Bristol Half Marathon, 2011

2011-09-11, , Comments

The half marathon I enjoyed most was the first one I ran, the Bath half, back in … I’m not even sure, 12 years ago? I didn’t know if I’d be able to finish because I hadn’t run the distance in training, so I started slowly.

As the race progressed I realised I would finish, no problem, and I remember overtaking people in the second loop and sprinting the last stretch along Great Pulteney Street, crossing the line with a time of 1:42:15. Oh, I felt just great!

Since then I’ve run a few more half marathons and at each one I’ve gone faster. At first I hacked chunks from my personal best but as time went on I was reduced to chipping away smaller gains. In 2003 I went below an hour and a half at Bristol, beating Steve Cram. In 2006 I returned to Bath and clocked 1:23:14. Wow! I didn’t think I could better that but running the same event in 2007 I got down to 1:21:58 — which meant running the first 9 miles at a speed of 6 minutes and 15 seconds per mile and then running the final 4 miles at the same speed, even though at every step every bit of me wanted it to end.

On that day I retired from half marathons. I couldn’t go any faster and I couldn’t face up to going any slower and I hurt and I had had enough.

I kept running though. Cross country is my favourite, all weather, all terrain. I started going out with a group close to where I live, on Gower. Sand dunes, wooded tracks, marshland. Cefn Bryn from all faces. I joined a club in Bristol, where I work, threading through the alleyways and parkland of North Bristol. Then I hooked up with some friends for training runs on Wednesday lunchtimes.

GBR_1140

Earlier this year, 6 March 2011, and friends from all of these groups were running the Bath half marathon. The weather was good. I was in fine form. As I said in an email to Andy:

I’m thinking my build-up for the Bath half has been pretty much perfect, except for my failure to enter, that is.

Andy went on to finish the race in a time of 1:21:51 — fully half a second a mile faster than I’d ever run. That did it! Later that week I signed up for the Bristol half marathon, to be run on September 11th 2011.

Today.

In the years since I’ve been away, the Bristol half has become a huge event. I’d been assigned a white number which meant I’d be starting in the first section of the first wave. It still took me over 30 seconds to pass beneath the start line and I spent the first couple of miles dodging joggers with ipods and sharp elbowed veterans. Beneath the suspension bridge the race stretched out. I galloped along the portway. Soon after doubling back at Shirehampton I pulled alongside someone I knew.

“Is that Neil?”

“Tom, How’s it going?”

“Too damn fast. I’m going too fast.”

“Nah, you’re fine!”

I shook my head. I was going too fast but I couldn’t slow down. Even though I was hurting and hadn’t even gone halfway I let momentum take me past Neil and on to Spike Island. Already I wanted it over.

The route came back to the centre of town then cruelly swerved out again on an unwelcome tour of the sights. Great for spectators. Cobbles. Ramps. Grafitti. I was being overtaken. Falling away. Neil came smoothly past.

“Well done mate,” I muttered.

400m to go. At least I had space around me. Noone passed me in the final straight.

I pressed the button on my stop watch and collapsed, wiped out. I hurt and I knew I was going to hurt more tomorrow and the day after. There was Neil. I eased up on to my feet, started moving, slowly.

1:22:14.94

1:22:14 my watch said.

As the event has grown bigger they’ve figured out how to organise it. You aren’t allowed to pile-up round the finish line snatching goodie bags and hugging loved ones. They keep the exhausted, elated runners moving past a succession of hand-outs: space blanket, water, medal, banana, T-shirt, energy drink, leaflet, bag … and after this personal awards ceremony you emerge light-headed into the sunshine in millenium square.

Neil ran 1:22:06, comfortably. For him, this was a training run: he’s looking for a fast time in Stroud. My official time, online now, is 1:22:15. That’s over a second a mile slower than I’ve run before. I give in.