Welcome to the second part of the 2017 Atters Goes Running Awards. Yes, I’ve split it into two parts because, like all award ceremonies, it’s all gone on a little bit too long. Don’t know why. I can’t even blame drunken guests making overly long acceptance speeches.
Anyway, enough of that. Let’s carry on with the awards. And, if you missed the first part, you can read it here.
Best opponents: Jimmie Johnson, Jamie McMurray and Matt Kenseth (Toro Dash 10k, Fort Worth, Texas, November 4)
Surreal moment: discovering, while queueing for a portable toilet, that I’m going to be racing against NASCAR drivers in a 10k race. Even more surreal moment: realising that I run a 10k at roughly their pace…
Best start location: Oxford Street, Swansea (Swansea Half Marathon, June 25)
There’s always something cool about a city centre start, and the start line for the Swansea Half Marathon nailed it. It was held on Oxford Street, which might not rival the one in London for huge shops, but is one of the town’s main thoroughfares and is within a few hundred metres of Swansea Castle, which the route goes right past after a short loop through the streets.
It was also a boon for Swansea’s cafes and restaurants, which were doing a roaring trade at an unsociable hour of a Sunday morning (the McDonalds had to stop serving every other than simple black and white coffee, because their machines couldn’t cranky out frothy coffees fast enough…). Well, all except for Swansea’s Starbucks, which had an enviable location right next to the start arch, but seemed to be the only cafe that didn’t think to open early to cash in on the rush of runners to the area. Amusingly, the girl in Starbucks readying chairs for the normal opening hour looked very confused by the kerfuffle going on outside the front door…
Also nominated: Franklin St, Houston (Houston Marathon, Houston, Texas, January 15). This might well have won on downtown location, but it lost out since starting alongside the town’s courthouse also meant runners gathering beside the neon lights of various bail bond offices. How glam. Still, the downtown image would improve 26.2 miles later…
Best finish location: Discovery Green, Houston (Houston Marathon, Houston, Texas, January 15)
Utterly perfect. A scenic part of downtown Houston, with a green park able to provide some relief from the massive city skyscrapers. A street wide enough for two separates races (the marathon and half marathon) to finish alongside each other, and still leave room for plenty of crowds on both sides of the road. And a finish line within wobbly hobbling distance of the air-conditioned relief of the Houston Convention Centre. And a finish on a flat road with nothing but a mild kink as you approach the line.
Scenic, crowd-friendly, runner-friendly and flat. We like very much.
Best finish location (non-Houston Marathon edition): Kingston-upon-Thames market square, Lidl Kingston Breakfast Run (March 26)
Like many runs based in Kingston-upon-Thames, the Lidl Kingston Breakfast Run starts early (there’s a clue in the title) largely to minimise the impact of having a major race take over a huge part of the town’s scenic market square. It’s worth the early start for the pleasure of finishing in such pleasant surrounding – and with so many cafes and restaurants nearby for the all-important post-run dining.
Strangest venue: The future site of Shinfield Meadows housing development, Shinfield 10k (Shinfield, Berkshire, May 1)
The Shinfield 10k is a long-established race in a town near Reading. And that town is going to get a lot bigger soon, with a huge housing development taking place nearby – right where the 10k route has long run. And still does, thanks to a fenced-in path that led through the bast expanse of cleared land which, one day, will quite literally all be houses.
The ‘So Near And Yet…’ award: Chichester 10k (Goodwood Racing Circuit, February 5)
The long-running Chichester 10k moved to nearby Goodwood Racing Circuit this year, giving me another excuse to run around a racing circuit. And, in theory, it was a brilliant move.
The event started just outside the racing circuit, with around 7k on nearby roads before finishing with a lap of the track. It was a great combination of road and race circuit running. With just one catch: the organisers, and the team from Goodwood Estate, seemed to underestimate how many people would turn up by car. And so, not long before the race was due to start, cars were still piling in the entrance. Which was a problem, because the start was located on the road at the circuit entrance.
