When I was planning my #18in18 Challenge I had no real idea where it would take me.
It started off in the big city with thousands of other runners, continued along a world renowned coastline, onto the streets of my hometown followed by a small race with only 13 entrants before sampling a little bit of the Olympic spirit at the Lee Valley VeloPark.
Given such varied surroundings so far it will come as no surprise that race number six took me to Lacock, a picturesque little village deep in the heart of Wiltshire that has, in the past, been used as a film set for the likes of Harry Potter and Downton Abbey.
But why Lacock? In many ways it’s an obvious choice because I’m often in the area when I’m visiting Dawn so it made lots of sense to combine a visit with a race.
I’ve been to the village on a couple of occasions as a tourist so I had a reasonable idea of the surroundings and knew as routes go it would be extremely scenic, so I was quite looking forward to it.
Because it was so local to Dawn it meant her entire immediate family turned up to support not only me but some work colleagues of her sister.
It was nice to see them again before the start, even if I did feel the need to apologise in advance on several occasions for keeping them waiting at the end – even if it was quite presumptuous of me to assume they’d even hang around that long in the first place.
As I said, though, it was nice to see and chat with them before the start because it helped take my mind off the race itself.
In a departure from the norm I joined in the pre-race warm-up. I usually have my own little routine but I figured it wouldn’t do any harm to have some professional guidance for a change.
It was good that I did this because a few seconds into it I could feel my running belt, carrying my gels and so on, slip down my bum. After some adjustments I got it back into position and decided to revert to my own tried and tested warm-up just to make sure the thing stayed in place. Imagine how embarrassing that’d be if it slipped down and tripped me up a few metres into the race!
Pretty soon it was time to start. I knew what side Dawn’s family were standing so I made a point of staying on that side to see them.
Literally no sooner had I started than I saw this little hand sticking out. It was Dawn’s toddler nephew so of course I had to stoop down to give the little man a hi-five! He seemed delighted by this judging by the smile on his face, I know it was just the thing to set me grinning on my way.
The race was three 4.4 miles laps of the village and it’s surrounds with a short out and back section added on to make up the distance.
There were also associated 5k and 10k races setting off at staggered waves throughout the morning but, for the first few miles, the half marathon people had the road to ourselves.
I started off well. I had worried that the route, given the rural nature, would be undulating but it wasn’t, much to my relief.
As usual in smallish races like this, I was pretty much at the back of the pack right from the start although there were a few behind me and a few in front so it wasn’t too bad.
It didn’t worry me. I focused on my own race, kept to my own pace and after 5k had matched my time from Chippenham parkrun 24 hours earlier. Things were going well.
Because it was a race through the countryside there was inevitably going to be a farm somewhere along the way and so it proved. It came at the end of a short trail section and before the only real uphill part of the course.
This was fine on the first loop, but by the third time around it became a proper challenge!
After this we turned back towards the village a sign appeared which presented runners with an intriguing dilemma – wet feet or dry feet?
A feature of Lacock is a little ford with clear ankle deep water. It’s lovely to look at and, I’ll admit, extremely tempting.
We had a choice of running through the ford or going over the small bridge right beside it – each was the same distance so no advantage was to be had by selecting either one. I choose dry feet on this occasion.
This immediately brought us into the heart of the village. It is a tourist attraction in its own right so it was quite entertaining to be running through the streets whilst observing the looks of bemusement on the faces of the visitors to the area.
To be fair, the runners did receive plenty of support within the village. It was most welcome and contributed to what was a great atmosphere.
This only intensified in the start/finish area whereupon much needed and plentiful refreshments awaited.
After a quick break to take advantage I ran past Dawn and her family, exchanging quick greetings and making sure of another energy boosting hi-5 from the little man!
Onto lap two … I’ll admit the early stages were mentally difficult after the euphoria of the village. It did help to have the 5k/10k runners mixed in with us this time for the company. It did make it difficult to judge my position in my race, although I did know there was a few behind me so that was ok.
The second lap felt tougher but this was to be expected as my legs tired and temperatures rose. I still felt in reasonably good nick though, albeit a little slower.
Once again, the early stages of third lap were difficult but it was good to know this was the final loop.
As I said, I felt ok at this point and, indeed, by ten miles I had recorded my third best time for that distance.
Unfortunately, my earlier efforts began to catch up on me. That last 5k was a battle physically but also mentally because I knew that trail/farm/hill section lay in wait. I have tackled bigger and steeper challenges but coming as it did at the end of the race and on such a warm day it took on a greater magnitude in my mind than perhaps it should have.
By contrast, the last half-a-mile or so through the village were a real pleasure. The cries of support from those along the course, be they tourists or spectators, were fantastic. They made me feel like I’d won the thing instead of languishing towards the back of the field!
I’ll be honest, I was glad to finish. Sometimes at the end of a race I feel as if I still have something left, but not today. Perhaps it was the effort I put in during the first ten miles but I’m not going to worry about that. Indeed, I was pleased to have done as well as I did for as long as I did.
Despite how I felt at the end this race provided two moments to remember for me, both blog related. At one point, just before the 5k/10k runners split from the half marathon route someone from behind me said hello and mentioned they’d read the blog. I didn’t get a chance to get your name but thank-you for that, it did mean a lot.
I only really write this blog for myself to keep a record of my running, and to remind myself that I’m not as bad as I think I am, so it’s great when other people read it.
But a really special moment came as I was collecting my medal. I’d corresponded briefly on Twitter with Rajeev because we were both running this race, and I joking remarked that if he saw someone in a Ballymena Runners shirt that’d be me.
Imagine my surprise, then, that as I was presented with my bling up stepped Rajeev to introduce himself. I thought this was absolutely amazing, I was bowled over. It was wonderful to have a chat, and a picture.
It’s things like this that make all the hours of training, all the effort and all the pain seem worthwhile. Thanks Rajeev, it was a real pleasure.
Thanks, also, to Relish Running for putting on a great event. The overall organisation, and the friendly marshals out on the course who took the time to check their list for your name and to give you a shout-out on the way past, were superb. I really couldn’t fault anything.
Finally, I am challenging myself to run these 18 half marathons in order to a) prove to myself that I can; b) to hopefully encourage and inspire the slower back-of-the-pack runners out there or those that don’t think they can run at all and c) to help raise a little something for Diabetes UK. If you would like to donate you can find my fundraising page here.