Sunday 22nd September
Many months ago I heard a whisper that a new Half Marathon was in the offing. It was to be a multi terrain event with the race starting and finishing at Saltram House near Plympton, Plymouth. I was interested. A new Half Marathon that wouldn’t involve travelling huge mileage is always good news. Entry form downloaded. Entry form completed and off it goes by post with my self addressed envelope and race number arriving on my doorstep, in no time at all. Very impressive work Armada Athletics Network.
I mentioned this race to Julie, but sadly she had other commitments, so it was to be me, the only entrant from TRC that made the trip across the boarder and into Devon. I have to now actually admit to having be born in Devon and to being a Plymuff girl as well. But the one saving grace, is that I have spent most of my active life in Cornwall. This race was also going to allow me to revisit some distant memories as this is an area that I use to frequent as a very small child (0 to 7yrs). My parents owned a lovely house which had fields leading down to the river Plym with an iron bridge that crossed over the railway line that is now a cycle trail, the trail we were to run along.
Sunday 22nd September arrives. My mobile phone alarm has been set at 5:55am and my bedside clock at 06:00. I‘ve had yet another restless night in what feels like tropical heat conditions and for some unknown reason both of my shoulders are feeling uncomfortable. Must be the retail therapy I was involved in yesterday afternoon and the G & T with friends after.
Breakfast today is Muesli soaked overnight in the fridge with milk, with a yoghurt on top. Stop screwing your noses up, it’s actually really tasty and I didn’t want porridge so this is the next best thing. Toast and Tea didn’t sit well at last week’s Half Marathon so I’m not chancing that today. My bags are already packed which leaves just one task, brew some fresh coffee and place in a flask for post race refreshment.
“Sidney Skoda” sits outside patiently for me, and at the lovely hour of 6:45, we depart for foreign climes. The weather forecast had stated that warm air is coming in from the Azores, but it will also be moist warm air. They are right…spot on in fact. It’s warmer outside than within the house and the ground is damp with a heavy mist hanging over Truro. Windscreen wipers will need activating and head lights are on. Oh well at least it isn’t pouring with rain. Now at this ungodly hour of the day, the roads should be nice and quiet, and so they are, but as I turn off at Bodmin to take the A38 to Plymouth I find myself behind the only car on the road, and it’s towing a bloody caravan. This now means miles of being stuck behind this motoring combination, that should only be allowed to travel during the hours of Darkness. Jeremy Clarkson and I have the same thoughts on theses pesky modes of holiday accommodation. Surely when you have a caravan, at this time of the morning you should be utilising it’s kitchen facilities and cooking a good English breakfast to eat at leisure with the Sunday paper, not delaying my travels and making me irritable? Mind you, I’m not going to be delayed as much as the coach load of Tamar Trotters who were on their way to run the Bristol Half, when the bus broke down. They never made it to the race. Sorry, rant over.
I arrive at the Devon version of the Brandenburg Gate and have to part with £1:50 just so I can enter Devon, or is it leave Cornwall? Thankfully I don’t have to provide any photographic ID, as at this time in the morning my work’s ID might cause the ticket booth man some trauma and distress. Thankfully I know my way to Saltram House, the Race HQ, which is good, as the National Trust brown signs are hard to spot and next to non existent. One Race goer from Okehampton got completely lost but thankfully arrived in time to run the race. Once through the white gates of the property you drive down a Tarmac drive through the estate’s parkland, but this road has a couple of seriously aggressive road calming features or sleeping policemen as we use to call them. Why did we stop using that term? Was it too sexist or something? Anyway, “Sidney” had to take a slow journey down the road where we were then met by a lovely friendly bunch of car park marshals directing us to our allotted spot. “Sidney Skoda” can have a rest now and I find myself parked to probably the only other runner I will recognise today Alan from Launceston road runners. He knows my name (how come so many do?) so we engage in some polite running type of chit chat before it’s time to check out the Loo’s. No, not together JFD, on my own. No Pre Race tarting today for me. I spot some portable loo’s in the distance and even at this distance they look to be placed at a jaunty angle which could provide some fun if the wind picks up. There is NO QUEUE. Only one lady who is vacating one of the two with “Ladies” printed on their doors. In total there are only 4. that is 4 between 350 runners. Could be fun later? I open the door and enter gingerly. Gravity plus my weight don’t actually make any difference to the angle of the loo, it remains upright and anything not fixed to the unit actually goes where it is supposed to go. I may go and seek out the Nation Trusts toilets at the house next.
So, true to my word, that is what I decide to do when it is only 30 minutes to race start time. This time they are in a small building off a courtyard and I have the choice of 3 cubicles. The floor is grey slate, the sanitary wear is standard white and we have super fast electric hand dryers to play with…..still don’t actually dry my hands though.
