Sad Santas

I was a Sad Santa on Sunday.

Sad Santas
As were these other people. We’d all made our way to the Lloyds Amphitheatre to take part in Santas on the Run, a 2K charity fun run for the South West Children’s Hospice. As you’ll have worked out, the idea is for everyone to dress as Santa for the run, and apparently more than 500 people had signed up for the event. Some kind people had already contributed on my Just Giving page, I’d collected some sponsorship at work, and I’d tipped off the local paparazzi. Well, I’d mentioned it on the Bristol Flickr group’s discussion board, anyway…

I did have some reservations on the walk down to the start, though. And yes, I did walk a mile down the Hotwell Road at 10am on a Sunday morning dressed in a Santa costume. There was hooting involved. And some occasional pointing. Not to mention half the police in the South West driving past on their way to their afternoon’s student demo (my pics of that here) crowd control duties. That was a bit odd.

But my reservations were mainly about traction. It had been a bloody cold night after quite a rainy Saturday, and the ground was icy everywhere. It was also so foggy you could barely see the other side of the harbour. “On way down to register for #santasontherun,” I tweeted. “Hope they’ve gritted the route, or it’ll be Santas on their backside instead.”

The lack of Santas when I got to the Amphitheatre was a clue, and my suspicions were confirmed by a couple of the organisers greeting me with disappointed faces and the news that the route was just too icy to be safe. The Amphitheatre itself had pretty much been a skating rink when they arrived to set up, and the rest of the route — especially Pero’s Bridge, often a curve of slippery metal in Winter — were still un-runnable.

So, I and the other Santas who’d not heard the cancellation announcements on local radio headed off across Millennium Square, pictured above, to the kind, warm interior of The Living Room, a fashionable and lovely bar who gave a free hot drink to anyone in a Santa suit that morning — thank you!

After a commiseration drink with my friend José, who’d come along to support me, I drifted back home, still be-Santa-suited, and still garnering the odd confused look and occasional cheery hoot.

There is some good news, though — I heard from Children’s Hospice yesterday, and they’re rearranging the run for January 23rd! So, odd though it will be to be dressed as a Santa nearly a month after Christmas, I’ll at least get the chance to do something surreal and, more to the point, give my various sponsors the run that I owe them 🙂

So, thank you, kind sponsors, for sponsoring me, and rest assured I still intend to run 2K as Santa, no matter what time of year it is when it’s finally safe to run!

Bristol Half Marathon 2010

matt_medal.jpgToday’s half marathon — my first — went pretty well all round. I was a bit worried by the amount of rain I could hear before I set out, but it turned into occasional drizzle for the race, which is perfect jogging weather, really — no need to worry about overheating.

I kept jogging from the start line all the way around, with a few-minute interlude queuing for the toilet right at the end of the Portway section — this may be Too Much Information, but frankly I’ve always had a bit of a shy bladder, so weeing in the bushes as 10,000 other people jog past is quite difficult for me. Shame there weren’t more portaloos, really, I could have done without hanging around in a queue for as long as I did…

I felt fine through the whole Portway section, and only really started flagging when we got to around the eighth mile, at the start of Cumberland Road. I grabbed a Lucozade thingy from the helpful army people handing them out around there, though, and also ate half my Mule energy bar thing as I trogged down Cumberland Road and into town. I don’t know if that really helped — frankly I’m not keen to try a control experiment of doing another half marathon without them!

The city section was definitely the hardest. My thighs were starting to become a bid leaden, plus you have to jog within about half a mile of the finish line, but go past it and on a circuitous route around Queen Square, through Redcliffe and around Castle Park and back. That last hill up Wine Street was a bit of a killer.

Still, the good thing about the city section is that there are people here there and everywhere cheering you on, and reminding you that there’s only three miles left to go, then only two miles left to go, then finally you’re on the last mile and you know you’re going to finish.

I kept jogging all the way to the end, though I didn’t have anything left for a final burst of speed. It was all I could do to keep standing up, frankly.

I saw a few familiar faces, mostly from Twitter, on the way around, meeting @jorence on the way to the start, waving at @mikeotaylor on the way past the starting line, and apparently @parryphernalia saw me coming through the finish, though I was too intent on just keeping going without actually dying to notice… Apologies if you saw me and waved and I carried on oblivious; I was trying to stay vaguely aware of my surroundings, but it’s quite easy to descend into “tunnel vision” as you go along.

Looks like my time will be somewhere around three hours; my RunKeeper log suggests 3:03:38, but I did set it off a little in advance of hitting the starting line, so I can’t be sure whether I’ll be over or under 3 hours. But frankly, who cares? I just ran my first half marathon!

EDIT: whoo hoo! Just checked the website, and my official time is now in. I must have set my timer off a fair bit in advance of the start, as it turns out, as my time was… 02:53:43! So, comfortably under three hours, and I’m very happy indeed with that.

Of the non-Twitter people, the ones I was expecting to see didn’t let me down. My friends Mike and Jess were there near the finish to cheer me on, and picked me up afterwards to walk me up to Rocotillos and buy me one of their utterly deadly milkshakes — this time I had a cookie dough milkshake, extra thick, and I think that pretty much replaced all of the 2,362 calories I’d just burned off, according to the RunKeeper log.

