The day started early – very, very early considering the race started between 8.00am and 8.30am and the clocks had gone forward overnight leaving us with one hour less sleep than normal. It was pretty dark (and raining) when I got into the car, but the day was due to brighten up. I only live a 15 minute drive from Kingston but I am so glad I got there early. I made it into the allocated multi-storey car park without queueing (by the time I had walked downstairs, the queues had already started) and I made my first toilet visit without queueing (but boy, that was a miracle). It was cold, but knowing the route was flat, I was looking forward to a fast run.
The race started at 8.00 (for the 8.2miler), 8.24 (for the elite women) 8.25 (for the men) and 8.35 (for the women). Don’t worry, everyone else was confused too. And unfortunately, the lack of toilets left a 30 minute toilet queue so when I got to the back of the line at 8.10 for my last visit, it was touch and go whether I was going to make the start. As it turned out, I ran from the toilets around the corner and just made it to the back of the starting pack as the starting gun went for the women.
Despite my hamstring issue (or whatever it is. I am wondering now whether actually it is another muscle back there), the course was flat, fast and fabulous. Two loops again which had the delightful result of you knowing exactly how far you had to go and what was coming up, and with my first ever negative split, I finished in an unbelievably fast 2:20.33. That is faster than 9 minutes a mile and a very comfortable race. And best of all, I felt pretty good and although I couldn’t have done another 10 miles at that pace, I could have done another 10 miles. So all set for two weeks time.
Anyway, as usual, here is the good, bad and ugly rundown of the day.
- Weather: It started off raining, but as the morning arrived, so, eventually did the sunshine. Although handing my fleece in at the bag room was a difficult thing at the start (it was rather cold!) by the end of the second mile, I had already warmed up and was congratulating myself on my pre-race resilience. So many others were toting coats, jumpers and long sleeve T-shirts while I was feeling just right in the spring sunshine.
- Flat course: Ah, the best thing about a river route is that it is flat! And flat routes mean fast times. In contrast to my last race, it was a pleasure to be able to concentrate on speed rather than saving whatever you had left to get up the next hill. And because this is my usual training haunt, it was even better.
- Personal Best and negative split: I never thought I would manage a negative split. I ran the first 8 miles in 1:11.48 which meant the second half was run in 1:08:12! Granted I did really push myself for the last mile, but even so. When I passed the 9 mile pacer, I knew that it was going to be a good race for me. As for personal best, well, I am saying it is because the truth is I have never run a 16 miler before so in fact it is the only time I have. But I won’t tell if you don’t.
- Marshals: The marshals were friendly and ready with a smile and a clap. I always try and save a little bit of energy to thank them and smile at them as I run past. I think – they have given up their morning to stand in one place for several hours and argue with impatient drivers, so I am pretty grateful. A smile and a thanks is the least they deserve.
- Close to home: No long drive back – I was lying in a bath eating a naughty chocolate bar within an hour of finishing the race. It doesn’t get enormously better than that.
- Start times and slow men: The start times were a bit of a shambles. Most people who were waiting in the toilet queue didn’t have a clue when they were due to start. And I am not sure what the purpose of starting the men 10 minutes before the women was. I started passing the trailing men at about 6 miles and then spent the rest of the race trying to dodge around them. It wouldn’t have been so bad if the paths weren’t narrow, but they were and overtaking manoeuvres weren’t always easy.
- Crowd support: Crowd? What crowd? Yes, it was an early start and with the time change, most people in their right mind wouldn’t have been up at that hour on a Sunday morning, but the race was pretty lonely from a support point of view. What crowd there was congregated at the finish line, and there might have been one or two pockets of people on the way (and a big thank you to them). It made it feel like a rather busy training run.
- Bag room attitude: Yes, there were a lot of runners. Yes, there were plenty of people to get through. But I have been to plenty of races where the bag room was free (it cost £1.00 here), the bag volunteers both took and retrieved bags (here, you had to get your own bag at the end), and they did it with a smile, a congratulations and a delightful attitude. I don’t want to be unfair – some of the people in the bag room were fine, but several appeared to resent the fact they were there and weren’t going to raise a smile or a friendly word for anyone.
- The toilet queues: This was by far the biggest ugly. There were simply not enough toilets. There were half the number of toilets available as were available at Tunbridge Wells, and there were more runners. And, the toilets had been planted right in the middle of a very muddy patch of grass which made the whole experience even more unpleasant. As the race start(s) approached, the queues got longer and longer. I timed my wait – just under 30 minutes to get to the toilet. As I said, I only just made the start, so there were probably 20 or 30 people who missed it. And as this race didn’t have timing chips (why not?) then those people would have been relying solely on their own watches to get any kind of accurate time. I hate to say it, but it just wasn’t good enough. With the number of sponsors they had for this race, and the cost of entry, then surely they could have afforded a few more porta-loos. Judging by the queues, toilets are possibly the most important thing at a race and whether there are adequate ones or not will really affect one’s experience.
Humph! So speaks me! And judging by the ratings on the Runners World website I am not alone in this sentiment. Nevertheless, I was pretty pleased with the run and settled down that afternoon with a coffee in my finishers mug.
Would I do it again? For the personal best potential, most definitely. I would like to see a few changes in the race perhaps, but otherwise why not, seeing it is on my doorstep?