It’s month number 4 of 2014 and Plymouth Half Marathon is number 5 in my challenge to run as many as I can this year. It is also the 3rd Half Marathon in 4 weeks with another one to follow next week. Will the Old Croc’s legs cope?
I’d booked myself into the Copthorn Hotel in Plymouth a couple months ago, with the possibility of a night away with “Husband who plays golf”, but all my best laid plans had gone to pot. “Husband who plays golf” is playing Golf and “Son in the forces” has come home for a break. So I travel up to Plymouth alone on the Saturday evening, check into the hotel and settle down with my crossword and a large night cap (not the variety you wear on your head) before attempting to get some quality sleep before an early morning alarm call.
The hotel is full and there is a wedding reception is progress somewhere below where I am trying to sleep. I am now being serenaded by some disco sounds I don’t know the words to and my irritation levels are rising rapidly. “Grumpy Old Woman” is kicking in and I decide to dial 0 for the reception. In my best “try not to sound too abrupt and rude” voice, I ask the receptionist if there is a wedding reception taking place to which she replies “yes”. I then state that I believe they have opened the windows of which ever room below me they are using and she says “yes, it’s because the room is very hot”. Hot! I’m bl—dy HOT, hot under the collar and getting rather teasy, but with a smile to make my voice sound calm, I ask her if someone will ask them to close the windows, I don’t add that if she doesn’t I’ll personally go down and close the windows myself and that won’t be a pretty sight. 5 minutes later the Disco in my head has gone, and sleep finally has a chance of arriving.
6am and my alarm sounds. I’ve brought my pre-race breakfast with me of muesli, blueberries and yogurt. I sit in bed watching breakfast TV munching on my food, which feels almost sinful. Breakfast TV, in fact daytime TV of any sort, is something I never indulge in and personally I don’t think I’m actually missing anything.
Outside it is grey and the weather man has told me that it is going to be cool with showers, some of them heavy. Fab, at least the dilemma of whether to wear sunglasses or not is easy to resolve today. I chose short sleeve running top with TRC vest over the top and shorts. I put my hat, gloves and rain coat in my bag and head off to the race village on the Hoe and check out the toilets.
There is a long line of “Brandon Hire” green plastic lavatories along with some similar looking vestibules housing urinals for the men on a grassed area below the Hoe. The queues are moderate in length but still men are lining up against the surrounding shrubbery scent marking. Now I know that urine is a very good accelerant for making compost but I’m not sure the Plymouth Parks Department will appreciate these runner’s efforts at trying to make the vegetation grow quicker, do you?
The internals of the portable water closets were a standard fit and they worked very well. Sadly the floors were progressively getting deeper in mud as the grass area outside was starting to turn into a Glastonbury mud fest due to overnight rain, but all in all they provided what was needed and didn’t smell foul.
I had a quick walk around the race start area and a nice race helper kept me happy by taking my photo. Either I have a big head or his eye sight needs testing as he has missed the top of it. Anyway I have one photo that hasn’t involved pointing the camera at the mirror in the hotel bedroom in an attempt of a take on a “Selphie”.
Off to the bag drop I wander and this is being run by the Air Cadets (ATC), they look so small and young, but are doing a sterling job. Top marks old boys! On the counter in front of the bag drop are boxes of free Lucozade Sport Elite Gels and recovery protein bars. I grab one of each, but there is no way any Gel will pass this girl’s lips, I’m a “Kendal Mint Cake” type of girl and today I’m on the brown version of sugar flavoured with mint.
It’s time for me to make my way to the starting pens, I feel all at sea amongst a growing tide of charity shirts and fancy dress. I’ve already seen two runners dressed as bananas, which brings back horrid memories of being overtaken by a bunch of the retched things along with a Pepperoni, at the Leeds Half in 2012. There are shirts with “Hugs for Henry” on them, several cancer charity logos, Children’s Hospice Southwest, and some with photos of service men who have died in action. I feel a bit of a fraud in a running club vest, but I can see a couple others in the crowd.
