Monday, October 22, 2018

Henley Half Marathon

Henley Half Marathon Race Report

Sunday 21st October I headed out on a rather foggy trip out to Henley, hoping the sun would come out and make for a good day's racing! 

Race Report

Coming to this race off the back of Ealing Half Marathon three weeks beforehand, I wasn't really sure how I was going to approach it. I'd already taken over nine minutes off my PB time at Ealing so I didn't know if I actually had anything left to give so soon afterwards.

On the one hand I wanted to build upon my experience at Ealing, see if I could go a bit better and maybe even break that 1:40 barrier. On the other hand though I was worried that Ealing was too much of a confidence boost and that I'd over-do it here and knock myself back again - a half marathon is a long way to run if it's going wrong. So I tried to convince myself that I had no expectations here at all.

We began the race with a lap of the field before heading out onto the roads and although I thought I'd started fairly sensibly, the first mile marker came up surprisingly fast! A quick glance at my watch explained that - I'd done a 6:53 mile which is more like my 5K pace than my half-marathon, oops... 

After that I managed to settle my pace to a more reasonable 7:30ish mile which I was sure was probably too fast, but it felt comfortable and the course was pretty flat as we looped out towards the river. Running along the river was beautiful - the sun was out, shining on the water and I could see Henley in the distance. There was a pretty big gap between me and the runner in front, but I decided not to try and close it and instead to just keep comfortable, take in the scenery and enjoy myself. At this point my feet were finally drying out after running through the wet grass at the start and my shoes had stopped squeaking which was a relief! 

Riverbank at Henley on Thames
Views from the other side of the river, taken after the race not during it!

I'd also been assuming I was somewhere towards the end of the top twenty women at this point. I'll admit I'd looked up the results for the past couple of years and realised that a PB could potentially just get me inside the top ten but with my "definitely no goals today" attitude I'd decided to let that go shortly after the start when I saw a few women go ahead of me. So when I found out I was in 7th position around mile four, my mindset started to change a bit and I was prepared to attack it a bit more. The mile markers kept on coming, my pace was staying nicely around 7:30 and it still felt comfortable. I was wondering where it was all going to go wrong! (Probably need to work on my mental attitude to racing...)

The Hill. Luckily I'd spoken to a few people about this course and had looked up the elevation beforehand so I knew this was coming. 1.5 mile of uphill from around mile eight. I try to make sure I include hills in my training runs, so this wasn't too bad to begin with -  I just kept the pace comfortable, didn't actively try to overtake anyone and just waited for it to end. And waited. And waited a bit more. My legs were starting to burn and the road seemed to be getting steeper around every bend. I came so close to stopping and walking but knew I'd find it impossible to get going again and so just kept on pushing and remaining hopeful that the crest of the hill was around the next corner. It would have been really helpful to have some sort of sign that the hill was over!

Fortunately what goes up must come down, and the reward for pushing up that hill was a lovely downhill slope. I think training to run down hills is just as important as training to climb them and so I was really enjoying whizzing down the hill knowing I could stay balanced while speeding along and overtaking some more cautious runners. 

Three miles to go and I was still feeling surprisingly strong, having recovered pretty well on the downhill. In fact, my last four miles were my fastest, something I've never managed on a half marathon before. I checked my watch as I passed 12 miles and realised I had about ten minutes to get home under my PB which was easily do-able so long as nothing went horribly wrong. As we got back into the rugby club my legs were finally starting to fatigue and there was no chance of a final sprint effort on the grass but I already knew I'd got a time and position I'd be happy with. 

Mile splits for half marathon
Yes, the race came up a bit short on GPS

The best bit of racing is definitely other people. In the last five or six hundred metres, a man called Steve overtook me as he was running hard towards the end, cheered on really enthusiastically by someone who turned out to be his sister (she's was a far more supportive sibling than mine would be, or me to them - we'd probably be shouting really unhelpful things to one another). I usually end up congratulating the people who finish around me whether that's at parkrun or a half-marathon, but Steve's sister came up to say well done to me. And on hearing I'd just got at least a two-minute PB she gave me a huge hug - so thanks Steve for letting me share your supporter!


I was really pleased to finish 7th lady out of 151, and 76/479 overall with a chip time of 1:38:01 - not even bothered by that one second!
Average pace was 7:34/mi - which partway round the course I reflected on as being a pace I'd have been pretty happy with for a 5K in the not too distant past.

That's it for me and half marathons now for a little while. I've not got any more booked this year and I don't plan on booking any! I'll probably include one or two as part of my marathon training after Christmas, but won't be chasing PBs (or so I'm telling myself anyway...)

Half marathon finishers medal

The Course

The course is definitely the main selling point of this race. It's a single lap course that starts off with roads out towards the river, then loops back alongside the river - partly on grass, then with a gravel path. The views are beautiful and there's nothing quite like running alongside a river on a sunny autumn day. Then back across the bridge and onto roads again. It's also pretty flat to begin with and stays like that until around mile eight. At this point comes the hill - a pretty testing 1.5 mile continuous climb that does seem to go on forever. However get that out the way and it's downhill again, before a flat couple of miles along a main road to finish. 

The Event

I have to say it's not one of the most atmospheric races I've done. I'm not that fussed about having big crowds of people out cheering, but there wasn't much of a buzz around the start/finish.

Organisation wise, it was mixed. It was a fairly cold start so was nice to have the clubhouse to sit in while I was waiting around beforehand. The bag drop was a pretty casual affair, just leaving your own bag lined up in a room in the clubhouse - the advantage was no queueing while volunteers took and retrieved them, but perhaps less secure than at other races. Free car parking for competitors was useful (I hate turning up to races not knowing if I'm going to have somewhere to park!) and I had no problems getting in or out quickly. The start was a bit confusing as there was a 10K being held as well, with them starting 5 minutes ahead of the half marathon. The organisers called everyone to the start line at the same time and there were more than a few people who were unsure who was supposed to stand where, although it did seem to all get underway smoothly. I did hear that there was an incident with the lead bike going the wrong way with the front runners, but luckily that's not as issue for those of us running further back! That said, I did have a couple of corners where I wasn't 100% sure where I was going when there was no one immediately in front of me. 

Henley half marathon race bib and medal

The medal - I hate to be snobby about the medals at races, but this one does look a little sorry for itself hanging among all my other ones! The goody bag didn't come full of advertising which was nice, and included a sports drink, mars bar and a cereal bar.

Value for money for £30 (early, affiliate entry price - full price is £35)? Undecided. Beautiful course,  chip timing, posted race packs, reasonably smoothly run but perhaps not the best value. It does seem to be run for charity rather than profit so I can see why it's not quite the same as other events I've been to, but there's a lot of choice out there for runners looking for races to enter. I'd recommend it to others so long as I could guarantee another beautiful day because I think the course really is the best bit of this race (as it ought to be with any race I guess) and that wouldn't be the same on a really wet or miserable day!

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