October 2012 was the last time I raced this distance. Just writing that feels like a confession, but don’t worry, this report doesn’t contain any more embarrassing personal revelations. Am I supposed to like running or what?! Honestly guv, I really do. So anyway, having had a few months of good winter training I decided to enter the Coventry Half Marathon. I mean, if I didn’t pull my finger out, by the time I’d entered another Half, it’d be time for the next Olympics already. The plan was to see if I could get anywhere near my PB, set in those heady 2012 days, although I would have been happy with sub 1:30.
My morning prep involved throwing my clothes on, not showering, not stretching, and feeding Eva brekkie, which makes me realise how much I used to faff in childless days. Claire and Eva gamely agreed to come with me, provide transport and moral support. Standing in freezing cold Coventry for 2 hours – what better way to spend a Sunday morning? Don’t I treat them well?
We ended up finding a parking space in a car park about 5mins from the start, which was fortunate, as that final half hour before that start seems to pass in a flash. I bumped into Andy Wheeler on the way to the start and we nudged into the starting pen by the 1:30 pacer. I wondered how fast he could go without that big flag he was carrying (the pacer, not Andy) – it fell off on the course somewhere so I guess now we know. Once amongst the bodies it wasn’t so cold (Emperor penguins have really got that one right), the race soon started and we were off round the centre of Coventry. It always catches me by surprise me just how fast people go off at the start. I tried to rein myself in a bit, but still did the 1st mile in about 6:30 and was getting constantly overtaken. I knew I couldn’t keep that up for long and took my foot off the gas a bit. After a 1.5mile lap of the city centre we crossed the ringroad and climbed out of town.
The course is undulating and on average climbs for the first 8miles. I tried to keep out of the stiff breeze by drafting off other groups of runners and tried to get as much benefit out of this during the early stages before the field spreads out and you start feeling like a bit of a numpty sat on the shoulder of the only other person within 100m!
The course felt fairly well supported in the suburban sections (including one woman watching from her bedroom window in pyjamas) and we soon found ourselves on country lanes, climbing more steeply. Passing a church in Allesley we were serenaded by a band playing “500miles”. I hoped it wasn’t that far to the finish. At the water station I grabbed a bag of water, squeezed and it exploded water bomb style all over me. I proclaimed my disappointment, licked the water off my hand, and carried on. No matter, there was another water station at 7miles. I did exactly the same thing! Just before the big hill on mile 8 someone (I didn’t see who) shouted “come on Jonny Hammond” which gave me a boost so thanks whoever that was. From this point in the race I stopped noticing things like the scenery, focusing instead on my own body and not bumping into anyone else’s.
At about 9m in I still felt like I had something in the tank, which was a real psychological boost as I knew it was downhill all the way from here (apart from one quite mean bit where you detour off the main road down a 400m hill and then have to come back on yourself). I soon met Linda, who said “I’ve gone” (Linda, you sounded it but you didn’t look it! well done for hanging in there for 5th lady). I kicked on, trying to up it for the last 5k and a glory sprint for the line (i.e. gurning whilst flailing arms everywhere, you all know what I mean). Claire and Eva had positioned themselves in the optimum position to cheer me back into the city centre (I think there was tea provided there too). Spectators had long ago thinned out so this was a welcome boost and just the encouragement I needed to man up and keep pushing until the end. I crossed the line in 1:26:40, which I was delighted with – faster than I was expecting, only 30s off a PB, and a good base for the summer.
There’s a decent race village at the finish, decent goody bag and medal. All in all a well organised event which I hope to do again. There were 2000 runners last year and 3,500 this year so it’s obviously doing something right. Also I like running downhill in the last few miles when I’m already knackered, but if you’re more attracted by the prospect of a real swine of a hill in the last 5k then may I recommend the Birmingham Half.
Congrats to all who ran and thanks to all the supporters.