I have chosen the sub 1:40 starting pen, not because I have any chance of achieving such a fantastic time, but because the sub 2hr pen is rather full. I’m cold and could do with some friendly faces to huddle up close to for warmth, but there is no pre race tarting available today for me. I check my Garmin and its all systems go. I have my security hanky in my hand. I don’t hear a gun or hooter sound, but the pack ahead seem to be moving forward in fits and starts so I follow suit. Its eyes down and try not to fall over anyone’s feet.
Over the timing mat I step, Garmin activated and I can now manage a slow jog down Cliff Road. I am trying to weave around slower runners, but we are all in the same boat, being held up by the sheer volume ahead of us. Gradually though I’m able to pick up some speed and we all proceed along Great Western Road onto Grand Parade, where the supporters are cheering us on and a modicum of space becomes available. It’s grey, cool with a slight breeze but it’s not raining. Conditions are perfect for running.
We now proceed down Madeira Road and onto the cobbles of the Barbican area passing the mayflower steps to our right and the fishing fleet. I pass one runner dressed in an outfit that makes him look as if he is riding an Emu, or was it a Rhea, the Rhea that escaped last week which had been nicknamed “Chris”. The road has cheering spectators dotted along the way and people heading off to cafes for a nice hot mug of coffee and a read of their Sunday paper. I think to myself that maybe I have my priorities all wrong here. Maybe a woman of my age should being the doing the same and as I overtake two males, their conversation nearly stops me in my tracks. It goes something like this:
I run past these males and one male turns to the other and says “isn’t it weird how people who look as if they couldn’t run for their life still manage to run faster than us” male No 2 replies “what do you think…….60?” 60, I’ll give him flipping 60. Do I stop and slap him and tell him he is 7 years and 2 months out or just fume internally until I combust? I’m running well admittedly, I do have grey hair in an unflattering dragged back off my eyes style so I can see where I’m going, but please god, don’t say I look 60. I’ll give the lads some due; as they did go onto discuss how the quickest runner at their club was a male of 65. I now try to console myself that maybe there was someone older than me close by that they were referring to, but I’m not convinced.
Out onto Vauxhall St then Exeter St, Sutton road and Gdynia Way we proceed. All the roads for this race have been closed to traffic so we don’t have to contend with motorists trying to kill us. The scenery is industrial and therefore not particularly pleasing on the eye. The gradient is moderately flat and the runners are now well spaced out. One runner has a large bare breast on his back and it is wobbling out of control. I tell him he could do with a good sports bra, he smiles in that “I’ve heard it all before style” and I run on. What a t*t I thought, a huge foam T*T that really needed better rucksack style strapping so it stayed on his back motionless. He was raising funds for a breast cancer charity.
Across Laira bridge with the river Plym to our left and Cattwater to our right we run and this is now the start of a long grind ever upwards out to Saltram, a distance of about 3 miles. It’s not steep it’s just a constant grind but I’m managing to maintain a steady pace. My face and neck look as if they have been immersed in a bucket of water. I keep having to remove my glasses to wipe the salty sweat from my now stinging eyes with my trusty security hanky, but I still refrain from taking any liquids on board at the water stations.
The water stations are handing out plastic pouches of spring water which are supposed to be easier to drink from and don’t roll around on the ground when discarded. I ended up wearing one person’s water, (not that you would have noticed due to my total body melt down) due to it shooting out in a fountain style as he squeezed the pouch to drink. I also had one very stupid male change direction in order to reach a drinks station, literally stepping on my feet in order to cross from my right to my left. It meant I had to push him forward so I didn’t fall backwards.
At mile 7 we reach the end of the climb and the entrance into Saltram estate a National Trust property and parklands. There are loads of supporters cheering us all on and handing out Jaffa cakes and Jelly Babies. In fact supporters and food offers have been available all along the race route making the atmosphere brilliant. What this race lacks in scenery it makes up for in public support.