So, a success all round! No injuries, no blisters. Some fairly serious aches, though. I’ve just emerged gingerly from a very long Radox bath, and I’ve taken tomorrow off work so I don’t have to do much more than lie around on a sofa watching telly, which is probably all I’ll be good for…

Thanks to everyone who sponsored me. Looks like I’ll end up raising more than £500 for Cancer Research, once my company matches the donations, which is fantastic.

Anyway. I just mentioned a sofa and a telly, didn’t I? Sounds like a good idea right now…

My First Race: The Bristol 10K

20100509-20100509-P1000324.jpgSo, having checked I’d got everything about three times, I set off this morning to walk down to the start of the Bristol 10K. Everything was very civilised and well-organised. I got a preview of what was to come by walking in through what would become the “handouts at the finish” section, where they were already stacking up space blankets, laying out trays of water bottles, and building the T‑shirt racks.

The race “village” was centred on Millennium Square, which gradually filled up with a huge crowd of what turned out to be more than 10,000 runners. And that’s a lot of Deep Heat fumes, believe me. Everyone seemed friendly, the queues to drop bags off were nice and short, and I soon found a few people from work who were running, too.

Bumping into my colleagues pretty much set the whole race up. I formed up into the big queue for the slower starters — the race got going in a couple of consecutive streams — alongside some of them, including my friend and erstwhile boss Mike. As we filed toward the start, first shuffling, then walking, then at a slightly unsure, crowded jog, we stayed together. We agreed we’d go at our own pace, and if it felt like we needed to fire our iPods up and blast on ahead, or slow down and walk for a bit, that was fine, and we’d split up guilt-free and maybe meet at the end.

But, as it turned out, Mike and I run at pretty much the same pace. My carefully-selected iTunes playlist fell by the wayside because I never felt the need for music. We just jogged along, nattering occasionally, keeping each other company while enjoying the unusual experience of having random people cheer us on every now and again.

The race headed out of Bristol along the A4 Portway, under the Suspension Bridge, turning back towards the city centre again at the 4K marker. On the return leg, I heard my friend Tara cheering me along, which was fab 🙂 I was feeling fine; the weather was pretty much perfect for running, cool and overcast, but not too cold, and with no rain. And it was fantastic to run along the A4 without any traffic to get in the way, or any fumes to spoil the Avon Gorge air.

We struggled up the short and sharp uphill section of flyover to cross over the water and come down on the south side of the water, to complete the loop around the entire harbour and back to the finish line. This was the bit where things started feeling a little harder. Cumberland Road, that runs in a straight line along the south side of the harbour and the north side of the river, is a long road with a slight incline, and the main thing that kept us going was the encouragement from small pockets of cheering people, and passing the 7 and 8K markers. That was definitely the bit where we just concentrated on putting one foot in front of the other and not much else.

Once we got closer to the city centre again though, things got easier. The roads were lined with people, lots of support and cheering, banners, kids, people shouting out to friends they were waiting for — it was a proper welcome. We crossed over Prince Street Bridge — again, nice being able to do that without worrying about traffic — and passed the 9K marker just as we hit the Centre. Lots of music and cheering by this point, and we just kept on going.

20100509-20100509-P1000330.jpgComing up to the end, Mike said to me, “Sprint finish!” and upped the pace. I’d not even thought about that; I was in a bit of a steady-pace trance, but I followed his lead and we crossed the line together!

On the whole, it was definitely a much more sociable experience than my normal long-distance runs. Not that I seem to be affected too much by the “loneliness of the long-distance runner”, but running with 10,000 other people, and one running partner in particular definitely felt pretty good.

It also seemed to do good things for my pace. The official times aren’t in yet, or at least not for the slow people like me. The front runner, Kenyan Gordon Mugi, managed it in a smidge under twenty eight and a half minutes, which seems almost inconceivably fast to me. But looking at my RunKeeper log, which seems pretty accurate, I think Mike and I managed to get through in around one hour and ten minutes, pretty much dead-on seven minutes per kilometre pace, which is a lot quicker than I normally manage on my distance runs.

But, frankly, if I’d taken an hour and a half I’d still have been happy: I’ve done my first race. I’ve been there, and got the t‑shirt, literally. And a medal. And race-pack with some goodies. And Jess, Mike’s wife, took us both up to Rocotillos on the Triangle to treat us to some extra-large, extra-thick milkshakes, which were bloody fantastic, and probably replaced every single calorie we’d just lost…

So, that’s my race report — I honestly can’t think of a single way it could have gone better. Looks like I’ve smacked through my charity target, too, with £275 raised on my Just Giving page, and somewhere between £50 and £100 to collect from the paper sponsorship form I’ve been hawking around work. That and the fact that my company is going to match the first £250 should see me hit somewhere around the £600 mark for St. Peter’s Hospice, which is ace.

Right. Think I’m going to have a nice bath to see if I can minimise any aches and pains for tomorrow. And pack my medal in my bag for the morning. Not, of course, that I want to show off. No, of course not. I just need to prove that I ran the race so I can collect the sponsorship money. And the best way of doing that is to take the medal into work. No showing off involved. Really. Ahem.

Medallion Man