Report by Hana Clitherow
At the start of this year I set myself the challenge of running 13 Half Marathons in a year, in an attempt to keep me motivated to run longer distances. This was to be my second attempt at this challenge, due to the fact that last year I managed to break a toe and this then caused me to be only able to complete 12 Half Marathons with a full Marathon squeezed in at the end of the season. “Husband who plays golf” said the marathon didn’t count. Grrrrrrr! So here I am a year later and about to complete Half marathon No 13.
I have tried over the year to run some “new to me” Half Marathons and when I spotted the Barnstaple Half, this appealed as it sort of fell into being a local race even if it is 86 miles and a 2hr drive away. With a 10am start I decided that due to my “Old Croc” status I should book overnight accommodation for the Saturday night so that I wouldn’t have to drive there and back in the same day. My husband was going to travel with me, but “Husband who plays golf” had Golf that clashed with this date as did his work. Oh well, a girl’s trip away for one.
The drive to Barnstaple along the A39 Atlantic Highway, on a beautiful Blue sky and cloud free day was quite pleasant but on reaching Barnstaple itself “Sydney Skoda” and myself took a wrong turn (I don’t own a sat nav) but in no time at all, I had recalibrated my internal navigation system, (that’s my memory of the map I had been looking at) and I was soon parked outside Barnstaple’s Premier Inn, my lodgings for the night.
With my bags dropped off I decide to check out the route and distance to the race HQ at Park Community School. I find that it is a nice walk all along an off road cycle route and takes no more than 20 minutes door to door. I continue along this cycle route and a mile and half later I’m enjoying some retail therapy in Barnstaple’s Town Centre.
With my therapy session complete I retrace my steps back to the Premier Inn and decide that hydration was my next priority. The sun is still shining; there are seats out on the patio, so with glass of chilled Sauvignon Blanc at my side I relax with my newspaper. I try to bring my knowledge of current affairs up to date but I’m having problems, as at the adjacent table there is a large group sat drinking and discussing one of the more “orange” coloured females amongst them, recent holiday to Egypt. I don’t think she visited any of the countries historical sites, but I did learn that she had consumed large amounts of the falling down inducing liquids available at the eat and drink as much as you can hotel, she was still wearing the hotels wrist band, she didn’t get shagged (her words) and the local males thought she had beautiful eyes and looked like a goddess. One of her male friends then duly informed her that these males only said this to her as they wanted to get inside her knickers. So as you can see, there is never a dull moment when travelling and drinking alone in sunny Barnstaple.
I ask for a table for one in the “Table Table” restaurant attached to the Premier inn and I’m shown to one, then I subsequently become totally invisible to any staff serving or taking orders. Eventually my invisibility cloak must have malfunctioned and I catch the eye of a waitress who then announces that she thought I was waiting for someone. I felt like telling her that clue was in me asking for a table for ONE, but decided that sarcasm was probably best left until after I’ve had my dinner served. I chose curry, it tasted fine then I retired to my room to watch Wales beat England in the Rugby World Cup.
I should have slept well what with having a super-king size bed to myself, but my internal thermostat had turned to a sporadic “Melt down” setting, waking me frequently throughout the night. My alarm sounds at 6:45 where upon the delights of adding boiling water to 2 x Quakers instant porridge pots and eating them with fresh raspberries arrives. I kill time then check out of the hotel and walk the 20 minutes to Park Community School.
I am a TRC team of one today, even with all the interest that was shown by club members when I first posted the info of this race on the clubs FB page. I walk into the sports hall and locate the table with race numbers in the 800’s. I am race No 897; I have a Race No with my first name on, a timing chip to attach to my running shoe and a baggage label. I scan the room for any faces I know and within half an hour I spy Jan sergeant who is out of sorts as she isn’t the one behind the computer today. Then I say Hi to a male from Launceston running club known to his mates as Boxy and last of all I see a lovely lady from Tavistock, Tracey C who I first met last year at the Plymouth Armada Half and last week at the Truro Half. I don’t feel quite so alone now.
Time to check the toilets: There are two ladies changing rooms with antiquated school showers for us to use after the race if we wish and 3 toilet cubicles that look as if they have been in situ since the 1970’s. They are clean, there is toilet roll and at the point I visited, the queue moved quickly, but as time moved on, so the queue grew. 3 toilets were not enough to serve several hundred women (sorry exact number unknown but 1500 competitors in total for the Half and Full Marathon)
There were more toilets at the race start at Rock Park Sports Ground in the shape of Plastic Portable Vestibules, but then again there were only 5 of these. They were clean, working properly and of a standard smell and fit.
At the allotted time I move to the starting area where I am standing not too far back from the front. As we have timing chips it isn’t really going to make much difference where I stand and I’m soon joined By Tracey. We have a short briefing with the main point to remember, of not running outside of the cones on one section of open road. Unlike Truro you weren’t going to be assassinated by a ninja but you would be DISQUALIFIED.
The Lady Mayor wishes us all well and I could hear a few sniggers around me as she spoke, then a count down from 10 and we are off.
Do I have a game plan for this race? NO. Do I have a time in mind? NO. My legs are still tired from last week’s Half Marathon at Truro so it will be down to how long they can keep going. I don’t do negative splits I just run at a speed where I can breath and my legs dictate the pace.
The first section is along a closed road where I spot just ahead of me, a familiar female runner. It’s Diane Roy who is revisiting the Barnstaple Marathon due to being affected by the heat in last year’s event. I say hello and she is soon galloping off into the distance. We bear left and run over the old town bridge across the River Taw. Initially it’s a little crowded and a couple runners almost trip me up, but once everyone settles down, so space around me appears and I feel more comfortable.
