There is absolutely no other way to describe this half marathon but by it’s apt title – The Slog. That is the first word that came to my mind on finishing.
A few of our running friends mentioned this half to Ben and me and persuaded us to do it (who am I kidding that I need persuading to do a half marathon? Favourite distance!) It’s described as off-road, challenging and undulating/hilly. I’d go ahead and remove the word undulating and just stick with plain old hilly. Going into this I had only one real goal: to finish uninjured. I had a soft goal of finishing in under 2:15 but finishing uninjured was most important.
That is some sweet elevation. Maybe nothing compared to some hardened hill-loving runners out there, but for this road racer it was a shock.
My main worry was flaring my hip issue up again. Remember Endure? Yeah off-road stuff doesn’t seem to help things. But all body parts felt good so I thought just give it a bash, have some fun and enjoy the scenery. It’s not a goal race for me and I needed to do 13 miles.
We met up with a small number of fellow Hedgies and enjoyed the very lovely facilities. Not a portable loo in sight.
It was all very relaxed, friendly and had a local feeling to it. There was a marathon relay going on but there was only 150ish runners for the half.
At 10.30am we stood in a huddle at the start and the race director counted down and shouted “go!”
I bombed it straight away. Hear me out, my logic was “run as fast as you can while you’re able”. I knew the elevation would rip into me so I thought I’d go for it while I could. The two mum’s cheered us on (then headed to the coffee shop, bless them. My dad had already headed out to his spectator spot further on).
The first few miles were through woodland area and it instantly felt like one of my much loved (*cough*) RR10s so my speed was somewhat limited. Well ,what was I expecting?
Depressingly several women overtook me almost straight away. Massive respect to them though, I didn’t see them again for the rest of the race. I saw my dad at this point. I love my dad but why does he feel the need to tell me how many girls are in front of me? Like I’m going to catch them?! He’s as competitive as me!
Anyway mile two came and another girl overtook me and stayed just ahead. We played a bit of position-swapping for a while until I managed to absolutely cane it on a downhill and get enough distance between us to not see her again.
Mile five was an absolute BEAST. We hit this mountain hill and I made a feeble attempt to continue running and realised it was causing more harm then good. Everyone else had started walking so I joined in. No shame.
As we finally got to the top, we ran freely across some fields with such beautiful views. I had my phone and I thought if ever there was a time for a race selfie, now’s it.
I don’t remember every single mile, but there was lots of running through fields, up and over stiles, through kissing gates, up hill and after hill. I broke the race into three parts. There was a drinks station just before 3 miles, half way and just before 9 miles. So I went with those segments, knowing at mile 10 the significant hills had finished and it was just a parkrun left.
I didn’t bother looking at my watch because a) the mile markers were out from it (as expected) and b) my pace was all over the place with the hills. So I just put in some effort and tried to keep going. I won’t lie, before halfway I wanted to stop. It was very warm and I was being destroyed by the inclines. I should have taken water with me as I was desperately thirsty between the drinks stations. And my heart rate monitor was chafing so much so that I had to take it off.
I had taken some mango puree with me to try on the race in place of a gel.
I saw my dad again at the last drinks station and was far happier by this point. He asked if I was on target but I didn’t know how to answer as I didn’t really have a target. It was nice to see him and I gave him the mango puree and my sweaty HR monitor as a thank you 😉
The drinks stations were so different to what I usually find at road racers. I would usually grab one and keep running as I drink. But everyone would fully stop at the station, grab a drink and almost leisurely drink it before toddling on. I followed suit – lovely and relaxed!
I got back on the trail and was off again. I was in such good spirits at this point. I was surviving! I wasn’t able to catch another woman ahead of me sadly – though we also played the overtake game as well. She was amazing at the uphills and by the end she was a blip in the horizon. By this point I was firmly set in my position and was happy to remain that way following the people in front. The runners were very stretched out though so sadly no in-race conversation happened. It felt a bit lonely at times.
On the last mile I was visualising the 13 mile marker that we saw when we drove in towards the car park. The last mile was all through woodland on a narrow path and I knew when we got out of there I’d see the sign and it would be the home straight. I saw a family walking ahead and they kindly moved to the side. I ran past and shouted “one mile left!” they cheered and laughed.
I broke free of the lovely shade and saw the mile marker and the two mums. They clapped and cheered and it was brilliant. Then a nice 500m downhill to the finish.
Whew! I got as much water as I could and then stumbled back to the two mums to collapse in a heap and cheer the other runners on.
I felt exhausted! But in a good way.
My official time was 1:53:09 and fifth female. What I’m really chuffed about is that I beat my target and I beat my half marathon time from last year’s off-road crazy hilly Cheddar Gorge race (I think I got 1:58 something). But I found it so much harder than Cheddar Gorge. There were just so many uphills and inclines.
Ben ran past and we cheered him on. He finished in 2:09:16.
He didn’t have a great race. His ankle is still not 100% and it was fairly uneven underfoot. Ben also doesn’t run well (his words not mine) in the heat. He really struggles when it gets too hot. But considering he did Cheddar Gorge in 2:52 he did amazingly.
My heart rate monitor had ravaged my chest and was so painful.
Apologies for the tummy shot!
OK it doesn’t look that brutal there at all but I assure you it is raw and even worse under the sports bra – like hideous. I almost cried in the shower later when the water hit it. So so painful. I had tried the Polar HR monitor strap a few days previously with the Garmin monitor bit as I’d heard that was better but it kept popping off. I really like wearing it though for the extra data. I need more Vaseline I think (or any, I’d forgotten to put some on…). Good job I’m not going anywhere requiring a bikini!!
As some consolation, I managed to swag a bit of birthday cake that had been presented to one of the runners pre-race.
My dad appeared a little while after Ben had finished. He’d walked a fair way to see us at that 10 mile point and had just made it back. I’m so proud of him for walking so far and trying to be more healthy (he’s trying to lose weight) and also so grateful for him being so supportive of our running. But when he moaned to me about his one blister, I may have wanted to punch him.
On leaving the race the race director told us to wait as he grabbed two platters of cake to give us and thanked us all (the Hedge End guys) for coming. How nice is that??
And then we all said goodbye and the parents and us headed to find food for lunch. At this point I was actually OK without food considering I’d just eaten two bits of cake fairly quickly and I’m never that hungry post race.
We found a lovely pub in Rowlands Castle (disappointingly, there is no castle) and I had a nice goat’s cheese and beetroot salad which ordinarily I might have scoffed at as it was quite small with literally four ingredients (leaves, bit of onion, goat’s cheese, beetroot). But it was perfect for my cake-filled (though heart-rate monitor ravaged) tummy.
I have to say all in all this race was the hardest race I’ve ever done. The heat, hills and uneven terrain just killed any sort of speed and killed my legs. But it was challenging in a way that invigorated me. Pace isn’t everything in a race. The scenery, the camaraderie, the feeling of completing something bloody hard just made the race for me. Everyone nodding to each other at the end like “we survived, we are invincible”. You can’t buy that feeling of accomplishment.
What’s the hardest race you’ve ever done?
Do you wear a HR monitor – does it ever chafe you? How do you solve this??
If you had to choose hills and cool weather or heat and flat, what would you choose?