From Colin Bathe and Bird Watts
In a land far, far away is the place where I grew up. It is the place of running about and climbing trees and riding my bike. It is the place of memories (and roundabouts) and a time long, long ago.
It is a desirable place to live (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-30560011) with house prices and beer prices to match. It is the place where some old friends live and it is the home of the Fleet Pre-London Half Marathon.
It is also just off the M3 at the top end of Hampshire.
My wife, Nik, has fairly recently taken up running and has been gradually working her way up through different race distances with Enys 10k, Newquay 10k and Stormforce 10 under her belt. The Fleet half marathon was to be her first at that distance. It was something she was looking forward to, combined with seeing our friends and relations for the weekend. I was keen and so was Bird Watts so we all booked our places. Unfortunately Nik had to pull out due to injury but offered to be a marshal instead which allowed her to defer her entry to next year.
So the weekend arrives and Nik and me take a leisurely drive up country. We stop off at Castle Drogo as it is a place we have never been and have a rather cold look at all the repair work they are doing at the moment. They have spent £1M on scaffolding alone and have a budget of ten times that for the work. All to fix the design errors of the original owner who wouldn’t listen to his architect.
We arrive in Fleet late afternoon on Saturday and have time to make ourselves comfortable in the house of Nik’s cousin which we have borrowed for the weekend. It is then off out for evening meal with three friends, first for a pint (I think I’m allowed one before a race) and then to an Italian restaurant for the traditional pre-race pasta. I’m never quite sure what the best thing to do before a race is and how much to eat but probably having three courses of rather nice grub is a little over the top. I was good and avoided the wine though.
Sunday morning and it is race day. A banana and a chewy bar for breakfast and we’re off to the start. Nik drops me off a short distance from race HQ and the heads off to her marshal point. The race has roughly 2,500 people running so there is a fair few people around but the start and finish are in the middle of a large park so there is plenty of space for everyone as well as big marquee. With that number of people about, BMW have set up a stall as have a number of other outfits but they are easy enough to ignore. Harder though is to find Bird. She might be one of the taller people there but even so she ended up finding me as she spotted my TRC secret Santa fluorescent yellow hat.
Bird had brought her mum along. Her mum had brought a hangover. Too much red wine apparently. Bird had had the odd glass herself but seemed to be in good form though a bit nervous. I had similar nerves despite having been running for 5 years now and having done lots of races. The build up to a big race that I’ve been looking forward to seems to get to me somehow in a way I can’t really explain. All a bit silly really, nobody cares how well I do apart from myself.
Enough of the worries, it was time to make the decision on how many layers to take off. The weather was good if cold with sun and little wind so I went with just my TRC top and shorts. Five minutes later I was regretting the decision as it really was rather cold, but too late now, we had said goodbye to Bird’s mum, my bag was in the marquee and we were off the short distance to the start.
In all the races I’ve been to, it has never been possible for everyone to be on the start line at once. There simply isn’t the space. I’ve learnt that it is worth getting fairly close to the front as otherwise you can be held up quite a bit. With 2,500 people starting a race on a relatively narrow road, the Fleet Half was going to be quite a problem. The organisers had solved this in two ways with the first being signs behind the start with expected finishing times on them. This put the fast people down the front and the slower people nearer the back. Bird and myself put ourselves at the 1:45 mark which was at least 100m from the starting line with at least another 100m of people behind us.
There could have been some sort of announcement made before the start as is traditional but if there was I didn’t hear it. I did hear the hooter though for the start and it put me into a panic as I was mucking about with my phone trying to take a picture and wasn’t really paying attention. I needn’t have worried as it took a good minute to reach the start line and I had plenty of time to start my race tracker. The delay wasn’t a problem though as the second trick the organisers had for the mass start was to have everyone wearing timing chips. This then gave you your own personal time for the race and removed the incentive for everyone wanting to be at the front for the start. Even so, there were plenty of people about with many going a bit slower than I liked so I said goodbye to Bird and set off weaving between people to keep my target speed.
The question of what speed to go at was a difficult one. My previous half marathon was completed at 8 minutes / mile pace but that was the rather hilly Truro half where as I knew that this race was flat and I wanted to go faster anyway. 7:30 pace sounded about right but how do you judge that when your phone app is useless for pace? My solution was just to go with what felt right. Probably not very scientific but I hoped it would do.
The first mile of the route took us in a loop around the park via the local housing estate and onto the main high street through Fleet. With 2,500 runners, it was obviously necessary to have this road closed. This was a theme all the way around the route with at least one carriageway closed for the entire course which was solely on roads.
