Race Report – Two Tunnels Half Marathon May 2016, Bath, England

Hey all – today’s race report looks at a set of 5 races ranging in distance from 5km up to half marathon which took place on May 8th, 2016 in Bath, England.

(TL:DR Overall score – 67 out of 100. I can’t decide if I will do this one again.  I think the main interest for me lay in the tunnels and the medal – both of which I have now experienced.  It’s not really local enough to just nip out and take part and I think I’m likely to use those longer trips for other races – or perhaps for variety I will do the 10km hilly route next time, despite not liking hills!).

Race Commentary

Bath is a spa city located in Somerset, England and is most famous for its Roman Baths and Georgian architecture.  In running terms it is best known for its well attended half marathon which takes places in March each year and attracts about 13,000 runners of all abilities.

Given the beauty of the city we naturally chose to take part in an event where the route spends a considerable proportion of its time underground, starts from a less than salubrious housing estate away from the city centre and in the case of my event, attracts fewer than 100 participants.

The event was the Relish Running Races Bath Two Tunnels set of 5 races which in ascending order of required effort were 5km flat, 10km flat, 10km hilly, half marathon flat and half marathon hilly.  Despite living in a relatively hilly part of England I don’t really like them but I thought I ought to enter the longer event so settled on the ‘half marathon flat’ option. My other half, Lisa is similarly not keen on hills and has been on a bit of a roll in terms of entering half marathons so fancied a bit of a change and selected the ’10km flat’ accordingly.

The event takes place in May which in UK terms means it is at the mercy of a very unpredictable month for weather.  It can still be chilly in May but also as warm as a summer’s day.  As it happened, May 8th 2016 was both – starting with cold, heavy rain before developing into a lovely day which peaked at 25C.  I’m not great at heat (see my Chicago post) so seeing the weather forecasts in the run up to the event taking a turn for the warmer didn’t really fill me with pre-race confidence.

Bath is about 90 minutes away from where I live in Wellington, Somerset and the race start time was 10:20 for me and 10:30 for Lisa.  That meant a relatively leisurely start at 7:00AM to be away by half past and at the park & ride a little before 9:00AM.  Having expected sunshine and a warm start to the day, the drive was wet throughout and I was feeling a little stupid in my newly purchased Running Forever Running Club super-lightweight vest top and the lightest shorts I own.  But they say to dress for 10 degrees (Fahrenheit) warmer than it is when racing, so I wasn’t that far out – despite the shivering…

Following an uneventful car journey and a slightly hair-raising double-decker bus journey from the park & ride we were dropped off at a bus stop in a housing estate which I will sum up as looking ‘best avoided at night’ (worrying sign number 1), although knowing Bath house prices I suspect even the smaller houses were expensive.  After a short walk down a hill (worrying sign number 2) we arrived at a playing field and set about orienting ourselves, number pick up – check, toilets – check, bag drop – check, free ice-pop station – check…ooh free ice pops 🙂

The sun had by now come out and we were warming through.  We had about an hour to go until our start time and spent most of the time queueing for the aforementioned items, but sadly had to complete our races before we were allowed an ice pop.  We were both in wave 1 of our events (mine only had 1 wave in fairness) so happily queued up in the ‘Wave 1’ queue to receive our numbers.  The application of logic in this situation was a complete ‘fail’ for both of us – I should have been in the wave 3 queue and Lisa wave 4 apparently.  So we queued up again, thankful of the extra couple of minutes of wasted time, taking us closer to the start time.

The ‘real’ Wave 1 was the half marathon hilly group of about 70 runners – and occupying the moral high ground in this set of 5 runs it was only right they were first to set off, which after a high-energy warm-up routine, they did.  As I watched them disappear out of the top-left corner of the playing field I couldn’t help but reflect that it’s always a little surprising and disappointing how slowly even the quickest non-elite runners look when compared to what we are all used to seeing on the TV.  That is of course until you get passed by them and realise they are really motoring!

Wave 2 set off ten minutes later, about 4 minutes later than planned.  I was already thinking that the knock-on effect would mean I will be finishing four more minutes later than I would have if the start was on time and it will be 0.0001C warmer by then…!  I should try to relax more sometimes…

After another ten minutes it was Wave 3’s turn – about 100 of us.  I skipped the warm-up figuring I would need to preserve as much energy as I could for the race.  Skipping the warm-up meant I accidentally found myself on the front row of the line-up, which is something I try to avoid…still we were off to start the ‘flat’ course now, heading towards that top left corner of the park at what felt like a decent pace to me but no doubt looked very pedestrian for the onlookers.

I find that the term ‘flat’ is overused in race course descriptions – and it proved to be the case this time as well, the first 2.5kms were largely uphill and given it was a two lap course that makes 5kms of hilly terrain before even factoring in any other parts of the course.  Personally I would categorise this as ‘undulating’ but in running circles that is really an undercover word for ‘hilly’.  Everything seems to move over one notch and end up being a bit harder work than as described.  I think in reality what I want is ‘pancake flat’ – anything else will inevitably be at least a bit hilly.

I took the hill at a reasonable pace, with km 1 at 4:13 and km 2 slightly steadier at 4:32.  A group of about 5 runners had formed ahead of me and were pulling away but things were going ok, I was certainly within the top 10 by the end of the climb.