Cue a lengthy delay, and much kerfuffle. Which was a real shame, because it should have been brilliant. And hopefully, with lessons learned, it will be in 2018. I’ll be back there. Just hope the traffic chaos won’t be…
Best post-race goody bag: Lidl Kingston Breakfast Run (Kingston-upon-Thames, March 26)
The folks at Lidl sure know how to pack a goody bag with, erm, goodies. From a big bag to muesli to all sorts of nuts and cleaning products, it was a wonderfully hefty haul.
Best post-race non-goody bag: Royal Parks Half Marathon (London, October 8)
In a bid to cut down on wastage, the organisers of the Royal Parks Half Marathon didn’t give every runner a goody bag stuffed with, erm, goodies. Instead, every runner was given an empty plastic bag and then directed to a tent where they could, apparently, select their own goodies.
Great idea, except the wonderfully efficient and friendly staff basically encouraged everyone to hold their bags open while they put one of everything in…
Best finisher’s shirt: Simply Health Great Bristol Half Marathon (Bristol, September 17)
The Simply Health Great Bristol Half Marathon is run by Great Run, the company behind such events as the Great North Run and, er Great South Run. You get the idea: they organise runs. And they’re great (or grrrrr-eat, to quote Tony the Tiger).
Anyway, in 2016 the finisher’s shirts offered for Great Run events were largely standardised designs across all the events, with one basic design that only varied by shirt colour and event details. All a bit meh.
But this year, the Bristol Half Marathon shirts featured some gert lush local colour, with a proper job mint picture by a local Brizzle artist (if you have to ask…). The shirt, designed by Alex Lucas on behalf of Bristol’s Affordable Art Fair, feature a big bear jumping over the Bristol Suspension Bridge. As well as being a great design, it was packed with local meaning and landmarks. Great effort.
Best medal: Houston Marathon (Houston, Texas, January 15)
Come on: it’s big, shiny, chunky and has the skyline of Houston carved out of it. It’s the sort of big hunk of metal you deserve to get after a 26.2-mile run…
Best medal (non-Houston Marathon edition): Royal Parks Half Marathon (London, October 8)
Lots of contenders for this award. Tempting to give it to my class-winning medal from the Run Houston! Sam Houston Race Park 10k, but since this category is really designed purely to compare finishers’ medals I decided not to include it.
Still, that left plenty of shiny medal to pick from. There was a gratifyingly chunky medal for the Swansea Half Marathon (which is now the only medal I haven’t kept, since I gave it to my 90-year-old Nan who lives there). The Great Run Bristol Half Marathon medal was also nicely region-specific. Then there was the Captain America logo-inspired Thruxton 10k medal, which was designed to fit the event’s (odd) superhero theme.
But, ultimately, the most refreshing medal of the year was one not made from metal: it was the wooden leaf-shaped one for the Royal Parks Half Marathon. It’s partly a statement of the run’s green credentials, and it really works. It’s stylish and different, without feeling gimmicky.
Best series of medals: Yateley 10k Series (Yateley, Hampshire, June-August)
This was genius stuff. The Yateley 10k Series features three mid-week evening races on the same course, held once a month. Previously, they’ve all featured the same medal each event. But this time, the three medals were all different. And, when you looked carefully, featured a variety of notches and holes that allowed them to be combined. A great reward for those who managed to do all three events – especially as this was the first year I managed to do all three events…
Okay then, time for the big one. Well, big two. And, as with last year’s awards, I’ll do them in reverse order, even though it will destroy any doubt about the final winner.
Race of the year (non-Houston Marathon edition): Swansea Half Marathon (Swansea, June 25)
In truth, picking a race of the year in a near-impossible task. How do you compare a big city half-marathon with a small 10k organised by a tiny running club? I don’t know. And yet that’s the task I appear to have set myself. Clearly, I’m an idiot.
Ultimately, then, it comes down to enjoyment and fun factor. Certainly, the immense challenge of the steep hills and part-trail route of the Godalming Run made it stick in the memory, even if the sheer leg ache probably moved it a bit too far towards pain for it to win.
