There’s nothing quite as good as using a race as a training run, especially for a long run. You’re running with others, there’s a set course so you don’t need to worry about where to go, it’s catered and you get a medal.
With three weeks until Bournemouth a few of us decided to sign up to the Bath Two Tunnels Railway race series. One of my friends wanted to race it because he’s in great shape and PB’d in a training run for his current half marathon time but wanted to see if he could make it ‘official’. His pace was around my long run speed and I didn’t feel up to racing the half so decided to run with him and try to help him.
Another one of my friends, Kate, decided to race the 10k and a few more from the club were doing the half and one the marathon (her first marathon!). Kate, Mike and me travelled down to Bath on the day which meant me being picked up at 6.30am on the Sunday (ouch). It would take about 2 hours to get there and Kate’s race started an hour before ours. I had a banana bread Trek bar and an Americano for pre-race fuel to keep things simple and we arrived at the park and ride in good time. It was all very smooth and easy to get to, though it didn’t feel like we went that far on the park and ride bus to be honest!
We met up with the other club mates and then milled around on the large grassy expanse. Relish Running are the race organisers and I’ve done quite a few races with them now (Cheddar Gorge being one of them). I would say that while they do put on good races, there are some rough edges…Their website isn’t that clear for finding information out and you don’t find out crucial race information (like start times) until much closer to the time. We had more emails about them needing marshals than the race itself. That said, the races are always very scenic and personal-feeling because they’re quite small.
The race area for the short colour race
There were several races going on and different waves and start times which was a bit confusing! We got to cheer off the marathon-runner, Lisa-Lou, and then cheer off Kate.
Then we had just less than an hour to hang about…we watched some very strange warm-up routine going on while which was somewhat amusing.
Just as Kate finished (she came second female and PB’d – whoop whoop!) we got ready to start.
The start was on grass which was a bit annoying. Anyway we headed off at a comfortable pace. Straight away it was clear this wasn’t going to be an easy race for me, or an easy PB-achieving race for Mike. It seemed to go uphill straight away and just felt tough from the outset.
We got to the first tunnel fairly quickly. It was about 400m long. It was nice and cool inside and fairly dark. We were slightly behind our target pace but due to the uphills at the beginning we weren’t stressing about it because we believed we could pick it up later.
The next tunnel came around quickly afterwards. It was about a mile long, very dark (with cat’s eye lights), narrow and very chilly. It was novel at first but then it got to be a bit wearing. It felt like you were on a treadmill as there was nothing really to look at. As none of the roads were closed quite a few cyclists had to navigate past us (runners going both ways as a 10k wave were coming back) which made things a bit tricky. There was a radio playing classical music which was nice and atmospheric so that’s something.
The tunnels, as expected, buggered up our Garmins. My watch was completely out from the mile markers so I just used the stopwatch and try and do the maths as we ran. The mile markers though seemed to be out as well. We got to five miles far too soon (it would have been close to my PB, which we definitely weren’t!) and this meant we were left running blind, just going on feel.
Race selfie required
The race had been advertised as fast and flat but it clearly wasn’t either. There were some nasty steep inclines, steep steps to navigate down and twisty turns. I found the course quite challenging and I know Mike was struggling too. I think we were both tired from marathon mileage and a bit misled by what we thought would be a PB-potential course. As we chugged up a really steep hill I asked a marshal (or gasped), “I thought this was supposed to be flat?” and he laughed and replied with an evil grin “Yes, compared to our other races”…having run a few of their other races I could agree. But they shouldn’t mislead people by saying it’s flat!
The course was beautifully scenic though, as you can expect with running in the rural parts of Bath. We ran a very long stretch down a canal and it was lovely. Though again we were constantly moving out of the way for cyclists, and some who were rather impatient and I’m sure expected us to jump in the canal to move out of the way!
Our pace had dropped and Mike decided that a PB was never going to happen. Mentally, physically and the course just went against us. I felt fatigued as well despite the pace being “easy”. So we settled in to a slightly more comfortable pace (though we really had no idea how well or badly we were doing with our watches being funny) and I yabbered away about fluff and nonsense to keep Mike’s mind off the race. It’s tough pacing someone in a race because you don’t know how much to talk and how much to push.
At least I could take lots of photos and selfies 😉
And also finding conversations that didn’t require much from the other person so they could just listen. I’m sure I bored Mike to tears about my house moving problems! 😉
In true Relish Running style, the feed stations were very good. Lots of sweet and savoury options and electrolytes, flat Coke/lemonade and plain water. And gluten-free options! The marshals were very helpful and friendly as well.
As we got closer to the finish, with two miles to go, Mike started struggling more. I tried to encourage him without annoying him. We had a moment of respite at a set of traffic lights that we had to push the button and wait until it was red to go (yes, this is a legitimate part of the route and you can get disqualified for not waiting for the light). It was warm and the undulations still kept going. Right to the end (through a residential area) there just seemed to be incline after incline.
The final straight before the grass finish (thank you Kate for the photo!)
We finally finished and both agreed it was a tough race and not one we’d do again. The course was pretty but there was a lot of running along canals which got a bit tiresome, and the hills we just weren’t prepared for. And without knowing your pace and miles it made it mentally quite tricky. I don’t blame Mike at all for giving up on his PB-attempt. I absolutely couldn’t have got a PB on that course! Especially not at the moment.
My time was 1:56:11 (Mike was just after me) which I’m a little disappointed with I must say considering we were aiming for 1:45-48. But these things happen. The race organisers also said afterwards that they measured the course as 13.4 miles. We got some good miles in and we came out uninjured so that is a good race result three out from a marathon!
Afterwards Kate, Mike and I headed back to the park and ride bus and then drove to find something to eat. We found a lovely pub, called the Red Lion, where the menu was amazing and we all found a few things we could easily have had. I went for the butcher’s board which had chicken wings, pulled pork, chorizo, chicken liver pate, sour cream, chutney and bread.
It was fantastic! So, so good. Kate had the pulled pork pizza and that looked amazing too. The perfect end to a rather tough training run!
Do you like to know a race elevation profile before running it? If I’m not bothered about times (for me or pacing someone) then I don’t mind.
Do you prefer a city or a rural race?
What do you like to find on a feed station in a race?