Bath Half Marathon 2012

I approached this year’s Bath Half Marathon with more than a little trepidation, and rightly so, it turned out. Since the Bristol Half, I just haven’t trained enough. Partly that’s due to winter, and partly because my routine’s been knocked off-kilter by quitting my day job. I also put on some weight over the last half of 2011 that I’ve not managed to shake off yet.

I mused on this during the approach to Bath, in a coach from Bath Racecourse. I really recommend their Bath Half park-and-ride service, by the way. You park at the racecourse, then wait in a nice warm room with a bunch of other runners (and decent toilet facilities – very important before a race!), then get taken into town in a nice coach. The shuttle service back after the race runs until 5pm, and it was only £9 including the booking fee.

Bath Racecourse Coach

Anyway. Yes, I was underprepared. The longest distance I’ve done since September was 10km, and that’s just not enough distance training for a half marathon.

On the other hand, everything else was going well. I’d made sure to eat right and get enough sleep for the few days before the race, and I woke up feeling refreshed and pretty cheerful on Sunday morning. On the way to the start, the weather seemed ideal for running, cold and overcast, but not too cold. Also, because this was my second Bath Half, I knew a lot more about what to expect, from where to find the Runner’s Village to the course itself.

Grey and Overcast

Standing in the long queue for the start line, there was the usual chit-chat with other runners. The nerves of starting and a shared purpose mean that people are happy to natter to complete strangers and compare experiences. I forgot about my lack of training, and just got into the running mood.

And that was the way I stayed, for the first lap, at least. The grey skies lifted and the sun came out, which is good spiritually, but not ideal for running – a lot of people I’ve spoken to since said it was too hot for them, and I agree. I was feeling distinctly overheated by the sixth or seventh mile, and starting to lose some of my chipperness.

That said, the friendliness of the Bath Half course did a lot to keep me buoyed up. The rock band out on the pavement, the people cheering from windows, the drummers in Queen Square – all great for keeping you going.

But, sadly, with my lack of training, something had to give. Looping back past the start to begin my second lap of the course, I was already feeling like I’d run out of steam, physically at least. My feet were starting to feel sore (I ended up with some nice blisters), the heat was getting to me, and my muscles were running on empty.

Neither plenty of water nor the gel food thingy I ate helped much. I was tired, and getting more tired by the mile.

Time to start running on sheer bloody-mindedness, then. I concentrated on putting one foot in front of the other, and keeping up a jog of some kind. It didn’t matter what kind, or how fast, as long as I kept up something that looked and felt like running rather than walking.

And I carried on. I got slower as the miles went on, as you can clearly see in my RunKeeper track, and I wasn’t enjoying myself much, but I tried to keep my mind off that as best as I could. I thought of other things, I counted how many times I passed the bleach-blonde woman who was alternating walking and running, I enjoyed the comedy outfits.

The safari team who (by dint of clever costumery) included one member being carried in a cage by a gorilla got my “costume of the race” award, by the way.

And, eventually, I made it to a point where there were only five kilometres to go. That was an important psychological point, because I can always run 5K. 5K is my default distance. 5K is the distance I’d run in my sleep, were I prone to somnambulation.

In the last couple of miles before the finish line, you start to get more personal encouragement, too, especially if you’re back with the rest of the straggling, thinned-out crowd. “Just two miles to go now!” wasn’t too helpful, as two miles sounded like a hell of a long way, but the regular “Keep going!”s and “You’re doing great!”s were welcome.

As were the “It’s just around the corner now!”s (which started, truth be told, about a mile away from the final corner, but hey.) Once I was on “final approach” I knew I was going to make it without walking, and I just kept plodding on.

In the end, I crossed the finish line overheated, astoundingly tired, and with very sore feet, at 2:58:44. That’s a whole ten minutes slower than I managed the Bristol Half, and pretty disappointing.

On the other hand, I was bloody happy to have not given up, and I still felt like I’d accomplished something, once I’d recovered a little. I did it. I jogged all the way around, albeit slowly, and at least I came in under the three-hour mark.

So. Another medal, and another finisher’s t‑shirt that doesn’t fit (one size for everyone this year, Bath Half? Really? But I forgive you, because you were really well-organised and because you have more toilets than the Bristol Half.)

