As you know, I tend to stay away from big city road races, preferring to get out into the land in all weathers and run with a mad minimal bunch of similarly-minded people. Bath, which has 15,000 runners, is the opposite of that. We'd entered it two years ago, deferred to last year and then when that was snowed off, got an automatic entry for this year's race, so we thought we might as well do it.
Bath is on lock down when the race is on, but luckily we have cousins living there so headed over to their house first thing where we had tea and a natter before Rob kindly dropped us into the city. M had omitted to give his predicted finish time when we sorted the entries and belatedly we realised he'd been put in the fancy dress starting pen at the back of the field. The organisation was faultless and they swiftly upgraded him to the right pen, asking us to collect the new number from the registration tent in the runners' village first thing, which we did.
The queues for the loo were crazy as always, so we decided to drop our bag off early before all the people queuing for the loo got into the bag drop queue. This meant we had very little on to protect us from the biting wind. It was freeezing. Luckily, I had stuck two bin bags in our bag the night before so we got into those. Never let it be said that we don't make sartorial efforts when we go to big city races :o). It kinda worked but it will still pretty damn chilly when the sun went in, and because there were so many people we had over an hour to wait like that before the race got underway.
Eventually we were called to our respective pens: M up front in the white section with the elite and super-speedies, me in the middle with the greens and the slower and fancy dress runners in the orange at the back. All on Great Pulteney Street. More loos here and we still had forty minutes before the start so I joined the smaller queue for a final pre-race wee.
With five mins to go everyone started peeling off their bin bags/ charity sweatshirts/ extra tee-shirts; there was a comical few minutes where all around me clothes were flying through the air, some landing on the heads of the spectators who laughed in a good-natured way, removed the top that had landed on them and deposited it in the 'for charity' bags than had been strung up all along the fence line.
Finally, the race began- but it took me nine minutes to get to the start, such were the numbers of people around. And then we were off, running along Great Pulteney Street and hanging right towards the river.
The Bath Half is a two-loop course that follows the river so it's mainly flat. I reckon I'm reasonably practiced at race discipline now and know not to go off too fast at the start, but the atmosphere kinda carried me along and I ran the first 5k too quickly. There were crowds lining the route and the support was fantastic- everyone was cheering and clapping, there were bands playing live music, a drummer in a tent, a double decker bus filled with people with a woman on the top rapping. Friends and family with signs encouraging loved ones. It was amazing, I've not experienced anything like it before.
I'm used to races thinning out after the first few miles where everyone settles into their stride but not this one- I ran in a solid pack of people the entire thirteen miles. It was unsettling, as was the constant presence of spectators and the continual noise of the crowd. I couldn't get my pace under control and I felt my race strategy slipping away from me. I gave myself a good talking to: get your pace down to 5:30 mins/ km. forget about feeling grumpy with all the people, think of this as an experience and enjoy it. And as soon as I'd given myself that pep talk I felt better. I relaxed into the race; got control of my pace and began to smile and enjoy the atmosphere. I never got used to all the other runners being so close, but hey, it was a one off.
Six miles in I saw our cousins and their girls waving and cheering beneath an enormous colourful home-made banner which had mine and M's names painted on it. It gave me such a huge lift that I accidentally sped up and ran the next km at closer to 5 mins :o). Another talking to and I settled down again. Towards the end of the first lap the lead runner came by- can you believe that? He'd run twelve miles in the time it took me to do 6 (about 54 mins for me). He won the race in 1 hour 5 mins. Astonishing.
Ten miles in and I realised people around me were starting to fade while I was beginning to pick the pace up for the final three miles. I ran the last 5k in 4:45-5 min/ kms, felt strong and in control although it was very hard to overtake as everyone was slowing down and the road was getting very clogged. Luckily, a slight hill intervened and I was able to run on the outside and overtake people. The end was in sight- a left turn into Great Pulteney Street and the finish a short sprint away. I realised I was on to significantly break my HM PB so I sprinted for all I was worth, quite surprised by the energy that was left in my legs and heart, and was thrilled to cross the line in 1:53, a new PB by nine minutes. This is a little misleading because my previous official HM PB was on a very hilly course and Bath is almost flat, but nevertheless I was thrilled - I finished feeling strong and was able to run down to the runners' village to collect my goodie bag and find M, who had run an absolute blinder, finishing in 1:20, his fastest half mara time in 23 years! Amazing. There is life in the old dog yet :o).
Because M is so super-speedy, he'd already collected our bag from the bag drop at a time when there were no queues- as we looked around us all we could see were long long lines of people waiting patiently to get theirs. I was so grateful for this because it meant I could put on a warm top and drink my protein shake straightaway.
We decided to walk back up to Rob and Sal's- they were waiting by the finish for their youngest who ran a super first half mara time of 2:01 in the end. I was glad of the opportunity to stretch my legs and suggested to M we run, but he was feeling a bit stiff in the leg department by then so we walked back up the hill.
All in all it was a super experience. The race was very well organised, the officials were wonderfully calm and in control given the HUGE number of people they were looking after. The marshals were great and the crowds were just so brilliant and encouraging. The course was nice and Bath is a lovely city. Would I do it again? Probably, but it did make me spend an hour looking up trail races in the middle of nowhere when we got home...
Hope you are all well. How was your weekend?