We now have a nice scenic downhill section through the parklands and as I pass some children I try to engage in some crowd participation and attempt a High Five. Big mistake, I forget that I have soggy security hanky in my right hand and as I open this hand in a “High Five” motion, security hanky drops to the ground. Ahhhhhhh ! I engage my brakes, stop, and swivel round to almost single handedly fell 4 runners in one swoop. Thankfully their brains worked better than mine and we avoided a huge pile up. “Sorry, sorry sorry” was all I could say, and they ran off into the distance probably cursing the geriatric female of about 60 who had nearly ended their race for them.
At the bottom of this hill the route bears left passing some caravans belonging to the travelling fraternity who never travel in them, and the delights of Chelson Meadow. “What a delightful name and area this must be”, I here you say. No, Chelson Meadow is the huge refuse dump for Plymouth and there is nothing delightful about it at all. Plym River is to our right and before long we are back out onto Laira Bridge.
Now to make the distance right for this Half Marathon we have to do an out and back loop along the A374 along the embankment. This is mind numbingly dull and almost soul destroying with its only good point being that it is flat and traffic free. It seems to go on forever, but as you make the turn for home it is only 3 miles to go. I peek at my Garmin and can’t believe what I’m seeing. I’m on target to get in under 1:50.
Back up Gdynia way we go, onto Sutton road and before long the Barbican is beckoning. My legs are tired and they seem to be moving all on their own; they no longer seem to be a part of my body. I glance at my Garmin and now realise that if I can keep this going, I could be onto a PB. I remind myself that this year is all about completing races not competing, but the competitive side of my brain has gone into override.
The Barbican cobbles feel like boulders under my feet, and the final mile arrives with most of it being uphill. I manage to keep my speed at a constant, but the legs are protesting. With about 300m to go some poor male runner in charity T-Shirt is being held up by the crowd and I can hear them saying “we must get him to the finish line somehow”. I feel retched running past him, but there are enough people around to attend to him and my chance of a PB is still there.
The top of the hill arrives, we bear right and then left up the last slope onto the Hoe and the sprint for the finishing line. Too late, PB missed by 21 seconds but at 1:46:27 I have beaten my PB for this event by 3mins and 14 seconds so I’m pleased.
As I cross the line, one race helper has the unenvious task of handing out the sick buckets to anyone looking like they are about to projectile vomit. Today I’m not one of them thank god. I queue up for my medal, water, banana and goodie bag, no race T-Shirt today girls, that had to be bought in advance at the pricey sum of £18….needless to say I decided against that offer. The goodie bag was better than the one I received in 2012 and this year it contained a small towel, Mars Bar, a bag of some sort of popcorn snack, a dried pineapple snack, a Naked Health bar and a travel size bottle of shower gel. At the bag drop there was more Lucozade Sports Elite recovery bars in strawberry and oat flavour and cans of organic fruit energy drink. I grabbed one each of these morsels and then the doors to heaven opened and out came a heavy downpour of rain. In my bag I had my recycled Prague Half Marathon Thermal silver blanket and once wrapped like an oven ready Christmas turkey, this old bird walked back to her hotel for a long hot soak in the bath.
You know you are old when a post race soak in a deep bath, with two mugs of hot tea at your side and a strawberry and oat flavoured recovery bar equals bliss.
So all in all:
- Parking. Plentiful but all at fee paying car parks.
- Race HQ. None really just assorted tents with bag drop, first aid etc…..
- Toilets. Clean and plentiful in portable cubicles.
- Showers. Only if you were like me, staying at a hotel, but the sea was close by.
- Race marshals. Where required, very good. The race was on closed roads so it went very smoothly indeed. Top marks Plymouth.
- Goodie bag. Not bad but as the cost to enter was £26 plus booking fee and that was if you entered early, a T-Shirt would have been good, but factor in the cost of running a large event like this with all roads closed then the costs must have been huge. Plymouth you are forgiven and the medal is a good quality one and we had chipped timing.
- Will I run this race again? I’m not sure, as I’ve completed it 3 times already.
- For the likes of Isobel and anyone with a chance of being in the top 3 finishers male and female then there were great cash prizes 1st £500 2nd £400 and 3rd £300.