This would be the second of five half marathons I had committed myself to over the space of five weeks. I’d completed the Tewkesbury event earlier in the month and achieved my aim to get back under the 2-hour mark. Any further improvement may have to wait though; I’d strained an Achilles in doing so plus this course was reported to be ‘quite undulating.’
The half marathon kick-starts the Dymock festival, held every Spring Bank Holiday weekend. This was a slight change since I’d last taken part, many years ago, when it was an evening event at the back end of the festival. I don’t really recall how undulating it was then (the race – I’m not quite sure how one night describe a festival as ‘undulating!’).
The forecast for the morning was cloudy, with a small chance of rain. I chose not to trust it, my recently-acquired ‘runners tan’ belying similar weather reports prior to recent races. Sure enough, we registered at race HQ (Dymock cricket ground, where the festival set-up was in progress) in glorious sunshine.
A very generous portion of Almost were present (we were informed afterwards that we made up roughly a third of the participants in a modest field of 100 or so), everyone exchanging pleasantries ahead of the start. In addition our very own Graham Fletcher was present as Race Adjudicator.
We were shepherded to the start area and sent off to the firing of a cannon (very nice touch). A loop around the cricket field preceded a stretch through the village before we turned left into the country. I had started near the rear in order to ‘ease’ the nuisance tendon in, fully intending to stay relatively slow for the first portion of the run.
Intent is all well and good, managing to pace myself appropriately appears to be an alien concept. I found myself passing people through the first three miles whilst puffing a bit and wondering whether I’d manage to get through the remainder without reverting to a walk or shuffle. Why do I not appear to be able to manage ‘sensible?’
The route is run almost exclusively on country lanes, no main roads to speak of. Oh, and it is undulating. Very much so, for the first half. Water stations were placed at roughly every three miles – it felt as if I’d done little other than go up and go down (I swear the ‘up’ portion was greater) by the time I passed the second of these stations and went through somewhere approximately half-way. On the plus side I wasn’t losing ground to anyone, even managing to pass one or two other runners.
It was hot – boy, it was hot. I tend to think of myself as someone who does not mind the heat and can quite happily run through it, as long as I’m taking on fluids! This particular morning, however, I was quite happy to see any stretch with overhanging trees and, therefore, shade as I ran. I was generally managing quite OK and hoping that I could keep this up over the 13-and-a-bit mile distance.
Between 8 and 9 miles I was aware that my Achilles was staring to complain just a little and with mixed feelings, chose to ease the pace (so I say, apparently I have no idea what pace I am doing!), co-incidentally drawing up alongside a buddy (and ex-Almost). If the troublesome tendon would hold up, I’d complete the reminder with him.
We managed to negotiate the next couple of inclines without too much trouble but were now being caught and passed by some of the runners I’d passed myself earlier. This is what I mean by mixed feelings – on one hand I may well have beaten them and posted a decent time, on the other I may well have simply ‘blown up’ or, worse, strained the Achilles further.
‘Sensible’ was necessary and it took me (and colleague) through the final miles and back into the village and one final incline back to the cricket ground. As we crossed the finish line two contrasting feelings surfaced. Firstly, that I’d managed to go under 2 hours again, despite easing off for final five miles. Woo hoo. Secondly, my Achilles was suddenly very tight. Boo hoo – had I still managed to overdo it?
One generously-sized ice-cream cone, shower, snooze, trip to visit parents, local duck race, return trip, bit of gardening / digging / DIY, and two days, later, the said Achilles (with plenty of stretching) appears to have settled down again. Good.
Back to the event, though. It’s not the flattest or easiest half marathon by any means. It is in a great setting, well organised (just ask the Adjudicator!) and is the introduction to a very lively local festival which includes great music and, obviously, plenty of refreshment. I doubt that there are too many better ways to wind down after a hard race.