Back in March, an incredible 40 members from Havering Tri ran the Brentwood Half Marathon. Amongst them was Olly Scott – this was his first attempt at the distance, and his story is here – grab a cup of tea and enjoy;
It’s done. Three months have passed since I signed up to do the Brentwood Half Marathon, and that certainly flew by. I’ll be the first to admit my preparation wasn’t perhaps all it could have been, but I’m glad it turned out the way it did. I have now found out much about myself and the amount of effort that is required to properly prepare for such an event.
My original perception of events such as the Brentwood Half Marathon was that you just needed to be ‘fit’ enough (whatever that means) to run for the required period of time without stopping; simple. Having reduced my running programme to shorter distances following 4 months of physio for an IT Band issue and general problems with me knees, I had turned my attention to swimming and cycling to maintain my fitness levels. It was also revealed in a lifestyle examination I am fortunate enough to receive through my work that I have a body fat percentage of 5.1% and a V02 max of 73. Whilst I was pretty pleased with these results, it was possible the worst thing that could have happened to me, as instead of continuing to push myself, I began to slip as I was content with these results. I am now all too aware of the need to condition your body for performing at the desired level for the required period of time.
Thankfully, the incredibly experienced athletes Havering Tri have amongst their ranks arranged a practice run for all members who were entered into the event. Having not ran further than 9 miles prior to this and obviously not aware of the difference those extra four miles make, I was confident I would cruise in in under the 2 hour mark. This served as a bit of wake-up call, as I limped home in 2:22:23.
As a result, I committed the remaining four weeks to training purely for the Brentwood Half Marathon, which unfortunately involved reducing the alcohol intake (especially challenging given the timing of the Rugby Six Nations, which was worsened when I discovered the final games where being played the night before the big race!). As well as training by myself, I was also attending the Monday evening running sessions, led by Havering Tri’s very own Dave Sherman. These organised sessions helped keep my training in check, and were especially useful when it came to analysing technique; a factor of running which can easily fall by the wayside when training alone. It soon came to my attention (or, more accurately, was pointed out to me), that my strides were too short in comparison to the size of my legs. My technique basically involved leaning forward and simply putting my legs in front of one another to prevent me falling over; not ideal. Dave and the other qualified coaches at Havering Tri showed me how to unlock my hip-flexors to enable me to take longer strides and really push with each leg, making the whole ‘running’ thing much more efficient. As shown in one of the pictures below, I may have got a bit carried away with this on race day!
When the day arrived (all too quickly for my liking), I was blown away by the sheer number of people racing. There were 2,826 in total, and I want to give a special mention to the event organisers and marshals who managed the whole event perfectly. The Brentwood Imperial Youth Band were turned out at the start line in their incredibly impressive uniforms, and instilled a sense of pride and purpose, providing the required motivation prior to embarking on such an event.
Before we took our places amongst the starters, the Havering Tri members congregated by the baggage collection point for a team photo and some encouraging words. It is for this reason I joined Havering Tri, as with over 80 members there is always going to be plenty of members at events around the country (sometimes stretching even further afield, as was the case with the recent club trip to train in Lanzarote), and it certainly helps to see a few friendly faces.
Lining up at the start line, I was again impressed by the number of both competitors and supporters, and the wide range of abilities. There were groups of people such as Havering Tri, who had turned out in club kit and those running for charities, right through to those who had just thrown on an old T-Shirt and shorts and pulled on a pair of trainers. And a banana. Yep, someone was doing the Brentwood Half Marathon dressed as a banana. I didn’t see them after the start, so unfortunately I think they beat me.
When the flag dropped and the race was underway, I thought it would be impossible to overtake (or perhaps, more accurately, be overtaken) due to the number of participants, but this fear was short lived as everyone soon filtered through and settled into their own pace. Naturally mine was a bit slower than some other members from Havering Tri, who soon blitzed past. However, seeing the Havering Tri club kit and hearing their words of encouragement certainly does put you at ease and help you to focus on the event. Graham Goddard, another member of Havering Tri with a wealth of experience, drew up alongside me just after the start to make sure I was set in my plan of attack and offered a few final pieces of advice before setting off on his own (much faster) pace. However, as I would imagine to be the case on all events of this nature with a mass start, no matter how much thought you give to your timing game plan, that can very easily get thrown out of the window as you get caught up in the competition and excitement of the moment, and try and keep pace with those around you in order to avoid being left behind. However, as I soon found out, it is impossible to get dropped. No matter what pace I was running or how far I progressed, I was always surrounded by runners; there was a constant stream of competitors which stretched for miles. This allowed me to forget about trying to remember the route as I was almost carried by the flow of people around the course.
A question I was constantly asking myself prior to the race was ‘should I take water?’ My gut feeling was no, but all manner of questions began racing through my head like ‘what if I have a random coughing fit?’, ‘What if the pre-race hydration wasn’t enough?’. After again drawing on the advice of my Havering Tri club mates, I decided to leave it behind. This definitely proved to be the right decision, as there were water stations roughly every 3 miles, with large bins in which to discard your empties. The amount of support from locals at these stations is amazing, as they are all cheering you on and most are holding bowls of Jelly Babies for the competitors to help themselves to on the way past. However, the award for best support must go to the amazing people at Blackmore. Upon entering this village, we were greeted by a three piece band consisting of a double bass and two banjos; just what you need to hear to lift your spirits, put a smile on your face and send you on your way for the second half of the course. My arrival at this picturesque little village also coincided with the arrival of the sun; perfect.
Unfortunately, the Brentwood Half Marathon holds a surprise at the end for those who are unfamiliar with the course; an uphill slog which lasts the final 2 miles. A piece of advice I had received in training was to attack the hills, as it is an easy way to make time up on your fellow competitors. On paper, this sounded like a great plan, although it did lose some of its lustre after running 11 miles. In the end, I settled for more of a feeble assault. As much as it pains me to do so, I must hold my hand up and admit I did walk a small part of this final stretch. It was only for 15 seconds or so, but it did happen. What I wasn’t prepared for though was the amount of support and encouragement I received from those who still going, willing me to push through it and give it one final effort. I must highlight that these people were not just members of Havering Tri, who may have felt obliged to offer encouragement, but were total strangers. This was enough to get me going again, and I pushed on towards the finish.
Throughout this blog I have referred to the other racers as ‘competitors’, but this is not true. Yes, everyone wants to do well and yes, everyone would want to win if the opportunity was presented to them, but the truth is everyone taking part in these events is just glad to be there, participating and running with other like-minded people.
When I rounded the final corner, the support again was amazing. The street was lined with supporters all cheering and shouting words of encouragement, which really gives you that final burst of energy needed to finish strong.
I finally crossed the line in an official time of 1:57:07, just under the targeted 2 hours. The amount of satisfaction that washed over me was worth the training (no matter how limited it was) and the sacrificed beers. Havering Tri came 11th overall out of a total of 31 teams entered, and a special mention must go to Marton Cseik of Havering Tri, who stormed home in 1:14:34, finishing 7th overall. It is this wide range of abilities that clubs such as Havering Tri accommodate which makes the decision of joining so easy.