Plymouth Armada Half Marathon 2014 – Hana’s report

I first ran this Half Marathon in 2013 when it made its debut onto the Devon race calendar. I thoroughly enjoyed the fact that it was predominately off road, on tracks suitable for road shoes, starting and finishing at Saltram House a National Trust property and parklands on the outskirts of Plymouth. So it made good sense to once again include this race in my 2014 Half Marathon challenge.

The only slight problem with this Half Marathon is its start time of 9am. I know this means that it gets it over and done with leaving you with time to enjoy the rest of the day, but travelling up from darkest Cornwall requires an early wake up call. So at 6am on Sunday the 5th October, when nigh all the rest of TRC runners are having a lie in, as they are going off to the Newquay 10K, I’m having to climb out of my nice warm bed in order to eat some porridge, before driving up to sunny Devon.

I had packed my race bag the night before to save time, so all that was required for me to do this morning, was to make a flask of coffee, load “Sidney Skoda” and drive off up the A30 then the A38 to the Boarder Control area at the Devon end of the Tamar Bridge. £1:50 it cost me to enter the principality of Plymouth and I’ll have you know that hurts when I am in fact a “Plymuff” born girl. Mind you I have lived the majority of my life in Cornwall.

The drive up was uneventful but I watched the outside air temperature drop rapidly to 3.5 degrees as I drove through the Glynn valley, with the ice warning beeper going off in my car. Damn, I hadn’t packed any gloves let alone a scarf and woolly hat. I’d packed about every other layer imaginable as Devon can be much colder than the subtropical Cornwall I live in. As my husband would say, “You’ll just have to run faster to keep warm then” Ha Ha!

Having begrudgingly handed over my “get out of Cornwall” fee, to the man in the kiosk on the Tamar Bridge, I proceeded along the A38 Parkway, a dual carriageway that runs through the middle of Plymouth with Ernesettle, Honicknowle (I once lived there in a house provided my employer) Crownhill and the gateway to Dartmoor on your left. And to the right lies the likes of Weston mill, Mannamead, Stonehouse and the City centre to name just a few areas.

Due to this being a Sunday and only 8am in the morning, the road is nice and quiet. The only car nearby is just starting to overtake me. This is when I notice a short way ahead of us, a very cute bouncy grey squirrel with pert bushy tail, not complying with “Tufty’s Green Cross Code”.

So:

  1. Do I brake hard and hopefully “Sidney Skoda’s” ABS will activate and I’ll stop before Tufty the squirrel?
  2. Do, I move out into the offside lane……..no can’t do that as there is a car already there.
  3. Watch and see what happens (can’t close my eyes as I’m driving).

I opt for No 3, the safest option and blow me down with a feather. Tufty bl—dy Squirrel, hops, skips and bounces into the path of the car to my right, only to time it’s skips to perfection, pausing just long enough between all four wheels for me to see it in my rear view mirror, emerge unscathed and skip onto the central reservation.

The question is……Did it make it to the far side of the road in one piece?

This does take me back to last winter, when whilst out running in the country lanes around   Truro, where near death experiences with cars who refuse to slow down as they pass me, whilst I’m dressed in high viz, was brought into perspective, when a Bouncy fluffy Squirrel descended from a tree and ran into the path of the oncoming “rat run” traffic. The cars all stopped. The squirrel crossed the road and the cars then zoomed pass me with no regard whatsoever for my welfare. This raised the question should we as runners give up wearing HIGH VIZ and run in Squirrel onsie’s instead?

Anyway I’ve digressed a little, so back to the race review etc…… At the end of the Parkway, (before the A38 goes over Marshmills roundabout) you bear left towards Plympton following the brown National Trust signs for Saltram House. Should you be travelling this route next year from Cornwall, it’s best to get into the offside of the two lanes once off the roundabout, as the signs aren’t that brilliant and you will need to turn right at a set of traffic lights and proceed up Cot Hill, passing an industrial estate. Be warned though, there are Big Yellow Speed Camera’s on this Hill!!!  At the top you turn right and where the road makes a left hand bend, the gates and driveway to Saltram house are on your right.

The setting is beautiful and the Sun has come out. The trees are displaying their finest autumnal colours and a car park marshal is pointing me up the road to a grassed area for us race goers to park for free. I place “Sidney Skoda” under a tree then decide that maybe the toilets should be checked out early before any possible queues.

The race info stated: TOILET FACILITIES. Toilets are sited in the House access area with Portaloos also available. (This is a quote straight from their race info sheet.)

