I’m not a huge fan of waking up before 7 on a Sunday morning, but when its the morning of a half marathon I’m shooting for a PB at, I make an exception.
Reading has been on my “To do” list pretty much since my first Yeovil Half 2 years ago. It’s billed as the fastest half marathon in the UK*, has 16,000 runners, a big city race vibe and a fantastic finish in the amazing Madejski Stadium, home of Reading FC and London Irish RFC.
It’s an added bonus that Jodie’s folks live in Basingstoke, just 20 minutes down the road. This made travelling to the event a breeze. I’ve visited Reading before and I am categorically NOT a fan of the roads there. I always end up lost or angry, so I made sure I picked a car park nearby, on the Basingstoke side of the course. Parking had to be pre-booked, and I was “lucky” to get a space. All car parks were full, though they released extra spaces a few weeks beforehand in 2 car parks. The Blue car park was close to the M4 with easy access to and from it. The Red car park was smack bang in the middle of the course and advised that cars wouldn’t be allowed out til 2.30 at the earliest.
Imagine my (un)surprise when people were complaining on Facebook that they were still in the Red car park, despite all other car parks seemingly having no issues! People need to exercise common sense, my my sympathy for these people is limited.
That sympathy however, only goes so far to the event organisers though, who charged the princely sum of £9 to park and in exchange for a lovely blue parking ticket to hang from the rear view mirror. That’s all very well, but on the way in, no-one checked it – and no more than an hour later the parents-in-law parked in there, totally gratis without a problem, so that seems to me to be a bit of a rip off.
Aside from that though, I have to say the traffic was managed excellently. From approaching and getting into the car park everything was incredibly well sign posted, coned and cordoned off, and for such a large event I actually thought this was very impressive.
Walking to the stadium, the runners headed to the village were buzzing. The sun had come out, and despite it being a little chilly in the breeze, I had a feeling the weather was going to defy the forecast – and I was right. All day the sun shone, to the point Jodie got a bit sun-burnt.
I’ve not been to the Mad Stad before (Despite a couple of close calls for the football) but it really is a lovely stadium. Walking to the race village we thought we’d stop in and look at the finish area, and it was magnificent!
There weren’t many people around yet, but there was a commentator already waxing lyrical and I just knew it would be buzzing for the finish. We soon realized the reason the commentator had started was the “Green Park Challenge” race had started and the first runners were coming in for the finish! It was quite the race for the win, the first 4 or so were all from Reading AC and the first two were only seconds apart!
It was here that we met Lucy who was doing her first ever Half Marathon, and she was suitably excited/nervous! We headed to the race village which was starting to get busy. It was still cold, but the sun was trying to get through. The race village itself was enormous – it was more like a festival site. Much bigger than similarly sized events like the Bristol Half. We met Dave and had a chat with him whilst we waited for Simon to turn up, who we met near the bag drop. And speaking of the bag drop, what an absolute delight! Zero queue, stacks of amazing volunteers and both drop off and collection were a pleasure. Great people, many races can learn a lot from the team here. Good job!
Jodie and Lucy were in a different starting pen to Simon and I so we wished each other luck and went our separate ways. It was a bit of a walk through “Green Park” which was quite picturesque, but the lake was a bit smelly – maybe it should have been called “Brown Park”! We got to the pens about 30 minutes before the start, which, unsurprisingly, were excellently controlled. Marshals were checking the colours of race numbers to grant access to the fenced start pens, and each marshal seemed to know exactly what they were doing and where to send people. It was absolutely seamless. We decided as were were targetting 90ish minutes we’d head toward the front, which is exactly where we found ourselves! The joys of getting to the pens early!
I started getting a bit nervous, mainly because everyone around me was talking about 80-85 minute times! But I held my own in there and pretended I belonged there. There was the obligatory Zumba style warm up and when that was over the chap leading it strapped on a 1h30 pacer flag and the proceedings were getting underway. After an (underwhelming) speech by John Madejski, the first wave was counted down and started. The waves were separated 3 minutes apart, which was intended to ease congestion. Although we were only the second wave, I have to say from my point of view, it worked, I had to do very little weaving around and was another sign of an excellently organised race.
As our wave was heading for the line, I shouted “Cheers John!” to Mr Madejski, who gave me a little wave and after an agonising 25 second wait, the gun went and we were off.
Not 200 yards later did an unfortunate woman absolutely stack it into ground and I was lucky not to get ripped myself, but I kept my head focussed and carried on.
From here on in, my memory has gotten a bit flakey. because I was absolutely flat out, and I can’t really remember much of large portions of the course, so here’s what I do remember.
