Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Falmouth Half Marathon 2014 Review

Prior to committing to the Falmouth Half marathon, I did some research. Various accounts of previous years led me to develop two firm expectations of the race:
1) There would be hills. 

2) A pasty and a pint would be waiting on the finish line.

The promise of the latter was so appealing that I thrust the threat of hills to the back of my mind, went straight back to the Cornwall Hospice Care website and paid my entrance fee. I convinced my Dad to do the same, luring him with the promise of finish line treats, and we started to get excited.

At 05:50am on Sunday 16th March, my alarm went off, and it was race day. I drank a cup of coffee and ate the same breakfast that I do every single other day (wholemeal muffin, peanut butter, banana - a creature of habit if there ever was one) and got into the car to head to Cornwall. It was early, too early, but the sun was bright and we were hopeful. 

On arrival in Falmouth, we headed to the Wetherspoon’s pub where registration was apparently taking place. Sure enough, the pub was full of lingering runners, drinking water and stretching and fiddling with safety pins to attach their numbers. It was a rather different scene to how a Wetherspoon’s usually looks on a Sunday morning, full of the hungover masses devouring fried breakfasts and clutching pints of water.

Soon enough, we were told to head to what was referred to as ‘the moor’. Not being familiar with Falmouth, my Dad and I wandered in circles for a while before realising that the moor was in fact the concrete square in the centre of the town. We were told that, unfortunately, due to technical difficulties that there would be no official warm up, and to get ready to start. We headed to the start line and, after a couple of minutes of hopping from one leg to another to keep warm, we were off.

Here is where I realised I had made my first mistake. Being a small race of under 500 competitors, everybody started together, rather than in time-based waves. Almost by accident, simply because we happened to be standing close by, myself and my Dad started the race right at the front of the pack, with only one row of other runners in front of us. I am by no means a fast runner, and this meant that I spent almost the entire race just being overtaken, only falling into a group with those running at a similar pace at the very end. Although not a huge issue – indeed, at least for the first few miles, this probably encouraged me to run faster than I would have otherwise – it was slightly demoralising.

The beginning of the race took us around by the coast on a reasonably flat path. As somebody in the midst of a lengthy and intense love affair with the sea, I enjoyed this section of the race. The sun was out, it was scenic, and it felt like it might all be okay. However, I have to admit that this was probably the only part that I enjoyed in any way. From here on in, it became a battle of wills and nothing more.

We soon left the sea behind us and moved onto the road, and the rest of the race continued in this way, running along the edge of country lanes and avoiding being run over by the meandering Cornish road dwellers. And, as we headed onto the road, we started to encounter the hills – the ones which had been warned of, but I’d chosen to forget all about. The course was almost completely undulating, and after every stretch of downhill recovery came another daunting uphill gradient to tackle.

At around five and a half miles, having already tackled a number of these beasts, I overheard a man behind me, who had clearly ran the race before, telling his friend, who clearly hadn’t, that the next hill was the last big one, and that it became easier after this. I took this as a sign of huge hope, and started to think that I might actually be able to do it after all. Sure enough, the next hill reared its ugly head, and stretched on for what felt like a horrifying amount of time. It was gruelling and it hurt but, when it was over, I breathed a sigh of relief, think that was the last of the vertical challenges.

It turned out that the man had lied though; to me, to his friend, to himself. Several more uphill stretches awaited us, including a horrifying one at the end that felt almost perpendicular to the ground below it. Many times, whilst tackling these hills, it felt like I was running so slowly that I might as well have been walking. Any vantage I did gain by refusing to walk was also soon made redundant by the runners who overtook me as soon as we hit the flat again, slightly less exhausted as they’d chosen to rest and walk.

Perhaps tactically, I might have benefited from being less stubborn going up those hills, but I’m not sure finishing a race of which I have walked sections is ever going to give me much satisfaction, so I don’t regret my approach for a minute. It was exhausting though. As we looped back into Falmouth, back towards the moor, I was done, completely and utterly done. I didn’t have the energy for any kind of sprint finish and, when I crossed the finish line, I’m not sure I could have ran a single step further.

But, sure enough, as I stepped away from the finish line, shortly after having a medal placed over my head, a pasty was pressed into my hand and, oh my, it was a glorious pasty. I’m not sure if I was just very hungry, or if it was really that delicious, but it was probably the best pasty of my life. Sadly, however, there was no beer this year, but I think I enjoyed the cup of fresh orange juice that I was given even more.

Falmouth proved a tough location for a race, that’s for sure, and I’m not sure anybody who has ran it could disagree. Was it worth it though? Definitely, and not just for the pasty, but for the fact that my faith in my own ability to tackle hills, however slowly, has been utterly cemented. I even managed to get a new PB, knocking ten minutes off my half marathon time, and that’s not something I’m going to complain about on that course.