A week or so back I took part in my final race of the year, the Richmond Park 10k. And last weekend I tackled what is very likely to be my final parkrun of the year. Which kinda makes this the end of my 2016 running season.
Erm, not that I’m going to stop running between now and December 31. Quite the opposite. The Houston Marathon is less than four weeks away (eek!) – so I’ve got a good chunk of training mileage to go. But that’s effectively prep work for my first planned outing of 2017.
Still, it seemed a good excuse to do what everyone else does at this time of year – look back at the year and hand out some awards. Although when I say ‘hand out’, I mean that only in a metaphorical sense. Clearly, I’m not giving out any actual trophies or awards. What I’m handing out is some recognition, awarded entirely arbitrarily on my own whims among the 19 races I tackled this year.
So no trophies. But hey, it’s the thought that counts, right?
So, without further ado, metaphorically don your tuxedos, sit down, quaff champagne and settle back for the inaugural Atters Goes Running Awards 2016. Ooooh, aaaaah, etc.
The ‘blimey, I’m on the podium’ finish of the year: Luke’s Locker Run The Woodlands 5k (The Woodlands, Texas, August 27)
Okay, this gets the nod since it was the only time I’ve ever claimed a top three finish in a race. And given it was a friendly, $1 entry fortnightly event, it’s not like I was competing against a world-class, highly motivated field. Still, a podium’s a podium, right?
Let’s just not mention how I ran in second for most of the race before being outsprinted in the final 100 metres. I consoled myself that I only dropped the spot because as a Brit I was disadvantaged in the Texan humidity – until I learned the person who beat me was also from the UK…
Also nominated: Erm…
Best organised race: London Marathon (London, April 24)
Given this is one of the biggest races in the world, it’s hardly surprising it’s superbly well organised. But it’s not until you see it up-close and first-hand that you really appreciate just what a great job the London Marathon team do to ensure virtually every one of the 40,000 or so runners feels cared for and looked after.
Aside from the cheery, supportive and enthusiastic marshals and volunteers, the best example was this: before the start I handed my bag in to my assigned bag drop – one of nine lorries in my start zone in Greenwich. Around four hours and 26.2 miles later, I was staggering down The Mall past a big group of lorries. By the time I was within 20 feet of ‘mine’, a volunteer had spotted my number, found my bag and was holding it out for me.
Best organised race (non-London Marathon edition): Cabbage Patch 10 (Twickenham, October 16)
Exclude the London Marathon and picking a winner is really tough. Most running events in the UK are organised by volunteers from clubs, who put in hours of painstaking work and effort to make them happen.
I’ll narrowly give the nod to the team from the Cabbage Patch 10 (organised by the Stragglers and BeaRCat running clubs). Despite a year off from running the event, it went faultlessly, despite a difficult start that effectively involved stopping the traffic in Twickenham town centre, and a open road course that required plenty of traffic control.
Also nominated: the volunteer organisers of pretty much every race, ever.
Strangest venue: East Malling Research Station (Larkfield 10k – East Malling, Kent, May 8)
East Malling Research Station is almost certainly somewhere I’d never have been if it wasn’t for running. It’s an agricultural research station in the Kent countryside. Unusual, sure, but a good place to have a 10k race. Plenty of parking, and lovely countryside.
Still, running past Sainsbury’s experimental pear orchard was certainly odd.
Toughest uphill: rise out of the Embankment underpass (London Marathon – London, April 24)
The Embankment? A tough hill? Really?
Yes. Yes indeed. Okay, I doubt the total vertical climbing involved in a short uphill section on the Embankment reached double figures in metres. Most days, it probably wouldn’t feel like a slope. But in the 24th mile of a marathon, when exhaustion was setting in and my legs achieved the seemingly impossible state of simultaneously feeling as wobbly as a jelly and as heavy as lead weights… in those conditions, it was tough.
It wasn’t just a small rise. It was a mountain.