It’s at this point that the hills become worth it – the tunnels begin.  The first is about 400 metres long and the second 1700 metres.  The out and back nature of each lap meant that in total I went through each tunnel 4 times for an in-tunnel total of a little over 8kms.  All long distance running events should be in tunnels – they are mostly flat and blissfully, naturally air conditioned.  I loved them both – the hills in this ‘flat’ race were forgiven, even the shallow but lengthy incline through the longer tunnel (the incline had to be on the way back of course…) was pleasant.  The only downside I can think of is that it short-changed the distance shown on my Garmin

I spent most of the first lap on my own, a bit behind the quick guys but kept up a good tempo and at the turn for home at the midpoint of lap 1 I was feeling good.  Much better for the aircon section in the longer tunnel and looking forward to the downhill section at the end of the lap – but trying to ignore that I would be turning right around and going up it again!

The pack ahead had started to split a little and by the end of lap 1 I had picked off a couple of the ones who had gone out too fast, but lost sight of the other 3 and any runners ahead of them.  I’m paranoid about hydration during races so used some of the space I’d made for myself to walk 20 yards through the aid station at the end of lap one, taking on a decent sized cup of water and enjoying the breather before heading up the hill again.

There were plenty more people on the course by now with the much better attended 10km flat waves having been released.  The tunnels were quite narrow but everyone seemed to remember their left from right and there was always space to get around the slower runners.  I even managed to see Lisa twice in the tunnels – high five!

The temperature by now had climbed steadily to the low to mid-20s and I was feeling quite warm, but the tunnels cooled me down which enabled me to keep my position in the race to the lap 2 turn for home at about 15.5kms.  I was going a bit slower by now at about 4:45/km, and my thoughts were definitely more about clinging on than upping the pace for a finish. Thankfully it appeared that most people felt the same way but I was passed by one runner who had put his foot down at about 19kms.  I had a target of my own in my sights so thought I would make up the place again when I passed the obviously tired runner ahead of me.  I passed him with about 200 metres to go, restoring my position in theory, but in reality I had passed a runner from the half marathon hilly wave. So overall, once the race was properly underway I passed 2 and was passed by 1 – a net gain of 1 place.

My finishing time was 1:35:30 for 7th place – a good result for me and my fourth fastest half marathon, which given the hills and the warmth of the day was pretty good.

Lisa performed similarly, finishing her 10km in 52:30 which given the hills and conditions was a good time.

Event Ratings

Overall score – 67 out of 100. I can’t decide if I will do this one again.  I think the main interest for me lay in the tunnels and the medal – both of which I have now experienced.  It’s not really local enough to just nip out and take part and I think I’m likely to use those longer trips for other races – or perhaps for variety I will do the 10km hilly route next time, despite not liking hills!

Event Registration & Pre-Race updates – 7

Registration was good – the website has plenty of information and I found it easy to get signed up for the correct event, which when there are several to choose from on the same day is useful.  Not much email spam, if any – in fact I would say the event erred on the side of too little contact with the runners.  Rating: Above Average.

Logistics – 6

Running multiple events over different distances using predominantly the same course requires quite a bit of coordination.  I thought this was done pretty well although number pick-up could have been simpler – e.g. 1-300 here, 301 to 600 here etc.  instead of waves.  There were boards highlighting which wave runners were in on entry to the park but we decided to ignore them. Given the numbers of people switching queues this wasn’t unusual. I also saw a couple of people miss their race start but that may have been planned – at least one looked like an HM to 10k swap 😉 Rating: Average.

Course – 7

Hold the whole event in a 13.1 mile tunnel and it’s an easy 10 points from me…this was a good course, attractive in places and the tunnels were certainly a different experience.  It wasn’t flat though so I’m docking a point for that. Rating: Above Average.

Marshalling and feeding/watering – 8

Good marshalling – one in particular at the 10km turnaround point was brilliant.  She gave me a real lift on lap two just when I needed it.  I only had the water so can’t really comment on what else was available, there was a nice selection of goodies at the finish though – including those ice pops! Rating: Good.

Crowd Support – 6

There was decent support in the start/finish area but not much out on the course.  The out and back nature doesn’t really lend itself to people making their way along the course but there was random encouragement from people out for a nice Sunday walk/cycle ride. Rating: Average.

PB Potential – 7

A point lost here again for the hills – the tunnels are great for speed but there is a lot of up and down to get between them and the start/finish area.  I was about 2:20 off my PB, so it’s not a bad course but I have run several which are better suited for speed. Rating: Above Average.

Results Accuracy & Timeliness – 8

The event wasn’t chip-timed but finishing times were uploaded to the website really quickly.  This was all the more impressive given people from different waves and distances were finishing at the same time for most of the event.  Rating: Good.

VFM – 6

£27 for entry as a UK Athletics affiliated runner, £29 if not – plus a £2 booking fee.  Pretty standard charging I would say, but at that price there’s a chance of a t-shirt although one was not forthcoming at this event. Rating: Average.

Vibe – 6

I enjoyed the event, there was good camaraderie amongst the runners but the lack of crowd support away from the finish and sharing the paths with people out for their regular walks made it a little low key. I enjoyed it though 🙂  Rating: Average.

Goody Bag/Bling – 6

No t-shirt or goody bag, but a funky medal with a steam train on it which is one of a set of 4 that combine to make a pyramid shape.  Or at least they should.  I tried to combine Lisa’s and mine but managed to snap the top off hers! Thankfully the ribbons are detachable and the medals identical, so Lisa now has a perfect medal and I have a two-parter.  I’m sure some super glue will do the trick.  Rating: Average.