I entered the Reading half marathon back in November last year. It cost £33.50 and I paid for a guaranteed place – none of this ballot entry rejection malarkey. This would be my first time running Reading, and my second half marathon race ever. My aim for this race was to run it in around 1 hour 50. This would be a huge pb for me, but my runner’s world training schedule suggests you need a 1:50 half time to go sub-4 hours in the marathon. I was slightly daunted by this prospect as when I have undertaken 13 miles in training I’ve taken around 1:55 to two hours. A 1:50 marathon translates to just under 8:25 minutes per mile.
My bag-carrier bf has some family in the Reading area so we stayed overnight. The night before we had a great spag bol, with lots of salad and garlic bread – I was certainly carb-loaded. On the day I woke up at 06:30 hours for my breakfast – two slices of toast and raspberry jam, a banana, washed down with two cuppas (tea) and some water. I would usually drink coffee at home, but as I was a non-paying guest I didn’t want to be too difficult. I must add it was proper Yorkshire tea so this is the next best thing to coffee and certainly helped my digestive system to function ‘efficiently’ for my run.
As it wasn’t great weather (drizzly and miserable) I wore my ron-hill full length leggings, helly Hansen long sleeve top, brooks trainers and nike cap and of course my comforter garmin. I also had an old top to wear over my helly Hansen. Said old top could be chucked when I was at the start line.
Bf’s uncle dropped us off close to the Madejski Stadium (home to Reading FC) where the race starts and finishes. I dispatched my bags etc with the bf, who decided he was going to decamp to a popular fast-food chain to utilise their free wifi, and walked up to the stadium. In the pouring rain. The runners around me had fashioned ponchos out of binbags and I realised that this would have been a good move. Note to self, always carry a spare bin-bag. I went to the stadium in search of the ladies – and joined the sizeable queue. The start area was around 800m to a km away from the stadium. It was really pissing it down by this point and I was freezing and really wondering why on earth I had volunteered to spend my Sunday morning in the freezing rain. My consumption of Californian based bloggers has lulled me into a false sense of security. I was expecting LA sunshine; the reality was the extended UK winter – grey, miserable skies, drizzle and even sleet.
I had a blue number and this meant I was supposed to set off in the middle of the pack. It was raining stair-rods by this point and I made no effort to move further up the start. I was really freezing and regretting not bringing my gloves with me. I shed my extra top at about ten o’clock. We were due to start at 10:02 and we started slightly late. It probably took me over ten minutes to get through the start. Like most mass participation races, it was congested at the start and I passed quite a few slower runners who had positioned themselves closer to the start than they should have done (indicated by their number colour) but this was my only gripe and it certainly isn’t unique to Reading.
You can read information about the course itself here. I’ve never been to Reading town centre before and doubt that I would rush to return, especially as I have now seen the highlights of the city according to the race website. In a nutshell the route takes you from the stadium, through the university grounds, into town and back to the stadium. It was pretty flat. There were a few uphill bits but nothing too strenuous and of course there were some nice downhill bits as well. There were mile markers and some km signs too (10, 15, 20). There was reasonable support along the course and more than enough water and lucozade stations.
It took me a few miles to get into my stride but I had maintained a comfortable 8:20/8:30 minute per mile pace. Annoyingly my garmin lost signal at mile 7 and up to that point I had been achieving the 1:50 pace. Thereafter I just decided to run as I felt stronger the longer I ran. The garmin fail may have been a good thing as it meant I was less conservative with my pace and just ran rather than worrying that I was going too fast or too slow. Weather-wise the rain stopped after we had started but it continued to shower, sometimes quite heavily, throughout the morning. Of course when you’re running you don’t really notice it as you’ve warmed up at this point.
Dotted along the course there were also kindly people/residents handing out sweets and drinks. I’m not sure if it was because it was St Patrick’s Day but there was one pub offering free ‘adult beverages’. Shame I’m not a beer drinker. If there had been pinot on offer I may well have obliged. One man did stop for a pint and got a rousing cheer which made me smile. I took a gel at mile 9. Once we had been through the town the route returns to the stadium along a dual carriage-way. It’s not the most scenic of courses but its usp is the stadium finish.
Like I said, I felt strong throughout much of the race and really wound the pace up. My chip time was 1:47:42 – beating my pb by over 17.5 minutes! Once you have crossed the finish line I was herded out of the stadium to receive a tin-foil blanket, the medal and goody-bag, which contained amongst other things a packet of Walkers, a Mars bar, pistachio nuts, a water bottle, some chewing gum and mints (?!) just what every runner needs and also water and/or lucozade. This bit was really well organised. It’s a shame I wasn’t. I didn’t manage to reconnect with the boyfriend for ages. He hadn’t seen me finish despite being in the stadium and wasn’t at the point we agreed to meet at. I was waiting and getting colder and colder and went to look for him in the rain but we eventually met up about an hour after we had finished. I managed to get some dry clothes in the stadium but had to change in the loos. The queues for the (ladies) loos were ridiculous at this point. As the weather was so crappy I didn’t really explore the ‘race village’ and missed out on being able to get a half-price shock absorber bra if I surrendered an old sports bra.
We then had to join the huge queue for the shuttle buses back into Reading after the race. It was still raining at this point. And the puddles were getting larger. And deeper. On the plus side the queue moved quite quickly and the bus was free and dropped us about three minutes away from the station. There was a slight wait for a train back to London due to train delays. And the train was rammed and we had to stand.
Would I do it again? Perhaps, it’s a flat fast course and really well organised. The weather was the drawback for me. And when you have to travel back via public transport it makes it a whole less appealing. It was well organised and reasonable value. Just not great when it’s raining throughout. If I was local to Reading I think it would be an annual fixture. But I’m not local to Reading so we’ll see if I enter again.
Did you run Reading? What half-marathons do you recommend?