Then the Royal Parks Foundation Half Marathon was a memorable way to experience London, but lost a few points because the epic landmark-packed closed-road first half slightly overshadowed the second half that looped the footpaths of Hyde Park.
I considered the Toro Dash 10k, but ultimately realised that it was the novelty of racing NASCAR drivers that made that event special – the fact I overshot a turn because it wasn’t well marked definitely hurts. Then there was the Cabbage Patch 10, which took this award last year – and everything good about it in 2016 applied just as much in 2017.
Ultimately, though, the event that sticks in the memory most this year for me was the Swansea Half Marathon. It wasn’t perfect – the portaloo queues before the start were quite something – but it was definitely memorable for me, as a chance to see more of a city I have family roots in but hadn’t really visited for years. The course was good too, with some nice coastal views (and thankfully not to much coastal breeze on the day). And, overall, it was a good balance of big event vibe without too much logistical hassle.
Race of the year: Chevron Houston Marathon (Houston, Texas, January 15)
Oh, come on. As with the London Marathon in 2016, there’s just something intrinsically special about running a marathon, especially a big city one packed with amazing experiences.
Better still, unlike in London 2016, I was able to run Houston in the style I wanted, with nary a brief brush with The Wall and a much-improved time. Second time really is a charm, and all that.
Plus, in truth, I enjoyed Houston far more than London. The slightly smaller race, and the experience that comes with having done a marathon previously, meant I found it all more enjoyable and less overwhelming than London.
I enjoyed it so much, in fact, that before I’d crossed the finish line I’d decided I wanted to do it again. Hmmm, the 2018 Houston Marathon takes place on Sunday January 14. Now then…
Watch this space. Etc.
Last weekend I tackled the Simplyhealth Great Bristol Half Marathon. I’m not a stranger to 13.1-mile runs now: it was my sixth half marathon. But there was an interesting twist: it was the first time I’ve run a half marathon for a second time.
I’m surprised it’s taken so long, to be honest. But, in some ways, it’s a product of the fact my first four half marathons were all preparation for my two marathons, so the choice of race was down to all sorts of factors. But, having done halves in Wokingham, Hampton Court, Bristol, Houston and Swansea, this year I decided to head back to visit my family in Somerset for a weekend and take on the Bristol half for the second time.
Being utterly honest, I wasn’t sure how much I was looking forward to it. Sure, I always enjoy the challenge of running, but the 2016 Bristol half wasn’t my favourite half marathon course by some way. It starts with a long run up and back a fairly wide straight road alongside the River Avon, and then finishes with several miles of fiddly twisting and turning through the city centre. Last year, I found the first bit a little quiet and dull, and the last bit quite painful – especially given heavy showers and wind that affected last year’s race.
So while I quite enjoyed the fun of running in the closest city to my hometown, I wasn’t sure how much I’d enjoy doing the course a second time. And I wasn’t quite sure what form I was in: my new job has been keeping me plenty busy, and lots of trips away meant I hadn’t done the sort of training I’d like to do. Not that I’m complaining: the weekend before the Bristol half, I was on a rather nice but busy work trip to Italy. It wasn’t exactly great for final preparation, although I did get to carb load on lots and lots of fantastically fresh Italian pasta (don’t mention the hefty amounts of cheese it was served with…).
Still, the good news was that the weather this year proved to be far more conducive to running than 2016’s wind and rain. It was a chilly day, but once I was up to speed it was almost perfect running conditions.
I also made sure I started a bit further forward this year: last year I got caught out by a pre-start surge to the front, and ended up spending the first half-mile or so stuck behind groups of people going slower than I wanted. Trying to get back on pace probably hurt me a bit later on.
And, you know what? I enjoyed it. A lot. More than last year, which I wasn’t expecting. Perhaps that was because my expectations weren’t so high, but I settled in, took in the sites and kept up a good pace. The out-and-back section didn’t seem quite so long, and the final twists and turns through the city hurt a lot less when the cobblestones weren’t sodden and the wind wasn’t funnelling through the buildings.
