The Oxford Half Marathon - my final race of 2015 - arrived. I had mixed emotions about the day. Part of me felt a little relieved that after this race I could spend what's left of 2015 just enjoying running and my exercise routines without any training pressures; whilst I already know the other part of me is going to miss the focus and goals that an event gives you, even if it is just for a few months. I also felt a little sad as it was the last race day experience I would be sharing with my friend before she moves to Australia - literally the other side of the world!
We arrived in Oxford the day before the race and enjoyed exploring the city with its canal boats and locks, and the beautiful University of Oxford buildings. We were also delighted to find our hotel was situated right in the centre of the main street of pubs and restaurants, with the wonderful bonus of having a nightclub positioned directly below the hotel itself. This is the second time my friend has booked a pre-race hotel above a nightclub - it is clear I will not miss her hotel choices! Thankfully the hotel actually appeared to be well sound proofed from the noisy street below and the thudding baseline of the club's music - either that or the Oxford night life was being kind to us visiting runners - and I actually slept as well as to be expected pre race. My friend was running for a charity - The African Children's Fund - and it seemed we were soon heading to the pre race meet up they had organised for their runners. It was here I met with another runner who I had attended a training day with earlier in the year organised by Virgin Money for a handful of selected London Marathon runners - what a small world we live in, and how wonderful that running can keep you connected with people.
The start of the race was delayed by 15 minutes due to train issues and runners being stuck on the way to Oxford, and as we stood waiting to begin the nerves started to creep in a little. I was approaching the race with a bit of a 'do or die' attitude - my last event of 2015 so may as well give it my all! As the woman on the tannoy struggled to stall for time we suddenly surged forward and it appeared to everyone's slight shock we had actually started. Watching my friend speed off as she usually does, I bustled my way through a slightly crowded starting section until eventually I hit some clearer running space. Now time to run my race.
The first part of the course wound out of Oxford's city centre and then took us along a down and back stretch of a long straight road. I had feared this may be a little boring, but with good crowds and runners both sides of you it actually felt quite motivating. I managed to spot my friend running on the other side of the road and catch her attention for a brief high five, and as the turning point soon approached, I felt happy she was not too far in front of me. The first 10k of the race actually went by relatively quickly, and as we turned to approach the small village of Marston I was really, really enjoying myself. I smiled at supporters in the village who were sat on deckchairs watching the streams of people pound down their probably usually very quiet street. I high fived a number of children, which I normally avoid doing, as I clearly rode on my wave of happiness. I could even just about tolerate the young boy who was persistently blowing a vuvuzela trumpet, a noise that could be heard for it seemed miles away! I also drew a wry smile as we ran through small tunnel under the road, which brought back memories of the Great North Run. This time however there was no northern chants of 'oggy oggy oggy' but a polite silence - almost marking the stereotypical difference between the north and south of the country!
With the first section of the race feeling almost a breeze, as I hit the ten mile point things started to become a little harder. Just after passing the ten mile marker I was shocked to be overtaken by the 1.45 pacer. I had not released I was runner ahead of this pace, I knew I was running well, but not this well! Although the pacer got away from me, they were still firmly within my sight. From mile ten onwards however my calves, and the tightness and heaviness which has plagued them in recent weeks, made their presence felt. My legs felt an effort to lift, and my comfortable, pleasant running was slipping away with every step. I really had to grit my teeth to keep going as I was for the last three and a bit miles. The final section of the race was also not really in my favour. The route itself was lovely, winding through Oxford University Park and then back into the city through the picturesque University buildings. The terrain under foot was mixed though, and the uneven ground of the park, cobble roads, and fake mating laid out did not help my calves one bit.
As the I entered the final mile I knew I was on for a PB unless something truly drastic went wrong in the final minutes! It seemed every part of my body was ready to push on and make it an emphatic PB, except of course my calves. The drive and power was really fading, and I kept hoping to spot the finish archway in the distance to give me some form of spot to aim for and muster a final surge. The final stretch of the race was quite twisting and it was however nowhere to be seen. My watch hit the 21km/13.1m mark and I still couldn't see the damn thing! Finally the pink arch appeared, and I made it across the line in a new PB of 1hr 47mins 14secs.
As I staggered my way through the water/medal/goody bag stations I was eagerly checking my phone. Not only was my friend running the Oxford Half, but our other friend was also running the Royal Parks Half Marathon on the same day, and I wanted to see how they had both got on. We had been tracking our friend via the Royal Parks mobile app before starting our own race, and judging by the first section of her race I knew she would have done well; whilst I also knew my friend running Oxford would have finished in front of me, again meaning a good time would have been achieved. To my delight they had both done very well, both under the 1hour 45 minute mark and both getting PBs in the 1hr 42 minute region - a fantastic set of results for us all.
Following the race my friend and I enjoyed yet more wonderful hospitality and cake from the African Children's Fund - a charity I would highly recommend supporting in future - and squeezed in some celebratory drinks in Oxford, before making the long (and I mean long) train journey back to Lincoln. Having won my place in the Oxford Half Marathon via a competition it was probably an event I would never have chosen to run, but I am really glad I did. The whole weekend spent in Oxford was wonderful and the race itself was well supported, well organised, and had a varied, enjoyable and reasonably flat route. Plus with a PB to finish the year off and a free finish line photo sent straight to you, I cannot complain really can I!
Alice's Adventures In Running Land
Read about my adventures in running land...