So it’s 5am, its -2 degrees, its April Fools’ Day and we’re driving two and half hours down to Reading, gammy leg and all, with our return journey entirely dependent on people having left enough fuel in the pumps to get us home. You couldn’t make it up.
We leave the dogs behind. Daughter is home and can do the squeaky hot dog throwing, during the two hour window that these students can manage to stay awake.
The weather is soon warming up as wander across the gravelly car park that doubles as the race village, please tarmac it, and head to the start. By 10am, it's really quite pleasant. Sunny but still cool. In short, perfect race conditions, for anyone who’s fit enough to take advantage of them. E.g. not me.
I have a red number and a guaranteed spot in the front 10% of the race, just behind the Kenyans but I'm not there. Instead I'm stood next to a sign the says ‘2 hours’. Which is roughly where all the duck costumes, the tutus, those dressed up as pieces of fruit and others who are not taking it quite so seriously hang out. Well apart from the bananas, the bananas are always up front. Of course, there’s L too. Pretending not to take it seriously and publicly happy with anything under three hours but actually set to be gutted if she doesn’t break 2:15.
Sally Gunnell, Natasha Danvers and Reading FC chairman Sir John Madejski start the race but the Reading chairman is the only one of the three who joins in with the race. Danvers has an Olympics on her mind but Gunnell’s excuse of being ‘retired’ must have seemed a bit hollow as she watched the 70 year old Madejski disappear down the road.
Fair play to the football club who fielded quite a team including manager Brian McDermott and their furry mascot Kingsley the Lion. The lion kept out of my way, which was wise of him.
Back here in 2 hour land nothing actually happens when the race ‘starts’. I’m used to skipping across the line about 20 seconds or so after said Kenyans but not today, not back here. Somebody needs to devise some entertainment for these people while they wait for that start line to come into view.
It seems like an eternity but is actually ‘only’ 13 minutes before our race is finally underway and we can start the process of weaving around those who have started in too advanced a position for their ability. This is worse for us 2 hour-ers because back here so many people run two or three abreast chatting, creating a much wider road block, oblivious to the swearing of those behind them. Try that up front and somebody would have cracked you over the head with a bottle of Lucozade Sport or worse, poured the toxic liquid all over you. ‘Sorry mate, my hand slipped’. Seen it done.
Nor do we get people dropping bottles in the middle of the road. Tut tut. Nor do we get camel’s overtaking us... Oh, the shame. I reassure myself. It’s just a training run, stay cool. Don’t look at L grinning at you.
In a way I’m actually enjoying the leisurely pace. Although at 9:30 per mile, I’m currently towing L, who is behind me, ahead of her schedule and we stay at a solid 10:00 minute mile pace or less for the first six miles.
The crowds are out in force throughout Reading. In places where the route wasn’t barriered off they were encroaching on the route, narrowing the road, Tour de France style. Which was rather thrilling. Unfortunately in the centre of the town, shoppers took advantage of this by rushing across in gaps that weren’t there, causing some nasty moments and a few collisions. So barriers are required there, in places where watching isn’t going to be the primary activity and where ‘normal life’ hasn’t ceased. If you can call shopping normal life that is.
Meanwhile I’m still having a bit of camel trouble. The damn thing passes me three times, so I can only assume it does so, and then hides for a bit so that it can embarrass me all over again. Not funny. It’s given the chap next to me the hump or so he says. He makes not comment when the Gingerbread men come past us. I too am lost for words.
It’s enough to drive you to drink, so fortuitously at around seven and a half miles I’m hoping to get one. It was somewhere around here last year, just around a left hand bend. I move over to the left to make sure I don’t miss it. Yep, there it is. A pub dispensing its beer in little plastic cups so that you can top up your carbohydrates and anaesthetise your gammy leg, if you have one, all in one go. How thoughtful. I grab one and stop briefly to drink it.
I’m surprised to see L follow me and grab one too. Ever the professional though, she won’t stop to drink it and ends up giving half to me. Not a problem.
The leg is coping ok, although I do slow to walk on a steep but short incline in the city centre, causing L to suspect the leg has gone again but I’m just been cautious.
After 8 miles, L encourages me to push on ahead, if I so wish. I decide to test the leg out a bit and go off in search of Gingerbread men and that bloody camel, which is presumably hiding somewhere. No sign. Instead I come across a caterpillar powered by several army blokes, all in full army kit. Kudos for that. I reel them in, and then I put Scooby Doo to the sword before stalking Elvis all the way along the dual carriage way that makes up mile eleven. Still no sign of the damn camel.
The ‘pushing on’ does bring a few twinges to the leg, so it’s only a very gentle push on taking me back to around 9:30 pace at best. Well short of what I’d do if I was 100%.
Then after the out and back last mile in front of the Madjeski Stadium, it’s into the stadium itself for the finish. Which didn’t seem quite as impressive as last year. I’m sure last year they had people sat opposite the entrance, so that a wall of faces and sound hit you when you hobbled in. Rather than to the side and behind, as today. Never mind, it’s still good.
2:09 is my slowest half marathon ever but it was still an enjoyable run. L is a mere four minutes behind me.
I have a few gripes about the post-finish which was in too much of a confined area and water should have been handed out first not last. No t-shirt of course. Which is always a major downer; I’m not one for medals. A great goodie bag though, rammed full of both useful and useless things.
All in all, a grand day out again. One that I might have to pencil in the diary to repeat again, due to not being able to give this one my full attention.
We have a picnic in the car park as we await the gridlock to ease before embarking on the long journey home where the dogs await a rather delayed park session. A park session that we manage to ensure ends up in the Admiral Rodney pub.
The race results show that even if I’d been fit I couldn’t have kept pace with the likes of Kipyego, Chemugo and Martelletti who led the field home. Nor for that matter the first fruit home, a banana of course, in 1:22.
John Madejski did an impressive 02:29 beating his manager Brian McDermott's 02:37. We must have passed both of them. Their chip and gun times are so similar, that they obviously both started at the front.
Of course the bad news is that a chap collapsed and died at the finishing line, which puts everything into perspective.
(Sunday 1st April)