Exeter Trails Half Marathon, 2015

Hana Reports

Back in September Julie and I decided we ought to try some new races in 2015 and the Exeter Trails Half Marathon fitted the bill quite nicely. Firstly it wasn’t too far to travel, Julie and I could fit a shopping weekend around it and it would fit nicely into my 2015 revisit of the 13 Half Marathons in 12 months challenge.

So on 4th October I sent my entry form and cheque off, booked a hotel not too far from the start line and shops, and forgot all about the race, until January when I checked the list of entrants and neither my name or Julie’s was anywhere to be seen.

This race used to be only held on one day with a limited entry of about 350 runners. It always sold out very early, so for 2015 the race organisers Ironbridge Runner had decided to run a race on both the Saturday and Sunday. Julie and I opted for the Sunday race but our names were nowhere to be found on either list. I didn’t panic as a note appended to the lists stated that paper entry details would be added in due course. I put the race to the back of my mind and then 5 days before we were due to run it, Julie text to say we were still not on the list of runners and had I received my race number and race info through the post. The answer to that was “NO”.

We both tried the listed contact telephone numbers and email address for Ironbridge Runner. The telephone number no longer existed and the emails could not be delivered……Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh ! We could find no info on the internet about what was happening until the power of Facebook and Twitter came into action. To cut a long story short we were eventually put in contact with Peter from Exeter FC who had obviously stepped in to save the event, as Ironbridge Runner appears to have closed/ceased trading. Phew, retail therapy still set to go, hotel no longer needed cancelling, stress levels back to normal and race numbers 620 and 621 ready to collect at race HQ.

Julie volunteered to drive, so off up the A30 we merrily drive arriving at Exeter at mid day where we check into the Mercure Hotel which is ideally located for both shopping and running this race. It has a car park and leisure centre (we ran out of time so didn’t get to use the pool, sauna or Jacuzzi) and it is only a two minute walk to the Cathedral and main shopping area and a 9 minute walk to the Quay area where the race starts. Even better still the location is nice and quiet and the room has windows that open allowing cool air to come in, very essential at my age due to suffering from frequent bouts of spontaneous combustion.

Saturday afternoon is spent in therapy, retail therapy, and both Julie and I manage to part with some cash in the fashion sector. I’m not talking Vivian Westward or Miss Selfridge, something a little more demure for women of our age.

Saturday also happens to be February 14th, Valentine’s day and have you ever tried to book a table for two at short notice for such a date, well I did and was hit by the word FULL at every restaurant I contacted even ASK.  My husband and son thought it was hilarious that Julie and I were going to be out on such a date, well at the rate of fully booked, no tables available responses I was getting, it was looking like all we would end up with is a Kentucky Fried Chicken rather than an intimate dinner for two with candles and roses.

My saving grace was a lovely lady at a restaurant called Bar Venezia on the Quay in Exeter, who promised she would call me back if they had a cancellation, and sure enough she did. A table for two at 6:30pm is what we now had, with candles, an artificial flower and only a couple funny looks. Nothing new then!

I started 2015 DRY, as in alcohol free for the month of January, and during that time I ran in two races and attained a PB in one of them. I was starting to wonder if not consuming my usual red hydration product the night before a race was actually making me run more efficiently??? So the question was, should I put the theory to the test for this race?

To drink or not to drink that was the question? It didn’t take me long to answer as the Valentines meal at the restaurant came with a free glass of Kir Royal and neither Julie nor I were driving. Sauvignon Blanc here we come (Julie isn’t a fan of red and I can drink any colour wine).

Alarm set for 6:30am to allow time to consume and digest some breakfast. We had come well prepared, Special K instant porridge with red berries for me. Just add water, stir well, replace lid and wait 3 minutes it said on the pack. I follow the instructions, open the lid and expect to find breakfast for one adult inside only to see a child’s portion instead. Good job I’ve brought two packs and some fruit.

The start of the race is on The Quay and the race HQ is at the Haven Banks Outdoor Education Centre. Julie and I arrive at just after 8am and the Quay area is deserted save for a fair number of very large and very vocal geese and some swans. The footway was displaying a definite slip hazard as we walked towards Cricklepit Bridge. The geese and swans could match a herd of cows for volume of waste product they left all over the walkway.

