The road to Houston starts in… Bristol

Ahead of this year’s London Marathon, I completed a pair of half-marathons as part of my training and preparation routine. That seemed to work for me, so I decided to do the same thing ahead of the Houston Marathon. So, having taken my pick from a whole host of half-marathons, my road to Houston, Texas started in… Bristol.

Now, heading to the south west of England to prepare for a marathon in Texas might seem odd. Perhaps it is odd. But, hey, my preparation for this year’s London Marathon kicked off with a half-marathon in Wokingham – a place I’d never even been to before. By comparison, Bristol makes total sense.

After all, Bristol is where it all started for me. Quite literally: I was born there, and then grew up in the nearby town of Clevedon, on the Somerset coast. Despite that, I’ve never actually done a competitive run there – so taking part in the Great Bristol Half-Marathon felt like filling in a missing piece in my running ‘career’.

There was some other logic to picking Bristol, too: the half-marathon course is pretty flat, much like Texas, and it’s a big city race that attracts the best part of 10,000 starters. Aside from the London Marathon, this was by far the largest race I’d done, so it was a good chance to practice all the logistics and complications that come with big city races. There’s the logistics that come with getting to the start of a major race with lots of other people, working your way into the correct start pen, and leaving your baggage in the correct place.

Some clever planning and car park picking meant I reached the race village with around 90 minutes to spare: the perfect amount of time to warm-up, drop off my bag, eat my pre-race banana, slurp a pre-race coffee and, predictably, go to the toilet quite a few times.

The Bristol Half-Marathon is, to borrow a football cliche, a race of two halves. Not two half-marathons, obviously. The course begins near Bristol’s harbour just outside the city centre – shortly after the start you can look across the harbour and admire Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s SS Great Britain.


The route then heads up the portway, a dual carriageway that runs up a valley alongside the River Avon. After about four miles, there’s a hairpin and you get to run down the other side of the road. It’s basically straight and pretty much flat – quite good for running, really. If you were being picky, you might suggest that section was a little on the dull side. Then again, you do get to run underneath Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s Clifton Suspension Bridge twice. Yup, the race is a pretty good advert for Isambard Kingdom Brunel…

The run up and down the portway effectively makes up the first half of the course: flat, wide and pretty straight. And then everything changes.

The second half is much more like an inner city run, with a series of sharp twists and turns, short, sharp bursts of elevation and a series of surface changes – including a few cobbled bits. Cobbles, as you might imagine, aren’t especially fun to run on near the end of a half-marathon. Especially when a series of rain showers has made them treacherously slippery.

That might sound critical, but it isn’t meant to be: the second half was really fun, giving a great chance to admire some of Bristol’s sights in a way I haven’t got the chance to do before. The route took me past the docks, the edge of the city centre and past the remains of Bristol’s castle. It even ran quite close to Temple Meads Train Station, which I mention only because it was designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel…

Still, while the second half was fun, it was quite tough. I’d set myself the target of matching my half-marathon PB, set in the build-up to the London Marathon. I messed things up a bit by going a bit quicker than intended through the middle part of the race, which meant I didn’t have too much in reserve when the course became twisty and more challenging late on.

I eventually crossed the line about 50 seconds down on my half-marathon PB, but still very happy with my effort. It’s kind of hard not to be happy when – humblebrag alert! – that time was good enough to be 264th fastest out of more than 7000 finishers…

Most importantly, it was all solid preparation for Houston – and a good way to start the build-up to marathon number two. Although, somewhere around the streets of Bristol, the realisation that this was the start of another huge training effort did sink in. Here we go again…



  1. Pingback: Which came first: the parkrun or the rain? | Atters Goes Running
  2. Pingback: Houston Marathon countdown: final training run done (with extra bracing sea breeze) | Atters Goes Running
  3. Pingback: Back to Bristol: running a second half (marathon) for the first time | Atters Goes Running

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