As it was, as we could barely see 20 metres in front of us in the thick peasoup of a fog that made Silverstone look utterly miserable on this Sunday morning. At least we assumed we were at Silverstone, not that we could see anything. There were red and white kerbs and lots of tarmac. Huge queues to enter a muddy car park. Lots of lycra. Yep, we were there.
Being on a race course, the race itself is reasonably straight forward. I’d naively assumed it’d be flat (it wasn’t) and that each lap would be the same (they weren’t, they were 5.5, 11 and 4.5kms each). Other than that, it’s more or less as might be expected of a race on a Grand Prix circuit: wide roads and, err, well, not much else.
With half an hour to go, the fog cleared and, finally, the sun came out. Arno, running his first half marathon, was suitably unprepared having only ran up to 12km in training while Pippa was now on her fourth half and aiming for a PB. Wrapped in bin bags, we headed to the start.
The race kicks off near the pits and the main stand – they encourage you into our starting paddock quite early on which actually worked out ok as there was enough room to warm up. They leave it to you to be honest and pick the right starting group which is a potential recipe for disaster depending on runners’ honesty but it was ok, and I found myself in row 2, staring out in the distance while the clocked counted down. Disappointingly, I didn’t notice a chequered flag. Only a suicidal photographer crouching thirty meters ahead in the middle of the track (see the photo below for evidence). Whether he survived the stampede or not, I don’t know. But best wishes to his family if not anyway.
I set off reasonably comfortably at 3.30m/km – a little fast for a half but within reason to not collapse later on. Because of the long straights and lack of, well, anything else, I could keep an eye on the safety car (stretching it a little with this F1 reference) which displayed the time elapsed and the first runners for the first 5 kilometres or so. They were only running about 20 seconds/km faster than me which, while it would require superhuman extra effort for me to achieve consistently over the race, it doesn’t make them disappear into the distance too quickly on a course with no buildings, trees, or anything else to block the horizon. This also meant the course was pretty open to the elements, which I’d feel later on.
The track’s surface was the biggest surprise: I’d assumed it’d be the easiest, smoothest, of all my races but it’s actually quite pocketed and also bloody, utterly, relentlessly, painfully rock hard. I presume it’s like that to cope with the cars’ tyres so, in hindsight, it shouldn’t have been that much of a surprise. Combined with some ageing shoes (ok, they’re only 3 months old… but the sole is worn through!), it made me suffer more than I think any race has in a couple of years. A formula one commentator might have shouted a witty comment about my poor choice of Pirelli over Michelin or something.
The view, well … uninspiring is probably being kind, even with the sun out. As we cruised along, the highlight was probably going through the starting grid – ‘fun’ fact, it’s on a slope! I was keeping a good pace throughout – in actual fact, I seemed well on target to get under 1h19 for most of the race (or at least get under 1h20, my real target) – I was mentally totting up the seconds I’d banked for every kilometre I ran under 3m45/km (partly to distract from the lack of scenery) and it was looking good!
The lack of runners up front relative to the width of the road made it quite easy to follow a good running line. As I swirled around the chicanes, I was pretty sure not a single runner’d be running a shorter race than me that day.
What I hadn’t banked on was either the course being 300m too long (as all three of us running noted) or the Garmins being 1.5% out. I suspect the latter’s to blame so … damn you Garmin, damn you! With such a small margin of error to beat my target (about 3 seconds/km, or 0.5%), that was actually quite consequential aaaaand….I fell short. Frustratingly close, by 36 seconds in 1h20.35.
However, the course being surprisingly hilly (although ‘undulating’ might be fairer) and windy – especially between the 13km and 15km markers and the final mile, I think I’m in a good shape and position to finally get under 80 minutes this year. Fingers crossed. Had the UK evolved with the world and used metric signs rather than imperial, I’d have been able to check my progress on the way around too!
Once I’d finished, I zoomed around to the main spectator point at mile 10 to cheer Pippa and Arno on. I was more or less told it wouldn’t be an issue so, when Arno came by, I joined him for his last 5km to make sure he was ok to finish. As it happened, he had plenty of energy – enough even to do silly faces throughout with the photographers, and finished in 1h59.51, just under his target and 15 seconds behind Pippa, who was just shy of her PB, but was equally using all the excuses I’d come up with for not quite making her target!
All that was left after that was an insaaaaanely slow exit from the carpark. All in all, it was an interesting experience. Not necessarily one I’m likely to repeat but a good warmup for the Spring marathon season!
Time: 1h20.35 (27th/6,712)