So what shall I do now. I have 30 mins to kill. I don’t have the safety net of other TRC runners to chat to, that means I have to just mingle and pick on anyone who looks vaguely responsive. Lady from Okehampton obliges. Time to gather at the start line and listen to the race briefing. Just like Truro’s Half last weekend, we aren’t all packed in like sardines, so I have room to fidget. I hear the words keep left, run on the pavement or be disqualified, spot prizes (what’s happened to spot prizes in Cornwall?) then we are off. Not even a 1,2,3, just a loud noise that sends the cattle in the adjacent field off at stampede pace. Thankfully there is a fence between them and us.
The start is downhill. I do love downhill starts, but this is also a problem, as the race is an out and back race. So if we go down at the start, we will be going uphill at the finish. The realisation of this fact is starting to suck out some of the little energy I actually have in my legs, after last weekend’s hills. But hey, relax woman. This isn’t a GP race, just do it for fun, because being out of county usually means no chance at all of winning an age cat, plus I saw Jayne Anguilly’s name on the list of entrants for this event, so I can forget prizes full stop. (only 1st place in each cat gets a prize)
The Hill runs down to the woodland path that runs along the edge of the area called the Embankment. The tide is in, and there are wisps of mist just sitting above the water. The colours are autumnal with the trees above us starting to lose their leaves and displaying burnt orange, yellow and rust hues. It’s almost peaceful, a bit like running on the wooded paths around Trelissick, but you can hear the constant buzz of traffic on the other side of the river and the heavy breathing from fellow runners. I’m also disturbing everyone, with my “ I really can’t clear my lungs” cough, but I’m not spitting or nose clearing like the men ahead.
The path is undulating then turns left to a foot bridge that takes us over railway lines and under the 3 to 4 lane section of the A38 approaching Marsh Mills roundabout. Now I have a debilitating phobia which irritates the hell out of “husband who plays golf” and that is the fear of heights. It is made even worse when it involves stairs and bridges, so should I have never passed along this route before, I may have had a “frozen to the spot” moment and then made some poor soul hold my hand to get me across the bridge or failing that, crawl on all fours. But I have cycled out to Princetown numerous times from Saltram, so I have crossed this bridge before and all is well. I wasn’t prepared for the bouncing come wobbling sensation it produced as numerous humans ran across it. I went all light headed for a short while and found myself making an involuntary “Oooooo” noise.
Bridge crossed, now we have the “Keep on the pavement section” I did but three men nearby didn’t. Did they engage the disqualification option….I don’t think they did? So what is the point of that rule? Grrrr!!!!! This pavement takes us out to Coy Pool and one of Plymouths “Park and Ride” schemes. The Marshals keep us safe as we cross a minor road junction and now we are heading out along the Plym valley trail. The old disused railway line that Mr Beeching closed back at the end of the 1950’s. Now being a disused railway line, the gradient appears flat to the eye, but as with the Camel trail at Padstow, one direction is at a slight incline and we were on the incline. A grind all the way out to Bickleigh of about 5 miles in distance. It’s not a rough track, most of it is tarmac or compacted mud and stone, so it’s hard on the feet, back and knees. My lower back and core are feeling sore. My legs feel like they are full of lead and I’m dissolving in the heat once again. It maybe grey/white skies but the humidity is drawing every ounce of liquid out through my face, into my eyes and down my neck. I have become a water feature.
I’m managing a steady pace but my legs are tired. We cross Viaducts with great views out over the surrounding woodland and forest treetops. Below us are paths alongside the river Plym where I can hear children enjoying themselves. This distracts the mind for a while, then I see the lead runner approaching. My Garmin registers 44 mins, oh how I wish I was on the return section. I try to look to see who is ahead of me as they pass on the opposite side of the track. It’s predominately men, but as any women pass I’m trying to guess their age so as to distract my mind from the feeling of fatigue and see if I can also spot Jayne Anguilly of CAC. I don’t think sweat and running a race does us females any favours in the “looks”department, so I have no idea how old any of them are other than they all look younger than me and I must look at least 75. I haven’t seen Jayne either. That’s weird, there is no way she would be behind me.
I reach the turn around spot, the half way point, the point where actually I’d quite happily sit down, drink some of the water they are offering and not take another step. I dutifully turn around though and head for home, with heavy feet and head hanging low. It’s hanging low because of the weight of all the sweat that has soaked my hair and made me look more witch like than ever. Even my race number pinned to my shirt is sodden. A race marshal. suggests it’s all downhill from here, but they can’t fool me. I maybe losing the will to live, but I can still picture that hill that leads to the finishing line. The route does now feel a little less strenuous to run upon but only a spirit level laid on the ground would really prove this. From somewhere I find the energy to pick up speed and I fall into what feels like a faster pace with my breathing not really laboured. I pass a man in a blue Technical Tee. Younger than me by about 10 years and I think I may have just dented his ego, because I hear his pace quicken and he overtakes me. “Fine” I think, but no sooner than he is ahead, he moves right in front of me then his pace slackens off. I won’t repeat what I called him in my head, but it’s short for Richard followed by what we have sitting on our shoulders and rhymes with Sick Bed!. I now have to overtake him again, just so I can maintain my pace. I think he got the message and starts to behave.
