Finally, the day has come!
My weekend of the long awaited Reading Half Marathon was packed with excitement. I had the whole Friday off to go to London with my friend and bridesmaid-to-be Joanna, to have my wedding dress fitted. I felt like a real princess in the dress and I can’t wait to wear it on our Big Day! It was so nice to wear a dress that actually fitted me – unfortunately, most wedding dress shops do not stock dresses below size 12 to cater for slimmer brides-to-be, so I always ended up with huge pins to secure the big dresses. I got quote emotional as I was staring at my reflection in the mirror, I have never worn anything so graceful before! After the fitting, Joanna and I had brunch in a nearby cafe before we parted – she went home to be with her baby daughter and I went to the V & A Museum to see the exhibition about the Queen, made up of photographs taken by royal photographer Sir Cecil Beaton until the late ’70s. I have to say that the Queen was really beautiful when she was young, and she had some really amazing dresses! (Even though the majority of the photographs were black and white, the descriptions helped me visualise all the colours.) Talking about dresses… I have managed to bag a few bargains in Mango and Zara this Friday in preparation for the honeymoon and warmer days in sight!
Back to the race…On Saturday morning I met up with Jenny, my other bridesmaid, to get her dress fitted. The dress fit her perfectly and now I am slightly worried that my two beautiful bridesmaids in their beautiful dresses will outshine me on the wedding day LOL. Putting the joke aside, I think the three of us will look absolutely fabulous! Jenny and I spent the rest of the day walking by the riverside in Marlow, having a generous serving of pasta for lunch (not forgetting about the importance of carb loading the day before the half marathon!), then going back to her place in Reading to put up some pictures on her wall and then just had a chilled afternoon together, talking about running and the wedding day… So nice to have a girly night in sometimes!!
We got up mega early the next morning, knowing the roads will be busy, with tens of thousands of people flocking to the event from all corners of the country. After a generous serving of steaming hot porridge, we drove to Wokingham and caught a train from there to Reading town centre. From there, free shuttle buses were transporting runners and spectators to the event village, near Madjeski Stadium, home of Reading Football Club and to the rugby union club London Irish.
We were amazed at how busy the place looked that early! The race village included a number of tents with freebies such as energy bars, drinks and sports jelly beans (thank you, Lucozade!!), and running gear/clothes, a few kit tents for storing our baggage, a huge massage tent, a hut for running gait analysis, food and coffee and a charity tent among others. It was sooo freezing that we could see our breath and could barely stop shivering. Fortunately, the sun came out early with the promise of a beautiful day ahead. Some people wrapped themselves in bin bags and silver foils (these were distributed in the kit tents) to preserve their body heat inside – even though the idea was very tempting, I stayed away from this solution to preserve my dignity! Whilst waiting, we spotted one of the celebrities featuring at the event, Sally Gunnell, former British Olympic champion in the 400m hurdles. To day, she remains the only woman to have held the European, World, Commonwealth and Olympic 400 metre hurdles titles at the same time!
Nearer 10am, all runners were called through the loudspeakers to line up at the start line. Just to give my readers an idea of the sheer size of the event, it took about 20 minutes of walking to find and occupy our starting places. I queued for about 10-12 minutes for a last minute loo visit and the surge of people did not stop while I was waiting! There were different, colour coded areas for runners with different abilities, based on their predicted finish times. I lined up somewhere in the middle, close to the 1:55:00 pacer guy – I felt I could maintain that pace as a minimum throughout the race. Before the gunshot to signal the start of the race, I had the opportunity to observe some runners wearing a fancy dress – I spotted a couple inside a DIY car, made out of cardboard and light plastic; a giant centipede, then during the run itself, a guy in a heavy looking rhino suit, and two girls dressed into a stripey onesie looking like prisoners and holding plastic hand guns.
I have never run in such a big event before. At the start, I felt I did not have enough space for myself and overtaking slower runners had to be done with caution – I saw about two girls tripping over in their own feet and falling onto the concrete, hurting themselves, and I nearly got elbowed into the chest a few times. As time went by, the crowd has slightly dispersed, but it still felt like we were sardines in a tin. The sun started shining even more brightly and there was virtually no wind. I ended up sprinkling some of the water I picked up at water stations onto my face, top of my head and even down into my tank top to avoid overheating. I held onto and fully finished about two 330ml water bottles during the run, knowing from experience that if I become dehydrated in the heat, it will negatively affect my performance and I will start to struggle.
