In this case it was, the race in question the Reading Half Marathon. As I sat eating breakfast at 8am, the rain spattered, sputtered and sprackled down from a sky of unremitting greyness. As I pushed down the plunger on the cafetière and sipped orange juice, the rain slammed against the window. As I munched on porridge and bananas, grapefruit slices and croissant, the rain settled in ever larger puddles on the patio. I pondered the rain and what I would wear for the race- I had hastily packed shorts and my purple Xempo running vest. I’d also worn a red technical tee, and so I wore both. I looked horrendously garish, a clown against the grim rain cloud-ed sky.
At the bag drop I bumped into another runner gunning for time, Andy Mutton from my club North Herts Road Runners. He was aiming for a sub 1:15 half marathon (he made it in 1:14:32), as this would give him special status and a cushty tent to sit in before the start of the London Marathon. Before we went to warm up and get to the start just on time to avoid standing around too long getting cold, Andy said “It looks like it’s pretty much stopped raining now”.
No guessing what happened next- it started pouring down. I had walked towards the start area from the front of the mass of people rather than the back, and so I shuffled in past the really serious looking people in club vests. I timed it perfectly- my watch had found satellites, and less than a minute after I arrived the hooter parped and we were off. The weather had made me largely forget what I expected from the race, “getting round” being the main thought. But I wanted a PB- the years goal being to PB in 5K, 5 miles, 10K, 10 miles and half marathon, with 10K done on New Year’s Day. I roughly calculated that to beat my previous best from Alloa that I should try and do something around 6:40 and 6:30 minute miles. I’d been a little worried about my form beforehand. A few weeks ago I’d run a 10 mile Yasso test session indicating sub 3hr marathon form, and then on Wednesday I had struggled to finish a 5K in under 20 minutes.
I always go off a little quickly, trying not to get swamped and finding a comfortable gap to run in. But I was finding 6:30 miles so easy early on that I thought there must be a mistake. I genuinely thought for a while my watch was still on kilometres – I checked and found nope, miles. I pushed on and kept to that pace, because it felt natural and good. Through the first half of the race, looping away from the Madejski Stadium and back towards Reading town centre, there were a few hills, not steep but almost ‘long’. I still felt strong, I went up them well with my eyes on the top all the way and then opened my stride on the descent.
Before the race led back to the town centre, the rain seemed to stop although all above remained dark. Water stations were well organised, delivered in squeezy plastic pouches, leaving no risk of any runner turning an ankle on a pourly disposed of bottle- a problem at later Lucozade (other carbohydrate drinks are available) drinks station. I never expected the race to be scenic, but the town centre section was fun, doubling back and forth through covered shopping arcades in a way that was very reminiscent of the Canary Wharf section of the London Marathon. The 10K inflatable arch was at the top of a small rise, almost a mini-col from Le Tour, and I passed through it in what would have been a 10K PB.
At 7 miles my race went a little awry. I again went strongly up a hill, the one that the B&B I had been staying at was on, but on switching to the right at the top I realised I was stitching, and badly. I couldn’t afford to drop the pace and I didn’t let it go beyond 6:30’s, but it was quite frustrating as at that point I felt I could have been running more consistently and pushing. I didn’t feel like taking the next gel, and I kneaded my right side slightly. To top it off it started raining again, and then it properly started raining again, but I was soon back on the road that I had walked down on my way to the start, a long long main road closed off on one side.
I could see the Madejski Stadium in the background. The route switchbacked on a final stretch around what was the start corral, and I really started to push here. I’d realised at 10 miles that three more miles under seven minutes each would do it for me, and now that I knew the PB was pretty much in the bag I felt happy and confident. The sight of runners heading back past me to the finish, and other runners falling off me as I picked up the pace spurred me on.
The only thing was I didn’t know where the finish was. My watch had been completing each mile .1 of a mile before the markers arrived, and for some reason there was no marker for mile 12. I ran up towards the Madejski. Suddenly I was confused. Was I actually going to get the PB? I wished (seriously, this would have been a good idea) for 800m, 700m to go signs. I skirted around the stadium. Where on earth did we get inside? Soon, or do we do an entire lap?
Then I saw the runners turning in. Once inside the finish was there, and what a finish- a massive bank of spectators looked down on the final straight, the second part of two sides of the pitch that made up the finish. The matting was very wet by now, and treacherous at the turn. No-one would be attempting any sprint finishes today, but I still PB’d, finishing in 1:26:38. After getting home I realised this was better than I thought at the time, as my PB was a whole minute slower at 1:27:51 than the imaginary 1:27:01 I had been gunning to beat.
So I achieved my goal on a fairly awful day. I bought a lovely garish pair of banana yellow running shoes at one of the stands to celebrate, picked up my bag from the rapidly flooding tent and got straight on one of the shuttle buses back to the station.
I didn’t enjoy the race as much as I did Alloa, but despite the weather the marshals and organisers made sure the race went as well as it could considering. It’s a nice flat course to run a good time on. Some of the grumblings I’ve seen on the internet are out of the race organiser’s control, flooding kit tents, slow shuttle buses (weather and the fact that funnily enough the half marathon closes roads), there not being enough foil capes for later finishers, and the slippy finish. Some things could have been slightly better – 800m (etc.) to go signs would be a really simple addition for a race with a hidden, but admittedly great finish. Then again, some things were great- I’m a big fan of timing chips attached to the backs of race numbers. The water pouches were fantastic, and should be used at all races especially mass participation half and full marathons.
So the half marathon is down- only 5K, 5 miles and 10 to go. Now off to scour some race calendars…