When a race gets tough and I’ve become numb to the effects of my (ahem) artfully crafted running playlist, the best way to motivate my weary legs is to think back to when I first took up running - back when the thought of running more than 20 minutes in one go was outrageous – and realise how far I’ve come. It made a sort of sense then, that for my furthest race distance to date I’d head back to where I started – Bournemouth.
A 6am stroll through the town centre is something I didn’t experience even back in my student days, so the quick footwork required to dodge kebab-flocking seagulls came as an unexpected warm-up on my way to the start. Luckily there were no more surprises than that – with 2016 marking its fourth year, the Bournemouth Marathon Festival team had flawless organisation nailed, with clear signage, chirpy marshalls and, most notably, the sheer quantity of portable toilets. There is no pre-race joy like being the first person to use one of these plastic facilities that so often haunt a runner’s dreams.
Having shed my pre-race attire (a fetching bin bag top and skirt combo), we left King’s Park and headed through residential roads to Southbourne, a peaceful start to the race with a still rising sun to shake off the considerable cobwebs that come with an 8am race. Miles 2 to 5 took the form of a hefty out-and-back along the overcliff road. Location-wise, lovely – mentally, less so. Being able to cheer on the leading runners as they passed felt great, although that joy quickly dissipated when I realised I had no idea where the turning point ahead was. But still, what could have been a psychologically challenging stretch was no match for the clear sky, crisp sea air and a choice bit of Michael Jackson (Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough, since you asked).
A steady decline to sea level followed, leading into a glorious two-mile stretch along the seafront. Unlike the 5K and 10K the previous day, we runners remained unaccosted by wind, a cruel risk of bayside running. My training took place in central London smog, so the fresh coastal air was a revelation. I looked at the runners beside me like some sort of scampering puppy-meerkat cross – did they realise how great this air was? It was just so oxygenated! It was at that point I realised I’d got a little too enthusiastic with my breathing and risked hyperventilating if I didn’t stem my respiratory excitement.
As the route passed Boscombe pier and turned further into the suburb, the number of spectators swelled. One held a sign reading “Shut up, legs”, which turned out to be sage advice for what followed shortly after: a steep incline through woody gardens that slowed most of the runners around me to a walk. In hindsight, the incline didn’t last long, but it was enough to give my legs a kicking. After mostly regaining pace (my legs had chosen not to follow the sign’s advice), the route carried on towards Bournemouth Lower Gardens and dropped back down to seafront for the final 5K - another out and back between Boscombe and Bournemouth piers.
What was physically the hardest part of the race (monster hill aside) was also the most joyful. My earliest runs used to take me along the same stretch, jogging for one minute dodging tourists and walking one – now, I was on double digit miles and still going strong. Locals were out in force, and as I approached the final stretch along Bournemouth pier I felt myself begin to choke up. Realising that if I continued with these emotions at my current pace I’d be quite literally spilling my guts at the finish, I pulled it together and crossed the line in 1:55:19.
With flawless organization, a satisfyingly hefty medal and a friendly reception into the events village, the Bournemouth Half Marathon really is one to try. Just beware of that hill.
Getting there: Bournemouth station is served by South West and Cross Country train services.
Stay: Bournemouth's staycation hotspot status means there’s no shortage of hotels, B&Bs or self-catering accommodation. Check out the Bournemouth tourism website to find somewhere that suits you.
Fuel: Carb up on pasta at Ristorante Barolo in the suburb of Winton, then celebrate with a post-race pint and burger at town centre pub Sixty Million Postcards.
Warm up: Take a shake-out run along the coastline or do a little run tourism around the nearby towns of Studland or Swanage.