Last week, just as I was about to leave the flat for two weeks away, a very nice letter arrived. It contained my race number for the Windsor Half Marathon, a race I have done twice before and consider one of my favourite events of the year. I was pleased, then, but also surprised since I had no recollection of ever signing up, indeed I had expected to be out of the country on race day. As luck would have it, though, not only was I no longer out of the country but I *had* signed up, and then removed it from my diary and forgotten about it when I thought I’d be away. Fantastic, a nice autumn half-marathon just when I was starting to regret not signing up for any other events between San Francisco Marathon and Marathon des Sables.
So, off I went, with the crippling hangover that is fast becoming a tradition at this event (the fact that it generally falls the day after one of my best friends’ birthdays does not help) on a lovely warm sunny Sunday. As in previous years, the atmosphere is excellent with a well-organised little race village, a decent number of toilets and efficient bag-drop, and a good announcer. Support on the course itself is decent considering it doesn’t go through any residential areas, although it’s mostly clustered around a couple of key points, and it’s well-marshaled with pretty much no opportunities to go wrong. It is, of course, a fairly ‘rolling’ course with one or two nasty little hills and a few long slow inclines. On the other hand, it also has some corresponding downhills where you can pick up a bit of pace and enjoy yourself so, while I guess it might not be the best race for a PB, overall it shouldn’t knock a huge amount off your time. Personally, I went off at a slightly overly ambitious pace and then flagged badly in the latter half as heat, hills and hangover took their toll. I also, slightly unusually, didn’t bother with any gels or nutrition and I suspect that wasn’t the wisest decision as by the last four miles I was feeling strangely weak, hardly able to keep my legs moving, and I suspect a gel or two taken at the right time might have prevented that. In 2013 they had gu gels on the course but this year there was just water – to be fair that was made clear in the race info so it was my fault for not taking any with me, I really just couldn’t be bothered for such a short race. Anyway, whatever the cause, I dropped a fair bit off my planned pace and ended up coming in at 1:39; not a particularly terrible result but neither a personal best nor even my best result on this course. Perhaps next year I will do it without the hangover and see if that makes any difference.
This is a great race though; a truly beautiful route through spectacular park, a large field with plenty of serious runners, probably one of the most spectacular finishes of any race I have ever done, as you run the last mile downhill directly towards Windsor castle at the end of the aptly named Long Walk. Amongst its very few negatives, I feel every year that there aren’t enough water stops and this is particularly noticeable on a hot day like Sunday. They have improved the water stops by dishing out bottles instead of cups, and that is a brilliant decision that I wish all marathons would adopt, but without ‘sippy’ tops you can’t run with the bottles for very long, so the problem of the stops being spaced 2-3 miles apart isn’t really solved. I’d have also liked some kind of nutrition, but I can understand them not providing it. There isn’t a free finisher’s tshirt (though you can easily buy one) but that doesn’t bother me, and the medals are always nicely designed and different each year.