In short: Good and bad in parts In full: The omens were not good. On the Tuesday before this race I took the ill-advised decision to do some interval training, but on the fifth rep something "pinged" at the top of my thigh, just below my ... ahem ... buttock. My hamstring, I think. I hobbled back to get changed, and took the (for me) unprecedented decision to stop running until it got better. Or until Sunday, the day of the race, whichever came first. I told The Boys (13 and 11) that I'd injured myself. "Where?" they asked, avidly, gory little monsters that they are. "Well," I said, "my bottom". Anyone who has boys can imagine the gales of laughter - "Daddy's broken his bottom!" they chortled. I don't foresee a career in the caring industry for either of them. Well, they take after their mother.
Come the day, come the bottom. It was fine, people. As was the weather. As was the sat-nav, which delivered me to the race (unlike the last time I ran this race, when I schlepped up and down the A40 convinced that the turning was "somewhere along here".) I clocked a collection of club colleagues near the start, smiling at the sun and all blissfully unaware or uncaring of the pain to come.
A creature of habit, I found myself as I usually do in the queue for the rather dismal collection of Portaloos about quarter of an hour before the start. As time went on, several men (and women, too) left the queue and decamped into the woods to make like bears. This was not an option for your correspondent. Then I noticed a couple who had moseyed up to the queue just beside where I was standing (about twenty places from the front, with at least double that number behind me). They did some pantomime stretching but I knew their game - queue jumping. Sure enough, as we all moved forward so did they, still pretending that they were flexing their quads, though they didn't quite have the chutzpah actually to elbow in and join the queue properly. Not for nothing did I always hanker to be a policeman. "Excuse me", I said, probably rather louder than I intended owing to my new custom-made, noise-reduction, in-ear headphones, "the back of the queue is over there." The man looked as guilty as hell and bang to rights, but blustered anyway. "What are you talking about - we've been queuing all this time, we joined at the back." "No you didn't," I replied, "I joined at the back and you weren't in front of me". It didn't help their cause that they were quite distinctive - both very tall, and wearing very bright clothes. They didn't argue, but then they didn't slope off either, though they did have the good grace to fall in behind me. I suspect I was later awarded the honorary title of Most Uptight Man Waiting For Lavatory. To make matters worse, when I was only two from the front a cubicle became free and the woman in front of me went forward to claim it, when suddenly from nowhere a man ran past her and stole her stall. If you're going to queue-jump, that's probably the way to do it. I saw the same man later in the race and tried to trip him up but he was a bit too quick for me.
Enough of the preliminaries. Pre-race preparations completed, we all lined up in the cool sunshine. Without really meaning to I found myself somewhat nearer the sharp end than usual, but it was too late to go to the back as the gun went (or the shout). The first section was delightful - we were on a real road, a blessed lump of God's own tarmac, and I was in my racing flats (having listened to an announcement earlier that road shoes would be fine.) No sooner was I in my comfort zone, however, than we turned off into the woods, onto yucky mud and I had about as much grip as Lewis Hamilton slipstreaming behind Fernando Alonso. The mud then went the way of all mud, to be replaced by a rough gravel path that was heading down, down, down, as if into the depths of Hell itself. My time at the first mile marker was 6min 15sec, and at four miles was 25mins. We're going to pay for this later, I thought to myself, since what goes down must come up, unless they've installed travellators on the uphill sections.
They hadn't. Having descended almost to Australia, the route started climbing and, while none of the hills was as steep as some, they were all pretty relentless, with plenty of false horizons, each giving false hope. Terrible thing, hope. It struck me again how oddly uninteresting a race it is - the problem with such a heavily managed forest is that the sightlines tend to be straight, and the trees rather regimented. Which means that the only variable is the gradient. And we don't like gradient, do we children?
But it was nice and quiet, and the trees protected us from any wind, and there were a surprising number of enthusiastic spectators. Ok, so I'll admit it - it was a good race! I actually enjoyed it, up to a point (that point being about 7 miles), especially when it wasn't too muddy, and the path wasn't strewn with ankle-turning boulders. Road shoes were a good call, though I probably went off too fast at the start. By the end I was struggling and supremely glad to see the finish. I tried looking on the results for my club colleagues but it's a pretty lame results service as you can't search by club. As I was walking, or rather hobbling, away I thought I heard a friend saying he'd run a PB, but that hardly seems likely - in retrospect I think he must have said he'd won a freebie, or done a heebie, or even that he was Son of BB. But not a PB, not on that course, no way.
In short: Thank God for the roads! In full: I don't normally like off-road - no, let me rephrase that - I hate off-road. But this is one race that I do every year, simply because it's such a gas. The scenery is gorgeous, the run is very challenging but not too long, and the organisation is terrific. Date of review: March 22, 2010
In short: Apart from the weather ... In full: My training partner wore a long sleeved t-shirt under a t-shirt and tracksters. He still looked cold. I wore vest and shorts and wondered if I was mad. Actually, by the end I was reasonably warm. It's a great race, pretty flat and well marshalled. I don't really have any complaints except the hat was pretty hideous. Date of review: March 2, 2010
In short: Sooooooooooo boring In full: I've done this race so many times I could probably run it in my sleep. At about nine miles I could take it no more, and stopped out of sheer boredom (which isn't something I normally associate with running). If only they'd vary the route a bit - even run it in the other direction.... Date of review: October 26, 2009
In short: Thanks, but no thanks In full: It's a shame that the world's largest half marathon suffers from such a terrible course. Boring hardly describes it. The atmosphere and support (in places) makes up for it, and it does have one of the best closing miles in running. But the goody bag? When you're paying £45? Purlease. At least put in a technical tee. Date of review: September 21, 2009
In short: Very tough but great fun In full: Although I train over large parts of the course, I wasn't expecting to enjoy this race as much as I did. The start is very fast, and then after about 2km it starts to climb and boy! does it climb! However, once you're at Belas Knap it's all down hill - so it's a bit of a shame that I'm so rubbish at descending. Still, great race, lovely atmosphere, superb setting - I'll be back. Date of review: September 1, 2009
In short: Another triumph! In full: Considering it's only in its second year, this race is established as a firm favourite in my calendar. Ok, it's not a PB course - it's too twisty, there's too much grass and chippings for that - but who cares? The scenery is terrific, the atmosphere charged and the organisation second-to-none. Top marks. Date of review: July 13, 2009
In short: Worth doing In full: Any race that starts and finishes on a pancake flat sports field has, by definition, zero ascent. So this race should be quick, but it isn't, and that's mostly down to the grinding uphill first mile. Thereafter it's mostly down hill all the way, and if you have any energy left (it was scorchingly hot) you could run a fast time. Nicely organised, and with a chocolate bar at the end: what more could you ask for? Date of review: July 6, 2009
In short: Shame about the weather and the surfaces In full: I've run this race quite a few times and it always suffers from one thing - too many corners. It should be a blistering course, but it's almost impossible to run a PB. This year the weather didn't help, and neither did the extended bits through the park, which was narrow and slippery. I still enjoyed myself, though! Date of review: May 18, 2009