I was quicker too: crossing the finish in 1h 28m 10s meant I went 31 seconds faster than my 2016 time. Which was pretty gratifying, especially since I hadn’t done as much preparation as I’d intended. So I was happy then, right? Well…
It’s one of the annoyances of running that, no matter how well you do, you always start to wonder how you might have done better. And so it was with last weekend. If I was 31 seconds quicker than in 2016 when I arguably wasn’t as well prepared, how much faster could I have gone had I really trained for it?
Which then prompted me to go and look up my half marathon PB – a 1h 27m 52s, set on the Hampton Court Palace Half Marathon in 2016. So on a course that probably isn’t quite as conducive to a quick time due to those late wiggles, and without being in absolutely top shape, I set a time only 18s down on my half marathon PB…
Like I said: runners. Never happy.
Luckily, I’ve got another half marathon coming up in a few weeks to try and improve on my time. My seventh half will be a new race to me, although in a familiar location: I’ve got a spot on the Royal Parks Half Marathon in central London. The last time I ran the streets of London, of course, was the London Marathon in 2016…
Before I finish, I should mention two more elements of the Bristol Half that added to my enjoyment of it. One was a very definite change from last year: the finisher’s shirt. Last year’s design was a fairly anonymous ‘Great Run’ template effort. Pleasant, but not exactly memorable. This year, the organisers tasked a local artist with doing a local design – and the result was a much improved offering.
The second enjoyable element was something that remained the same: my choice of post-race dining. Keeping with a tradition that started with the London Marathon, I celebrated my success in Wahaca because, well, because tacos are good.
— James Attwood (@Atters_J) September 17, 2017
Saturday October 1.
07.00: Wake-up, clamber out of bed, pull back curtains.
Clear blue skies, sun shining. Beautiful morning for a parkrun. Roll on 09.00.
07.25: Finish first cup of tea of the day.
Blue skies now interspersed with small fluffy clouds. Still a lovely morning.
07.45: Breakfast time (porridge with sultana, blueberries and a light drizzle of agave nectar, plus a second cup of tea).
Skies now mostly cloudy. Doesn’t look that threatening though. Still a pleasant morning for a parkrun.
08.10: Finished breakfast. Pre-run banana and coffee.
Big grey clouds appearing in the distance. This looks… threatening.
08.30: Get changed into running kit.
Grey clouds quite close. Rain seems likely – but not imminent. Might get parkrun done in the dry.
08.45: Leave house to head to parkrun.
Grey clouds overhead, and dark clouds closing in. Yeah, it’s going to rain…
08.55: Arrived at parkrun start.
Slight drops of rain, rumble of thunder in the distance…
08.58: Pre-parkrun briefing begins
It’s raining. Quite hard. Joy!
09.00-ish: Parkrun starts.
It’s raining hard. I’m wet.
09.20-ish: Finish parkrun.
Properly pouring down. I’m soaked.
09.45: Arrive home. Wriggle my way out of soaking running kit. Have shower to warm up.
Still pouring down.
10.00: Finish shower in time to watch Malaysian Grand Prix qualifying.
Rain has stopped. Sun begins to break through clouds…
Here’s the thing with running when it’s rain: it’s not all that much of an issue. Sure, it’s not pleasant if it’s particularly heavy, especially when soaking running kit begins to cling to your skin. But, in truth, the reality in rain is rarely as bad as the thought of running in rain. A bit of rain can even help to keep you cool when you’re running.
Last weekend I did the Great Bristol Half-Marathon, and ran through several short, sharp, heavy showers. And they were good: they helped to keep me cool when otherwise I might have got hot and sweaty (a nod of respect at this point to the enthusiastic Bristol spectators, who kept cheering and clapping in the rain, when many would have been running for cover).
But the worst time for rain? Just before you start running, especially in a race. If you’re cold and wet before you start running, it dampens your motivation to actually go running. Once you start, there’s a certain perverse joy to conquering the conditions. And even a motivation: the quicker the run, the sooner you can get somewhere dry.
Still, if you can time your run to avoid the rain, it’s generally more fun. But if you’re taking part in a race or run that has a set start time, all you can do is keep your fingers crossed…
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…