The local Reading Half Marathon is now in its 30th year and this was my 8th time (a streak aswell) in taking part in this event.
It’s a busy town marathon with up to 16,000 runners taking part in the event which is usually well supported by the local residents. However, the grand scale of the event means there are the usual logistical issues to deal with such as the crowds, parking, traffic etc.
I have a habit of alternating my Reading Half Marathon runs between a fancy dress year (run and enjoy) and a normal year (run for a time) and this year was a normal year after the Batman & Robin effort carry an 8 foot long cardboard Batmobile around the course last year (you can read last years report on the blog).
However, it was a slightly special year as my employers had kindly agreed to subsidise a group of runners to participate in a local community event and the idea of Team Covéa Insurance was born. I had been tasked with organising the team, ensuring the runners were prepared and organised and kitted out in company branded technical t-shirts which looked really good.
In addition, we were also sponsoring a few people who were participating in the Green Park Challenge, a family fun run type event which takes place before the main Half Marathon event. The family were well represented on all fronts with my wife Sally-anne and daughter Annabelle taking part in the Green Park Challenge event.
Unfortunately, the weather on the day was frankly quite horrible with constant rain from the moment we woke up all the way through the event until a couple of hours afterwards.
We arrived early for the Green Park Challenge and met up with fellow Ultra Runner Michael Sartortius (who I will be running the TP100 event with) and his son Ben were also taking part and I snapped a few pictures of everyone before making my way inside the stadium to get some pictures of them finishing.
After the Green Park Challenge event had finished, we made our way to the agreed meeting point for Team Covéa Insurance and I met up with the 20+ company runners for a team photo. Thankfully everyone had remembered to wear their red company technical tops although several outfits had been accessorised with rain jackets, hats, base layers and gloves due to the weather.
The individual runners then made their way to their allotted starting positions and I chatted to Matt Mitcham and Gary Drake on the start who were also positioned in the 1.30 – 1.35 zone. Unfortunately, it was still pouring down and despite wearing a bin bag and space blanket I was starting to shiver and had to jog on the spot to keep warm.
I had set a new PB in the Wokingham Half Marathon event a few weeks earlier with a 1.30.50 finish in another miserably rainy day and was aiming for something in the region of 1.30 – 1.35.
At 10am, the race started with Wheelchair athletes heading out first followed by the Elite runners before the masses were let loose. Despite the poor weather there was still a good level of support by the local residents as we made our way from the Madjeski Stadium out towards Whitley, up a decent sized hill and then onto Shinfield and towards Reading University. Gary and I were running side by side as we swerved and dodged our way around the crowd of runners trying to find a comfortable pace and a bit of space. The first few mile splits were 7.05, 6.46 and 7.07 so my plan of aiming for 7m/m was on.
I drifted ahead of Gary as we headed towards the University and I spotted the tell-tale sign of another Covéa Insurance runner ahead in the red top with logo and caught up with the runner Tim Hughes who had started well up the field but was feeling the pace a bit and was settling down into more comfortable rhythm. I grabbed a “packet” of water which confused me slightly in terms of how to open it. I then managed this and then squirted far too much water down my throat in one go and spat some of this out before proceeding on.
I pressed on towards the Town Centre with the next 3 mile splits at 6.40, 6.31 and 6.36. As I glanced at my watch I couldn’t quite believe the pace was closer to 6.30m/m than 7m/m and I passed the 10k marker in 42.30 which would have been a 30 second 10k PB in itself.
As I circled around town, I approached an informal aid station organised by my work colleagues who were supporting and cheering the runners and were also armed with water, energy drinks and jelly babies. I grabbed an energy drink in my stride, said hello and pressed on.
By this time, I knew I would be ahead of the rest of the Team Covéa Insurance runners as one of the regular runners on the team and I wasn’t looking out for anyone else now but just had to get my head down and focus on my own run from this point in.
The next few miles involves a few undulations and the infamous Russell Street, Nags Head pub where they leave cups of beer out for the runners and give anyone necking one a big cheer. I steered well clear of this after last years effort and powered up Russell Street on my toes and headed towards Prospect Park where my wife was watching and grabbed a few pictures of me.
The next few mile splits were 6.45, 7.05, 6.51 and 6.49 so still ahead of target. My mind was going into a confused state trying to work out whether I could hit a make a sub 1.30 PB by a few seconds or whether I should just ease off a bit and just hit a new PB but just over 1.30 as the body could do with a little rest. Thankfully, the body wasn’t listening to the mind and trundled on at the same pace as I headed towards the A33 and the long stretch back towards the Madjeski Stadium which seemed to go remarkably quickly this year.
The next couple of mile splits were 6.47 and 6.43 and as I passed the 12 mile mark I spotted the 1.30 pacer just ahead of me (looking far too comfortable) encouraging the runners around him. My mind started to think a sub 1.30 was on if I made a bit more of an effort to catch him and then changed its mind and said I could settle for a new PB but not quite a sub 1.30 if you carry on at the same pace. The body seemed to ignore this and I started to reel the pacer in.
I overtook him a couple of hundred yards later as we finished the last loop around Green Park and back towards the Madjeski Stadium for the grandstand finish. I could hear the pacer a few yards behind me encouraging everyone around him and then started to think is he on a 1.30 pace? or a 1.30.59? pace as my mind was furiously trying to calculate a finish time. I was looking at the Garmin every few seconds and it started to edge towards 1.27, 1.28 and then 1.29 mark.
My last mile was a solid 6.44 and as I approached the entrance into the stadium I looked at my watch and worked out I had 30 seconds to do half a loop of the football pitch from the corner of the stadium to the finish if I wanted a sub 1.30 and by that time…. I really did want it! I didn’t want to waste this effort and have to do it again, therefore I put my foot down and sprinted for the line and finished in a (chip) time of 1.29.44, excellent!
A new PB and a sub 1.30 which was a 1 min improvement from a few weeks ago and a 4 minute improvement from my last half marathon effort in 2011.
I walked through the Stadium, collected my medal and goody bag and headed straight to the kit tent where I had left a complete change of clothes. I got changed in the Stadium, put on my waterproof jacket and ventured back out into the rain to watch and support the other Team Covéa Insurance runners finish.
We had a real mix of runners from the regular runners, to a few more casual runners to a couple of run/walkers taking part but regardless of their level of ability everyone who started the run from Team Covéa Insurance finished the event and it was good to spot quite a few people still running and still making an effort despite the weather which was still pouring down by the way.
I stayed out on the course for the next couple of hours supporting the team before I eventually spotted Arthur the Reading Joggers Coach making his way around the course. Arthur was competing in his 30th Reading Half Marathon event having entered and finished every one. Unfortunately, Arthur had been suffering with injuries recently and had been forced to power-walk the route but was determined to finish and it was a pleasure to tag along for the last couple of miles to see him in at the end and another trip into the Stadium for the finish. At this point, I also spotted the last Covéa Insurance run-walker (and first time entrant) who finished in 3 ½ hours soaked, cold, wet but delighted to have completed her challenge.
Overall, it was a year I will remember for a great team effort despite possibly the worst weather we have ever had. A new PB and my first (and maybe last) sub 1.30 was also a very nice bonus too!