It’s never a good sign when it takes me almost a week to write a race report. I could have written a ‘woe is me’ race review last Sunday, but I decided to spend a few days reflecting on what happened. The Great Birmingham Run itself was well organised and very well supported, and I didn’t want to write a biased and overly negative race review.
After managing to complete 16 weeks of training, I was confident that I’d enjoy the Great Birmingham Run. I also hoped that all of the early morning training runs would be rewarded with a respectable half marathon time. I was going for gold.
When I first looked out of my bedroom window at 6am on Sunday morning it was dry. A few minutes later it started to rain. The rain continued until approximately thirty minutes before the race started. I got out of bed at 6:30am, had a shower, got changed into some of my running gear and managed to eat four weetabix and a couple of bananas.
My friend reluctantly dropped me off in the centre of Sutton Coldfield and I spent ten cold and very wet minutes waiting for a bus. Fortunately the bus arrived and 30 minutes later I found myself walking across the centre of Birmingham playing dodge the huge puddles and hunt the race village.
I would have taken more pre-race photos but I decided against getting my camera soaked. I tracked down some portaloos and had a successful visit. I then located the baggage buses – for some reason I hadn’t expected the baggage buses to be double-decker buses – climbed onto bus number 5 and removed my soggy jeans and fleece and put on the rest of my race day outfit. I squeezed myself into the black bin bag I’d customised the previous evening, and left my bag sitting on the back seat of the baggage bus. I was actually quite jealous of my bag getting to sit inside a warm and dry bus.
I reluctantly headed back out into the rain, found some shelter and spent the next thirty or so minutes people watching and trying to keep warm. I managed to fit in a couple of portaloo visits and after a few attempts tied my laces so that they weren’t likely to get too tight as the race progressed. I was nervous and just wanted the race to start. After what felt like ages, runners wearing orange and white numbers were called to the start area. It was quite windy and I started to feel really cold. In usual Great Run style there was a short organised – and in such a confined space slightly hazardous – warm-up. My warm-up consisted of me removing my bin bag and hoodie and realising that I *really* needed another wee. Unfortunately, there were huge queues for the portaloos in the start area and queuing would have made me miss the start of the race. I tried to convince myself that I didn’t need the toilet. I tried to remember where the first set of portaloos would be located.
The race started, and the elite and faster runners disappeared off into the distance. After a short delay to avoid the course getting too congested, my wave started running and I headed out on my half marathon run. As soon as I started to run I realised that I still *really* needed a wee. I actually weighed up the pros and cons of weeing while I ran. The first miles and a half was pretty bleak and the course seemed to pass through some slightly dodgy backstreets. I didn’t spot any portaloos and was envious of the male runners who were able to go just about anywhere.
After a couple of slightly over ambitiously paced miles – next time I’ll make sure my Garmin is set to miles and not kilometres – I slowed down and settled into a more sensible pace. I still needed a wee.
Unfortunately, even the more sensible pace felt a lot harder than it should have done so early on in the race. I realised that I felt very hungry. I’d eaten breakfast more than three hours before the race started and was now running on empty (sorry, I couldn’t resist!). Judging by the number of discarded gel wrappers I spotted on the floor – there were thousands of the bloody things, why can’t runners make more effort to carry their rubbish? – I was clearly one of the few runners not using energy gels. I won’t make the same mistake next time.
At approximately 5 miles the course went directly past Bournville train station. I thought about the emergency £10 in my back pocket and almost stepped off the course and into the train station. The course then went past Cadbury’s World – another huge temptation and reminder of my hunger – and up a really short but steep hill. Shortly after the 6 mile marker there was a drinks station and more importantly a row of portaloos. I sprinted off the course and into a portaloo. After spending several hours on my feet, sitting down in the warm and escaping the wind and crowds felt like heaven. Unlike most runners I didn’t exactly rush out of the portaloo and back out onto the course. I guess that deep down I already knew that my race goals were out of reach.
