Way back when the snows drove across the country and spring was winter, Fleet had to cancel their HM, as did most races that weekend. To their credit, they amazingly managed to re-arrange for last Sunday and without a date clash this time, I managed to get a number to enter. Yes, it was done properly through the race organisers, though with bibs having been printed with the original entrants’ name in very large type, lots of runners were operating under an alias and having to deal with vigorous encouragement along the route for someone who wasn’t actually there. (Through sheer chance, the guy whose number I’d picked up was also called Ian, so I didn’t have to deal with that mismatch).
Another side-effect of the re-arranged date was that the field was smaller than it would have been (so the organisers said, I wouldn’t have noticed), but that meant having the delight of no wait at all at the baggage drop, and even the inevitable need for a pre-race toilet visit could be done with no queues. It seemed almost a shame to exit a Portaloo and not immediately go to another, such was the sheer novelty of being able to do so.
Back on the previous Sunday, when sunshine bathed the country and this time spring was summer, the London Marathon was no place for running (waiting at the start here at Fleet, I talked to the runner next to me. He mentioned nonchalantly that he’d just done the Marathon des Sables so he might have been the only one who would have found neither 26 miles nor searing heat anything to bother about). For the rest of us, it was with some relief that there was neither snow nor baking heat this time, just a slight autumnal chill with the lightest of breezes – perfect for running. Perhaps it was a combination of all these factors which gave the race a very relaxed yet upbeat feel, even for the good vibe normally found at Fleet. Certainly something had brought a large and enthusiastic crowd to the course to give fantastic support, including several I knew, and that was a real boost. Credit also goes to the marshals, who used the names on the bibs to add a personal touch to their encouragement while still doing their jobs impeccably.
The course is flat for most of the way with any undulations infrequent and gentle. The first miles follow a couple of loops through pleasant residential streets plus two runs down the main street through Fleet. This, plus the closing mile also being through the town makes it very spectator-friendly. By the time you have reached Fleet station, 5 miles have already gone by. The route then goes out into country lanes and as long as you didn’t have your head constantly on your Garmin, a chance to enjoy the scenery. Just about all the roads on the route had been closed for the race.
It was great to have a very good turnout from SJs which allowed for socialising as the start, some supportive chat as we passed each other on the course and lots of people at the end to share our triumphs and disappointments. Overall, more of us seemed to have recorded good times than disappointing ones. For me, I had not set out at all to get a good time but to my surprise I got one – at 1:41 my second best HM and not far off my 7yr-old PB. (Something had obviously been done right, but with no race plan as a template, I wouldn’t know how to repeat it!) Though of course that made me happy, the day was truly not about that; it was about a great running experience which reminded me of why I run, why I enter events, what a great community runners and supporters are, and how lucky I am to be part of a club to share it all with.
If you are considering doing a Half Marathon, possibly your first, this is one I would definitely recommend. The time of year, modest entry fee, relaxed atmosphere, great support from inside the club and out, flat course and short journey time make it very hard to beat.