I’ve always wanted to do this race for the last couple of years, but never entered it because of the Swanley KFL which is always on the same day and previously being a Swanley member I used to help out setting up the course. So now being a member of Dartford Road Runners I thought I would give it a go this year.
I booked the race over 3 months in advance and decided to set up 12 week training plan. I’ve never followed a plan before for a half marathon and I thought I would this time to see if I could improve on current PB of 1:59:40, which I did at Paddock Wood in April 2013. All my training was geared up to this race, throughout my training I felt I was improving and getting fitter. My parkrun times were improving, I had a steady 10 mile at Sittingbourne and I even smashed my 10k PB at Ashford.
Leading up to the race the organisers announced that they were also organising a 5k and a quarter marathon race as well as the half marathon. My wife, Jo, liked the look of the medals and decided to enter the 5k. Jo’s sister also decided to enter the 5k too, so they could do it together.
With only a few weeks before the day whilst training with Dartford Road Runners I managed to badly twist my ankle. It felt quite painful at the time, so I rested it for about 5 days. During the next few runs afterwards the ankle felt a little bit tender, so I couldn’t really push it in training, but I was running.
The night before the race myself and my wife were both getting our bags ready for the morning, which was unusual as its normally just be me getting my things ready. I saw on facebook that the forecast for the next day was strong winds, but hopefully staying dry. I was hoping for more of a gentle breeze than strong winds as I was still hoping to get close to my PB.
On the morning of the race we set off early and made our way to the sussex coast. As Jo was doing the 5k which was due to start at 10.30am we planned to get to Bexhill for 9.30am to give Jo plenty of time to register and get ready for her event. We arrived shortly after 9.30am and parked fairly close to the HQ along the seafront, where we could see the large waves crashing onto the beach.
We wasn’t the only ones there early, I remember seeing Rachel and Gary Bignell and Stephanie Ham in their car sheltering from the conditions. We met Jo’s sister, Donna outside the HQ and made our way to registration and collected our race numbers. I picked up my race pack and my number was 1111, I thought that’s an easy one to remember and then the volunteer pointed out the significance of my number 11th of the 11th.
I tend to get memorable numbers at races, I’ve had numbers such as 118 and 999 in the past. Then later I found out I’m not the only one, as Gary Bignell aka ‘number 69’, had number 1418 (1914-1918).
The start of the 5k fun run was fast approaching and we made our way to the start on the promenade and waved off my Wife and Donna. They headed west along the seafront for a short distance before turning around and heading back towards the start. Once past the start line they continued heading east for approximately half a mile to another turn around point back to the start. They had to repeat the route another two times, so I saw them on many occasions during the race.
Jo and her sister, Donna, are not keen runners and walked the whole 5k and when they were the final two to cross the line, they wasn’t bothered. They were both delighted that they completed the distance and so pleased with their medal, which happen to be exactly the same as the half marathon.
After the role of spectator, it was my turn to get ready for the half marathon. Whilst getting ready I was undecided how many layers to wear, I normally sweat a lot when I run and was thinking of only wearing a vest. However the wind made it feel a lot colder so I decided to wear short sleeve base layer under my DRR Vest.
Once finishing flapping about and finally deciding what to wear, I made my way to the start where I saw everyone from SLGR (too many to mention) and I could see Ian Pullen, Simon Hassett and Mathew Woolston up ahead and closer to the start line so they could get a quick getaway.
After a 2 minute silence and a rendition of the National Anthem we were off. It was quite congested at the start and took a while to get into any sort of rhythm. The route turned left down onto the lower promenade where we were greeted with a mass of sea-foam. Some runners were bemused by it and seemed to stop or slow down in front of me.
The route continued along the lower promenade past the De La Warr Pavilion, then further up we were presented with another obstacle, the path was completely covered in shingle. The shingle was quite deep in places, I found it quite difficult to run on and was worried about my ankle.
Once past the shingle section we reached the turnaround point and had to run back through it. On this section I got to see so many friendly faces and exchanged a few hi-fives as we all encouraged each other.
Despite the wind and the shingle, I was running at a reasonable pace and found myself running with Janet Cooper and Dawn Annett, so I thought to myself I’ll try to keep up with them for as long as possible.
Myself and Dawn completed the 1st lap practically together in 39 mins, which was on right on target. I stayed with Dawn until the shingle section which slowed me down a little while Dawn seemed to glide across it. I did my best to keep her in my sights and completed the 2nd lap in 41 mins, with a total time of 1hr 20mins. I was still on target for 2hrs and only had to do another 40 minute lap. Sounds easy on paper, but not after being battered by the wind for nearly 9 miles.
I really struggled on the last lap mentally and physically, my hips started to ache and the shingle didn’t help. I struggled to keep Dawn in my sights as she started to pull away from me and I only saw her on the turnaround points. My legs were getting heavier and at mile 11 I tripped over whilst looking at my Garmin. Some fellow runners went to help me up and asked if I was ok. I said ‘I’m fine, don’t worry about me, keep going’. I just didn’t want to slow anyone else down.
I got back to my feet and jogged to the drinks station and took this opportunity to take a couple of drinks (one water and one rola cola) and have a little walk. I knew that my 2hr target was out of reach and now just wanted to finish, put my feet up and have something to eat. So I kept plodding away, I could see the pavilion in the distance and just focused on that.
I passed the pavilion, then down the steps, that I had jumped on the previous two occasions but this time I gingerly stepped down. I could see the finish line, I just put my head down and kept going, however, the line didn’t seem like the line was getting any closer. I then eventually crossed the line and the last lap had taken me 44mins.
Once I finished and collected my medal, everyone was queuing for free hot drinks and treats in the marquee. I couldn’t be bothered to queue, I just wanted to put on some warm dry clothes before I got cold, so I headed back to the car. I later found out everyone wasn’t just queuing for refreshments, they were also receiving their instant results, so I had to wait to for the results to be published on-line for my official time.
I got changed and my legs started to stiffen up so I didn’t fancy hanging around in the cold and left before I had chance to say goodbye to anyone and see how my friends got on. But before leaving the 3 medallists had one last quick photo showing off our bling.
The route wasn’t particularly challenging and the 3 laps allows you to see your supporters and friends that were racing on many occasions. However, it was the very strong winds and the shingle that made it harder. I was pleased with my time of 2:04:24, it wasn’t a PB, but it was my quickest half this year and my 2nd best half marathon time. I would like to try this race again but preferably with calmer conditions and who knows maybe achieve a PB.
Well done to everyone who took part in one of the three different events, we all well and truly deserved our nice medals.