Bideford Half Marathon 2015

Report by Hana

Half Marathon number 3 of 2015 arrives and it’s going to have to be an early start to drive all the way up to Bideford in North Devon. “Husband who plays golf” hasn’t got any golf today and it’s also his birthday, so what better way to celebrate such a day, than in the company of his wife, acting as her chauffer. I have enticed him with the fact that he can bring his bike and try out the Tarka Trail, but the weather forecast is not looking good, for either of us.

The Alarm sounds at 6:15am, we both roll out of bed grab some porridge, fill the boot of husbands car with running and cycling kit, attach one mountain bike to the back and head off up the A30 to Launceston then bear left towards Holsworthy and onward to Bideford. Damp mizzle is already in the air, fog shrouds Bodmin moor and beyond, but the road is almost devoid of any other traffic.

We arrive at Bideford ahead of schedule and are able to avoid paying car park fees as the restrictions for street parking don’t apply on Sundays. We check the signs on the post next to us several times over just in case we had misread the details but we hadn’t. For any would be competitors for 2016’s event a word of advice, never read the sign on the opposite side of the road from where you have parked and take that information as being relevant for the side you are about to park on, because that is one sure way to get a ticket.

I’ve already spied a collection of green temporary toilet cubicles of the plastic variety situated close to the Bideford Amateur Athletic clubhouse, so I decide to get in quick before any queues start to form. They are of a standard fit but I can foresee long queues forming as there aren’t that many cubicles to service the 800 plus runners that will be here today.

I think it must be time for me to try and locate alternative toilets for when the queue’s start to form. This actually takes no time at all as there are some almost directly opposite where we have parked on The Quay. They are clean council toilets with plenty of cubicles to choose from and plenty of toilet roll……..fantastic, I’ll come back later, but I may not disclose their whereabouts to other runners.

Whilst stood looking out over the Estuary from the location of the council toilets, I am suddenly transported to a different country. Out of the mizzle and gloom I can hear the sounds of Bagpipes being played, and this feels really quite surreal. All I need now is a Lochness type monster to appear out of the river to finish this scene off.

Is that the Loch Ness Monster?!?
Is this the Loch Ness Monster?!?

“Husband that plays golf” kits himself up in Lycra and waterproof High Viz cycling jacket, and looks resigned to the fact that he is going to get soaked. He heads off to locate the Tarka Trail whilst I wander off to the Race HQ in the Athletics Clubs, club house. I feel lost in a sea of unfamiliar faces, no Julie to keep me company, no usual candidates for me to flutter my eye lids at so I head off to the baggage drop off point instead.

The weather outside is getting worse, it’s now a heavy mizzle but it isn’t that cold. Do I wear a waterproof top and possibly overheat then dissolve into a large puddle half way round or put on my “boil in the bag” windproof that will repel some water and tie around my waist easier if the weather improves. “Boil in the bag wins”, so with bag dropped off, it’s time for a quick warm up jog to check out the public toilets (God that sounds a bit perverted) public toilets with no queue to be precise, because I have been selfish and not disclosed their whereabouts to others.

The club house is too small for all the competitors to gather in out of the mizzle, so I loiter outside where I spy Steve Rawson, followed by Chris Ramsey and then Richard Wilson a TRC team of 4. After a quick chat we walk to the starting area near the club house in Kingsley road and the rain starts to get harder. If there is one thing I hate, it’s running in the rain. Thankfully I’ve pulled my IQ reducer cap down tight on my head and it’s keeping the rain off my glasses, so that’s a positive, as it is always helpful to be able to see where you are going. The negative side to this accessory is that I do look bl—dy stupid in it, but at my age I’m really not too bothered as I can’t see myself being talent spotted by some modelling agency today or any day for that matter. Glamour and good looks seemed to have passed me by.

We have chip timing for this race, so I prime my Garmin to start as we cross the timing mats and after a 5,4,3,2,1 we are off. Chris and I are side by side, Steve a few feet ahead and Richard close behind. What we don’t realise is that North Devon must be still in “Foot and mouth” mode as we suddenly find ourselves running through what can only be described as a mucky footbath situated right after you cross the timing mats. Chris suddenly lets out an outburst of four letter words. The tidal wave effect that occurred after we trampled through the foot bath has filled his running shoes with water and we’ve only travelled a matter of two feet. And there was me thinking he was all meek and mild and gentle mannered when in truth if the environment is right he can blaspheme as good as any of us.

