It started pretty badly, less than a mile in I got a shooting pain in my left shin, stabbing me with every stride. I eased off the pace, tried to alter my gait, but it was killing me. At about 4 miles I had to stop and take a couple of minutes to stretch it out, and I really thought about dropping. With the South Downs Way 100 in 3 weeks I didn’t want to do any damage that would rule me out. I plodded very gently for a bit and it eased off a little, although I didn’t especially enjoy being passed by about 500 people at the time.
I hit 10k in Stanley Park and started to feel a bit better, the pain had eased, and it all started to feel easy – the way it should have done from the start. Then just before 10 miles, the weirdest thing happened, when a couple of runners came running towards me. I thought they might’ve started really late at first, but then someone shouted and I saw the 10 mile marker on the opposite flyover. I doubled back with a group of people and ran back to the unmarshalled and unsigned fork, took the left one, and carried on past the 10m marker. We met a group of other runners about 500m further down who hadn’t noticed they’d gone the wrong (and slightly longer) way. I had quite a few nervous moments after that where I found myself pretty much on my own with no obvious signage, which threw my concentration off quite a bit.
There was no real drama from there, I ran steady 4:50-ish kms until 5km to go and then upped the pace, running the last couple at 4:10, and finished in 3:23:07. It wasn’t easy, I had to dig in a few times and the start was a bit iffy (maybe I need to warm up better for these short races!), but the last 10km or so felt great and I had loads left at the end. Not bad for my second fastest marathon time.
I’m not used to these kind of big races, and I have a natural aversion to the big, corporate, money making race franchise approach, so it was all in a bit of weird experience for me. There were some
good bits and some terrible bits, but I’m not sure they evened each other out.
On the plus side the route was good, definitely a more interesting route around the city than the usual races. There were loads of water stations, all seemingly in the perfect place. The baggage drop/pickup was all really easy, and there were plenty of toilets. The race t-shirt was nice, the medal was really heavy, and I got a free beer at the end.
On the downside, the route marking and marshalling wasn’t good enough to stop people going the wrong way, which for a marked road race is about as big a screw up as you can make once the water’s turned up. If I was being picky, the first 4-5 water bottles I was handed were still sealed so I had to bite the little tab off each time which was a pain (later on they were just taking the sports caps off altogether).
The atmosphere was patchy at best – in a few pockets there were loads of people, but for long stretches there weren’t any at all. Pains me to say it but compared to Manchester it seemed deserted.
There are a few things since the race that have taken the shine off even more. Waiting until the next day to get the race results is crazy for a race like this. Charging £25 for a single race photo and £50 for a few of them, is bordering on criminal. Then there’s the massive over-stating of the numbers running by the organisers, claiming 10,000 in the 1/2 and 7,000 in the full, when it was closer to 7,000 for both.
I just can’t seem to shake the same, depressing feeling I get when I go to the football. That first and foremost, that my role in proceedings is as a customer. That my first purchase, has simply alerted someone to the fact that I might have more money to spend. That if I bought a match ticket, maybe I’ll buy a programme and a hotdog. Or sign up to a club-endorsed credit card. That if I entered the race, maybe I’ll buy a photo or pay £10 to get my medal engraved.
In that sense at least, “Rock n Roll” is probably the perfect brand. Taking something, like running, that at its heart is pure, joyful and free, and processing and commercialising it in order to maximise revenue and shift as many units as possible is what it’s all about, right?