Wisely or not I booked myself a spot on the Plymouth Half Marathon 2016. It was using a familiar route with a downhill start followed by a flat section, then a couple of climbs along Billacombe Road and into the grounds of Saltram House. The route finishes with a long climb from the Barbican back up to the top of the Hoe. A punishing end to reasonably fast course. The unwise element comes from the fact that just seven days before I was racing 84 miles in The Oner, along the Jurassic Coast, and my performance for the half marathon would be somewhat unpredictable. You can read about my epic Oner 2016 experience here.
I decided to do the Plymouth Half dressed in my ringmaster/magician top hat and tails. so I would have an excuse if my pace dropped away. It also ensured that I got lots of cheering to keep me motivated and moving. If anyone asked I mentioned St Lukes Hospice in Plymouth. I wasn’t raising money, but I figured that a little bit more public awareness wouldn’t hurt them.
The Plymouth Half Marathon 2016 was excellently organised. Local car parks were offering discounts for runners and travel information was provided in the Runners Handbook to help people navigate around the road closures. We pulled into Drake Circus car park at around 8am, used the Drake Circus toilets and then wandered the half mile or so to the Plymouth Hoe. We didn’t have to rush, because there was no registration required. Race numbers with built-in timing chips were sent out a couple of weeks in advance. It was simply a case of make it to the start line in time and run!
On arrival in the start area bags were easily checked in and the loos visited. There were plenty of portaloos and I think that is the first time I have ever said that about a race! This meant small queues and also that they didn’t get grotty too quickly.
On the start line I went into the 1:30 to 1:45 pen and decided to hit my normal half marathon pace from the start based on my rate of perceived effort. My plan to cruise along at about 80% by feel alone, taking it easy on the uphills and not getting winded on the descents. I would then hang on as long as I could, not knowing when the Oner mileage would catch up with me. After a few minutes of chatting in the pen we were off.
Runners need to keep their wits about them in the first mile as there are quite a few speed bumps and bollards to navigate. Despite the road being packed with runners we were all cruising along at a decent lick. As usual a few numpties zigged and zagged about trying to rush through when there is no real need. I saw more than a couple of them trip over other people, but luckily there was no pile-up. The race soon spread out after the first two miles as the road widened. I carried on with my plan, just running along at my own pace.
Aid stations were plentiful, with only one of them in a slightly daft place. I refer to the one on the hill up Billacombe Road as everyone is puffing hard at that point, so it is hard to take on water or the lucozade offered. I grabbed a mouthful of water at all the aid stations except for the ones in the last couple of miles as I was pushing too hard at that point.
After the climb up Billacombe I consumed an isogel that I had carried with me and then cracked on. Going through the Saltram Estate jelly beans were offered, but they were cold and quite hard to chew so I ditched them. This was the point that I was expecting the wheels to come off, but I was still going strong and from half way was able to push a little bit harder with my fastest miles coming on the descent through Saltram and the flat exit from it onto Laira bridge.
The most soul destroying part of the run is the section heading out along the Plymouth Embankment. Runners are looking for the turnaround point and it is a long time coming. Meanwhile faster runners are streaming past in the opposite direction. I locked on to another runner and just used their pace to get me to the turnaround. Once we got there I started feeling strong and pushed hard for the remaining three miles. I was near PB pace and was just about hanging in there.
At several points on the course there was music and it was great to hear, really adding to the atmosphere. The drummers in the first and last miles were particularly good. There were loads of spectators spread throughout the course as well, cheering and occasionally offering sweets.
In the last few miles people started falling by the wayside, clearly blown and struggling. I was particularly happy as I came into the Barbican and caught up with Robin Hood who had started at a cracking pace. I paced with him for a few metres to see if he would be able to keep up with me if I overtook. I didn’t want him sprinting past in the last two hundred meters. He looked cooked, so I overtook him and cracked on. The last mile is mostly uphill and is really hard work. I made a few places and also lost a few places as I just tried to hang on.
The crowds were thick as the runners turned onto the top of the Hoe and lined the last four hundred meters. The cheering was loud and everyone was pushing to the line. I had nothing left, so just tried to maintain my pace to the finish, crossing in 315th place out of 4721 runners in 1 hour 36 minutes and 44 seconds. Not quite a PB, but not far off it. I was extremely happy considering everything that had come before.
A big thanks to everyone that cheered me on. It was also great to see so many friends and runners there from my two favourite local clubs: The Erme Valley Harriers and Plymouth Triathlon Club. Well done to everyone that finished, you are all awesome 🙂 Hopefully see you on the start line again next year.
Thanks to my Mum for giving us a lift in her car, to my son Kristian for being very well behaved and to both of them for being such good supporters 🙂 Oh, and well done to Donncha who came with us and set a personal worst time. I’m sure you will do better later in the year 😀