The start of the high street is the main crossroads in Fleet and there was a good crowd of people spectating. I heard a shout of “Colin” which sounded familiar but there were too many people (and I would like to think I was travelling too fast) to spot who had yelled. The main high street in Fleet is like many others with all of the usual shops. No chance to browse though, there was still a race to run. The high street is dead straight and flat but it soon runs out of shops and end up passing housing and the odd business. Just after the two mile point, I spotted Nik in her yellow bib controlling traffic from a side road together with a couple of our friends who had come to join her. A quick wave and it was on to the next section, a sharp left onto a road beside the railway and the second side of a large triangle. Half way down this road was the three mile mark and time of 22 minutes. Now I’m not too bad at maths but trying to divide numbers by three whilst running isn’t the easiest but I soon worked out that I was travelling at 7:20 pace. A little faster than intended but about right. Could I keep it up?
Another sharp left took us onto the third leg of the triangle, a road known locally when I was a kid as the golden mile. A quick look on Rightmove tells me that there are currently 5 properties for sale along the road, all on for over £1M. Bit out of my range and the road itself was a bit lumpy according to the guy I was currently running with. Lumps are all relative though and although probably the worst on the course, they are nothing to what we are used to in Cornwall. A bit of effort and I was up them with minimal slowdown.
Completing the triangle brought us back to the crossroads at the start of the high street and another shout from the spectators. Still didn’t spot anyone. A run down the high street for the second time brought me back to Nik who traded a wave for some more yelled support, this time at the 5 and a half mile mark.
There were a number of water stations around the route but those at 6 miles and 8 miles were different in that they gave you a pouch rather than the usual cup. This had been advertised beforehand complete with videos of how to use them, put nozzle in mouth then squeeze, but I wasn’t sure how I would get on with them. I thought that they could have been a bit of a gimmick but in practise I loved them. With cups, I generally drop to walking pace so that I have a chance of getting at least some of the water into my mouth. With the pouches, it was easy to drink whilst running and there was no need to slow down. I dread to think what they cost but if reasonable, I hope to see them again in other races.
I still got wet though as the pouches are designed to burst when stood on and this was demonstrated by the guy right in front of me.
The route at this point was nominally in the countryside but we were still running on roads with hedges or trees in the way so there was not much to see apart from the occasional view of the M3. There was nothing much wrong with it but the course just wasn’t as interesting as those you get in Cornwall but then again, maybe I’m just biased.
At the 10 mile mark, another rather slow bit of mental arithmetic told me that I was still moving at around the 7:30 pace mark and as my legs felt quite good, I thought I would try and finish the race at a faster pace. This didn’t last long and by the 11 mile mark I was just happy that I could continue at my original speed. It was getting hard though and my legs were telling me that it was time to stop. I did seem to be passing quite a few people who had started off too quickly which gave me encouragement to keep on going.
The last couple of miles brought us back into Fleet and the main crossroads for the third time. Again there was a shout of “Well done Colin” from the crowd but my thoughts were solely on getting to the finish line which I knew was just up ahead.
The clock at the finish showed 1 hour 38 minutes so I knew I had reached my target and could look forward to my chip time which would be even better due to the time it took to get over the start line. A good result but I had put everything into it and was just a little bit tired. Time to collect my medal, a bottle of water, a rather green banana and a bag to put it all in.
I’ve found that I need to keep moving after completing a long event so as to avoid needing to visit the St John Ambulance tent so was wandering around the finish area when I bumped into my in-laws. They confirmed that it was them yelling at the crossroads so I thanked them for that and apologised for not spotting them. A short while later Bird turned up having finished the race in 1 hour 50 having smashed her PB. She was even more pleased when I told her that her chip time would likely be under 1:50 as well. I wanted to find out my exact time so went looking for results but didn’t find anything which I thought a little strange, however a few minutes later I received a text message and was delighted to discover it was from the organisers and gave me my chip time of 1:37:11, a new PB by 7 minutes! This works out at 7:25 minutes per mile pace and I later discovered that my splits were all within 10 seconds of this and if you correct for hills within 5 seconds. I’ve never run so consistently for that distance before. I was and am very pleased with this.
In all a very good race, maybe not the most exciting of routes but flat and very fast, giving ample PB opportunity. Organisation was great with chip timing and pouch water stations and we are likely to be back next year as Nik still has a half marathon to complete. If you fancy joining us then book early as it is an event that fills up. Just don’t expect to win – the large numbers of Army, Navy and Air Force that enter have that tied up.
I thought the start was very busy and it could have been intimidating if it was your first race or if alone but it was great to have Colin with me. It was also good to watch Colin’s hat dodge through the crowd whilst he was off to a speedy round. I thought the loops wouldn’t be fun but they actually made the first 5 miles fly by as the crowds were really cheering and gave a good atmosphere. Also great to do two laps via Nik as that was also really motivating. The marshals were really good all the way round cheering you on with lots of Cornish comments kept my spirits up. When I hit 10 miles, feeling I had enough, the shouts of “oggy oggy oggy oi oi oi, keep it up Cornish” from a local club of chaps made me pick up again which was a good moment!
The course felt good but nothing to compare it to over that distance really but a lot of support all the way round. Didn’t like the last hill towards the finish but loved the last 200m sign!! Good exit, well organised race.