Wednesday, 24 February 2016

Event Review : Hampton Court Half Marathon

We're often told, as runners, to "run your own race". But what about the occasions when it's actually your job NOT to run your own race, but to run someone else's race? I don't mean the slightly shady practice of taking someone else's race number and running as "Bob Smith" but to run at a particular pace. This is what I had signed up to do for Hampton Court Half Marathon last weekend. I'd no previous experience of pacing races and although I knew I was completely capable of running the distance in the time, the weight of responsibility weighted a little heavy on my shoulders.

There are actually two Hampton Court half marathons, the second being in a few weeks time (with a more sparkly medal, so I've been told). But I'd had my eye on either for a while so it was great to get the opportunity. Race morning arrived and as I'd been instructed to arrive by 7:30 for the 8:30 start time I was rather bleary eyed as I fell into my kit and into the car, granola soaking in a tupperware pot to be eaten on the shuttle bus from Sandown Park to Esher College.
I didn't feel very awake
The park and ride cost £6, fairly reasonable, and although I found the process straightforward, I could see that queues were starting to build to get into the car park and I heard that later arrivals didn't find it so smooth. It was just a short bus ride and walk to the start village, one side of which seemed dedicated to portaloos (there were queues later but they moved quite quickly).

I quickly found Rick from Race Pacing, putting up banners and collecting race numbers for us in one end of the baggage tent. Race Pacing and Xempo were the companies behind the pacers, providing us with our places, flags and support on the day. I met my fellow pacers, some new like me, others old hands. We went through all the usual pre-race prep of pinning on numbers, making sure we had our gels etc and also fitting our back packs and flags. We drew a few curious glances from people using the bag drop and after a briefing and group photo it was nice to get out and mingle.

There were two people pacing each time slot from 1h30 up to 2h30 completion times, with one of us instructed to be at the from to the wave and one at the back. This served multiple purposes. Firstly our flags helped people to see where they should be lining up at the start. Having us spaced out also helped to reduce crowding, as it's chip time that's important so those starting further back would still have a pacer to follow, rather than all bunching up around one person.
Henry VIII in attendance. I felt small!
It took what seemed like forever to start. The front runner were set off at around 8:30am but it took us, in the 2h20 section, almost half an hour to cross the start line. I understand why, as there were so many people and the course was fairly narrow, but it was slightly annoying. It did give me a chance to chat to those around me though. I got talking to a chap who was planning to run a half marathon a month this year, and lovely RunFitter Lou surprised me with a tap on the shoulder, having kept her entry very quiet! You can read about her experience here.

Once we were underway I started to relax a little. I'd made myself a pace band and was keeping a close eye on my Garmin to ensure I wasn't going off too quickly. The aim was to achieve an even pace for the whole event. I was the rear 2h20 runner and the front pacer had quite a crowd around her from the start. Things were a little more chilled out around me. There were some PB chasers but few people stuck by my side, drifting in and out of my range as they needed to.

It was a dry, slightly breezy and overcast day, perfect for running and everyone seemed in a good mood. There were plenty of marshals on the route, which was well signed. Cars were kept well out of our way and there were plenty of pockets of support. The pace felt good in my legs and thankfully the back pack was comfortable. One thing I learnt very quickly was that I needed to be more aware of street furniture like signs and bus stops, and low branches... I was effectively 3 feet taller than usual and it only takes a couple of sudden pulls on your pack as you misjudge a tree to make you more aware!

At around the half way mark I found Adam, a guy who'd been in touch on twitter to say I was his perfect pacer for the day. It was great to have a chat with him and find out a bit more about why he was running. What was even better was to find him at the end and congratulate him on a great run. I wish him all the best for London and his fund raising efforts. You can read more about Adam's cause and sponsor him here.
Adam after the race
The last few miles of the race felt quite hard despite finally passing the race's namesake. It wasn't particularly difficult terrain, but I think the steady pace, the extra nerves and having to go round the houses a bit to the finish took a toll. But we powered in to the last half mile, PB seekers alongside me, and crossed the finish line in 2h19m15. It was the most even race I've ever run and I absolutely loved it. I got a medal and goody bag and the satisfaction of knowing it was a job well done that had helped people achieve their goals.
Thoughts on the event organisation? Well the water stations could have been longer; even though they were well spaced out along the route I wasn't able to grab a drink until about mile 9 due to over crowding. Water was in cups, which I don't mind but I heard a lot of people wishing it were bottled water. A bit more clarity on the staggered start times would have been helpful and more clear signage back to the Park & Ride bus stop would have been useful. There was a bit of a queue for the bus but that really couldn't be helped. What was quite nice was that the queue was along the route and so I was able to cheer some people on, including Lou! The goody bag was pretty well stocked. Dolmio seem to be a key sponsor this year as a few people have commented on these meals being in their goody bags at other events, but all useful or tasty treats.
Goody bag contents
Would I run it again? Probably not, although I may try the other event, but I would certainly pace again. And in fact I am pacing again at the Surrey Half Marathon on March 13th, same pace at 2h20. If you're there, do come and say hello, regardless of how fast you're intending to run. I'd love to see you and wish you a strong run! All in all a great morning and experience.

Have you run with a pacer before? Have you run either of the Hampton Court half marathons? Did you run on Sunday and if so what did you think of the event, how did you get on and did you run with a pacer? I'd love to know.

1 comment:

  1. I do love the idea of pacing a race. I've informally paced friends at parkrun events before, but have never put my name down to be an official pacer. I think I need to have more confidence in my own ability at maintaining a steady pace over longer distances first. I really admire people who do offer to pace though, and I have used pacers to help me round at several marathon events before.
    Well done on what sounds like a superb pacing attempt for the race!