I rejoined the race and spent a couple of minutes trying to get going again. My legs and knees were not happy. Between 7 and 8 miles I managed to distract myself by watching the runners from the later waves heading in the opposite direction. Without the wind cooling me down I started to feel warm and wasted more time getting into a tangle with my water bottle and cap. Trying to multitask didn’t work and next time I’ll stop running, remove my cap, tip water on my head, replace my cap and then run.
After what felt like forever, we turned off Pershore Road and headed towards Edgbaston Cricket Ground. We completed a circuit of the cricket ground and then crossed the road and entered Cannon Hill Park. While it was great to escape the roads, the paths in the park were covered in leaves – and the occasional gel wrapper – and I witnessed a couple of runners almost come a cropper. I grabbed a bottle of Lucozade Sport from the drinks station, had a couple of swigs and was almost sick. Yet another running fail!
We left Cannon Hill Park and headed back out onto the roads. Although this at this stage I felt terrible, the support between 9 and 10 miles was incredible and I was smiling as I hobbled along. At 10 miles the course took us onto the far from scenic Belgrave Middleway and it was at this point my right knee finally decided that enough was enough. Thanks knee.
Shortly after escaping the monotony of yet another Birmingham tourist attraction – the Lee Bank Middleway – the course took us onto Charlotte Road and the start of “The Hill”. When I originally heard about “The Hill” I was determined to make it to the top without slowing to a walk. The course was very crowded, and after the third runner had slowed to a walk directly in front of me, I gave in and walked the final few meters of “The Hill”. Later on that day I found some photos that showed just how much I wanted the race to be over.
Just after 12 miles the course took me directly past my ex-boyfriends flat. At least thinking about my ex distracted me from the pain in my right knee and feet for a few minutes. We crossed Harbourne Road – more memories – and then turned onto Hagley Road.
After what felt like an eternity I hobbled through another underpass and eventually reached Broad Street and the approach to the finish.
I gritted my teeth, powered my way towards the finish, posed for the cameras and stumbled across the finish line.
I stopped my Garmin and realised that I’d failed. It wasn’t a great feeling.
The finish area of the race was chaos. We had to queue for our goody bags and medals. There were families and friends waiting for runners and blocking the way out. The baggage buses were parked on a side street at the bottom of a steep hill. After running(ish) a half marathon the steep downhill wasn’t appreciated by the runners. Security on the baggage buses was variable; let’s just say I could have walked away with someone else’s bag as numbers weren’t checked. I grabbed my bag, got off the bus and started to hobble back up the hill. At this stage I spotted Matt. We had a quick chat about the run, I mentioned that I was heading back towards the train station and Matt very kindly offered to drive me home.
Thanks Matt you really were a lifesaver and I definitely owe you a couple of pints!
We hobbled back to where Matt had parked his car, drove back to Four Oaks where Matt very kindly dropped me off at my local Tesco’s. I’m pretty sure that most runners don’t eat three packets of crisps after a half marathon. I must have really needed the salt. I hobbled back to my friend’s house – down yet another steep hill – located where I’d hidden the front door key, let myself in, removed my trainers and socks and assessed the damage. Although my trainers and socks had been soaked from the start, I’d escaped with just a couple of tiny blisters and a sore little toe. I’d been lucky and my new socks hadn’t shredded my feet to pieces.
Right, I’ll leave this post now as its already far, far too long. Thanks for reading my waffle over the last 16 weeks or so. At some stage I’ll reflect on what I did wrong during my training and on the day of the race and what I’d do differently next time. Although I felt like quitting immediately after the Great Birmingham Run, I’ve already entered the Cambridge Half in March.
Cambridge has to be less undulating than Birmingham…
Have you ever felt like stopping halfway through a race? Had I spotted any of my family out on the course I would have stopped.
I need to start taking gels on longer runs What are your favourite brands and flavours of gels?