Silverstone Half Marathon: race report

This post originally appeared on Ben’s old blog, Running From the Physio.

Running the Silverstone Half Marathon has been the focus of my life for the past four months. (Well, that and raising our daughter, who is currently just under five months old.) The first – and not the simplest – challenge was packing. Despite only staying away for one night we ended up with a pile of stuff that looked like we were surely going away for a month, or maybe even two. I blame the baby, although it might have helped if I hadn’t taken almost all of my running kit with me! In my defence, the weather has been so changeable lately that I wanted to cover as many eventualities as possible.

With a 5-month-old, there’s no such thing as travelling light!

We stayed at a Travelodge that was only a couple of miles up the road from the track. The hotel was accompanied by a Little Chef, in which the menu, if I’m completely honest, was not ideal race fuel material. The closest I could find to some last minute carb-loading was a very greasy beef lasagne with chips and garlic bread. That counts, right?

After a night in which my wife tired herself out trying to keep our daughter quiet so that I could get as much sleep as possible (which as it turns out, was quite a lot), we headed back to Little Chef for a slightly more appropriate breakfast of porridge. I don’t think the staff had really counted on the effect a run would have on their breakfast supplies: as I was leaving the diner, I heard one of the staff comment to her colleague that they were running out of porridge. Oh, I had a bacon sarnie too. I uhmmm… needed the fat and salt?

Having heard about all of the parking trouble there can be at Silverstone, we did not delay in heading straight over to the track: I figured that I’d rather spend an hour sat in their car park annoyed at getting there so early than 30 minutes in the hotel and then 30 minutes queueing in traffic, stressing about arriving in time. As a result, we drove straight in without trouble, and were parked: 2 hours and 20 minutes before the start of the race.

So, yes, a little bit of time to kill.
– Sat in the car listening to the radio for a bit: check.
– Slow walk over to the start area: check.
– Identified key points of interest, such as bag drop and toilets: check.
– Looked around the spectator areas to work out where my wife and daughter could watch the race: check.
– Wandered slowly around the “charity village”: check.
– Stood around shivering: check.

Look, it was cold, okay?!

All this procrastination completed, and still there was over an hour until the start of the race. Luckily, as the MC pointed out over the PA system, “this is no small local race with 400 competitors”, and as a result we were been chivvied to the start line a full 45 minutes before the race was scheduled to begin. Which, given how long I had been killing time for, was no bad thing. The start area was very well labelled, with signs indicating which area you should start in, based on your predicted finish time. Given that I was aiming to finish in under 2:00 hours, but didn’t really know much more than that, I positioned myself towards the back of the 1:50 – 2:00 section.

Thankfully, the location of the start, and the sheer number of runners around helped to protect against the vicious wind during this last 45 minutes. My plan for the race was pretty loose: stick around the 1:58 pacer (thanks Runners World!) for the first bit of the race and see how I felt. So it was a bit of a relief when the pacer, along with his nice big obvious flag, arrived. I positioned myself about four rows back, although by the time we had all been compressed to the start line, I ended up a little further behind him. Just before the start, predictably, but still enjoyably, the DJ put on Fleetwood Mac’s “The Chain” (the BBC’s Formula 1 theme music), which did add to the atmosphere significantly. And was a definite improvement on S Club 7…

And then the race. The start, as with all races, was a bit manic. But for a change, by the time I reached the first mile marker, I was a little bit down on my 9 mile pacing, though I wasn’t too worried, as I was still only just behind the pacer. The first couple of miles were a little difficult just because of the sheer number of people. I’m more used to little local races, so I found it a bit tricky having to avoid stepping on people’s heels and having huge groups that involved significant sideways movement to get around.

Still, I successfully negotiated the crowds, and made it to the 3-mile water point. At this juncture I have to make a confession. On my training runs, be they 2 miles or 11 miles, I never take water with me, and never fuel during my runs. Ever. Therefore, 3 miles in, I certainly didn’t feel like I needed any water (and possibly more to the point, did feel a little like I needed a wee!) So while everyone else made their pit-stops, I continued down the middle, picking up positions like a driver attempting a one-stop strategy (sorry, obligatory Formula 1 analogy.)

Just over a mile later, I was filled with dread when my left knee started to hurt. Throughout my training I’ve had problems with my knee on longer runs, though never before quite so early. Thankfully either the pain subsided, or the adrenaline of a race just overtook it, and within half a mile it was out of my mind again.

The next drinks stop was just past the 5 mile marker, and this time I did take a bottle of the offered Lucozade. I figured that being a long time since breakfast, the energy would be useful, even if I didn’t need the hydration. Unfortunately, I did ignore the shouts of “there’s more further on, keep going” and lost precious seconds waiting for a bottle to be ripped out of a new bag.

Definitely the highlight of the course.

Shortly after the Lucozade, the race took us down the “International Pits”, and for me this was unquestionably the coolest part of the course. We’d already ran along the racing straight around 2 miles in, but actually running down the pit lane itself was awesome. It was around this point that I decided to kick on, and I started to ease away from the 1:58 pacer. This gave me an amazing boost: because most of the other runners had settled into more or less the right pace, I spent more or less the last 6 miles of the race passing people. Despite the fact that all this actually means is that I started in the wrong place, what it felt like was “Wooo, go me, I’m sooooo fast!”

I again opted against taking any water at 8 miles, and by this point of the race, there seemed to be toilets every few hundred metres. Although my bladder was really starting to feel quite full, I wasn’t willing to sacrifice any time unless things got really urgent! The course felt like it was one long uphill from roughly 7.5 miles to 9.5 miles, although RunKeeper claims there was a drop in the middle: I don’t remember it! I took on some more Lucozade at 9.5 miles, and taking stock, realised I felt pretty good.

From the look of the course, I realised that I was coming around towards where my wife said she would probably be. My eyes were scanning the crowds for quite a while along the straight, and I was concerned that I might miss her (she really is quite short), but then I spotted her bright blue rain-coat. Although I was feeling good in the race, seeing her, and my daughter in her buggy, gave me a huge boost for the last 3 and a bit miles.

As I ran past the 10 miles marker, the gun-time flashed to 1:30. Just a parkrun left: 3.1 miles, 5 kilometres, I run that almost every week. I consciously upped my pace again, and passed the next mile marker at just outside 1:38. I continued to push, but my pace dropped a little over the next mile, I simply didn’t have as much left as I thought I might. Despite that, as I passed the 13 mile marker, I hit a flat sprint. Actually, it was a little bit after the mile marker, as initially I was confused that no one else seemed to be speeding up much. The gun-time as I passed the finish line was just over 1:55, meaning that I had ran the last 5 km of my half-marathon in 25 minutes, which I was pretty happy with. More importantly, I smashed my target, finishing in an official time of 1:52:58.

I know she doesn’t look impressed, but she is really…

The medal is unquestionably the best in my small collection, but the t-shirt, whilst decent enough, was a little bit of a let-down for me personally. In general, I really enjoyed running around the Silverstone course, but although it was great in places where the course was particularly recognisable, the parts of the course away from the spectators were very, very quiet for a race of that size. The course, which was advertised as “very flat”, actually had some quite significant hills in places, especially where it rose to a bridge over the track. The weather was pretty awful, but although I’ve read a fair bit complaining about it, I didn’t find it too bad once we got running. But then, once I’m running, I tend to be in a world of my own!

As a final thought, the copious amount of runners that I saw peeling off for a quick toilet break were put into some context when we were walking back to the car park. The marshal driving the tail-car stopped, jumped out, and made use of a nearby tree to relieve himself. Runners: you are not alone!

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