So with soggy feet we take a tour of Kingsley road passing “Morrison’s” on our right, turning right and then right again down Park Lane before heading out of Bideford along The Quay passing lots of supporters with the estuary to our left.  We pass the Bideford Long Bridge which has been there for over 600yrs and also a building to our right which has a plaque commemorating the last hanging of witches in this country back in 1682. Well thank god I wasn’t alive in that era as I wouldn’t have survived very long.

Hasn't got Hana's name on it!
Hasn’t got Hana’s name on it!

The road is flat as we head out of Bideford along the A386 and Steve has motored on ahead but not out of my view, whereas Richard and Chris are somewhere behind me. It’s not too crowded and I’ve settled into a comfortable pace which is along the lines of what I was running at Exeter.

The road is one of the main routes into Bideford and it isn’t closed to traffic, but this isn’t a problem. We are able to hog the left/estuary side of the road as we run along and the tree cover either side is offering some form of protection from the rain. The road appears to be reasonably flat but don’t you believe it, as in no time at all we are climbing up a winding road and my pace slackens considerably.

As the weather has started to improve I’m starting to simmer in my “Boil in the bag” windproof, so I decide to just release some steam by partially undoing the Zip and see what happens. There is chit chat all around me, but at the pace I’m maintaining I find talking difficult. It’s not that I’m out of breath but breathing and talking at the same time is not my forte. I can hear two males behind me chatting away about how running assists cycling or was it cycling helps running, anyway one of the males states that he had cycled 72 miles the day before. The two males start to overtake me with the taller one being a rather “fit” male of a greying age adorned in tight Lycra. He was the cyclist of the two. This could keep me entertained for a while I think to myself, something to distract me from the miles as they pass, but the shorter and stockier of the two males tells the “fit” male that he’s looking good on it, and encourages him to run on ahead. Blast and dam it, “fit” Male picks up speed and disappears out of my view. I might as well just study the tarmac below my feet once again and plod ever onwards.

The road meanders ever further out of Bideford towards Torrington with a second smaller hill thrown in for good measures just before we turn left at the half way point and down onto the Tarka Trail Cycle path. There is a well manned water station here with friendly faces cheering us on and handing out Jelly babies for those wishing to sample them. I pass by and try to take in some of the scenery as I believe the first and only time I ran this race about 4 years ago, I described the route as boring but I had been in pain from this point of the race so my recollection of the route was tainted by this.

I’m now having an internal heat malfunction so the “boil in the bag” top has to come off. Do I stop and remove it and add unwanted time to my performance or attempt to disrobe whilst running? I’ve seen other more nimble females perform this manoeuvre so decide to give it a go myself. Well I didn’t fall over, the top came off smoothly, but getting it zipped up so I could tie it around my waist proved a tad awkward. I even had one male comment on the difficulty I was appearing to have, but this challenge wasn’t going to defeat me and after what seemed like an eternity the task was completed and I could play cat and mouse with this male with the satisfaction that I hadn’t fallen flat on my face or failed the zip test.

It isn’t long until we run across a bridge over the river Torridge with a weir on our left. I think on sunnier days it could be quite pretty but in the shades of brown and grey that today’s weather casts it doesn’t quite hit the same notes. This path drops down below the level of the road we have just run out along and occasionally I catch a glimpse of runners through the trees.

The path feels as if it is taking us slightly downhill which is nice and then from behind I hear the familiar sound that a horse makes……No, not clip clop more the noise of when it blows through its lips. This is the noise Chris makes when he runs. Do I shout out “Hi Chris”? I decide not to, as maybe, just maybe, someone else makes this same noise. It turns out that I am right and alongside me appears a smiling Chris who thanks me for being his pacer and making him run faster. He suggests that maybe we take it in turns from now on to drag each other towards a PB. As much as I would have loved to, my legs feel tired and there is no way this girl is going to get a PB today, not with the two hills we have just climbed. On reflection I believe that whenever I reach mile 8, although my lungs are willing and I’m not out of breath, my legs start to ache. Maybe it’s time I investigated energy Gels, but even as I type this observation, I’m wrinkling my nose at the mere thought of ingesting the stuff.

