From time to time, I like to sign up to races I have done before – to challenge myself to beat my previous course record, and simply to have a guaranteed good time knowing I had enjoyed the route before. This was no different with the Up Tow, Down Flow half marathon which I completed with my friend Bori for the first time, on one of the hottest days in 2013 and then choose to do again last weekend.
This year I am trying to do one longer key race each season, rather than go with the pattern (or lack of) I used to follow before – namely to do every single race in the vicinity I can afford, rain or shine. Part of my reason for doing this is the fact that this year for me is all about quality before quantity and nailing down the basics every time I train – good form, injury prevention, big focus on nutrition and functionality in the gym.
I can’t say that I was putting a lot of focus into my running specific training following completing the Windsor River Trail Half in May as I was slightly carried away settling into a new routine in the new gym I started to go to in June. Putting that aside, I ended up running a decent time, in fact 6 minutes faster than in 2013, with my knees and ITB not playing up at all. The best thing of all is that I recovered really quickly and I am now finally getting back my long distance running mojo. (Although I still need to constantly remind myself not to go berserk).
Back to the race: this time we did the route the other way round, i.e. we started from Alexandra Gardens in Windsor and then ran back to Marlow alongside the river. I very much preferred the route starting from this end as the whole race had a ‘coming home’ kind of feeling to it which proved to be especially helpful in the second half when things started to feel harder.
Given that I started in the first wave and carefully positioned myself just behind the ‘speedy Gonzaleses’, I had enough space for myself throughout the whole race (in fact, sometimes I could barely see any other people around me!), without having to dodge too many people or getting into the way of others. This can be one of the most frustrating aspects of a race when you know you could have gone faster, but you were held up by a human congestion in the first half.
The weather was absolutely perfect – following a heat wave which lasted all week, we were all relieved to wake up to a cool and cloudy day at last. However, just in case the weather was going to get hotter, I decided to carry my water bottle to make sure I could drink whenever I needed to, without having to wait for the next drinking station to appear.
The organising was impeccable which took out a lot of stress from running a good race: I had booked myself a space for one of the buses which transported us runners from the Marlow Rugby Club car park to the starting point in Windsor. Even though I had to pay extra for the bus, I could park at the rugby club for free which made me feel somewhat compensated for having to cash out for the bus. We could pick up our race numbers and leave our bags in a baggage van in the starting point which was also very convenient; the vans then transported everything back for us into Marlow. Thumbs up!
The atmosphere was really friendly and definitely had a ‘family feel’ to it in the finish line, but I wished I had had someone to run with; sadly none of my runner friends were around to do this race with me. Never mind!
In terms of how I fared, as I mentioned earlier, I ran a decent time, but nowhere near where I wanted to finish. I put this down to my training mix, some recent emotional turmoils at home and some work related stress – all of which I am going to use as useful learnings for next time I prepare for a half. Looking at my running stats, I can see that I was gradually slowing down instead of gradually speeding up; after about 10k I started to significantly lose my momentum, with the final 2 miles feeling like light years away from the finish line. I consumed 2 gels in the second half – I really needed the first one around 14k; I had the second one just because I loved the flavour (pig!) and I knew nutrition was not going to make any difference as I was already far off from achieving my target time so I might as well enjoy myself a bit LOL. I had to resort to entertaining myself on the final 2 km’s because by that time, my brain started to get enveloped into a thick fog, so I came up with this clever little game to pass the time and to keep my focus: I went through the letters of the alphabet and in the first round, I tried to find a music band whose name began with each letter. In the next two rounds, I decided to go with cities and then countries. It was a good way to take my mind off from feeling so tired and fed up running on thick grass!
On the positive side, I genuinely had a good time enjoying some stunning views alongside the Thames Path AND I have found probably one of the best race photos ever taken of me on the event photographer’s website!
Over and out!