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Bath Half Marathon: Race report

March 7, 2010

The finish line of the 2010 Bath Half Marathon

7 March 2010

Sunny, around 7°C, wind around 17mph

It is a truth universally acknowledged that runners in possession of Bath Half Marathon race numbers must be in want of a good race time. The event has a reputation for fast times and pulls a crowd of around 14,000 runners to the streets of Bath. A double-lap course, it attracts elite athletes, massive crowds of vocal supporters and the odd celebrity runner.

Bath wasn’t designed for cars, so parking with this number of visitors could have been a real nightmare. I didn’t hear any complaints – although it seemed that most people had tried to find alternative transport. Certainly, the train I caught was packed with runners. So much so that it was standing room only once we left Swindon, despite an extra carriage being tacked on to boost the capacity.

The run itself was very well organised. However, the pressure to get the runners to the start line – and the inevitably varying sense of urgency with so many runners – meant that we had to assemble a good 30 minutes before the race started. Having stored my various layers of clothing earlier, I felt the chill wind rather keenly as we waited for the start. It was perhaps made slightly worse by being in the shade. As the start time neared, it became evident that a number of runners had prepared for this better than me – t-shirts and jumpers were tossed through the air to the sides of the road. It was a little bit like a contingent of casually dressed Chippendales had suddenly decided to perform an impromptu routine…

Once we were underway, the congestion took a couple of miles to thin out. With two laps to come, my pride insisted that I should try not to get lapped by any of the elites. (The course record is 62 minutes, so the Olympic-standard runners probably passed most of the field on their second lap.)

People sometimes talk about race courses as being ‘pancake flat’. If anyone described the Bath Half in such terms, they would inadvertently be advertising the fact they don’t make very good pancakes. It’s not hilly, per se, but it’s not really flat either. There are a few small climbs, but when you’re climbing, you’re generally climbing a fairly steep bit of road. ‘Waffle flat’ might be a better term; many of the characteristics of being flat, but with distinct ridges.

The chip time at the 10k mark is a nice touch, giving an early indication of how well you’re doing. It’s slightly misleading, though, because the second ‘half’ of the race is then about a mile longer than the first ‘half’. Something to keep in mind when you look at your time and think that your second half is dramatically slower than your first.

While waiting for my train back, I got talking to a guy from Serpentine who had got stuck in the congestion on the course. With so many runners – and more than a few in fancy dress (some of it quite cumbersome) – you can find that you’re stuck going a little slower than you would like at times. However, for all that, it’s a great atmosphere and the residents of Bath put on a lot of support (to the extent that some of them were playing music in their front gardens to spur the runners along).

Lessons learned

  1. If you’re going to try timing a race on some swanky GPS watch, keep in mind that it needs to catch a satellite signal and that it automatically turns itself off. Random fumbling with watch defined the first stretch of the race.
  2. Try not to treat the first few miles as a steeplechase, but keep in mind that you might need to. With various curbs in the middle of the course, the odd spectator buggy pushed a little too far into the road and one inconsiderate (read: stupid) woman who decided to cross the road in the middle of the runners within the first mile (and who came very close to being knocked over by a number of runners), you have to expect the unexpected.
  3. Keep to the edges. While the organisers obviously tried to discourage slower runners from starting right up-front, there are always some who do. It’s easier to dodge round them at the edges of the course, even if it means running a little further, than getting hemmed in behind them.
  4. Drink often, but don’t drink everything. Bottled water and energy drinks were available from a lot of different drinks stations. I – and many others – ended up just taking a few sips before trashing the mostly full bottles. Saves choking on water – and it wasn’t exactly a dessicatingly hot day.
  5. Vary stride length. Steep hills are easier to take in short strides, and avoid long strides when going down hills. Save stretching your legs out for the genuinely flat bits and you’ll find less lactic acid building up after any undulation.

Details

(Note, due to ‘technical difficulties’ – i.e. fumbling around with my Garmin after I’d passed the start line – my split times are a little bit off.)

Finish time: gun time – 1:25:47; chip time – 1:24:29 (PB – by over 10 minutes if you take the chip time!)

Position: 243 out of 10,858

1 mile: 6:30

2 mile: 6:16

3 mile: 6:14

4 mile: 6:13

5 mile: 6:18

6 mile: 6:25

7 mile: 6:20

8 mile: 6:24

9 mile: 6:22

10 mile: 6:24

11 mile: 6:28

12 mile: 6:34

13 mile: 6:36

0.1 mile: 1:20

As a trial run for the Paris Marathon, this was a resounding success. I should now be able to get stuck into the last five weeks of my marathon training, confident that I now know what to expect from a seriously big race (although Paris is 40,000 runners, so several times larger than Bath).

I’m running for The Stroke Association – in fact, this was my first race in the official Stroke Association vest, and I’m pleased to say it was very comfortable – and aim to raise £1000 in sponsorship money. If you want to show your support of this worthwhile cause, please pop along to my JustGiving page.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. March 7, 2010 4:06 pm

    Wow…awesome race time! You’re fast! 🙂

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