Firstly, how is it they can use the word PORTALOO without infringing any trademark legislation, unlike me who used it last year in my race reports and nearly got TRC into terrible trouble? And then why is it I can’t find any of these portable loo’s anyway?

I therefore test out the NT toilets and the 3 cubicles in the Ladies are all vacant, so I have a choice. There are flagstone floors, white sanitary ware and all were clean with a plentiful supply of toilet paper. First class.  As I am about to exit the toilet area a lady looks at me intently and say’s, “I know you, don’t I?” Now I’m pretty good with faces on the whole, where as names I am dreadful at remembering, but I don’t recognise this lady at all. Then suddenly she remembers……she’s read my race review, from last year’s Plymouth Armada Half, so that takes the readers up to at least 4 now.

I have a little wander around before shedding any of my thermal layers, then I decide that today’s air temperature will mean I will wear a light weight running T under my TRC vest as I’m rather cold. No gloves as they are at home, shorts will be OK and then a square of Kendal Mint cake is consumed to keep me going. The chilly air has made the bladder twitch again, so off to the loo’s I trot. This time I find a queue of men formed outside their toilets, a very rare sight indeed, but without asking why, one of them announces to a fellow male who approaches, that they queue is “for men wanting to sit down”. Far too much info for my liking, thank you!

It’s time to muster near the start line and try to get my “Garmin” to load. We’ve got chipped timing as well which is amazing as the race numbers appear quite intimate. I get talking to someone with “Sarah” on her running shirt then spot a TRC vest in the forming crowd. I go over and say hello to a lady who I now know is called Lisa Boaden and her friend (without a TRC vest) and then our TRC numbers increase yet again to a team of 3, as Nigel Eagling joins us. There was me thinking I would be all on my own out of 171 runners at this event today. No team photo sadly as I left the camera at home. Nigel asks me what time I am hoping to get today. I reply that all I want to do is finish, as this will be my 10th Half Marathon of the year and then after I’ve crossed the line, I’ll look at my time. I’m wearing my Garmin to see what mile I’m at and to upload the route when I get home, Oh and to note how many calories I NEED to replace afterwards.

The race rules are read out, with no headphones, keep left and do as the marshals tell you being the usual ones. The horn sounds and off we go, down a tarmac lane towards the river. We have cattle grazing in the field to our right, open pasture land to our left and beyond that is the lovely sounding “Chelson Meadow” a disused tip for household rubbish.

At the bottom of this ¾ mile downhill section we bear right along a compacted mud and stone path, where off road shoes are really not required. This is a path which mountain bikers, runners and walkers share on a daily basis. The River Plym is to our left (well the mud flats are today), and the wooded grounds of Saltram House and a small amphitheatre are to our right. The path is undulating with one short steep section but my speed is quite good.

You can tell the air temperature is colder than it has been of late, as a symphony of throat clearing, spitting and grunting is shattering the otherwise tranquil woodland setting. I have to admit that I am doing my usual irritating winter running cough but not to the decibels of others nearby. Behind me I hear two males, one throat clearing the other advising him on the ethics of where and in what direction to spit. Hopefully it won’t be in my direction and this discussion then moves onto burgers of the Big and Mac variety and the girl who served him.

Soon we are back onto a tarmac path that takes us under the A38 flyover and then up over an arch shaped pedestrian bridge, sandwiched between the underside of the said flyover and above the main Penzance to London railway line. This bridge must wobble a bit at the top, as I have a bit of a funny wobbly sensation where legs and head feel weird. This soon passes and down the other side we all run turning right along a pavement then across a road to the Coy Pool park and ride area and the start of the Plym Valley cycle route, an old disused railway line. This is a line that my mother can remember seeing the steam trains chuff along back at the end of the 50’s/start of the 60’s, sometimes setting the embankments alight as they passed merrily on their way.

The Disused railway line now has a good firm tarmac surface all the way out to Bickleigh, our half way point, making it very easy to walk, run or cycle along and is part of the “West Devon Way” cycle route. It is heavily wooded either side at the start with the River Plym keeping you company along the way. My coughing has eased, my legs can feel the slight uphill gradient we all have to contend with, and I’m leaking like a sieve. If I was a steam train you would think I’d blown a gasket. My security hanky is once again sopping wet from wiping the sweat from my soggy brows and I thought I might need gloves today!

There is no chance of getting lost or bored during this race as the route keeps you on the old railway line, which crosses 3 viaducts where the views open out onto lush green country side and through cuttings where the vegetation is on the turn. We have well run water stations for those who need to drink and as you may be aware, I am not one of those runners. I decline the 300ml bottles they are handing out and I have to say those who did accept them, seem to discard them into the bins provided and not into the surrounding vegetation. Come to think of it, I don’t even think I saw any Energy Gel packaging on the ground either.

