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Wandering the World

Stories and tips from around the world.

Thoresby Half Marathon 2020

I like to write about the races I do as something to look back on, to remind me what they were like and how I felt about them. One day they may be useful if I decide to repeat the race as it’ll remind me of what the day was like. Whilst this is a race before, and one I’ll most likely do again; it is not a day I hope to repeat any time soon.

As I’m sure was the case with many people there, it was quite a journey to the start of this race. When I finished my last race in Milton Keynes back in March it seemed very likely then it would be my last race for some time as we were on the verge of a nationwide lockdown. A lockdown. It’s not something we would have even thought about a few months before it happened, it was a different world then. Sure the lockdown in the UK was not to the extent that other countries went for; but it was one that impacted our way of life to the point that made it unrecognisable. Trips and races were cancelled one after another, and even as we reached the summer it didn’t seem like an end was in sight.

In the beginning we could only go outside to shop for essentials as individuals, or to complete one form of exercise a day, unless you were what we soon realised were key workers - the people that keep this country moving. After 50 days of working from home I decided I needed to make sure I got out the house every day, so started a run streak, not really having a plan for it. Quite a few people I knew had already started one, and it did seem like a good way to keep some shred of sanity. I was already running 5 or 6 days a week anyway, just as I had been for months. So now I was running 7 days a week, and on the odd occasion I’d still do a double run day.

Fast-forward another 100 days and Leicester had been in an extended lockdown due to a high number of cases here. The borough I live in was finally released, and plans were going well for a half marathon overseas. It’d be quite an adventure, and certainly a strange experience. It was eventually cancelled; but I’d already decided I’d do Thoresby Half Marathon as a way to introduce myself back into racing and seeing other people about. It’d be a fun race, and I wouldn’t feel like I needed to push myself just yet.

On race day it was 215 days since I’d started working from home, and 165 days since the start of the run streak. My last few days of running were ones which got gradually shorter and shorter as it got closer to the day, so I was hopeful that my legs wouldn’t complain too much. It wouldn’t be fast of course; but it would be possible.

I was up at 07:00 to have breakfast, and just relaxed around the house until 08:20 when it was time to hit the road. This would be the farthest my car has been since March, having only done the odd 2-3 mile journey in the intervening months. Maybe this was why there was so much erratic driving on the roads of late - people getting used to driving again having had long breaks.

The COVID measures for this race were such that you needed to arrive ideally no more than 40 minutes before your designated start time. It was then necessary to check-in using the QR code with the track and trace application (although I didn’t spot this so missed it out!). There was then hand sanitiser stations you’d have to use on leaving and entering the car park, and various other places such as before and after using the toilet queue, and arriving back in the race village at the end of the race.

A field with businesses set-up around the sides.

The start was also quite different - instead of everyone being huddled together in a pen, we were all spaced out 2 metres apart, and would start in waves. You’d need to wear your mask whilst in the race village; but it was okay to take it off just before you cross the start line. I think despite all these amazingly well thought out measures, some didn’t quite feel ready to race as it was a little quieter than normal. It almost felt deserted between the start of the 10K and the start of the half marathon, there wasn’t all the chatting you’d normally get. I did however briefly talk to @LeilaRuns, and then talked to @GirlHucknall for a bit longer. I’ve come across them both at races before, so it was strange to actually talk to people I kind of know in person after so long. I can’t remember when I last spoke to friends in person; but it’s been a very long time.

I found a place to stand around the right pace marker for what I wanted to run this in. Having easily done 10 miles at 6:50/mi pace just two weeks ago, I figured if I’d got my runs right in between then it shouldn’t be much of a problem to do 13.11 miles at 07:00/mi average. Almost immediately we began moving forward, and before I knew it I’d crossed the start line. At that point I lowered my mask, and tried to settle into a reasonable pace behind around 8 people (I did a quick count at the time, and to start with I’d increment, and decrement depending on passing - but eventually there were other runners so lost track).

The ground wasn’t too bad, and for the first mile at least, I managed to avoid the majority of the mud by sticking to the outside of the trail. I only really ran through the mud when I had to for overtaking safely. This I did a few times, and gradually overtook a few to get up to what I think was 6th. I could see more ahead of me, and I realised I was slowly gaining on them. For the most part it felt good, and I was able to hold a fairly steady pace. In fact, for the first four miles, despite inclines and mud, I was able to keep a fairly consistent pace. When I got to a hill, there was a lady struggling up it so I slowed down to make sure she was okay, and to offer some encouragement. Apparently it’s likely her last race before an operation. Fingers crossed that goes well!

Finding she was doing okay, and seeing another runner catching up with me, I got running again to increase the distance between us. I did slow down again briefly though to say “hi” to @LeilaRuns as I passed her running with one of her friends. It was so pleasing to see actual REAL PEOPLE; people I knew!This didn’t really affect my pacing too much, and I carried on.

For this course there’s a sign to look out for where the half marathon runners go a different way to the others. This was through a heavily wooded area with dead leaves, and mud. It would have been worthy of a photograph; but I wanted to push on. The most difficult part to avoid the mud was then through what seems to be a farm yard. It smelt a bit there, and was coated in a fine layer of mud and muddy water. Lovely. It was just after there that I’d passed another runner, and at this point could see the church near Thoresby Hall - the halfway point was nigh! I figured I was around 4th at this point in the race, based on position only since with the timings being chip times it meant it was impossible to know for sure. I didn’t think I could catch up another runner in the next half; but I thought maybe I could hold this position.

The course veered off to the right, away from the other distances for the third time in the course, and went alongside the church, and through more mud before rejoining the tarmac path to the hall. When I got to the bridge I felt that I had to walk. So, I did. The runner I’d not long passed overtook me, and then not long into the second lap even more overtook. I think I very quickly went back to the position I started in.

Over the course of the next lap I’d use waiting for safe times to pass other runners as a reason to walk, and if there was a hill, I’d walk some more. I was falling further and further back, and I didn’t care. That first lap had been sociable in places, and I’d enjoyed it. Now I just needed to get to the finish.

This slower lap gave me time to appreciate how thoughtful this race organiser is - there’s a canicross race as part of the event, and they even have special bins on the course to allow them to get rid of poo bags. They’ve also cut back on the water at stations with the request that you carry your own - a great way to cut back on the amount of plastic being used an event. Social responsibility is a good trait for an organiser to have.

Anyway, this lap was of course the same as the previous lap. Just slower, and with far more people overtaking me, than I’d overtaken the first time around. It was so slow in fact it seemed unlikely I’d hit that 07:00/mi goal I’d planned on. The one I thought would be reasonable due to the run streak, and lack of racing.

Even when I got to the finishing straight I didn’t put that much effort into what was left; but finished in position 17th overall with a time of 94:48. It was my slowest half marathon in years; but it doesn't matter - I got from the race what I wanted.

Once across the finish line I put the mask back into place, and walked around the funnel to collect the finishers medal. This one was a nice surprise as it was a wooden medal, which is a type you don’t get often and feels more environmentally kind.

Adult male standing next to a fence wearing running clothes and a face mask, with a wooden medal around his neck.

For now, I have no idea when, where, or what my next race will be. It’d be nice to see more people I know again, so fingers crossed.

A wooden medal on a white background