Toughest uphill (non-London Marathon edition): the climb to Tregadillett (Treggy 7 – Launceston, September 4)
This hill shouldn’t have been a surprise. I was warned about it. Heck, my mate Matt had been bugging me to head to Cornwall for the Treggy 7 since I’d taken up running, specifically for the challenge of taking on the hill.
And what a hill. After a largely downhill run out of the town of Launceston into the Cornish countryside, the course suddenly turns sharply left – and starts to go up. And up. And then up some more.
It is brutal: something approach 85 metres of climbing in little more than a kilometre, on a tight, twisting road with little false flat to provide any relief. Somehow I ran the whole thing. Although run was a relative term – by the end my effort at running was so ungainly, it may have been quicker to walk…
Toughest downhill: Ware Park Road (Ware 10 – Ware, July 10)
Running downhill? That’s easy, isn’t it? Not really.
Not when the downhill is particularly steep.
Not when the road has several sharp turns in it.
Not when the road is slippery underfoot.
Not when there are unmarked speedbumps right after a tight turn.
The downhill section of the Ware 10 had all of those things in one tight, twisty descent. It was fun, but utterly nerve-wracking.
Tedious running gag of the year: Ware/where (Ware 10 – Ware, July 10)
Running gag of the year? See what I did there?
I did a race in Ware. Where? Yes, Ware. But where? Ware, that’s where. Sorry, where? Yes, Ware.
Repeat ad infinitum.
If you can bear it, you can read a full drawn-out version of Ware/where obfuscation here.
Best start location: Greenwich Park (London Marathon – London, April 24)
The perfect place to start a big marathon: plenty of space so it never felt crowded, lots of drinks, and lots and lots and lots of portable toilets. And a huge, wide road for the pre-start holding area, along with a big wide road for the first section of the race.
Best start location (non-London Marathon edition): National pit straight, Silverstone (Silverstone 10k, May 4)
What’s not to love about starting a race on the start/finish line of Britain’s biggest race circuit?
This gets the nod for the excitement. The fact the wide track just helps accommodate the thousands of runners only adds to the genius of the location.
Best finish location: The Mall (London Marathon – London, April 24)
Come on, it’s The Mall! It’s in central London! It’s in front of Buckingham Palace! It had grandstands!
Yes, it’s a predictable pick, but still.
Best finish location (non-London Marathon edition): Sam Houston Park, downtown Houston (Houston Half Marathon – Houston, October 30)
This one’s also kinda predictable, but for a person used to running in little old Britain, finishing under the shadow of Houston’s downtown skyscrapers was a real thrill. Plus, the park was a perfect place for the post-race party and free taco stand.
Best post-race free Mexican food: Houston Half Marathon (Houston, October 30)
Okay, this was the only race of the year I did that offered free Mexican food at the finish, courtesy of the lovely people at Taco Cabana. All I had to do was redeem the free taco ticket on my race number.
One small point of order though… it may have been a free taco ticket, but the choice was actually from a range of burritos. Not that I’m complaining: they were proper tasty after a 13.1-mile run…
Best post-race baked goods: Ware 10 (Ware, July 10)
Take a race, and stick The Great British Bake-Off at the end of it. That’s what the organisers of the Ware 10 did, with volunteers cooking up all manner of cakes which were sold to runners and spectators at the finish. And the choice was simply incredible. The hardest part was choosing…
Strangest finisher’s goody bag contents: The Treggy 7 (Launceston, Cornwall, September 4)
The Treggy 7 was sponsored by Ambrosia, so I guess the inclusion of pots of rice pudding and custard in the post-race perhaps shouldn’t have been a surprise. But when you compare it to the pile of bananas and chocolate bars most races proffer, it was an odd but welcome change. Bonus points to the event for also handing out thermal travel mugs instead of medals.
