Generally there is mud, some type of trail and a river in the races I take part in. I am still an avid road runner as well, so when I was asked to take part in the Virgin Sport Oxford Half Marathon, I thought it would be a great chance to put away the trail shoes and grab my everyday runners!
Leading up to the event, I didn’t have the best amount of training. As I had rolled my ankle the weekend before at a Spartan Event, I was pretty much on bed rest the whole week before. I guess you could call that my taper process. The morning of the event arrived and I felt good, ankle wasn’t 100% but I thought I was in good enough condition to tackle my first half marathon. I made my way to Oxford on an early coach (I have a habit of not sleeping before I do events like this which is definitely counter productive).
First thing I loved about the event was getting there. The whole of Oxford seemed race ready and there were markers everywhere and even a shuttle bus to take participants to the event village. If only it were this easy all the time. I arrived with good time to spare so got prepped in the media tent. I ate my final fruit bar (only had 2 of these for breakfast), drank my last bottle of water, had a small dynamic warm up and made my way to the start line.
With over 8000 people taking part you can imagine how packed it was. As it was a mass start people were devided by the pace they expected to run. I was aiming for 2 hours so I was in pen D. The announcer gave the count down and we were off! As this was my first attempt at a half marathon, I’m going to break down the race in terms of how the miles felt.
I always find it takes me at least a mile and a half to get into a run, especially if it’s a long one. Finding my pace was my main plan so I wouldn’t over exert myself and burn out too early. Saying this, after a mile and a half I was keeping up with the 1:50 pacer and felt great. My ankle was fine and I felt strong. I had never really experienced a crowd cheering around me whilst running before and they were amazing. It was great as it seemed everyone was on your side. This was extra helpful as this is the first time I ran such a race with no headphones in. I really wanted to feed off of the buzz of the crowd and the multiple bands playing along the way.
This was definitely my most comfortable section of the run. The pitstops were brilliantly placed along the course and I didn’t feel the need to stop whilst grabbing a cup of water (or lucazade) and kept going. I used other runners as markers in terms of a little internal competition for me to get ahead of. This always helps me regardless of the event, just because that’s links in well with my nature. From about Mile 4, I was level with the 1:45 pacer. For me this seemed like unknown territory as I knew I was going quicker then I had anticipated, but it felt right in the moment. I reached halfway point in around 50 minuets! This was already a 10km personal best for me and I knew that I was doing a lot better then I had expected. My 2 hour goal was well within reach and all the dots were connecting.
Ok, so this is where things started to dwindle ever so slightly. That earlier thought of me going a lot faster then I had anticipated had finally started to catch up with me. The 1:45 pacer was a few hundred feet ahead of me and I was back level with the 1:50. My legs started feeling a lot heavier and I could feel myself running out of steam. This is where the crowd really came through. The frequent cheers of ‘Go on Michael’ and ‘You’ve got this Mike’ really did push me through this section. Writing my name on my race number was definitely a great move. I started to stop at drink stations to catch my breath and walked a few moments. In my head I really didn’t want to stop dead in my tracks as 1, that would pull me further away from my 2 hour goal and two, that would completely ruin the momentum I had gathered in the run so far.
Getting past mile 11 was a turning point for me. I knew there wasn’t far to go and that I would need to really put my foot down (excuse the pun) to beat my goal. My main aim at this point was to try and catch up to the faster 1:50 pacer (they had a few pacers per time goal). The home stretch of the event brought you back towards the Oxford University Parks where we started. The crowd were most prevalent here and they really cheered each and every runner past the finish line. That burst of energy that I got when I had the line in sight was insane. All of a sudden I had enough energy to sprint my way past the crowd and grab my medal! My finish time was officially 1:52 which wasn’t only a personal best but well ahead of my 2 hour goal. What a result! All finishers pick up a great medal, a long sleeve technical shirt and a goody bag full of after race snacks.
Being my first Half Marathon, this was going to be the event that set precedent for any other marathon I take part in, in the future. It was everything I had hoped it to be. The location was easy to find (even though it was city centre Oxford) and it was clear where you needed to go. The event village was very lively and really did get you ready for the event. The idea of dividing runners by expected pace worked well as it allowed the fastest runners to break away from the pack, which quickly divided the large group of people and made running much easier. The water stops were well placed and the added Lucozade was a refreshing addition. The crowd were excellent and really did push me when it mattered most. This route was beautiful and probably one of the most picturesque courses I have raced on (Oxford is a great looking city) and all in all the environment was awesome. This is definitely a race I would recommend for your first Half Marathon as it is flat throughout and extremely well organised. If you want to challenge yourself and do it in style, I advise you give the Oxford Half a go next year.
Were you at the Virgin Sport Oxford Half Marathon this year? What were your thoughts? What were your favourite parts? What could be done better? Have you taken part in any other half marathons recently? Let me know in the comments below.