Wednesday, 14 August 2013

54321 2013

I have a rule about local races. I never enter anything that you could just run yourself from your own doorstep.  After three years of not entering the 5-4-3-2-1 under my previously stated rule, I was aghast to learn that the route of the 21k (and longer) actually takes you through secret and usually inaccessible areas.  I listened eagerly as Liz regaled me with tales of hidden castles and grand estates on the way home from Southampton Parkrun last week. Whilst still on a post-parkrun high, I signed up.

There are two great things about entering a local event. The first is the fact that you can still have a lazy Sunday morning and a leisurely breakfast before ambling casually over to the start. The second is that the whole thing becomes a great social; there were so many familiar faces about the place. We mingled and chatted at the start before everyone found their place. Ruth edged to the front, glaring purposefully into the distance with a look of steely determination. Stacey tottered anxiously toward the rear of the crowd, wondering how her first half marathon would pan out. Amie and San dropped right to the back, strapped to their very excited dogs and I kept my eyes peeled for Andy and Jeanette, my parkrun rivals who keep sneaking up and overtaking me!

I had arranged to run with Les, a fellow tri club buddy. Given my recent 2013 half marathon history, I was a little worried Les had overestimated my fitness when he asked to run with me, and made it very clear that I wouldn't be offended if he wanted to go on ahead. It was a gentle start though, as the pack of runners headed up the cycle path toward Old Sarum. I suddenly understood why Ruth had elbowed her way to the front as the teeny footpath leading up the hill ground almost to a halt. There wasn't really enough space to overtake but Les didn't seem bothered about walking and neither was I.

Once past Old Sarum though, the pace picked up a bit. Not enough to get in the way of a good conversation mind. The clouds had looked a little angry at the start, but had cleared in a quite dramatic fashion and the sun was beating down. As we commenced the long, off road climb through the Clarendon Estate, the sweat-in-eye-syndrome was kicking in. Fortunately, the water stations were regular and it was plenty warm enough to pour water over your head.

The run through the estate was hilly but marvelous and the chat was making the miles tick by nicely. Water stations complete with jelly babies were cropping up just where they were needed. We hit a road section through Alderbury and I started to get a bit confused. I could not figure out how we would be getting back to Salisbury in under 6 miles if we continued to head in this direction. Les didn't really explain but he did offer me jelly babies from his pocket. I wasn't sure how I felt about eating sweets from his sweaty pocket but it's amazing what you'll agree to consume during any sort of endurance event.

Longford Castle
A few more twists and turns in the road and we hit a junction, crossing over through a little gateway that distinctly read "No Public Access". We turned into a beautiful, long, tree-lined avenue and up ahead, through the trees and cow-filled meadows, I spotted Longford Castle. It was an incredible building that I never even knew existed and was a sight to behold.

Just when we needed a boost, another feed station cropped up.
This one had apples, bananas and orange segments. Sucking a juicy orange on a hot day after running nearly 10 miles was brilliant, and we headed off keenly down a forest track. Before I knew it, I could see the familiar spire of Salisbury Cathedral and knew we didn't have far to go. I admitted to Les that my legs were getting a bit tired and he breathed a sigh of relief and admitted that his were too. The pace didn't drop off though and we still trundled along, picking off a few runners here and there.
Sprinting to the finish

From the Cathedral, we knew it was only a mile to go and we dodged through the tourists, picking up a lost runner along the way and jubilantly telling him we were on the home stretch. As we crossed the road and saw the finish, Les grabbed my hand and told me we were going to do a sprint finish. We crossed the line in just under 2:05, my fastest 2013 half marathon by over 15 minutes. It hadn't really felt too difficult either, maybe I'd gotten a bit fitter or maybe it was just the distraction that two hours of chit chat can bring, but either way it was a super run!

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