So, after a week of will I/ won't I, I decided on Saturday afternoon to go ahead and run the Clarendon Half. On the basis that when I'd run on Thursday, my knee had ached for the first couple of miles then been fine, and that my physio has been telling me to keep running.
We woke at 6am to fine drizzle, got up, had pre-race breakfasts of oats, seeds and fruit then M made tuna mayo and cucumber sandwiches (my pre and post race pick-me-up) while I made up two bottles of electrolytes. Gathering all the kit together is now down to a fine art, so we were off on time (8.25) to drive into Romsey to collect Matt and Ian who were also running.
We arrived at Wyvern college in Laverstoke a little after nine to find the hall rapidly filling with runners collecting numbers while JJ, (who, with a vast team of volunteer helpers organises the marathon, relay, half and 5 mile races, as well as all the walkers who also do the event but start earlier) talked people through various admin stuff on a megaphone.
Our running club had several members doing the full and half events and there were also lots of friends competing so it was all very social. We managed a group photo, taken by an old boy who told the men to stick their chests out. You can imagine what he said next to the ladies. There was a collective wince at this but he didn't seem to notice.
There has been some hearty competition among the boys in the run-up to this race, with daily comparisons of training runs taking place each night after work on Strava. The fact is the four of them are all pretty equal in terms of speed so trying to keep the competitive factor low was always going to be impossible.
Friend Peat runs for Winchester and had done a maximum total of 6 miles as his longest training run for the Clarendon. He's a very experienced distance runner but that was cutting it fine even for him. M asked him what happened on a marathon to someone who'd only trained up to six miles, Peat's reply: that person gets to 16 miles and falls over. We waited to see.
Friend and fellow club runner Sue was on her fifth of five consecutive races. In a little over 6 weeks she's done: The New Forest Marathon, the Solent Half, the Hursley 10k, the Dorset Beast and now the Clarendon Marathon. I asked her how she was doing, her reply: I'm tired. But Sue is WonderWoman so I suspected she'd pull something amazing out of the bag for this one.
Sue's husband was running the Clarendon Half as his first half marathon. I asked him how he was and he said bit nervous, because the Clarendon is not an easy run. It's hilly, it's long and it's all off road, plus it had rained last week and more was forecast for the day. Those kinds of conditions never make for an easy race. Mike did the Beast with me a month ago so I knew he was capable of the Clarendon, but nerves are nerves.
The marathon runners were called to the start at 10:15. It was chilly and windy. I stayed to see them off at 10:30.
I drove the fifteen minutes along the old Roman Road to Broughton where the Half started and left the car at the Buffalo Farm from where it was a ten minute walk along the footpath to the village hall, where numbers were to be collected. I'd not eaten much breakfast, feeling unusually nervous, so knew I needed to stuff some food down because running thirteen miles on empty isn't a sensible move. I ate half a pitta, glugged down half a bottle of water and set off for the hall.
Once I got to the hall I collected my number, found friends Mike, Penny, Bob and Roger, and put my bag on the bus along with everyone else's....
...and hoped it would survive.
I'd been looking forward to the Clarendon for ages, not least because it's a home run and one I know well (although I'd never raced it myself M has been doing it for years and I've been going as support crew all that time, plus we've done training runs over most of it), but also because I was due to meet Small P, bloggy friend and fellow runner, for the first time. She was also running the half. We'd exchanged photos so we knew what we looked like, but there were 400 or so runners gathering at the village hall and I wondered if we'd miss each other, but then suddenly there she was. We had a big hug and then pretty much didn't stop talking until the race started!
Here we are at the start. Initially, we took a selfie, but were both so appalled at the double chins it gave us...
That we asked the nice man standing behind us (laughing at our double chin woes) to take this one for us instead...
There wasn't time for any further chat though because the klaxon sounded and we were off, running down the lane before cutting through a hedge and up onto a farm track that takes you between Broughton and Houghton villages. I trotted along beside Mike chatting while Small P ran on ahead beside another friend from the club. The course takes you almost immediately up a hill. In training over the summer in heat this hill was hard work, but now I flew up it quite happily and with plenty of breath for talking to a lady who'd fallen in beside me. The next three miles flew by as we chatted about running and races, then we came out onto the road into Houghton before turning down another footpath and crossing the river Test.
There is a enormous hill a little further on from the river. The advantage of knowing the course became obvious here where some folks tried to run up it and others (like me) knowing what still lay ahead walked. When I got to the top there was Club Captain Bex waving and yelling encouragement She'd seen M go through and told me he was doing really well which gave me a boost.
Round the corner and the road drops steeply into Kings Somborne. Everyone was flying down it but I was extremely sensible and walked (mindful of the knee). It was here that Sue came past. I asked her how she was doing and she said OK.