A few men pass and offer words of encouragement to me. I must have looked lonely and OLD, plodding along in my TRC vest. Then I pass a fit young male with “Tupper” printed on the back of his shirt…….”I suppose your surname is WARE” I proclaim. He grimaces. Maybe he’s not so fit after all and doesn’t have knowledge of the indestructible plastic food container brand I’m referring to! I’m not having much luck with the male species today am I?
Back along the trail we go. There are lots of well behaved families and groups of young males out on their mountain bikes. Oh how I wish I was on mine, the going would be much less taxing on the legs. Oh and “Superman” with charity bucket. He is the runner with the race “sweeper” behind. I say runner, but actually he appears to be walking. Some children might be disturbed by this, their heroic image of “Superman” maybe shattered! Mile 9, or is it 10, arrives. I’m shattered, really shattered, more water is on offer at a drink station of which there has been plenty, but I refuse. Firstly I can’t drink whilst running (never been offered red wine though) and secondly it has been bottled water at each drink station, which is a criminal waste of water and very bad for the environment. Hardly anyone takes more than a mouthful before throwing the bottle to the ground. Take your own if you need to drink, should be the policy and just provide a barrel of water for people to dunk a sponge in, or in my case “security Hanky” if they want to cool down.
The pavement section beckons, followed by the bouncing bridge, then it’s back to the woodland tracks by the estuary and the last two miles to the finish line. Undulating it is, then with about 800 m to go, we start the climb up towards the side of Saltram house and the END is nigh! This hill I have climbed twice before, as it features at about half way in the Plymouth City Half Marathon, and at half way you can walk it if you want, without looking too stupid but here at the finish you have no option but to dig deep and run. I have no strength for a sprint…I’m spent. I run at a pathetic pace. I hear my name over the loud speaker. I try to smile, but fail. The line is crossed., Garmin states 1:53:38 I believe. It will have to do. (actual race time 1:53:42) I grab my goodie bag and some water. I don’t have the strength to open it so play “pathetic female” and the man standing closest to me, opens it for me. I don’t even have the strength to look in my bag, but finally when I do, we have a race memento of a Plymouth Armada Half Marathon Mug and a good quality key ring.
Time to wipe some of the sweat off and grab my camera, then I’ll go and support the prize winners. The presentations start and the first male wasn’t even there to collect his prize. That’s bad manners, I know that if I was first I would make sure I was there. Perhaps he wins so many he just can’t be bothered any more and this one you didn’t even have to dust. It was a voucher to spend in “Frank Elfords Sports” in Plymouth. They rattled through the prizes quite quickly and when the time of the winning V50 female was read out, I thought it sounded close to mine. OMG it was mine. I had come in FIRST V 50. £20 voucher thank you very much. Some chuffed with that.
So all in all:
- Value for money. Very good indeed I think I paid £14 to enter as an affiliated runner.
- Parking. Plentiful and very well marshalled.
- Race HQ…a small tent so no good if it was a wet event. Very much like all the other National trust events. They maybe held at a stately home, but you can’t shelter from the elements before the race and only if you pay an entrance fee, after the event.
- Toilets. 4 portable loo’s. 2 for the girls and two for the boys. They looked precarious but remained stable and clean. The location of them was odd and I think many a male used their Neolithic urges and scent marked the parkland trees. There were other toilets if you knew where to look, and they were in the courtyard by the duck pond next to the house and were clean with plenty of toilet roll.
- Race marshals. Plentiful, cheerful and very encouraging. Couldn’t fault them at all, even if they told lies about the gradient ahead, but haven’t we all done that?
- Race route. 90% off the road, but no need for multi terrain shoes as the ground is firm underfoot with a lot of tarmac.
- Goodie bag . A Mug and a Key ring, both of which I have uses for. In fact I’m drinking my coffee out of the mug as I type. We all love technical T’s especially after the longer races. It’s a sort of badge of honour. A “Look at me, see what I have done” clothing statement, but as the entry cost was kept low I can’t complain at all. I mean at the Stratford upon Avon Half all you get is a medal, and at the Plymouth Half, which cost well over £20 last year, all we got was a medal and some bubble bath, which is still in the bathroom unused as we all shower.
So, will I do it again? Not sure. Two Half Marathons one week after the other at this time of year was hard work, due to the heat and it heading towards the end of the race season. But it has never been a problem in the past, I mean in May I did 3 halves and a marathon in a space of 6 weeks. Out of 10 I’d give it 8. To reach 10 it would have to provide showers and an undercover Race HQ.