Race Recap: Windsor River Trail Half

I was very much looking forward to doing this race to test out my new training formula:

Clean eating and good hydration + reduced and carefully monitored weekly mileage + functional cross training + regular physio prehab routine (stretches and flexibility work, foamrolling, glute strengthening) + good quality recovery

RACE READY BODY

In training for this half marathon, I never went further than 16km – for fear of breaking down last minute and I also did not see the point of running the full distance in training when the last 5km in any races can be run on adrenaline and sheer gut. I have to admit, despite having absolute faith in my training formula as described above, I still had a bit of worry in the back of my mind not knowing how my ITB and knee would cope on this distance, as I had not tackled a half marathon since my fiasco in Oxford last October which was my only ever DNF due to my ITB issues culminating at the time.

The reason I chose this race as my long distance ‘test lab’ was down to a number of reasons: I have done this race before so I knew what to expect, it is pancake flat, scenic (so plenty of nice stuff to look at in case I end up not being able to run all of it), not too competitive and is conveniently local to me. As an added bonus, I found out later that my running friend Hajni had also signed up! Even though we did not end up running together, it was still nice knowing that I was not doing the race on my own and we made sure to catch up afterwards with a good cuppa.

I set myself a stretching but realistic target: to finish under 1 hour 50 mins but get as close as possible to my previous time at this race (1 hour 48 mins).

Despite the forecasters predicting a grotty day, the race village was bathing in sunshine when I arrived and there was barely any cloud all the way through the run. A great omen!

racevillage

The F3 race village in Alexandra Gardens

I aimed to start in the second wave of the staggered start, to let the speedy gonzaleses sprint ahead.

bridge

A short walk to the start line across the river

warmups

Warmups

However, when the start was delayed by about 20 mins, I started to worry about the rising heat and decided to go at the first opportunity. Obviously, a lot of other people got the same idea because the originally planned staggered start turned into a crowded mass start, causing a congestion almost immediately on the river path and people stumbling at each other. There was a really immature guy just next to me who somehow managed to collide with a giant bin and nearly tripped me over as well – he obviously found this quite hilarious because he was giggling about it. I felt very tempted to shout at him to get an effing grip on himself. Fortunately, the crowd started to disperse a few km’s in, so I was able to finally pick up the pace a bit and switch from ‘spectating’ to actually racing.

Had there been a better organised start, I could have beaten my previous time here very easily,  which is very frustrating – I was about half a minute slower due to the congested start. Later on I found out on social media that the delay in the start was caused by the fact that many people had got stuck in the long queues for the toilets (clearly, F3 Events had not taken on board feedback from previous years to get more loos), and in the baggage tent which was tiny in relation to the number of people turning up for the race. For some reason, F3 Events decided to charge £5 for the baggage hold this year, which just added to the frustrations of many people. Needless to say, I decided to keep my stuff in my car boot at Alma Road, and was lucky not needing the loo.

I was glad to have started in the first wave because I also found out later that the marshals had run out of water at certain feeding stations, leaving many slower runners parched which is not great when it is so hot. This was the first race I decided not to take my water bottle with me, knowing about the water stations, but hearing about all this, I know I was taking my chances!

field

Beautiful flowery meadows greeted us right after the start

bridgerun

The route was packed with some great views

trailshade

We all welcomed the shade on the trails in the first half of the route

Going back to the positives – I am really pleased with my finishing time and therefore I’m cautiously declaring myself to be back in the long distance game 🙂 The run itself went remarkably well – my knees were cooperating, my energy levels stayed stable all the way through (which I put down to good nutrition and hydration in the weeks leading up to this day); and despite the rising heat and very little shade in the second half, I managed to keep a constant pace and not succomb to the elements. I made sure to take a cup of water at every feeding station and properly empty its contents, even if it meant having to slow down a bit temporarily. In times like these, I always pick someone who does not stop to drink and then I try to catch up with them after drinking.

My mental strategy was to divide the total distance into manageable segments and choose a guiding motto for each:

  • First 5km – Warmup and settling into my race pace.
  • 10.5km – Halfway through, let’s step it up a gear (if I am feeling good), the path ahead is clear.
  • 16km – Game on, the real race begins! (And this is where I consumed the only gel I picked up from one of the feeding stations as I was starting to flag a bit.)

Just as I remembered, there was no shade once we reached River Bray at halfway point so we were more exposed to the elements; and the final km was the longest ever km of my life which seemed to never end! When the going gets tough like this, I always try to spur myself on with some mental tricks which do work for me quite well:

  • I pick a person in front of me (a ‘mark’) and I imagine tying a lasso to that person and have them pull me along.
  • I remind myself that the pain is only temporary and how great and proud I will feel in the finish line if I achieve my goal.
  • I think about all the good things in life that keep me going: my Hubby, our pussycats, my extended family etc. How good it will be to relax with them after the race.
  • I remind myself to be thankful for this discomfort because running is a gift to me – I never take running for granted especially after my two dreadful injuries.
  • I tell myself that I have faith in the amount of training and prehab work I had put into all of this. I tell myself I could not have possibly done more to prepare myself for the race.
  • I check my form and focus on running efficiently to distract myself from the discomfort – strong glute drive, legs slightly apart (not brushing at each other at any point), quick cadence and short strides, shoulders relaxed and arms pumping to and backwards, tall posture with abs tight, slightly falling forwards landing on the mid or forefoot.
  • If all else fails, I yell at myself like a coach would: Come ooooon, you can do this!!! This usually helps get myself worked up so much that I can pull off a sprint finish no matter how knackered I feel by this time.

I felt elated when I finally burst through the finish line. After catching my breath again, I rewarded myself with a yummy white chocolate-raspberry flavoured protein bar I had my eyes on before we started. (Another good trick when you do a race is to make sure you have something to look forward to when you finish – something edible is usually a good incentive for me LOL).

medal smile

Posing with my hard-earned medal

finisher

Windsor Castle towering above Alexandra Gardens in the background

Despite the shabby logistics which impacted a few less fortunate people than me, I would still recommend this race because it is a real gemstone and I personally had a fantastic on both occasions I did this race, but make sure you come early and prepared. Also it goes without saying that you always should read the race brief properly so that you are not caught out by surprise on the actual day itself about logistical stuff such as baggage drop, where to park, where the feeding stations are on the route etc.!

I think I have got back my long distance mojo and after celebrating my success, I am already setting my eyes on the next challenge – keep tuned in for more 🙂

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