The Watford Half Marathon is a nice event organised by Watford Harriers and takes place on the first Sunday of February each year. The event caught my eye a few years back as a proportion of the entry fee is donated to the Peace Hospice, I’ve got bit of a personal connection with the Hospice and it seemed a good idea to have a crack. Fast forward two years and in November, I completed my on-line registration and I had set a date with the race once more.
The normal routine for the week preceding a race was followed, the weather forecast checked every fifteen minutes. Was it going to rain? How strong would the wind be blowing? What would the temperature be? What clothing should I wear? Fortunately, I have reached the point where I default to wearing what I always wear, shorts, vest, baselayer, sock and running shoes. Each and every time I strip off at a race the cold hits me and I think ‘bloody hell, should have worm more clothes’.
I’m bit of a creature of habit so the routine is normally fairly similar – kit bag packed on Saturday night, number attached to jersey, pre-race drinks mixed, dinner eaten and an early night. Sunday morning, normal routine again, scrambled eggs on toast (one slice), SIS energy drink, check kit bag, drive to race…
I was fortunate to have my lovely wife and beautiful daughter coming along to watch this week. It gives me a massive moral boost when I see them along the route or near the finish. I normally try to pick up the pace when I see them so Abbott Jr can recount stories at nursery of Daddy running really fast, although she’s currently convinced that she can run faster!
After a bit of faffing to get parked (i.e. missing the turning twice) we found ourselves standing in a municipal park with 2000 other runners waiting for the starter to fire the gun and the running to start. It always strikes me at the start of a race how different people dress for the occasion. Some people are head to toe in hats, gloves, fleeces, leggings and others are simply in a vest and shorts. I’ve always reasoned that the fast guys and girls go for fewer clothes and the slower runners are heavily dressed, the faster you run the hotter you get? I also keep my eye out for the ‘well built, keen but slower chap’, most probably a retired rugby player, who at the very last minute tries to squeeze in near the front. The gun sounds, we’re off and ‘Mr Keen but Slow’ is forced to start ultra fast then abused as he blocks the majority of the narrow path out of the park, people have to swerve wildly on to grass and mud to avoid a near fatal collision. To make matters worse, he’s probably wearing headphones with the Rocky theme tune blasting out and he is totally oblivious to the shouts and threats aimed at him by other runners.
On this occasion, the gun sounds and we’re off. The ex-rugga bugger is avoided, inappropriately parked cars negotiated on residential streets missed and we hit the open country roads. Over the top of the Grand Union canal, passed the quaint Mill and up towards the golf course, the field has thinned out and the real running gets underway. My normal tactic is to run hard and fast for the first few miles to get some room and then settle into my running. My target pace was 6:50 (ish) min per mile and the first miles passed without incident and I felt pretty good. At the first drink station, the normal panic ensued as people dashed right to left to grab a cup of water and then back right again to clear the way for others. Nowadays, I normally ignore the first few drinks stations and hug the left-hand side of the road to avoid collisions.
All was going well, the first few hills were defeated and my GPS was showing that I was bang on pace. At about 6.5 miles, I was slightly perturbed by the 1hr 30 pacer coming past me, it was like he was trying to escape a rabid dog or another similar fate. I checked behind and tried to work out what was going on, I check my GPS, everything seemed fine. I reasoned that he had got a bit excited and put a fast mile in, I was confident I was running sub 1:30 pace and therefore he was running too fast. In the past I might have put my head down and chased, but I’ve learned my lesson the hard way, stick to the plan or suffer later! About ¾ of a mile later the pacer turns to me and says ‘whoops, I’m about 45 seconds too fast for the first half”. Relief washed over me, I hadn’t lost the plot. Between 6 and 7 miles my legs had started to complain a little, in retrospect it was most probably be the hills but at the time I thought I was slipping behind pace. A quick energy gel downed, a cup of water grabbed at the drink station and I was back in the game. More importantly, the pace guy was behind me, I was inside 1hr 30.
The last few miles passed, more residential street negotiate and all of a sudden I was back in Cassiobury park and looking for Mrs Abbott and my daughter as I summed a bit more speed for my false impression session. Following a left turn at the southern end of the park and the finish banner was in sight, a quick glance at my watch suggested I need to get a move on. I summoned a half sprint and crossed the line, either I missed the clock at the finish line or there wasn’t one. My watch said 1:28:51 but I knew I’d missed the first 400 metres as I’d started and then instantly stopped it.
Reunited with Mrs A she asked me what time I done, I wasn’t sure, she wasn’t sure. We’d have to keep checking the internet every few minutes for the results to be posted. Back home via a fast food restaurant (sorry) and my phone beeped. Ah ha, text results, brilliant….1:29:33, hurrah, sub -1:30 for the first time, 37 seconds off my PB. Happy days.