Chris motors on, looking fresh and hunting his PB, me on the other hand, well I’m  plodding along at a reasonable pace but with negative split runners starting to overtake me. This is nothing new in my running life and it will never ever change either.

Soon we pass through an old railway Tunnel that is dimly illuminated and my Garmin loses contact with the satellites above. This isn’t a problem because as soon as I emerge back out into daylight, the Garmin springs back to life and I’m being reacquainted with my running speed. I’m still going well, at this rate I could match my time at Exeter?

This trail is not as pretty as the one at Padstow, but it keeps us off the road and its surface is made of tarmac so no trail shoes required. As we near Bideford having kept the estuary to our right we cross a bridge and then run along the opposite side passing through the old railway station where the Bag pipes are being played by a very young looking ensemble. We run along the platform and then we are directed via a switchback down onto a side road which is when I see Steve waving at me. He’s too far ahead for me to catch him up, but I don’t think I have ever had him in my sights at this point of a race before. This doesn’t mean I’m having a brilliant run, it means he isn’t quite up to his usual standard.

Before I know it, I am on the Bideford Long Bridge passing the final 600m sign but the finish line still feels like it is miles away. I glance at my Garmin and register that I may equal my Exeter PB, but beating it would involve me running an Olympic speed last 200m. I settle for whatever speed I can muster and cross the line in 1:44:47. I’m well pleased with this, as I really thought that running under 1:46 was an impossible feat. Managing to do this twice is a miracle. Bring on the gels, who knows what I could do next time……….ah slight problem, next time is Falmouth…….too many hills.

I meet up with Chris and Steve at the finish line, but I’m cold and damp and in need of a hot shower, something the race info states are available in the club house. I locate the ladies changing room and 4 showers but space is of a premium. Then someone announces that the showers are freezing cold. I have a look at the two boiler thingies on the wall and with my fairly scant knowledge of water heaters, I come to the conclusion that they are not working. A couple brave souls actually washed in freezing water the others just gave up on any hope of freshening up. Me, well it was time to sort this situation out.

Off I march in the hope of locating someone who could save the day. I enquire at the baggage drop point, they send me inside to find a race organiser, he sends me to the bar……not for a glass of wine, no to find the lady who could help. Some insensitive male who had had the luxury of a hot shower proclaims “the men’s showers are nice and hot” “Fine” I say, “I’ll be in there in a minute” He laughs, not realising I actually meant what I said. Now that would make for an interesting race report! So a woman comes and takes a look at the heater/boilers, presses a few knobs and then had to phone a friend. Call terminated and she announces, “A man is on the way, could you all make yourselves decent please”?

Well most of the women around me just laughed, one remained naked, a couple of us almost naked and the rest in various stages of undress. This may have concentrated the mind of the man charged with fixing our water dilemma, because within hardly any time at all, a shriek of delight was heard as hot water started to flow. It could have been a scene from calendar girls as both myself and two others streaked across the room starkers leaving all our inhibitions behind, if we ever had any to start with, and this male could leave the room with a tale or two to tell his mates at the bar. Oh and the men didn’t have to cope with me using their facilities.

Once showered my phone rings, it’s “husband who plays golf” and he is soaked through and freezing cold. I pop outside to see a very bedraggled male dressed in sopping Lycra and High Viz walking towards me. He sneaks into the club to use their showers and then joins me whilst I wait for the Age cat results. Sadly I’m just not fast enough to win anything in Devon; I think I managed 7th V50, so no prizes for me, and I saw some winners going away with bottles of Champagne.

So all in all:

  •  Parking: Plentiful and free if you arrive early enough.
  •  Race HQ: Situated in the athletic club clubhouse which was fine but it’s not big enough during inclement weather.
  •  Toilets: Portable green ones. Clean and of a standard fit. There are also public toilets not far away to use as well.
  • Showers: The ladies changing room was small, with 4 shower heads (no cubicles). Once the boiler was fixed they worked very well indeed.
  •  Marshalls/water stations: very good indeed. You couldn’t get lost but the water that was handed out was in bottles, so lots of waste.
  •  Race memento: A one shoulder strap style ruck sack but I would have liked a medal to pin on my pin board to go with it.
  •  The route: A PB possible route even with two hills. Tree lined road on the outward section and Tarka Trail cycle path on the return section.
  •  Will I run this event again? I don’t think so as it’s quite a trek to get there but it is a well organised race and deserves to be run at least once.