This race was always going to be tricky. I'd intended to do Autumn 100 as my Berkshire race but realised it didn’t have a medal and therefore didn’t meet my criteria so booked this as a replacement. This race was promptly postponed due to Covid. The postponement email was the most rudimentary of all the postponements I had, with not-so-much as an apology, on 11/3/21:
I then heard nothing from them for a year. A further timetabling issue resulted in my Leicestershire race being moved to 2 days prior to this race, which was never going to be ideal, and my lack of training and recent Covid meant I wasn’t as up for a double marathon weekend as I might usually be. Ben couldn’t come with me this time so I drove myself to Egham where the race started and finished.
As it turned out, there wasn't a lot to love about this race.
I arrived and went to the registration desk. I said, “Hi, I’ve come to collect my number, I’m number 77 I think” and smiled. The volunteer said, “Alice?” and handed me my number. That was the only word spoken to me by anyone in the first 90 minutes I was there.
There was a Union Jack on the bib number (since Brexit I think putting a Union Jack on anything immediately makes it worse). Please also note the stupid slogan. Stupid slogans are a guaranteed way to put me off a race.
The weather was slightly sunny, but the race start was under the shadow of trees. As a result it was bloody freezing. I was wearing three layers, a buff and gloves and still shivering. There were a lot of runners wearing nothing but vests and t-shirts which doesn’t bode well as it usually means little thought has been paid to anyone who isn’t racing.
- Later, the race was absolutely boiling and I stripped off all my layers and regretted not wearing suncream.
- The PA system at the start was broken so the race director just spoke in his normal voice meaning it was really hard to hear him and half the field missed all the instructions.
- The race was directly under a flight path and gigantic
jumbo jets roared overhead at frequent intervals, ruining the tranquility of
what was billed as “one of the most scenic and historic stretches of the River Thames skirting the actual site where the historic Magna Carta
Royal Charter treaty was signed by King John of England on 15th June
1215”. They didn't have vast numbers of 737s back then though. Just saying...
- Just as I was settling into my stride after a kilometre or two, my Garmin did that deeply unhelpful thing where it tells you your training status is ‘unproductive’. Thanks for that.
- Although some bits of the course were quite nice, there was quite a lot of running alongside busy roads:
- There was also quite a lot of uneven ground, and fairly early on in the race I came across a runner who had tripped and had a nasty fall. I stopped and sat on a bench with her while she got her breath back and gave her a wet wipe.
- The course consisted of two short out-and-backs in one direction and four longer out-and-backs the opposite way. All of it was along the river so it was pretty much totally flat the whole way. I thought that would be good after the hills on Thursday but actually it was just dull.
- My legs started feeling sore from 11km in and carried on feeling sore for the rest of the race. To be fair, this wasn’t the race’s fault, but it didn’t add to my enjoyment of it.
- It was mentioned at the race briefing that there was a walking race taking part on the same path today. This race was substantially larger than our race and featured about a thousand people all walking along the same trails as us. They were all going one way – we were going out and back – so for about 15 miles you were constantly stopping and starting, dodging people, shouting “excuse me” etc. As walkers tend to, they were frequently blocking the whole path/meandering around/not paying attention/stopping to take photos. I’m sure the runners were really annoying for them as well. I have no idea whose race was first but it was a planning disaster and one of them should’ve been rescheduled.
- As a result of this, people racing and trying to get a PB were often held up by the walkers and obviously this could be a bit frustrating. In the worst episode of trail etiquette I can ever remember seeing, I witnessed a half marathon runner literally PUSH an older Asian gentleman out of his way because he was holding him up by about 2 seconds. I was horrified. I apologised to the man on behalf of the runner and the race in general. When I got back to the HQ I stopped, mid-race to report the guy to the race director. The race director said he would ‘have a word’ which, as I’m sure you can imagine, is unlikely to have much impact. Personally I would have DQ’d him. It was absolutely shameful behaviour that gives all runners a bad name.
- The aid stations were shit. There were only two – which was OK because of the out-and-back nature of the race – but all they had were gels, water, electrolytes and waffles. On one occasion I managed to get some orange squash and three jelly sweets (!) but I never saw those again (presumably used up by the faster runners ahead of me). The waffles were nice, but not really a substitute for a properly supplied aid station (Leicestershire had hot cross buns, FFS!)
- At 30k I was really struggling. It was boiling hot, my legs hurt, I was bored of running and there was still really far to go. I had a couple of paracetamol, a caffeine bullet and put on Gordy’s A100 playlist, a triumvirate that has never failed me, but even after 20 minutes I didn’t feel significantly better.
- Around this time I got chatting to a bloke who I’d
seen around at other races. I told him
about my counties challenge and explained that Berkshire had been a tricky race
to find. He replied, “But we’re not in
Berkshire. We’re in Surrey!” I said, “surely some part of it must be in
Berkshire?” and he laughed and said, “No!
You want to do one of the weekday marathons in Slough. That’s in Berkshire. Egham’s in Surrey”. I frantically tried to remember if I’d checked
– if marathons are near the border I tend to – but I wasn’t sure if I had or
hadn’t. I might’ve checked that Windsor was in Berkshire, but the race didn’t
actually go to Windsor – only OLD Windsor.
Oh god. The bloke said, “I should’ve told you this when you were on your last lap
shouldn’t I? Enjoy your race in BERKSHIRE!” and ran off, laughing. (Possibly I made up the bit about the
laughing. But I certainly felt
distraught that I might have run this miserable race for nothing).
I got my phone out and started googling. It seemed like Old Windsor was in Berkshire, but was I on the right side of the Thames?
In the end I had to wait until I got home to check the ceremonial county borders and be absolutely sure. The top map is part of my Strava trace - the red line is the route I actually ran. The bottom map is the ceremonial county boundary map: the bit above the red line is Berkshire and the bit below is Surrey. Comparing the location of Friary Field, at least part of the race was definitely in Berkshire. Phew....
- The race briefing promised sports massage would be available at the end. I walked all around and there was none to be found. If they ever existed, they'd obviously packed up and gone home after all the fast runners finished. Have I mentioned I hate it when races cater primarily for fast runners? *cough* I'm looking at you, Isle of Wight *cough*
- I ran with the woman who had had the fall for the best part of an hour and she was really nice and we had some interesting conversations. Normally I'm pretty reckless with reporting chats I've had with people on the trails, but as we talked about quite personal stuff including about her child, I'm (unusually) reticent to invade her privacy by reporting it here.
- There was a nice medal with a picture of the Magna Carta on it:
- The car parking machine was broken so parking was free. I think it's safe to say that when free parking is the highlight of a race, the bar is pretty low.