Unexpected Victory at the Windsor River Trail Half

I don’t often do the same races many times in a row, however, the Windsor River Trail Half Marathon by F3 events is a definite exception. This was my third time completing it, and my 9th half marathon this year, coming close to getting 12 of them under my belt as my personal challenge for 2017. This post is slightly introspective, so you might want to check out the reviews I wrote in previous years in 2016 and 2014 with more details on the logistics.

Why do I love this race so much? I just can’t get enough of the tranquil beauty and wildlife that accompanies me throughout the whole race by the banks of River Thames and River Bray. I also like the fact that this is a pancake flat, circular route, so you get plenty of variety as you run from Windsor to Maidenhead and then back again, on traffic free paths.

I was pleased to see that F3 Events had put on an autumn special this year, as I was focussing on the Wings for Life race in Cambridge in May which is when the spring version of this event takes place.

One change I noticed this time is that the organisers were encouraging runners to collect their race number before the event – which I was not very pleased about as I did not want to use my precious time at the weekend for a nearly two hour round trip only to pick up a piece of paper (plus spend extra money on parking). Fortunately, there was an option to pick up the race number on the day, so I went with that option, even though that timeslot was primarily for international runners and ‘emergencies’. Thankfully, no one even raised an eyebrow when I showed up on the day in the information tent; by the look of things, many other runners had the same kind of thinking as me.

Now, onto the positives. The reception at the race HQ was friendly and I was happy to see plenty of snacks and hot drinks; one of the sponsors of the event was High 5 sports nutrition who were offering free electrolyte drinks at the finish and free energy gels on the course. As I crossed the bridge to head to the starting point from race HQ on the other side of the river, I was surprised to see how much smaller scale this autumn event was in comparison to the spring event. Perhaps the marathon that was happening on the same day attracted more runners? Had I known this, I would not have rocked up at sunrise to secure a parking spot at the Alma Road car park, there were plenty of spaces left even close to the starting time.

The weather seemed to play ball on the day of the race – after a grotty start, the sun decided to peek its head out of the clouds. This was perfect as I was feeling a bit chilly, and I was glad I had decided to run in a T-shirt rather than a long sleeved top which seemed to be what the majority of people were wearing – I knew I would get warm once we started running.

The ‘speedy Gonzaleses’ were released a few minutes earlier than the rest of us to avoid tripping over in each other on the narrower trails, but given that there were only about 230 of us, at no point did the course feel crowded, and I had plenty of room for manoeuvre all along.

As we were waiting to be released, I spotted a lady with the biggest boobs I had ever seen. Conjuring up some scenarios in my head about various ways to keep the boobs under control during running was a good distraction from my race day nerves.

When we finally hit the trails, I had no plans to bust out a fast half marathon time. I had been feeling really stressed and anxious because of work in the weeks leading up to this race, so I decided not place any kind of pressure on myself as I already had enough of that at work. I was happy just to enjoy the atmosphere and soak in the scenery.

I know from my own experience that if you are chronically stressed, this could seriously derail your fitness goals and your progress. A new study in the Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology found that mental burnout significantly affected physical performance. Physical and mental fatigue affect the same region of the brain, so if you are mentally fatigued, you will likely be physically fatigued as well which will have a knock-on effect on your performance. Mental stress impacts the body in many different ways, including impaired motor coordination, slower recovery, and higher risk of injury. Here is an interesting article which explores this topic in more detail.

Despite all odds, I was feeling surprisingly energetic, and I found myself settle into a relatively fast pace. So I made a deal with myself that I would maintain that pace as long as I was feeling OK with it. Whenever I felt my energy drop slightly, I kept telling myself that I would rather be out running all day than having to spend one more day at work! I know it’s sad, but it seemed to do the trick for me. I even lost ‘Boobs’ somewhere. I got caught slightly off-guard at one point as a tall and heavy looking guy overtook me as we were passing Dorney Lake. I lovingly nicknamed him as ‘Mr Meat Tower’ and from then onwards, my sole focus became to reclaim my hard-earnt position in the race from him. (I am sure I have been given nicknames as well by other runners… obviously it’s always best to treat it as a compliment and as a sign of making an impact with your presence, rather than irritation which may be caused when someone overtakes you or  glues themselves to your heels. You’ve gotta earn that nickname! My best guess for my nickname would be ‘Pink Sausage’ after how my legs look in my favourite running pants, or ‘Goofy Ponytail’ after my running hairstyle.)

My legs just carried on as we hit 5k, 10k, 13k, I was completely in the zone. The familiar trails where my Hubby and I run regularly at the weekends were also spurring me on near Maidenhead.

I was really starting to feel tired around 14kms, yet, I somehow managed to close the gap between myself and Mr Meat Tower which was even more reason to keep pushing on. It was time to pull out my two biggest guns which I was reserving precisely for these deciding moments in the race. I gulped down a sachet of luxurious Chocolate Outrage Gu gel and plugged in my iPod at last, administering at full blast Goldfrapp’s Systemagic and the rest of the songs on my newest playlist to keep me going on the final stretch. This worked a treat as I was not only able to pick up the pace again but I also managed to overtake some tired looking runners, including Mr Meat Tower himself which was most satisfying.

Despite the hard effort, I was feeling really good with a steady pulse rate and on a high. Running past the ‘bridge with the hundred holes’ I knew that only a couple of kms were separating me from the finish line and some coffee. I was heavily relying on my music to keep myself going and not give into the temptation to ease back. At that stage, my estimated best finish time seemed to be around the 1 hour 53 minute mark. Kesha’s Let ‘Em Talk with Eagles of Death Metal was a real life-saver and helped me whizz up the bridge near the Sports Centre overtaking even more people; Sia’s Move Your Body seemed to be a very fitting final song to see me through the finish line. At last, praise the Lord!

Looking at my watch, I was happy to register I had finished in 01:52:57 (with special emphasis on that 3 second gain!), but only later on did I realise that I had managed to run my best half marathon time this year, defying all odds. I felt I had totally defied science – I expected myself to do rubbish given what I had been through at work, but the exact opposite have happened. Perhaps completely letting go of the pressures and just taking the lead from my body was the key to this unexpected success? Needless to say, I am over the moon and I am looking forward to some well-deserved rest and pampering with some holidays booked for the second half of October.

What race have you done the most times?

 

 

 

 

 

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Photo credits: http://www.rknightphotography.co.uk/CyclingSports

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