Exeter Quay, 2015
Exeter Quay

We are met at the Race HQ by a male we presume to be Peter, the Peter I have been exchanging emails with and he gives us our race numbers. We are 620 and 621 today. We are then informed that there are three toilet cubicles for our use and it would be wise to use them sooner rather than later as demand will be too great for the services provided once the other competitors arrive. So we take heed and Julie checks out one cubicle whilst I locate the one in the changing room with showers which we won’t be able to use after the race. They are clean, school/leisure centre style facilities with some toilet paper, but I can’t see it being enough for 350 runners. They serve our needs but it is apparent that the race organisation has been put under a great strain with Ironbridge Runner’s closure and we must make the best of what little is provided.

The bag drop is a transit van with no one to look after the kit or provide labels to write your race no upon. Honesty is the policy for this baggage drop and fingers crossed that it works. We are joined by another runner from Cornwall, Dave from Falmouth Road Runners. I take a photo of him and he does the same for us. We exchange pleasantries and learn that he comes from London originally and that he has a daughter with twins who lives in Exeter. There are none of the usual males that I flirt with at this race, or other TRC runners. It’s a team of only two today.

It’s now time to line up for the start. This a 3 lap race along the cycle/foot paths that run alongside the Canal and out to the turning point at Bridge road, the A379. I decide to stand towards the front half of the line up with Dave from Falmouth. We have a short briefing which includes the fact that only the first 72 runners crossing the finishing line will receive a pack of “Love Hearts” to go with the medal, Mars Bar and bottle of water. Would this fact make me run faster……I don’t think so.

Exeter Quay 2015
Hana and Julie

I set off at what feels like a normal “out for an evening run” sort of pace and then check my Garmin to see that I’m running quite a bit faster than that. I feel good, not out of breath and fairly relaxed.

The race is all on Tarmac so no need for off road shoes even if it advertised as a trail race. We turn left across a wooden bridge and I wonder if this bridge has ever been tested for large numbers of people running over it all at the same time. It wobbles a bit but I make it to the other side safe and sound. I just have to cross this bridge twice more.

Ahead of me is a young male in a red top with his first name printed on it, he is huffing and puffing and running at quite a pace for someone who does not have the physique of a runner. Let’s just say he has relaxed muscles of the cuddly variety.  I’m concerned about him as this could all end up in tears for him, but I decide to say nothing and he pulls ahead of me, so maybe I’m wrong.

I have another male in front of me with whom I am running at the same pace. This apparition ahead of me is very distracting. He is a tall, tanned, dark haired gent of about 55 to 60 dressed in a red running vest and silky white shorts that have crept up the crease of his a-se but with no VPL (Visible panty line for any male readers who do not recognise this TLA). This is not a very sexy look and on his shirt I can read the word “BUNGAY” followed by I think “Black dog runners”. I find that I keep getting an image in my head and that image is of “Bungay Bungay Berlusconi”. Remaining behind this male for 13 miles is going to cause me suffering and some sort of mental trauma, but I can’t see myself being able to overtake him.

The path takes us alongside the canal and upon the canal there are teams of rowers sculling in their long thin needle sharp racing shells with a trainer on the tow path passing instructions to them. This takes my mind off the running and the silky white shorts ahead of me.

To my left the Environment Agency are digging out a flood channel which is situated in a dip between the river to my left and Riverside Valley Park (a large green open space with cycle and footpaths running through it) and the canal to my right. The path we are running on is divided into a section for walkers and the other half for cyclists of which there are many passing us by. This cycle path I believe may take you out across the river and onto Exmouth. I may have to return sometime and try it out?

As we start to near the turning point on this the first lap of the race, the lead runners are running towards us and I count about 4 ladies ahead of me. This won’t last. Anyway, as Bungay Bungay and I reach the turning point at Bridge Road and start heading back towards Exeter we catch up with male in red top with name on and he is sounding exhausted. His pace has slackened and I note Bungay Bungay glance over at him. Do I tell the lad to ease off a little so that he can make it past the first lap? No, keep quiet, try not to offend the poor lad and both Bungay Bungay and I pass him by. Suddenly from nowhere Bungay Bungay increases his speed and off he trots. I have to say I’m relieved as even though I spend a lot of my time studying the ground as I run, his shorts were distracting as was the dark back hair that was oozing out over the top of his shirt.