Mile 1 – 2: We headed around Green Park and ran through a trading estate. I felt comfortable at 6.45m/m pace, which was faster than my 7m/m target, so i decided to keep at it. Brilliant support.
Mile 3: UPHILL! For a good half mile this was just up hill and then started what seemed like a gradual downhill towards the university. Pace slowed and I was worried I might not be able to maintain it. Brilliant support. *Apparently its the fastest half because of the number of fast runners who do it. It’s definitely not because its sodding flat after this mountain!
Miles 4-5: Slightly down hill and I remember heading around the university. It was really windy and my Garmin messed up with all the sharp bends. A bit sparser but still good support. Thought Sub 90 might be on.
Miles 6-7: Through town, windy a few uphills, I remember brilliant support but this is where things started getting a bit hazy. Thought sub-90 had gone. The onset of runners tummy came on.
Mile 8: UPHILL! This one seemed to go on and on and on. Convinced myself sub-90 was gone. Sparse support I think I really can’t remember.
Mile 9-11: Flattened out, brain was mush and basic addition and subtraction was beyond me but figured if I did 7m/m for the rest of the race I’d break my target. I have no idea what the crowd were like. Bowels growling on a consistent basis.
Mile 12: Pain, suffering and torture, but somehow banged in a quick mile. Crowd sparse, long drag bag to the stadium, which didn’t seem to get any bloody closer at all. Bowels were screaming at me and had to try my best to talk them out of doing a Paula on the A33.
Mile 13: More suffering, wound round into the stadium complex and wow, what a sight, the run up to the stadium was just lined with people cheering them home. I looked at my watch but I had no idea what I was going to do except that I know I’d beat my target 92 minutes. Saw Dave here, but I could barely raise a hand for him, I was spent. Had to go around the outside of the stadium before reaching the last…
Mile 13.1: As I entered the stadium it was deafening! Such good support, the commentator was going and I had about 30 seconds to beat 90 minutes. I gave it all I had, but nothing was in the tank. On the home stretch I heard Jodie’s Dad yell “Go on Matty boy!” and I managed a little fist pump in the general direction (I couldn’t see anything) and crossed the line in 90:08 official time!
That’s a massive 5+ minute PB which I am absolutely over the moon with, but I keep reflecting on the time and wondering if I should be upset not to go 9 seconds faster. Ultimately though, I gave the race absolutely everything and left nothing out there. That was as good as I could have given on the day – though I could have gone quicker on a flat course on tapered leg instead of in the peak mileage phase of marathon training, but thats another story!
Much like the rest of the race, the finish funnel was absolutely exemplary. Well orchestrated collection of goody bag (With tee shirt and water bottle – good haul!) and the most magnificent Half medal I’ve ever gotten, all the way through to collecting my bag again, which was an absolute pleasure.
After collecting my bag, I headed over to where I thought I’d seen Dave – and though I didn’t find him, I did see Simon, who smashed his target with an amazing 88m plus change! We got the obligatory victory photo in our vests!
Then I headed back to try and find Jodie’s parents and watch Jodie come in. But I couldn’t find Jodie’s parents for ages until I called them. When I found them we waited for over half an hour, watching people carefully trying to spot Jodie. As the pacer flags came in, it was getting more and more difficult to come up with reasons why we hadn’t seen her. “Maybe she started at the back of the pen”, “Maybe she started a pen back”, “Maybe she started with Lucy”. Eventually, worried, I headed to the original meeting point – and lo and behold, there were both Jodie AND Lucy! Jodie had even seen Lucy cross the line! I felt awful for Jodie’s parents who came along to support but only saw me! But on the plus side, both Jodie AND Lucy smashed their targets.
Unfortunately due to the kerfuffle I didn’t get a chance to head to the Reading Road Runners tent to see Kezza from parkrun, but even so it was great to watch people come home. We saw one guy, who unfortunately had to be carried near the end, but was totally out of it. He collapsed and the St Johns Ambulance people had to go and get him. Its a stark reminder to people that a half marathon is a big challenge and shouldn’t be taken lightly. Train well, eat and hydrate properly and you will be fine though.
Anyway, before we saw Lucy of and headed to the car we got a photo together.
We walked back to the car and left the car park without a hitch (Because I wasn’t stupid and didn’t pick the Red car park…)
What a truly brilliant race, I can’t recommend it highly enough. Top marks in every single department except for parking value for money. Credit to all the volunteers for making it possible, and absolute kudos to the thousands of people who either came to support or had their travel disrupted for the sake of this magnificent race.
Reading, we will be back!