Twenty five years ago I studied at Brunel University in Uxbridge, in the borough of Hillingdon, West London. I am another one of those crazy serial marathon runners and quite fancied doing a half “for a change”. This race appealed to me as it would take me back to my old stomping ground and Hillingdon is only about half an hours drive from where I live in Fleet. I entered with only a few days left before race day, the entry fee was only £20 which I though was good value. As well as half marathon, a 10k was also on at the same time which started half an hour later. The half is a two lap course and the 10k a single lap.
So early morning on Sunday 24th Feb, I took the short drive back to Hillingdon. The race was due to start at 9.30am and I arrived at 8.30 so it wasn’t too early a start. The parking was free on campus and marshals directed us to the large car park, there were no issues here.
I made my way across campus to the start area. I was surprised at how much it had all changed since I was last here in 1994 – lots of new buildings and some of the older buildings had changed a lot. We were directed into a giant sports hall to collect our bib number and timing chip. The place was heaving with people, with the half and 10k runners mingling around. The bib was quickly pinned on, and the chip was one of those disposable strips of paper you put through your running shoes. There was also a bag drop here, and I left a small bag with a jumper in it as the day had started cold. The queues were already horrendous for the loos inside the hall, but I noticed a number of portaloos outside for which there was no queue at all – result.
I had a little wander round to take some pictures before the call went out to attend the race briefing. The race director stood up and started talking but the noise in the hall meant I could hardly hear anything.
The start and finish area was just outside the sports hall on the campus ring road. The race director attempted to line us up in order of finish time. Hilariously he started by invited runners who could finish ‘in sub 60 minutes’… no sign of Mo Farah. I know my place and shuffled off to the back.
Before I knew it, there was a quick countdown and we were off. The crowd surged underneath the start gantry and over the timing mat to the usual sound of loud beeping.
We started with a loop of the ring road around the campus, past the halls of residence, the pond at the front and past the lecture centre and towers. It was great to see the university and how it had changed since the early 1990s.
Just before reaching the start area again, we took a path out of the campus along Kingston Road, before heading out to the busy Cowley Road. This was a bit of a grim section running along the pavement of a dual carriageway.
The pavements were a little narrow in places and had I been trying to overtake, it would have been difficult without stepping into the road. The field didn’t really start to thin out until the third mile, and I was able to find my own pace and just run normally.
After reaching three miles was the first water station. By now the heat was really starting to set in. Off came the gloves and headban, and I was started to feel properly hot – very unusual for a February!
Finally we reached a large crossroads and took a left into Falling Lane, this was much quieter. This part of the course was really pancake flat and the course was now spread out so it felt quite good to get some speed up.
We came off the footpath and about a mile was along a trail, this was my favourite part of the race. We emerged near the Hospital and had to cross the busy Pield Heath Road. It was very well marshalled and a lady kept walking out in the zebra crossing when runners approached to make sure the traffic stopped and we could cross the road safely.
We were directed along a short footpath before rejoining a back road. So much for the course being ‘flat and fast’; there was now a mile uphill. It was a really quiet road so good to get off the pavement. I was still sticking to 10 minute miles and happy with the progress I was making. At the top of the hill we reached another water station and the busy Uxbridge Road, and a nice half a mile downhill which I could get my speed up a bit. Finally there was another left turn back into Kingston Lane, opposite the University campus and the start/finish area. A very enthusiastic marshal was shouting at us when it was safe to cross this busy road. You had to have your wits about you though.
As I ran into the university we retraced our steps back to the start area. I went through over the timing mat again, another reassuring beep, and now I was on my way within lap two. We ran out to the front of the university before joining the Cowley Road again. Here was the third water station where I downed as much as I could as I was so hot. I was still keeping my pace and was hoping to cling on as long as I could.
On I went, ticking those miles off… 9… 10.. 11… Kaboom. I suddenly felt very tired and realised I was running much faster than I was used to. This coincided with the start of the hill near the hospital so I decided to take a sneaky walk break and tried power walking up the hill. In the heat and now feeling tired, it was a bit of a slog but I just dug in and got the job done. I reached the top, downed my last lot of water and legged it down the hill. Now I was coming into the campus again, however there was a little sting in the tail… we had to do another lap of the campus in the opposite direction from that first mile. I got chatting to a couple of fellow runners, having ended up having to take another sneaky walk break. Finally I could hear the finish area and the finish gantry came into sight. I tried to go as fast as I could, and finally crossed the timing for the last time. Three ladies dressed up as ‘Where’s Wally’ shook their pom poms at me and said ‘congratulations’.
I wasn’t sure where to go to collect my medal and t-shirt, before it dawned on me there was a lengthy queue who were patiently waiting and shuffling forward. After 10 mins of waiting I was handed a plastic cup of water, a banana, a tshirt and a medal. The organisers later apologised, saying runners had stopped to take extra water on board and so held everyone up. I didn’t mind – It was great to chat to other runners who had just finished and it was a really nice atmosphere. I had a quick shuffle back inside the sports hall to collect my bag, I noticed that they were offering sports massages for a small donation to the local hospital.
Would I do this race again – definitely! It was mostly flat, it was friendly, well organised and inexpensive. The medal and t-shirt were good quality, and with Hillingdon being so close to us, it was a great day out.