Back to the start line I arrive and we are directed down a channel of fences to retrace our steps for lap two. I check my Garmin and I’m running somewhere between 7.40 and 8 minute miles. It’s then that it occurs to me, that when my daughter and I attained our Half Marathon PB at Warwick two years ago, we ran at a pace of 8.06. Could I keep this up and sneak in under the 1hr 46:08 we achieved there? Probably not, but today was probably going to be my only chance of doing this. It was ideal conditions. Flat as a pancake course, cool overcast weather with no wind at all. This was going to be a test of my stamina and I kept telling myself, that if I could complete the Cornish marathon on grit and determination then I could keep this pace going.

As I headed out onto lap two, running towards me were the runners technically behind me, if you know what I mean. In amongst these runners were a pack of young ladies wearing navy blue shirts with “Exeter Hockey” in red on the front. I saw them glance at me, then one of them said “target on”. I must have been the only woman in their sights, a woman of mature years that needed beating. Nothing like a bit of pressure when this old croc was having to mentally deal with keeping her legs going at 8 minute miles or less.

The hockey girls were very MUCH YOUNGER than me and within a mile they overtook and powered on. Team spirit was doing its stuff. So now I was no longer 5th female more like 9th or 10th.

The second lap came and went, with me wondering whether I liked this format of running a 3 lap race. Then I thought of Isobel and the 400m track she ran around for 24hrs, now that takes something special, a something special I would never have. So I stopped thinking negative thoughts, checked my Garmin and my speed had dropped to 8.15 minute miles. Kick up the ar-e time for me, a quick pep talk and I start to pick up the pace as I enter the third lap.

For most of the race I have had plenty of space around me, as the runners thin out. I have watched the lead runners heading for home and shouted “Hi” to Julie as we’ve passed each other in opposite directions, but not too many runners overtake me. One more lady passes, possibly in a CAC running vest, which now makes me about 11th or 12th female. This is an ego/morale boost and I merrily jog on.

Mile 12 arrives, time to dig in deep. I have had the distraction of the coxed 6 sculling by, but it’s now time to keep the legs going and I’m just under the 8 miles a minute pace. Dare I glance at the time……sh-t a PB is very possible. I start to get excited at the prospect, my stomach starts to tighten and nausea is creeping in, but I’m breathing fine, it’s just the legs and feet that are telling me they are tired.

The last 50m arrive and I sprint across the line. My Garmin registers1:43:59 I’m shocked and over the moon. 1:45:59 would have been amazing but this is beyond my belief. (Official results gave me the time of 1:44:03 still 2 mins and 3 seconds faster than my previous PB). I collect my medal, Mars Bar and bottle of water, but as I’m finisher No 78 I miss out on one of the 72 packs of Love Hearts that had been given away. It’s now time for me to wait for Julie to finish and then celebrate with a large cup of coffee.

Exeter half 2015 - Julie in the finishing straight
Julie in the finishing straight

One thing is for sure, it appears that it makes no difference whatsoever to my race performance whether I consume alcohol the night before the race or not. Yippee!

There is no presentation as such. One minute there was a table with trophies on and the next there wasn’t. Apparently there are no age category prizes, those results will follow in a couple days. I will wait with baited breath.

So all in all:

  • Parking: At the hotel but with a £10 charge which isn’t too bad for two days.
  • Race HQ: Small and only open for 1hr. There were obviously many problems with the original race organisers pulling out/ceasing to trade.
  • Toilets: few and far between, but they were clean and I didn’t have to queue for long.
  • Marshals: friendly and encouraging in most instances.
  • The route: three flat circuits that were scenic with the distraction of the rowing taking place on the canal.

Would I run this race again?  Maybe.  7 out of 10 due to the lack of communication by the race organisers when things were going wrong!

More photos on Facebook.