On the whole, I really enjoyed the atmosphere of the race – plenty of spectators and cheering people on the side, various bands playing different kind of music – my favourite ones included a drum band under the bridge in the town centre with great acoustics and a rather unexpected gospel band! I was glad I did not have my iPod on because this way I was able to soak in the atmosphere more fully. Just before reaching 10k, I saw a woman lying on the side of the road, in a pretty grim state – I have never seen anyone in such bad state during a run and made me wonder what had happened to her. It took me some time to take my mind off her and refocus my attention on the distance ahead.
I would describe the route as a “kind” route. This being a city run, we ran on a solid and even surface comprising of asphalt and concrete, throughout quieter suburban living quarters, nice green areas such as Reading University, busy town quarters including the train/bus station, hospital and Oracle shopping centre areas. There were a few hilly bits but in comparison to Marlow’s killer hills (the agony of Rotten Row jumps into my head right away), they were not too long, and the gradient was not bad at all – I could maintain an even pace without my heart rate significantly going up whilst going uphill. My legs stayed strong without them getting too heavy and whilst dictating a decent half marathon pace for myself, I felt “in the zone”, one movement flowing into another, staying strong all the way through. (A few nights before I had dreamt that I was levitating above the ground while I was running this race…). I left the 1:55:00 pacer guy behind shortly after starting but not being able to see the next pacer guy in line (1:50:00), I spent the rest of the race trying to guess my finishing time. I estimated that I would arrive somewhere between the two.
As with all half marathon distances I have done before, I knew that the final 5k was going to be the hardest, the real test of my endurance. I kept reminding myself that I needed to maintain an even pace despite the temptation to whizz past even more people and make sure I will have left enough energy in my tank for the final 5. I felt I was really put to the test when we reached the dual carriageway leading back to the Stadium – the route from there onwards turned quite boring with less spectators, the noise of cars passing by giving it a monotonous feel, the choking smell of their exhaust fume and the heat radiating from the asphalt. Upon reaching the area where we started from, it felt like entering an endless spiral – I saw runners heading in the opposite direction on the other side and it felt like an eternity to reach the turn leading back to the Stadium, it was a real mental struggle.
As we approached the Stadium, the cheers of the spectators inside reached my ears and filled me with a new wave of strength. I picked up my pace once more and upon entering the arena I was overwhelmed with the huge number of spectators filling more than half of the Stadium, cheering for us, finishers, and the glory of the sunshine lighting up the arena. I did a spring to the finish line and continued walking across the Stadium to warm down and then to stretch at the gates. Looking at the finishers coming after me and the huge display screen showing people at the finish line, I felt tired, but I felt joy and contentment knowing I had given my all.
A day later I found out that my chip time was 1:49:45, which is about 14 minutes faster than my time at the Marlow half! I attribute this to the fact that the route of the Reading half was less challenging and I must have improved a lot as well and must have gotten pre-race fuelling and hydrating quite right. My split times were sent to me by email:
This shows that I managed to maintain a very even pace throughout the whole run and even finish faster in the final few kilometers!
Walking out of the arena, we were given silver foils so that we did not lose heat too quickly. A group of Royal Airforce Cadets helped us take off our chip timers from our ankles and we were handed our well deserved goody bags and finishers medals. I have to say that this is the best goody bag I have ever received after a race: Lucozade drinks, energy bars, chocolate, flaxseed, energy gels, pistachios etc.
According the papers, 13,104 runners finished the race!
After collecting my bags from the kit tent and consuming a big hot dog, Jenny joined me as well. We treated ourselves for a brief massage session then went back to the Stadium to watch the final finishers and to pose for a few photos. We caught a shuttle bus back to town and went to a restaurant by the Riverside to finish our weekend together.
This is the best weekend I have had for a long time and I am so pleased with my result and the weather we had!
Jenny and I posing in the Stadium after the race
I have found my medal, too!
Unfortunately, a few days later I read in the news that the race turned into tragedy for one family – a guy died shortly after passing the finish line! I just find it shocking that fit people with no obvious underlying health issues can die just like that!
Below is a short video made by RunBritain to show some of the highlights of the day: