Welcome to my second race report. These reports will include commentary on how the race went for me and a more useful section which rates the event in more general terms, such as the quality of the course, the value for money of entrance, how quick the results get on-line (a personal bugbear but increasingly not an issue as chip timing becomes more prevalent), PB potential etc. etc.
(Overall for me this event rated as 68 out of 100 – I will do it again because it’s local and enjoyable but personally I wouldn’t travel more than 1h30 or so to do it).
This blog post covers The Taunton Marathon/Half Marathon which took place on 3rd April 2016 in and around Taunton, Somerset – England.
This is one of my local races and with a 10:30 start time and only a ten minute journey to get there we (my wife Lisa and I) had an easy start to the day 🙂 Breakfast and a short dog walk to warm the legs up and we were away.
We arrived very early for us, with about 45 minutes to go – just in time for the group photo for the running club we belong to (Running Forever) . The club had put in a great turnout with about 60 runners across the half and full marathon distance – about 20% were crazy enough to do the full two laps. I wasn’t one of them…it takes more than a run around our local country roads to motivate me for the pain of the full distance!
The start area was compact and busy and I’m reliably informed that there was only a 2 minute queue for the ‘proper’ loos – that’s pretty incredible compared to most races. Perhaps everyone had sworn off the cider for the morning.
We then had two brief moments of (potential) fame – a recording of 5 running club members was made by a local radio station (Apple FM I think) and the local newspaper Wellington Weekly News wanted a photo of all Wellington-based runners, which included a celebrity…none other than Clinton Rogers from the BBC Points West team (he’s from Bradford on Tone though, so had muscled his way in…clearly this opportunity to further enhance his fame was not to be missed).
After just about managing to calm down following so much glamourous excitement we then headed off to the start line. About 1100 runners do the half marathon with around 150 die-hards going the full distance. I slotted in towards the middle of the 1:30 section, hoping I was going to be on reasonable form. My only previous go at this event was last year and it didn’t go to plan with my finishing time over 1:45. I was planning to exorcise those demons and get under 1:40, preferably 1:38.
The first few miles are mainly flat or false-flat uphill and I ended up standing next to a runner I knew with a similar PB. Unfortunately she likes to start quickly so zoomed ahead as we ran past shoppers making the best of the wonders Taunton has to offer on a Sunday morning in April.
To avoid getting carried away at the start I’ve come up with an opening race strategy which is to do the first mile or two at a pace which is not too fast nor too slow – Goldilocks pace I guess you could call it (how else do you think she escaped from those bears?!). Today that meant around 7:00/mile pace, with a couple of the first five miles dipping just under. The course gets harder during the second half, so contrary to all running opinion ever submitted to the internet I decided I would ‘get some quick miles in the bank’, certain that I would pay them back with interest later on. Too late now though – it was mile 5 and my average was still more or less spot-on 7/mile pace, about two minutes ahead of PB pace.
For a half marathon I break the race mileage down into three phases, first 5 / next 5 / last 3 to help with the mental game – which I generally find harder than the physical side of running once I get beyond 10k distance. So the first phase went really well – now phase two and time to try to cling on after the too quick start.
Miles 6 to 10 went pretty quickly. Just before 6.5 there’s the first ‘turn for home’ which also includes a nice long descent so I glugged down a gel (don’t usually bother with them but was determined to put last year’s performance to bed!) and pressed on into the noticeable headwind now we were tracking south. The gel seemed to help me zoom (relatively speaking) up the short, sharp incline crossing the River Tone at the 9 mile mark where I started to suffer last year. The miles were a bit slower on this stretch averaging 7:10/miles, but that was still tantalisingly 1 second per mile inside my PB pace. No meltdown yet – but the hills were coming up quickly.
Miles 10 to 11 include the second and final ‘turn for home’ but also two fairly nasty hills at a small hamlet called Rumwell (locally known for it’s pub, farm shop and wood-carving-lay-by-man) and these caught me out last year, including a short walk. Still feeling pretty good on the approach though I managed to keep some rough semblance of running form up them both, recording my slowest mile at 7:40/mile but all was not lost – those banked fast early miles kept me well ahead of my PB time.
So to cut a longish blog short – I then ticked off the next 2.1 miles, which include some blessed downhills, at 7:08/mile pace and crossed the line with a massive grin in 1:33:01, a PB by 1m42s…(Strava activity).
The moral of this seems to be don’t believe everything (anything?) you read on the internet and that ‘interest free’ does not only apply to sofas 🙂
Overall score – 68 out of 100. Would do it again, especially given it’s so local. Nightmare last year – enjoyable this year, if hard work.
Event Registration & Pre-Race updates – 5
The website isn’t really up to date, e.g. results seem to stop in about 2010, and sometimes the site seems to be hijacked off to different domains – but when working as intended it is straightforward to use so I don’t really have much to grumble about. Rating: OK.
Logistics – 8
Logistics for me were really simple – drive 10 minutes and find a car space less than 400m from the start. The line up for the start gets a bit congested and you can end up further back than planned but I just clambered over a fence and slotted in, so nothing insurmountable. Loo queues as reported above were very short and the whole start area was nice and compact, without being too small. The countdown to the start was low key but it went away on time. The finish area was large enough to cater for everyone as well. Rating: Good.
Course – 7
Before today I hated the course and dreaded the late hills, but I think in reality I had built them up to be something bigger than they are. It doesn’t take place in the most scenic of Somerset’s roads but they are fine and there’s plenty of space despite the roads being largely open to traffic. Just one lap (for the half), which I much prefer. Rating: Above Average.
Marshalling and feeding/watering – 8
Good signposting and very friendly hordes of enthusiastic but well controlled cub scouts handing out bottles of water and sponges at frequent intervals – no complaints at all. Water bottles instead of cups also gets a big ‘yes!’ from me. Rating: Good.
Crowd Support – 6
Not huge crowds except for the centre of villages we passed through but enough. I’m told it gets very quiet for the marathon runners on lap two but never intend to find out for myself. As a local runner from a well known club and wearing the appropriate t-shirt I got plenty of encouragement. Rating: Average.
PB Potential – 7
This section is going to be contradictory – I think it’s a poor choice of course to try for a PB in general but then again I beat my old PB by quite a margin today. The course feels like it has more uphill than downhill on balance, which is impossible for a circular course…so really I think it’s a 6 (Average) but I’m going to give it a 7 because it went so well for me today. Rating: Above Average.
Results Accuracy & Timeliness – 8
The results were up really quickly and are already integrated into the Run Britain Ranking website. Very impressive. Rating: Good.
VFM – 7
Entry is pretty reasonable for the length of the event – I believe it’s about £15. This is reflected in the quality of the bling though – more later. I’ll need to get better at noting down the cost of runs when I book them, usually week/months before the big day. Above Average.
Vibe – 8
The whole event was really friendly, possibly due to the number of fellow club runners taking part, but then everyone seemed to be having a good time. Rating: Good.
Goody Bag/Bling – 4
Probably the low point of the event (but it was quite cheap to enter) – the medal is unimaginative and the t-shirt best used for decorating rather than running (it’s not a wicking material). Other than that there was a banana and a bottle of water. I did also blag a nice cupcake but that wasn’t ‘official merchandise’. There wasn’t a goody bag at all – items were just handed out loose. Rating: Poor.