Race Report: Great Birmingham Run

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.

start-areaI 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 rcannon-hill-parkubbish? – 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 the-hillabout “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 wasgbr-medal 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?


8 thoughts on “Race Report: Great Birmingham Run

  1. Maria @ runningcupcake says:

    I may put a spanner in your works, but I really feel that most people do not need gels. It really amazes me seeing people taking gels at 10K races, especially the faster runners when by the time they take them and the energy is metabolised they would already be finished- I think they are a psychological crutch for most people. For my first marathon I tried a few brands and they all made me feel so sick. I ended up using the clif shot blocks which were a bit like cubes of (vegetarian) jelly sweets, but for my second one I ate those bear yoyos which are dried fruit strips, although I hate the sugary taste so prefer to eat nothing. I don’t tend to drink during races either- maybe a few sips if it’s very hot. I think so much is down to the marketing of these so called sports nutrition brands and really no one needs to eat 3 gels per hour of sport or whatever.
    Anyway, rant over!
    The organisation at the end sounds like the Great South Run- I did that a few years ago and never again ! Even the marshals didn’t know where the bag drop was and the finish was total chaos with spectators getting in and runners being shoed out so it was hard for me to find Andy.
    I nearly signed up for Cambridge, but it’s a week after Brighton so in the end I decided doing two half marathons in two weeks wasn’t ideal! It looks like a brilliant course.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Emma says:

      After experiencing Norovirus for the first time, I’ve completely gone off the idea of gels! I once saw someone taking a gel at the start of my local parkrun… I think that I’m probably going to try out a few different gels on my longer runs, if I don’t turn into Mrs Speedy I’ll abandon the gel experiment. A few people have recommended Shot Bloks and I suspect I’ll find jelly sweets more palatable than gels. Hopefully, if I eat more sensibly before my next half marathon, I won’t run out of energy.

      The organisation at the start was bit of a farce as well. I think there were 6-8 portaloos in the so-called athlete only start area, and I saw loads of spectators waiting in the queues. The finish area was a nightmare and the lack of information and signage a farce. Hopefully the organisers will get it right at the end of the marathon next year…


  2. wanderwolf says:

    Aw. 😦 but I think the weather was a total downer. Would have made me less motivated to run well…oh well. You ran and tried. Thinking about a redemption run to capitalize on the training?


    • Emma says:

      Thanks wanderwolf. The weather was a bit of a downer. I tried and will try again in Cambridge in March. I did think about entering another half marathon but decided to give my fragile right knee a break from running. I also got ill thanks to the dreaded Norovirus.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. AnnaTheApple says:

    Right, hang on. You did NOT fail. Stop that immediately. Yes you didn’t run the race you wanted. That’s happened to us all. But you still finished. From the start it sounded like a pretty tough race. Weather can have a huge affect on a race – I detest being cold before a run, it dampens my mood and is terrible for my muscles. I’ve had many races I’ve wanted to stop (Boston Marathon I wanted to stop at mile 6 and would have done had I not known what I was going to do to get back…).
    And like Maria said, I’m not sure you do need to take gels. Remember gels are made my huge corporate companies trying to convince you that you need the energy so you’ll buy their product. By all means, give them a go and see how you feel with them. But no one NEEDS gels. They’re just an easy way to get some sugar fast. Perhaps switch up your breakfast. If you know you’re going to be running hours post breakfast then think about a portable breakfast like a bagel with jam and PB or taking a snack to eat before the race to “top yourself up”. Don’t be swayed by what the mass are doing. I don’t use gels during a half marathon – I don’t feel I need it. I’ve actually got myself into a position where I can run up to 20 miles without any fuel whatsoever (I refuel like a boss tho – I’ll take your three packet of crisps and raise you a shed load of cake!). I built up to this very gradually though. Like going out for a three mile run without anything, then building it from there. But fasted runs aren’t for everyone!


    • Emma says:

      Thanks Anna. I definitely didn’t run the race I wanted and there were times I felt like quitting. At least I learnt a lot about myself as a runner and I hopefully won’t make the same mistakes again. My friend Geoff reminded me that running is meant to be both challenging and enjoyable. I got so caught up in my training, I lost sight of the fact that the main reason I run is because I enjoy it so much! I’m praying that the weather before the Cambridge Half is better, I never want to feel so cold and wet waiting to start a race again.

      Don’t worry, I’ll never be swayed by what the masses are doing. I treated (?) myself to a one-off monthly gel subscription box and a random selection of gels, and to be honest all of the flavours look pretty uninspiring. At the moment just thinking about gels is making me feel slightly nauseous. I’m hoping that once I’m completely recovered from the Norovirus I’ll feel ready to try out a few gels during my longer runs. I’ll experiment with a couple of brands and flavours, but suspect I’ll be gel free during my next half marathon.

      I’ve never refuelled with cake, perhaps that’s where I’ve been going wrong all these years!


Leave a Reply to wanderwolf Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.