At mile 5.33 (that’s the mileage I was at) the lead male was running back towards me. He must have been at least 3 miles ahead of me and the second placed runner, also a male, passed me as I reached mile 5.45. As this is an out and back route it would give me an idea of where I was now placed out of the female runners. I keep my head up, and then count the ladies as they pass me by. 1, oh she looks much, much younger than me and very petite followed by 2 and 3 etc…..and they too appear to be much younger than me. In fact they all look much younger than me and I appear to be female No 7 or was that 8? I wasn’t able to concentrate after No 6 as running and anything other than day dreaming is a definite challenge for me.

In no time at all I reach the turning point and this is when the gradual uphill we have been battling against for about 4 miles now becomes a slight downhill gradient and you can pick up the pace a little. Having cycled this route several times all the way out to Princetown, I can vouch that going out is a slog and cycling back to Saltram is a breeze. It’s not the same running, but the legs do feel as if they can go faster, so faster I go.

This increase in effort brings on my irritating cough again and Nigel who I can see ahead obviously recognises this sound and looks over his shoulder. He appears to drop a gear and accelerates slightly so that I can’t catch him and overtake. I’ve noticed several men do this. I catch them, come along side, they glance to their right, note that some Old Croc is about to dent their ego, and off they go. Occasionally their plan fails and that I have to say is a great mood enhancer for me. I may have to adopt this as a game next year in the longer races.

The miles are passing really quite quickly, the sweat is pouring uncontrollably and the legs are getting heavier by the minute. My ankles ache and as I reach Coy Pool and then the Pedestrian Bridge over the railway line, I once again question why I choose to run Half Marathons when a 10 mile race would suit me better? I can visualise the last couple of undulating miles along the woodland path when “up” seems to feature more than “down”. And on top of this, the last ½ mile is a vomit inducing uphill all the way to the finish line. My brain is now scanning through all the possible options for me, sitting down and giving up is one, but I soon give myself a stern talking to and a kick up the arse. I decide that it is also not an option, to look over my shoulder to see if any Old Crocs were catching me up, because if they were, I don’t think I could have done anything about it.

I plod on and the last hill to the finish line arrives. I hear dainty feet and gentle breathing behind me, but it turns out to be a man that overtakes along with a few others who don’t want to be beaten by someone as old and grey as me. Somehow I manage to keep a reasonable pace and I cross the line to find that a small miracle has just happened, I finish 6 minutes faster than last year. Forget girl power, this is GREY power!

I’m handed a nice blue towel as my race memento and a bottle of water, but as usual I haven’t got enough strength to jump off a doll’s house let alone open a plastic bottle, so with my most pathetic look I seek out some poor male, who comes to my rescue without complaint.

I spy the lady who had identified me in the ladies’ toilets before the race. She was sat on a bench with her head in her hands sobbing her heart out. I go over thinking that maybe she had fallen, not finished the race, but no these were tears of relief, ecstasy, and happiness. For over the last two years she had gone from being someone who could run a half marathon in 1:36 to someone with health problems, who thought she wouldn’t run again. She had completed The Tavy 13 earlier this year in 2:15 and here she was literally crossing the line 1 minute behind me. It’s moments like this, that make you realise just how lucky we runners are and that we should enjoy every race, embrace every hill, take in the scenery, and mix with the crowd. Life is far too short to get hung up over PB’s or being beaten by our arch rivals. Just be happy you can actually do it!!!!

At 2:51:10 “Superman” and his bucket were the last to cross the finishing line. Sadly he missed the prize giving, where this Old Croc managed to retain her title of 1st V50 female, receiving a bottle of red as her prize, which will keep the “Husband who plays golf” happy.

So all in all.

  • Parking: Very good even though it was on grass but it was free.
  • Toilets: Clean and although not many, did not cause any problems for us females, but then again I think the men outnumbered the women significantly.
  • Race HQ: A very small tent/marquee. If it had been wet you would have to shelter in your car or under a tree. There are no changing rooms or showers.
  • Marshals: Excellent. They were friendly, encouraging and enabled us to cross the two road sections safely without stoppages or danger.
  • The Route: It’s a there and back 98% off road race, but the paths are firm so no matter what the weather, you would not need trail shoes. It’s scenic and if it wasn’t for the last two miles a potential PB course.

Will I run it again? I’m not sure as 2015 really should be about trying some new races, but you never know, the course is so nice and if my usual running partner decided to try it, then it makes a lovely day out for friends and family.

10 out of 10 Plymouth.

Hana