We are directed under a subway and out onto the Tarka Trail, a disused railway line which is now a very popular cycle trail. The River Taw is to our right and the route is “railway line flat”. I’ve passed a very jovial group of young pirates who are cheering us all on and water stations are in abundance.
The sun is shining and at about mile 3 we find some shade as we run through a railway cutting. My security hanky is doing OK in soaking up the unwanted sweat leaking from my forehead, but I don’t know how long it’s absorbency is going to last? There are Sponge Stations, but I have to say, that the thought of using a water logged sponge that someone else’s skin cells are still attached to, plus any other detritus that it collects off the ground that it was dropped upon, until a race helper picks it up and re-dunks it in the water tub, before passing it on to the next outstretched hand, really makes my nose wrinkle.
To my right I can see an Iron bridge but we are directed left away from it onto a path alongside an inlet, arriving in an area called Muddlebridge. From here we bear right out onto a wide pavement at Fremington, where residents have come out to support. This section has a few gentle undulations but nothing to really disrupt anyone’s pace.
The route takes us alongside and then onto the B3233 towards Yelland and I have views across the fields and river towards Braunton and Chivenor, an RAF base. We have also reached the section where we the runners must stay inside the coned area or face disqualification.
From Fremington to Yelland we are running alongside residential areas but soon we are directed right and back onto the Tarka Trail with the river now to our left. The breeze has picked up a little and we are running into it, which adds a slight resistance to my pace. My legs have kept a good pace so far but suddenly they start to feel heavy and I feel myself slowing. I can hear breathing from a runner behind me and when I glance over my right shoulder I see Tracey from Tavistock running effortlessly past. She is looking really strong and in no time at all she has moved ahead. Does this spur me to up my pace, well slightly but I’ve still got about 4 miles to go yet.
This stretch of the Tarka trail is long and straight. The surface is tarmac so it’s hard under the feet. The views across the estuary are far reaching and it would actually be a lovely day for cycling this trail. My face seepage is well under control as the breeze is drying any moisture escaping my body and I’ve settled back into a “let’s get the race finished” mental state. I try to guess my finishing time from my Garmin’s current read out. Could I get a PB? I don’t think so, but I should finish in about 1:46. I tell myself this will be OK seeing as my legs haven’t been rested at all for the last three weeks.
I pass the happy band of Pirates once again and this time I exchange a “High Five” with a couple of the younger outstretched hands. The trail takes us under the new bridge that traverses the River Taw and takes you towards Ilfracombe then it’s over the Old Bridge once again and I’m on the homeward stretch. I peek at my Garmin…….oh my god, if I just push a little harder, maybe I can beat my Half Marathon PB. I dig as deep as I can, but there isn’t much energy left. I can see the entry into Rock Park and the grass area where the race finishing line is all marked out. There is one male runner ahead so I chase him down. I overtake the poor chap and then sprint for the finishing line. I cross it in 1:43:57, 25 seconds short of a PB. I’m a little disappointed, maybe I should have made more of an effort at mile 9, but then again if I had pushed harder maybe I would have been slower in the last two miles. What’s done is done. I’ve finished what I set out to do and that is complete 13 Half Marathons in 12 months and there is still 3 months to go!
I collect my medal and a nice “ladies fit” Technical T in white. I grab some water and a Banana then head over to where there is a computer that you type your race number into and it tells you your time and age cat placing. It informs me that I’m the 2nd placed V50 female. Wow, I didn’t expect that, I’m going to have to hurry back to the race HQ, shower and come back for the prize ceremony, but I spy a tent where Tea, coffee and cake is available. I join a short queue to find that the refreshments on offer are free of charge, with no donations accepted They are being provided by a local church who are handing out refreshments to any runners in need. God, (excuse the pun) the tea tasted good and I was morally fortified.
I head back to the school for a shower and find that the showers are old and must have been installed when the average height of a school child at secondary education was much shorter than they are now. I have the room to myself so I can spread my clothes out without annoying anyone before testing to see if there is any hot water. To operate the showers you have to keep pressing a button, which when continuously pressed sprays hot water out and I leave the school clean and suitably revitalised.
I return to Rock Park and watch the runners still coming in when one of the large marquees there takes off in the ever increasing breeze. It was flying towards the river with its guide ropes trailing. Thankfully the race director was fleet of foot and sprinted after it, bringing the wild creature it had turned into, under control.
There are young female competitors running towards the line with small children running alongside them. It’s a lovely sight to see then the first placed male marathon runner approaches at speed. He is a very slight Kenyan and he looks as if he has just been for a short jog around the park not run 26 odd miles. How do they do it?
So the Half Marathon Prize ceremony takes place. We go through the male categories first then the female. “And the first placed V50 female is”….. There’s a pause. Ah we have a problem; someone called DAVE has been entered as a female, so the results have to be rechecked. I kick my heels and bide my time when about 20 minutes later it is announced that the first placed V50 female is………ME! I receive a huge trophy but sadly no wine.
It’s time to walk back to my car, via a cafe where I sit shattered sharing my table with a large gold coloured trophy and a large mug of strong coffee, before a two hour drive home.
So all in all:
- Parking: I think there were plenty of car parks available, but I left my car at the Premier Inn.
- Race HQ: A school sports hall with plenty of space for all.
- Toilets: Insufficient for the number of people running, but I never found any problems with queues when I used them.
- Showers: Plenty of hot water but the changing rooms were of a typical 1970’s school fit, but if the showers work does it really matter what they look like?
- Marshals: There was never a point where you could have got lost and all appeared friendly and cheerful.
- Water Stations: More than you could possibly need with Sponge stations as well.
- The route: Some good views, almost flat with a good chance of a PB.
- Race memento: A very nice white technical T and a medal (I do like medals)
Would I run this race again? I think I would as it makes for a weekend away where non running family members can occupy themselves with either retail opportunities or cycling.