Challenge number two – a sixth of the way there! This was the Forest of Dean half marathon, a tough but stunning 13.1 mile route through sun-dappled glades that left us with burning lungs, legs like lead but smiles on our faces (sort of…). Check out our race report below, enjoy the videos and pictures of grimacing Cozzie and find out just how important a bacon sandwich can be…
2. Forest of Dean Half Marathon – April 7, 2013
“So, challenge number two, and not before time! The long, cold freeze of winter that left the Forest of Dean under six inches of snow two weeks ago finally release its icy grip and the half marathon was rearranged for Sunday, thanks to the hard work of the local Rotary club and all the other organisers.
“And what a morning for running it turned out to be – bright, crisp and with a sun that brought a faint warmth to finally thaw our latest ice age – perfect weather for running.
“I’d expected the race to be a fairly small affair, but when we arrived at Speech House there were thousands of people there – club runners, fun runners, families and plenty of support. We had plenty of time to spare (thank you, Cozzie, for my breakfast in bed…!) and after the picking up our race numbers and chips, a loo stop (why do you always, ALWAYS need to pee at least twice before a race?!), it was straight over to the massed ranks ready to charge through the starting line.
“Half marathons – and 10ks for that matter – are brilliant, and you realise this most in the first mile or two. Friends and club mates chat about past races or who’s expected to PB on the day, and so many different people are out running. The oldest person who finished this race was 75, the youngest was 17 – it really is a sport for everybody.
“This was the first half marathon where my training was anything other than a dash to the bar and back carrying rounds of beer, so I reckoned I owed myself a decent time. Cozzie and I ran together for the first mile, but when we turned on to a dirt track off the main road she blew me a kiss (I’m pretty sure it was that – maybe she just waved a certain finger at me…) and I was off.
“There was plenty of traffic on the narrow trails, with elbows and legs flying everywhere as we raced down a long hill towards Cannop Ponds, all of us trying to get up a decent pace without blowing our guts out too early in the race.
“It’s always intriguing to see who you’re up against. You try and pick someone you think might be similar to you, only to realise they’re wearing a Royal Marines T-shirt and see them canter off into the distance while you’re struggling to catch your breath at the first sign on an uphill.
“A few miles in the course began to undulate. It’s amazing how even a tiny change in the ground reins you in, turning long strides into baby steps and leaving your heart hammering in your chest. The terrain also played more of a part than I expected, changing from Tarmac to trails with with roots and big stones under foot, meaning your body doesn’t know whether it’s coming or going.
“The course followed a long loop around a wide, well-ridden bike track, with plenty of downhills to pick up a bit of pace, but an equal number of uphills where you simply have to grit your teeth and plod through. It’s stunning scenery, but man it’s hard work! The first water station, at 5km, proved very welcome, and the further I got round the course the more glad I was to see the friendly volunteers thrusting the plastic cups out towards us.
“Half way round I realised I could have done with a banana before the race. At nine miles a handful of sweets and a shout of encouragement from a mate put a small spring in my step, but at 11 miles it turned into a bit of a slog. I’d kept 8 minute-mile pace all the way and I was hanging on for dear life to try and keep it to the end. Panting like a flogged horse, I ploughed on to the finish, playing tag with a couple of guys as we overtook each other.
“As the finish line loomed I tried to change up a gear, only to find I had nothing left in the tank. My visions of a Mo Farah-esque gallop through the tape turned into a head-back, jelly-legged stumble, but after 1 hour 46 minutes and 26 seconds I crossed the line – a new PB! I could barely lift my foot for a volunteer to cut my race chip off, but when I got my medal and downed a bottle of Lucozade I was over the moon – I’d smashed my previous best by almost six minutes, and that had been on road, which is much quicker. The winner crossed the line in something like 1 hour 16 minutes, but we won’t talk about that…
“I dragged myself to the barriers along the final stretch to cheer on the other runners, and after a few minutes Cozzie emerged from the trees, looking every bit as exhausted as I was. A few minutes later, still grimacing, she mumbled something about it being her “worst race ever” – pretty harsh, as she was only just outside her own PB. But it WAS hard, and when the going gets tough there’s only ever one way to put a smile back on Cozzie’s face – give her food. I can honestly say the bacon sandwich I had after that race took about three bites to finish, and tasted like it was the finest gourmet meal ever cooked.
“So, challenge 2 is done – thanks to the hard work of the Forest of Dean Rotary club and all the other fantastic organisers. Another brilliant day out, all in aid of the dedicated men and women saving lives at Southmead Hospital’s coronary care and cardiology wards. If you can give just a little bit to help them in their brilliant work it would make the world of difference. Cozzie and I are doing more challenges – they’re only going to get harder – so please, dig deep and help. Thanks!
“After some Weetabix and toast we were almost running to schedule (quite an accomplishment for those that know of a certain person’s time keeping skills). We arrived at Speech House with around 40 minutes to the starting gun – just enough time to queue for our race number and chip, queue for the loo, remove some layers, and queue for the loo again before making our way to the start.
“As always, these events have a great atmosphere, and you realise that all sizes, shapes and ages are capable of running half marathons. The trail was pretty crowded for the first few miles before everyone spread out and settled into a rhythm and it wasn’t long before Dom left me in his dust 😦 (That’s okay though, I hate feeling like I’m slowing anyone down!)
“The first 5 miles were pretty good, and I was running at a good steady pace, around 8 minute miles, and feeling pretty good about it. I even chatted with a few fellow runners on the way, so I was feeling okay. Then along came miles 6 and 7, and my gradual mental demise. Bloody hills! It’s not like I haven’t run up any before, and in the past they haven’t phased me too much. But these ones threw me off my rhythm a bit and I struggled to mentally get back to a ‘happy running place’.
“The rest of the course didn’t feel as gruelling or elevated as perhaps I was expecting, from the elevation graph on the race website, and the Iceman in January had more sharp gut-busting inclines than this route. But there was something about this one on the day that just felt harder, and I stopped enjoying the beautiful setting we were running in … !
“Still, I managed to pull out the Mobot and the Bolt pose at mile 9 for some guy with a loud-haler and was rewarded with a few sweets, but man, the last 4 miles were tough. I went from running 8 minute miles to doing the last two as 10 minute miles!! I just couldn’t make my legs turn any faster! Although it was still a respectable finish time (1:54:13), and not far off a PB, it doesn’t reflect how it felt and just shows that sometimes there really is a bit of luck involved with how you feel on the day.
“In hindsight Dom and I felt we hadn’t quite got the fuel right, but not by much, and we possibly could have drunk a little better the day before, but sometimes your mind and your muscles are just not quite in sync! Unfortunately this probably means that the Easter egg consumption last week had hindered, not helped, my progress.
“Dom smashed a PB though, which makes me very proud! He has worked hard for that and very much deserved it, and it was on an off-road race which is impressive. I look forward to seeing what he can do for the Bristol 10k in a few weeks. As a reward for doing so well, he had the honour of also buying the bacon sandwiches for us – yum yum!
“So, challenge number 2 is done! We’re heading into a summer of adventure and are both looking forward to some more varied training over the next few months. Hopefully it will pay dividends when we start building up the running distance again for another half marathon and a full marathon towards the end of this year. At the end of the day, this exercise will help our hearts (and hopefully some of yours), which is a motivating factor behind doing the challenges and keeping a log of it all – please dig into your pockets and support the coronary care and cardiology units at Southmead hospital in Bristol: http://www.justgiving.com/helpinghearts2013