At the bottom of the hill the cars were being kept waiting as the runners streamed over. I picked up the pace again and started overtaking people as we headed to the second big hill of the course which runs off road over fields up onto the ridge. I ran half it then walked the rest, knowing that there were more hills ahead and I needed to conserve some energy.
The support out on the course was fantastic, not just from the brilliant marshals and the folk manning the water stations, but from the public who were out and about cheering and clapping and waving. An innovation this year was having our names printed on our numbers. Having someone cheer you on by name makes all the difference. There was a lovely lady on the hill above calling everyone on by name. Having trained up this hill more than once I found it easy going this time round, although it was pretty slippy.
We went on, across fields, along footpaths, through woods. By now about six miles in, the race had settled and I was running with more or less the same group of people. Sometimes I overtook, sometimes I was overtaken. Every now and then a full marathon runner would come past, legs plastered in mud but a feeling of strength and fitness about them.
We got up to the high point of Farley Mount and I found a second wind and picked up my pace, clocking three kms under 6 minutes which I was pleased with. The knee was holding well with no pain and as I reached the seven and then eight mile markers I realised I was doing better than I'd expected, and I might, just might, get round the whole race without needing a lift. Was it possible race strategy 1) was actually going to happen (get round, no knee pain, a good time). It had seemed so impossible last week.
The route came out on the lane between Farley and West Wood. This was a change-over point for the relay runners and suddenly we went from empty countryside in the middle of no-where high up on the Chalk with only runners in sight, to crowds of people clapping and cheering. It was a tiny bit surreal. I ran on quickly past them, wanting to get back into the peace and solitude of the land. The track dipped down into West Wood and I was back among the trees and a handful of runners, which is much the way I like things to be.
The course twists and turns through the woods and eventually pops back up near a road at ten miles, only to vanish back into the woods. Ten miles is a hard point in a half marathon. On the one hand, you've got a Parkrun left to run, on the other you've got ten miles in your legs. Given that I last ran twelve miles a month ago and haven't been able to train at distance since, I did wonder how long I would hold out. But I reached ten miles feeling strong if tired.
M andI I had recceed the final two miles on Saturday. I was really pleased we had as I knew there was a final hill lying in wait on the last mile. Those final three miles dragged. It started to rain, but there was great camaraderie among my fellow runners. We started to talk about our suppers that night- one chap was making roast pork, we were having fish n' chips. Each time a mile marker came up someone would shout out Thank God! and the rest of us would cheer.
Just as we turned out onto the lane for the final mile I heard a runner behind me shout Go, Romsey! I turned round to see Peat, Mr Six Mile Training, coming up behind me. I have to say he looked bloody marvellous. How are you? I asked. Tired came the reply, but I'm finishing even if it kills me. There's a marathon runners mindset for you, right there.
He went on ahead because, just as we reached the 20km point (a half marathon in 21km, or 13.1 miles) my knee suddenly announced that it was no longer quite so happy to be running. I slowed to a walk, praying it was going to hold out. You've done so well, i told it, just a few more paces, that's all.
I'd forgotten there was a runner near me and he looked at me with a grin. Motivational speaking? he asked. Yes, I said, for my knee. It turned out he'd also had an injured knee and it had been touch and go whether he'd run it, so we congratulated one another on getting this far.
There was then only the final four hundred metres to go, as a lovely marshal was rather wonderfully telling everyone, so I ran on, knee fine, and down into the field where the finish lay.
I looked round the sea of faces clustered round the tape that led to the finish arch and heard someone screaming my name. It was Small P! Wrapped up in silver tin foil and beaming. I waved frantically at her, a huge grin on my face, and crossed the line in time to hear the announcer call out my name and then tell everyone listening that I had a lot of family support with me and they'd had a nice chat with Bob, my father in law.
Small P found me after I'd got my medal and while I was trying to get myself inside the tin foil wrapper (easier said then done; I usually end up with my head in an arm hole), and we had a big congratulatory hug, then M appeared and told me he'd done a good time, then my in laws came along and everyone was generally beaming and very happy.
The only downside to the day was the baggage bus breaking down, so there was a hall full of shivering, hungry, damp marathon runners in various stages of decline.
All our friends did really well; Mike did his first half in 2:30, a fabulous time for a first hm on a very technical, tricky and demanding course; Sue came in 2nd lady; Tam was 10th lady; the boys took 3rd, 4th and 5th places in the full marathon and I got round in a far better time that expected. In fact, it was so far above my expectations it took a while to sink in that I'd actually done it. I've never enjoyed a race more. It was a fabulous day out.
Once home, I spent some time brushing the mud off my legs before I felt safe to go inside for a bath....Nice :o)
And as for the knee? Well, I won't lie: it is stiff today; I'm hobbling about like an old lady and the bag of frozen peas in the freezer is seeing a lot of daylight, but it got me round a really tough half marathon, and aching at 20k is far far better than aching at 10k, so I think we can say the muscle strengthening work is working.
Hope you all had a good weekend?