Disappointingly, I haven’t got a single photo of myself in action at Oxford Half which is a bit of a shame as I was racing in my new and rather smart OxfordTri vest, alongside my new and rather lovely OxfordTri friends and somehow succeeded in getting a new PB! Dan was out on the course “taking photos” but seemed to miss me! Perhaps I was going too fast?! (edit: I’ve found a photo on Dan’s phone where I have just snuck into the frame, included below… not my best look but proof at least that I did it! 😛 )
After a lovely pre-race dinner and a good night’s sleep at Dan’s grandparents we headed on the bus into Oxford. It wasn’t a warm morning and I was quite nervous, and feeling rather underprepared. After a little warming up running around the university parks and a few trips to the portaloos, I was suddenly short of time and ended up running to get to the starting pen on time. As a large event, Oxford Half is set up with different starting pens depending on your race time, and rather unfortunately I was funelled the wrong way by the pre-race marshalls and ended up have to run past all the slower pens to find the 1:45ish section, not much run with pre-race nerves and huge ambling crowds of spectators.
Eventually I found the right start point, and the OxfordTri group and having some pre-race chit chat was a welcome and different way to begin. We positioned ourselves behind the 1:45 marker, a lady I recognised from Headington Road Runners, and waited to cross the start line.
The race started well and relaxed, running along at a comfortable pace chatting to Marianne and Philippa as we wound through the streets of Oxford. It was great running along together, but as I was feeling nice and at ease I put my foot down a bit and pushed onwards, eventually running most of the race alongside our friendly pacer. By now it was starting to warm up, and she took care of her flock encouraging us to drink the water and sports drinks offered at the roadside.
This time round I felt a lot more comfortable on the course, knowing where I was going and what to expect on the way round, particularly on the long stretch out to Marston (which now feels almost like home territory with a few more Mota-vation races and some BaRTTs under my belt) and back into the centre of Oxford. The support on the way round was fantastic so nice to be cheered on by people you know!
When we got back to the university parks, the final twisting section of the course, the pacer said we were on for a good time, to push on ahead if you felt comfortable. So I did, but was once again frustrated by the busy crowded race. So many competitors packed in on a course that isn’t really always wide enough to accommodate us. The footing changes in the park too, from tarmac to sandy gravel, and I couldn’t really tell whether my slowness then was due to the tight twisting course, the surface, the crowds or my own exhaustion – unused as I am to running that far.
By the end of the race I knew I had a chance to get a new PB – having averaged around 7:50 a mile, except for a slower first mile. My legs didn’t lose the plot at 10 miles like they had last year, shocked at being asked to keep going for such an unprecedented distance, and I ran in towards the Radcliffe Camera feeling ok, starting to really kick it towards the end of the race. I was working hard, pushing myself along then suddenly the horrible stitch I’d had at the final BaRTT came back, stabbing me in the ribs and refusing to let me run on as fast as I could to reach the end of the race.
Of course, the moment when it all went wrong was when I saw another OxfordTri supporter in the crowd! I had to slow down a lot, trying to breathe deeply to alleviate the stitch and keep pushing in to the finish line which suddenly seemed so far away. When the line got close enough I could finally sprint to the end, a final hurrah and moment of racing joy.
Over the line I just wanted to sit down, find Dan, have a hug, have a drink. We were funneled through to collect drinks, t-shirts, a rather smart medal and a finishers bag full of goodies. Dan found me and we found the OxfordTri group.
I was a bit annoyed and disappointed with how the end of my race had gone, the stabbing cramp fresh in my mind, the nagging feeling that I could have done better if I’d found time to put the miles in over the summer, and had come into the race stronger and ready to race those 13.1 miles to the best of my ability. But I did do the best I could right there on the day, and when we checked the results I had finished in a time of 1:44.40 259 out of 3379 women. More importantly I had somehow managed to knock around 20 seconds of my PB, and had finished an amazing 4 minutes and 10 seconds faster than when I ran Oxford Half last year – which was my first half marathon.
It’s nice to reflect on how far I’ve come in a year, not only in terms of the huge course PB, but also with my running and life in general. Last year I explored Oxford as I ran around, with absolutely no idea where I was, while this year I had a vague understanding of the different places we were running through, I could connect some of them to races and events and even knew where I was at some points. Most special for me though was racing Oxford Half as a kind of local, surrounded by fellow club members. Last year it was Dan and I and a few of his running friends, this year I really feel part of something good!
A last point of reflection before I leave you in peace, is that we have achieved so much this year that I need to be careful not to rest on my laurels. We trained so hard for Staffordshire Half Ironman in June, and managed to accomplish something that seemed almost unimaginable, racing over such a long distance. After that though ‘just’ running a half marathon didn’t seem like such a challenge deserving so much effort, we pretty much ‘wung’ Cotswold Classic Half Ironman in August after a busy summer where I just didn’t seem to find time for long runs, I managed to get round and do quite well even though it was my longest run since Staffordshire, and then again approached Oxford Half feeling like I hadn’t really done my homework and somehow it went okay on the day. It’s definitely not something I’m proud of, and not something I want to make a habit of as I want to race the best I can and know that I have done all I can to do well on the day. I’m really trying to make an effort now to keep a long run as a regular part of my training, to try and build up the strength and miles in my legs that would have helped me at Oxford Half and will be what I need if I am going to improve on my PB in 2017.