Best medal of the year: London Marathon – London, April 24
Yup, utterly predictable. Other medals may be funnier, shinier and bigger, but there’s no other medal I’m as proud of. And likely never will be.
Best medal of the year (non-London Marathon edition): Hampton Court Palace Half Marathon – Hampton Court, March 20
It was big, shiny and featured a cartoon King Henry VIII doing a Usain Bolt impression. Genius.
Also nominated: Houston Half Marathon (a seasonally appropriate sparkly halloween pumpkin with the outline of Texas in its eyes).
And, finally, it’s time for the big one…
Race of the year
Woah, woah, woah. Just hang on a moment. This is probably going to be a bit predictable, so let’s do this in reverse. You know, to build the tension or something.
Race of the year (non-London Marathon edition): Cabbage Patch 10 (Twickenham, October 16)
Maybe I’m a bit biased towards any run that starts near the office I work, passes right by my house and is rooted in the roads I train on every day. But the Cabbage Patch 10 was a simply brilliant club event.
It had the wonderful vibe of a club-level run put on by enthusiasts, yet mixed with a big event feel that befits the race’s long history. Simply great fun.
Also nominated: Houston Half Marathon, Hampton Court Palace Half Marathon, Treggy 7
Race of the year: London Marathon
As you may have noticed from my previous post, taking part in the Ware 10-mile race this weekend was an excuse for me and a few friends to spend a whole seeking making Ware/where gags. Even we were had to admit the joke was Ware-ing thin (sorry…) by the end of the weekend.
So it was probably a fitting revenge for my continued overuse of the ‘joke’ that I spent much of the first half of the Ware race trying to work out Ware (really sorry…) exactly on the course I was. And the moral of the story: always play close attention to both the course map and route description.
The weekend trip to Hertfordshire started with my third attempt at the Panshanger parkrun, which I completed in a thoroughly decent 12th place in 20m 26s. That was seven seconds slower than my first – and fastest – effort at the course, but I was still pretty happy.
The rest of the day was spent touring Hertfordshire, making Ware gags (‘Ware are we going tomorrow?’, repeated ad infinitum), and eating, er, savoury waffles and Mexican street food. Ideal pre-race dining, clearly: I’m sure I’ve read in a ten-mile training guide that waffles and Mexican are perfect for the day before a run. Really. Honestly.
Okay, I made that last bit up.
I’m moving on now. Moving on? To where? Yes, exactly, to Ware.
Sorry. I really will stop this soon. I promise.
The Ware 10 Festival featured both a 10k and ten-mile race. I knew bits of the route that pass through The Meads between Ware and Hertford, and I tried to get a gauge of the rest of the route by studying the map on the website, and even watching the helpful video the organisers stuck on YouTube.
Having looked at the map, I read the accompanying description of the route. It describes the run leaving the start (on the cricket ground next to the GlaxoSmithKline site in Ware), and doing a loop to Hartham Common and back along the towpath. I missed this bit near the finish: ‘This is then repeated before returning back to the GSK cricket ground’.
In other words, this race was a two-lapper.
Having missed that crucial information, I set off from the GSK cricket ground on a murky, muggy day, and hit the first challenge: two big steep hills in the first two miles. They were at least followed by decent downhill sections, but they still burned up the legs.
Before long, I was passing some of the tail of the 10k race, and found myself heading through Hartham Common and onto the towpath heading from Hertford to Ware. Since I’d somehow though the course I’d seen was a singular ten-mile loop, I was on my way back to Ware far sooner than expected. And then I saw a board that read ‘eight miles’.
I suddenly began to panic: had I missed a turn for the ten-mile race? Had I missed the point where I split from the 10k route? Was I somehow on the wrong course? For a good three-quarters of a mile or so, I was in a bit of a panic – until I finally spotted a marker board that read ‘four miles’.
Okay, calm down – I was on the right route. Which left me confused about exactly Ware, I mean, where (really sorry…) I was going.
