The Robin Hood Half Marathon in Nottingham is known for being one of the fastest and most popular autumn races in the country. If you’re looking for a personal best then this course almost guarantees it.
After setting PBs at two half marathons in the spring, I’d got closer to breaking the one hour 40 minutes barrier but hadn’t quite managed it. With a full summer of training I felt sure I would be able to smash it. Even if I ran one hour 39 that would suffice. I just wanted thirty-something.
So my summer training began. The long runs, short runs, hills runs, tempo runs and speed sessions were all done with Nottingham in mind.
Everything was going well. I felt strong. I was quietly confident. A few weeks before the race I smashed my 10k PB. I was delighted. I couldn’t wait to get on the start line at Nottingham. This had to be the right time to break the barrier.
Unfortunately, the autumn germs began circulating and I became ill with a chest infection. Then my iron deficiency started causing problems. I soldiered on. I took antibiotics and ate spinach and broccoli in abundance. To make matters worse, Chris was struck down with man flu. We wondered if we’d even be able to make the start. Should we still race? Should we pick another half marathon? One minute we were going to run the next we weren’t running. Then at the last minute we decided to do it.
As always, the doubt was my downfall. I’d lost my focus. I didn’t prepare as I normally would. In fact, our preparations were something of a shambles.
‘We’ll have to set off early,’ Chris said the night before.
‘Why?’ I asked tucking into my chocolate pot (dark chocolate for iron of course).
‘It starts at 9:30am.’
The drive to Nottingham takes an hour and half. We needed to be in the race village at 8:30am and it was a 25 minute walk from the car park to the start. We needed to set off at 6.45am at the latest, which meant getting up before we’d gone to bed. All this would have been fine had we not had various pets to contend with on race morning. I dashed off to feed the horses while Chris walked and fed the dogs. Things took longer than planned. We were 30 minutes late setting off.
‘We’re cutting it a bit fine,’ Chris said as we sped out of the village.
‘It’s okay,’ I said. ‘The car park and roads don’t close until 8.50am so we’ll be fine.’
Chris didn’t look so sure.
‘Don’t panic,’ I said. ‘I know a shortcut.’
Having lived and worked in Nottingham I thought I knew the area quite well, but as it turns out, I don’t. Things started to go wrong when I couldn’t remember if it was junction 26 or 25 that we needed to take. We took 25.
‘I don’t recognise any of these roads,’ I said. ‘It must have been the 26 turnoff!’
We had a tense few minutes until we realised that the road we were travelling on was going to Nottingham. We’d get there. It would be fine. It was 8.40am and just as we were signalling to take a road leading to the car park an official jumped out in front of us brandishing traffic cones.
‘The road’s closing,’ he said.
I was slightly annoyed that the race organisers were closing things ahead of schedule.
‘It’s only a few minutes,’ Chris said. But actually those precious minutes would have made all the difference.
The official told us we needed to go back to the roundabout, which involved more queuing, and head three miles the other way following a diversion.
If only I hadn’t got my junction numbers muddled we would have got there a few minutes earlier, parked and walked to the start in good time. Instead it was 8.50am and we were still crawling along.
As we came into Nottingham I became nostalgic at seeing the Queen’s Medical Centre where I used to work. In my excitement I seemed to lose all sense of direction and we ended up in a church car park. I jumped out and asked a policeman for directions. It was 9am.
‘Can we run to the start?’ I asked.
‘Too far,’ he said.
‘How far is far?’
I really didn’t want to run three miles and then take part in a half marathon, so we went back the way we’d come. When we spotted a sign for the car park, I cheered. We could see where we needed to be, but the traffic just wasn’t moving. At 9.14am Chris confirmed my suspicions.
‘We’re going to miss the race!’
After all my training and hard work, months of putting myself through pain just to break one hour 40, I wasn’t even going to start.
Surprisingly, I felt calm. There was absolutely nothing I could do and it wasn’t like it was the Olympic final.
We parked the car at 9.35am, five minutes late, and began a mad sprint to the start. That first mile and half were the quickest of the day. A few people clapped us as we came down what would be the last mile of the race.
‘Are you the winners?’ someone shouted.
We arrived at the start gasping, tired and hot. In retrospect, it wasn’t the ideal warm up for a half marathon event. What we should have done is got back in the car and gone for a big breakfast, but when you’re in race mode it’s hard to see sense.
With around 17,000 runners taking part in the half marathon and marathon not everyone had crossed the start line. We joined Fred Flintstone and Robin Hood at the back of the field and off we went.
With thousands of runners to pass I was never going to get the time I wanted. But I was going to try. It was stop and start all the way. I weaved in and out of the crowd, jumped on and off pavements, but to no avail.
Despite my disappointment at not breaking the barrier, I was delighted when I crossed the line in 1.41.56, a PB by three seconds which meant 10 points for my club championship.
‘You cut that a bit fine,’ Chris said. ‘But at least it’s not a wasted day.’
It wasn’t. There’s always a sense of achievement after finishing a half marathon. It was just a very strange day and there’s still the problem of breaking that one hour 40 barrier.