It’s also, so far, £126 plus Gift Aid raised for Bristol Mind. Looking back over my past Just Giving donations – which have all been for running – that means I’ve now raised well over £1,000 for charity by getting out there and hitting the streets. Thanks, all my lovely sponsors, for giving to good causes for the Bath Half, for all my past races, and, hopefully, for races to come…

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What I’m Taking to the Bath Half Marathon

My array of equipment for running the Bath Half Marathon

I’m prepared for the morning. I thought a glimpse into the array of stuff I’m dragging along with me might be interesting, especially for those who’ve never raced. So, from roughly left-to-right, top-to-bottom:

  • Clothes, including:
    • Shorts, a little on the large side. But better than running in the now-quite-clapped-out pair I’ve been running in since I started running. One day I’ll find another pair of running shorts that fits me and has pockets, damn it.
    • Race shirt, with number already attached, and the form on the back (next of kin, so forth) all filled out.
    • X‑Socks, technical running socks, with nice soft non-rubby patches in all the right places.
    • Disposable top-shirt. At the Bath Half, they collect and recycle clothing discarded just before the start line, so you can keep warm until the race starts by wearing an old top.
    • Pants. Just ordinary boxer/trunk style things; I’ve heard people object to cotton-based underwear for running, but specialist running undies are (a) expensive, and (b) unlikely to come in my size.
  • Light running hat with a big peak to keep off rain and shade my eyes. This will fit in a pocket if I don’t want to wear it all the way round.
  • Garmin ForeRunner GPS watch, charged. Much longer battery life and generally more reliable than an iPhone app for GPS tracking.
  • Little Sony camera.
  • Contact lenses. I generally only wear contacts for exercise. I’ll put them in before I set off in the morning and leave the case at home.
  • Sunglasses, because it looks like it’s going to be a pretty nice day tomorrow. If it’s not, I’ll just hang them off the neck of the shirt.
  • Money, for (a) emergencies, and (b) grabbing a celebratory post-run milkshake, or whatever.
  • The minimum of car and house keys that I’ll need.
  • Directions and ticket to the parking (I’m parking at Bath Racecourse and taking a shuttle bus in. It was a good service last year, and I’m very happy to use it again.)
  • Race information leaflet. Nice and pocketable this year.
  • Lanacane anti-chafing gel. I will be putting this in several places, including on my feet to help prevent blisters. You probably do not want the details of where else I put it. I won’t take the tube with me, just apply it before I get dressed.
  • Painkillers, just in case.
  • Spare safety pins. Handy if a zip or fastening goes on anything.
  • Chap stick
  • Two small, round plasters. One per nipple. If you’re wondering why, you may want to check out the “nipple shots” post from 2010’s Bristol Half Marathon, for example. As you can see, this is even a danger for skinny men. As a fat bloke who runs, I take no chances.
  • Phone. You can’t wear headphones on the Bath Half (being a two-lap race means there’s always a danger of faster runners coming up unexpectedly behind you, for starters) so this isn’t for music, more for tweeting before and after, and emergencies.
  • (Next row) Energy gels. Despite the fact I didn’t like the taste of the ones I’ve tried in the past, I found that more food-like stuff (flapjack-style bars, etc.) weighed my stomach down while not doing any apparent good for my energy levels in previous runs. So, I’m trying them again, but a different brand. I was only going to buy the Mule brand one, but then I noticed that the other one was rhubarb and custard flavour and I couldn’t resist it. I’ll probably only take one tomorrow, depending on how much pocket space I’ve got.

    UPDATE: This stuff really did taste like rhubarb and custard. Recommended!

  • Kitchen towel. For general use, and as emergency toilet paper. The loos at races often run out of paper quite quickly.
  • Shoes, with the timing chip already fastened on.
  • Water bottle, because I normally run with a water bottle and it feels strange not to have it on a race, even though there are plenty of drink stations.
  • Nuun “triberry” hydration tablets. I’ll drop half of one of these into the water bottle when I fill it, then leave the rest at home.
  • Bum bag. Sorry, I mean “Nike Audio Waistpack”. This will hold much of the little loose stuff, the rest will go in the pockets of my shorts.

If I took more stuff with me, I’d have to leave a bag in the secure area at the race village. Travelling “light” saves me queueing for that before and after the race. I could probably take less stuff, but this lot doesn’t weigh me down too badly, and I’d rather have something and not want it than the other way around.
I don’t think there’s anything I’ve missed. If you run, what do you take to a race?

Two Minds

I’m in two minds as to whether to run tomorrow. I should probably do a last bit of practice for the Bath Half — I haven’t run more than 10km in ages.

On the other hand, my right ankle is feeling quite odd at the moment. It’s possible I did something to it yesterday, when I foolishly accompanied the five-year-old whose birthday party I was at into the clambering-around-rigging-and-dropping-through-pipes bit of the soft play centre we were at.

It’s not feeling too painful, but it does feel like I’ve done something to it such that it might be better left alone, rather than have me put 10km+ on it tomorrow morning the week before an organised race I’m signed up for. Hrm.

Think I’ll just see how I feel in the morning. In the meantime, if you’d like to sponsor me and my odd-feeling ankle for the Bath Half, my Just Giving page is here. This time I’m running for Bristol Mind.