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Race report: Reading Half Marathon

reading medal

Yesterday I ran the Reading Half for the third time. But this was the first time when it hasn’t been the focus of my training efforts, but merely a milestone on my training toward a longer distance.

This year I was more than confident I could do the distance, so used the Reading race as an opportunity to road-test my kit, battery and my live broadcasting, as well as my pacing in race conditions.

On previous years there’s been a big bunch of us doing Reading, but this year I was on my own (usual companions being struck down by injury, etc), so my husband came with me to keep me company.

hotel gift bag

Care package left in my hotel room

I booked us in to the Malmaison Reading instead of the Novotel where I’ve stayed the previous years. I was really impressed when I got the the room and found they’d left a care package containing Lucozade, a Mars bar, hand cream, foot cream, and a card (pictured). This, together with the home-made granola they had at the breakfast buffet, were nice touches that would get runners coming back year after year.

Having failed to book a table for dinner, we ended up schlepping around town trying to find a table (every Italian restaurant being full of runners), and didn’t eat until nearly 9pm. This meant that come breakfast time I wasn’t hungry. I forced down some fruit, granola, half a croissant and a pot of green tea, and headed for the shuttle bus to the start line at Green Park.

I went for a pee, dropped my bag off at the bag drop, wrapped myself in a space blanket for warmth, and went to the loo again, then headed to the start line. Almost immediately I needed the loo again – that green tea was a bad idea. But it was too late to go again before the start, I just had to live with it.

I lined myself up near the 1:55 pacer, working on the basis that I’d start there and fall back if needed. The starting gun went – it took me another seven minutes to cross the line. I started well, keeping up with the 1:55 pacer well. As I hit the big hill between miles 2 and 3, I started being overtaken a lot, and feeling quite uncomfortable. I focused on getting to the loo at mile 3, and on the excellent tunes chosen by my friends for my #DistanceDisco collaborative playlist.

It turns out the first loo isn’t until mile 5. Once I finally got there, I felt a lot betterbut the few minutes I spent in the queue there meant I lost the 1:55 pacer. But I was still ahead of the 2:00, and still keeping up with those with blue race numbers.

The crowd support at Reading is amazing – people out cheering in their front gardens, children giving out jelly babies, a church pumping out techno music, a pub giving out beer, and (my favourite, every year) the thundering drum band under the underpass, which spurred me on to my speediest stretch of the race.

Somewhere near the bottom of the big hill at mile 7, the 2:00 pacer caught up with me. I was determined to stay ahead of him, and spent the next mile and a half pushing myself hard to stay ahead. But it was really tough, and I realised it wouldn’t give me a chip time under 2:00 anyway, as I started slightly further ahead. So I decided to slow right down and run the last four miles at a comfortable pace.

Me, around mile 9

From there on, I enjoyed every minute. I checked Twitter and sent this selfie where I look slightly deranged. Here I learned (via Twitter) that my location broadcast had stopped working at some point, so I restarted it (I’ll post again on how that worked once I have feedback from my beta users).

The final few miles – which on previous few years I’ve hated as they’re on a switchback loop along a stretch of motorway with little crowd support – I found good fun this year. I crossed the line grinning and doing a Spitfire.

(The tune that was playing when I crossed the line was Scissor Sisters’ Filthy Gorgeous, chosen by John Field).

Chip time: 2:10:10 – faster than last year, slower than the year before, but on target for a decent marathon time.

Thereafter, it all went a bit wrong. My husband, who’d come along to see me across the finish, sent me a text. I got this, but he didn’t get my reply saying where to meet. In fact, phone coverage here was a complete fail and we couldn’t get any texts or calls through to each other to arrange where to meet. After 25 minutes trying to get hold of him, I was freezing and shivering, so gave up and joined the bus queue. Eventually, he managed to find me there.

me with my medal

My second medal of the year

The bus situation was a mess. In all, I was in the queue for a bus for over two hours. This is an unacceptably long time leave people shivering in the cold, in their sweaty running kit. The longer we were in the queue, the more tempers flared and more upset people were. A woman in front of me burst into tears. Someone else collapsed. Next to me a man with a very tiny baby got into a row with a security guard as he was desperate to get his baby out of the cold and rain.

Having crossed the line at 12.30, I didn’t get back to my hotel until after 3pm – well after checkout time, meaning I barely had ten minutes to shower. I didn’t get lunch until after 4pm. In all, it was a great race but the day was ruined for me by the logistics afterwards. I’m really not sure I’d do Reading again.