Sunday 1 March – St. David’s Day – saw my first ever official running event, the Bath Half Marathon. It was a good chance to experience for the first time how easy it can be to forget almost everything you’ve learned in the chaos and excitement of a big event, and to learn some new things that will stand me in good stead in future.
The good news is that I finished the 13.1 mile course in 2:22:23, which was a personal best by about four minutes or so, and I felt ok at the end, despite a Mark Cavendish style charge over the last 200 metres that left me a bit dizzy. (Why do people do that? Why did I do that?).
As with most things in life, while I don’t know a great deal about running, once you’ve learned the basics you can go a long way without needing to become an expert. But competing in a running event is different from going out for a run, and I’m still taking baby steps in the competitive arena. For me, this event wasn’t about the problems you often get with running, to do with aerobics (breathing) or fitness (muscle strength). Rather it was about clothing, and fuel – and these were the two things I got wrong.
The British weather played its part in making the decision over what to wear difficult. The race guide suggested arriving at the Runner’s Village up to two hours before the start, and during that time the weather switched from sunshine to rain (see the pic of the lovely couple huddled together in bin bags) to hail and back to sunshine again.
I was cold, should have taken gloves and something waterproof. But while the kit I did take kept the worst of the chill off me before the race, it had me overheating within the first mile on the road. I had to abandon the cap I’d worn to keep me dry because it was soaking me with sweat, and my top layer too, half way round the course. Cue trying to remove four safety pins from my top while still running in order to reposition my bib number elsewhere.
Not quite as bad as Ben Daft’s story of his Reading Half marathon a couple of years ago, when he ran round in the cold without enough kit to keep him warm, clutching his car keys in his hand because he had nowhere to put them (thanks for that Ben). But a lesson, nevertheless. The Bath Half old hands turned up at the start in the sort of clothes you’d wear to do the garden or wash the car (one man was in jeans and fleece!), but a minute or two before the start they discarded them on the railings for collection by the race organisers and donation to charity. A nice touch and a great idea. I so wish I’d done the same to avoid being both too cold, and too hot, on the same morning.
The second lesson came in what I always find is one of the hardest things to get right: nutrition. My choice of porridge and beans on toast for an early breakfast (on top of 1kg of pasta the day before!) was not a good one. Drinking cold Lucozade in the morning chill left my stomach unsettled, and while it didn’t bother me badly on the way round, I never felt comfortable, and unusually for me I felt a little dehydrated (I’ve run this distance before with no liquids or gels). So the lesson here is to keep experimenting, maybe going back to something lighter before the race, and taking more on board on the way round. It’s going to be a big issue for IronMan: with up to 17 hours out on the course you have no choice but to take nutrition on board during the event, and the lack of ability to digest food and drink during the duress of competition is a major cause of people pulling out.
The third and final lesson was the best of all, because it was so bleeding obvious it was impossible to overlook. Everyone knows you need to stretch your muscles after a long run, especially one you’d gone into slightly under-prepared. Maybe I was dehydrated and disorientated at the finish, with the slow-moving crowd of runners queuing to get their medals, de-chip and pick up their goody bags. But I completely forgot to stretch my legs, and I was regretting it within the hour. The best lessons are the most obvious ones: it was the occasion that did me in the end, rather than the run itself.
It was a lovely day, on a handsome and flat course, well organised and very well supported. I had my family there to cheer me along at the half-way point, and to celebrate with me at the end, which was really special. I couldn’t believe how many charities were represented among the 13,000 runners, including the one below that I’d never heard of before – it seemed like a photo opportunity not to miss.
I can see how you can get the bug for it. But it was a training run for me – albeit a very enjoyable one – and it feels like there’s a lot still to get to grips with, with the Virgin Moneygiving London Marathon now only eight weeks away.