Monday, 3 April 2017

Event Review : Oxford half

The second half of last year was a bit of a disaster in terms of training. I just didn't do enough. No excuses, I could have, but I didn't make it a priority. New relationship, building the business, getting to know the two new little people in my life... all these things were put over and above training runs, save for those I went on with my beloved, and so it was no surprise that the Vitality Oxford Half, that I'd planned as my sub-2-hour attempt, didn't go to plan.
Support crew
Billed as being a flat course, well organised, under the management of Vitality, and late in the season, Oxford seemed like the perfect half marathon attempt. It was a bright day, temperatures were good and I was feeling psyched up to give it a go. I'm not sure whether I believed I could get a sub-2hour but I thought I could have a crack at breaking my PB that has stood at 2:10 for years. My support crew of Dean and the children hurtled up the motorway to the park and ride that we'd pre-booked for £6. Hearts sank at the length of the queue to get on the bus but in fairness it moved pretty swiftly and we were soon making the walk through the town centre to the start pens. No need to go to the race village as I'd already got my race pack and left my bag with Dean.
On the start line
The start pens wound all around the city centre, hemmed in by old buildings and narrow streets. It was very picturesque. We were set off in waves according to time so I didn't start for several minutes after the gun went off but it all flowed fairly well. I do remember there being a bit of a bottleneck somewhere but I can't remember where so it really can't have been that bad. We started winding around the city with plenty of support on the side lines. As we ventured further out there were fewer people but rarely a stretch where there was no cheering. Several music acts were dotted along the route, something I always enjoy, and all in all it was very pleasant.
Medals on the start line
My legs felt good at this point and I had a good pace. I felt as though I could hang on to it and if I had, I'd have achieved my target. Dean and my parents were following me on the tracker and were rooting for me... but at about half way, despite taking my gel and staying hydrated, I started to slow. We were in the area with least support, a long out and back with some underpasses that felt like mountains to my suddenly heavy legs. I tried giving myself a stern talking to, picking up my heels, my knees, driving my arms, all the things I coach my runners to do, but to no avail... I just tried to keep moving as best I could. It was a little bit heartbreaking, not to be able to summon up any more speed but I knew I'd have to get to the finish line so left foot, right foot, the body followed. The pack hadn't really thinned out at all so I had plenty of people to wash my along and as we headed back towards the centre the support grew again.
Feeling shuffly at the end
I was run-walking in the last couple of miles and feeling pretty sorry for myself. Doing maths on my pace and time to see what could be salvaged. In the end I crossed the line in 2:11 which actually wasn't too shabby, but I know I could have had a more comfortable and quicker race had I put the training in that I had intended. Lesson learned.
Big smile after 13.1 miles... and a nice bit of bling to show for it
Over the finish line and goody bag in hand, medal around neck, I found Dean and the children for much needed hugs. They'd passed the time in the race village listening to Chico, playing and snacking. We'd worried that they'd get bored but they actually seemed to be pretty entertained and even enjoyed a bit of spectating - so a big tick for a family friendly event!

The £35 entry fee got me a t-shirt, snacks, drinks, the usual array of discount vouchers and a nice medal. We spent some time back at the race village for a picnic before finding the bus to return to the park and ride. It was all a pretty smooth operation and I would absolutely consider entering again. I don't say that too often but let's face it, there's unfinished business there now! All the Vitality events I've entered so far have been well organised, if on the large side, and I'd recommend them. As a company they promote healthy living for all the family and so are particularly good as an opportunity to get youngsters involved with some mini marathons and plenty of offers to encourage you to stay active.

Post race picnic
It's unlikely I'll attempt another half marathon PB this year as the focus is on triathlon and ultras (oh and a wedding) but 2018 might be the year... I'm starting to get people comment on how I look as though I should be faster and that there is fighting talk!

Have you taken part in a Vitality event? What are your best family-friendly event recommendations? Going for a PB attempt this year?

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