It was only when I got back to the edges of the GSK site at Ware that I began to realise exactly where I was going: for a second lap around the course I’d just done.
Which was, in itself, not a problem. It was a lovely pleasant route, and two-lap races are quite useful in that you know better where you can push and attack on the second loop. But I also knew it meant tackling those two long uphill stretches again – and after I’d topped the second one I’d somehow convinced myself the rest of the race would be relatively flat.
I was quite a bit slower up the hills the second time around. That could be because, knowing how much they would hurt with tired legs, I was a bit Ware-y of them.
Sorry. Really sorry.
The hills definitely sapped the power, and I was quite a bit slower in the second half of the race than the first. That meant I dropped off the time I’d hoped to achieve, and given my 1h 09m 41s was enough for 18th place out of 244 runners I can’t exactly complain.
Still, it did prove a valuable lesson: when you’re doing a run, it’s important to know exactly Ware you’re going.
Before the race, on our way to Ware, me and my friends agreed that we’d thoroughly worn out the Ware gags, and decided on a moratorium of them at the end of race day. Which, I promise you, I will now heed. So the Ware gags will finish with this post. And not return.
But I would happily return to the Ware 10 Festival. It was one of those really enjoyable club runs, which a bunch of largely friendly runners, and enthusiastic and helpful marshals and organisers. Oh, and a very purple finishers’ T-Shirt, plus a fabulous range of home-cooked cakes to choose from at the finish.
It’s definitely somewhere I’d go back to. Especially if I knew exactly Ware I was going in the race.
Sorry. That was the last one. Honest.
Last weekend, I was in Madrid. So where to this weekend? That’s right, Ware. Confused? I shall explain…
Last year, I went with my chum (and fellow London Marathon runner) Matt to visit some friends in Hertford. Because it’s the sort of thing you do in Hertfordshire, we took a boat along the River Lea. Where did we go? That’s right, we went to Ware. Where? Yes, Ware. Etc.
Okay, I’ll stop that now. For a bit.
You see, we took the Hertfordshire town of Ware in Hertfordshire (apparently the town name derived from the weirs built on the river in the area). But it sparked one of those in-jokes that just keeps on going. And then we discovered that there’s a race in Ware.
Sorry, where is the race? Yes, it’s in Ware. But where? Yes, Ware.
Okay, I’ll stop that now. For a bit.
Frankly, it was worth signing up to the race purely for the comedic value. So, on pretty much that basis alone, both me and Matt entered the Ware 10. Well, part of the Ware 10 – it’s actually two races in one, with 10k and ten-mile sections. Since the entry fee was the same, we both plumped for the ten-miler. Maximum value for money!
Is it silly to sign up to a race purely because of a very silly running gag about the town name? Maybe. But there’s more to it than that: doing races somewhere I haven’t been before (or, in the case of Ware, have had a quick lunch in after a boat trip…) is a great way to see new places.
I likely wouldn’t have been to Wokingham if I hadn’t done the half-marathon there. I certainly wouldn’t have been to East Malling Research Station in Kent if I hadn’t gone there for a 10k. I wouldn’t have been to Hook in Hampshire two years in a row, or run around Eastleigh on the Wyvern 10k. That last one is a race I did in 2015 and really enjoyed, but couldn’t return to this year. Why? Because it’s this weekend when I’ll be elsewhere. Elsewhere? Yes, in Ware. Where? Yes, Ware. Etc.
Okay, I’ll stop that now. For a bit.
Essentially, doing races is a great chance to see places you might never otherwise head to. While I always like the ease of doing races that stick close to home (and there are several that literally run past my house), you can’t beat the chance to see some new places.
So this weekend’s trip isn’t just about an in-joke, but about the enjoyment of running here, there and, indeed, everywhere.
Sorry, where? Yes, Ware. That’s right, where? Exactly, Ware.
I’d promise to stop that now, but I won’t. There’s going to be a lot of that on the way to Ware…