I appreciate that it’s a week late, but here is my review of the 2017 Paddock Wood Half Marathon. In short; fantastic course with enthusiastic marshalls and volunteers, a delightful route and a fast finish. In slightly more detail:
When looking at races for this year I knew that a half marathon would form part of my plans. The Surrey half is closer to home, but as it is a few weeks earlier in the year I never thought I’d be ready to give it a proper go, as it turned out, my hip certainly wouldn’t have allowed that anyway. I also didn’t want to fill up my plans for later in the year as I had othe races in mind for September – November. That didn’t leave much space, and when I saw paddock wood as an option I immediately signed up as I was sure I had heard good things about it. As it turned out, my ultimate decision to race came very late last week as I finally accepted that I might not race as fast as I might have initially intended at the beginning of the year, but my hip was seeming to cope with runs of about ten miles in recent weeks and I had paid to run so I might as well enjoy the day.
As I left the house the temperature was in low single digits and a mist surrounded the house. Lulled into a false security I left without hat, sunglasses or sun cream. In hindsight this was probably a bit of a mistake. Aside from this slight error of judgement my first real issue was the roadworks on the A21 which forced me to take a more circuitous route and left me at the back of a long queue for the car park at a school in Paddock Wood. I didn’t have my race instructions with me so I set off on a slow jog in the rough direction of the start line. I ambled along but never seemed to get much closer. It must be over a mile from car park to start line and some signage to dictate direction and distance probably wouldn’t have gone amiss here. Thankfully I found the start area with a few minutes to spare, made use of the facilities (a hedge behind an industrial unit) and made my way to the start corral signposted 1:20-1:40 pace. This seemed ambitious, but isn’t that the done thing at races? I was surprised by the scale of the event as the corrals wound their way through the industrial estate and housed about 2,000 runners.
Without any ado, or maybe we just couldn’t hear the starter, the gun went off and we were on our way.
Immediately the course turns right and up and over a large bridge crossing the railway line. We continue heading slightly uphill, passing runners still walking to the start, until we have almost made it back to the car park at the school. Here we take a left and begin to climb the one and only proper hill of the whole route. This tops out at about the 1.5mile mark and then gently heads downhill. For me, the opening 7:31 mile felt a bit too fast and I was conscious that holding that pace based on my limited training was a bit foolish. I was trying to focus on taking it easy and keeping relaxed.
Though I know bits of Kent relatively well, my grandparents live just a few miles awa, I don’t profess to knowing this area well at all. It is beautiful. Maybe we were helped by the glorious sunshine on this spring day, but the views were lovely across the garden of England. Aside from the early climb, the only remaining bumps on the course came courtesy of a few small rail crossings. Flat is great for a fast course, but can make things a bit monotonous. At about the three mile point I realised that I had settled in with a small group running similar paces (slightly faster than perhaps I should have been, but still comfortable) and in particular a guy from Kent AC. This guy was running a well controlled and comfortable looking pace and I just locked on to his back and we tagged along for the next seven miles.
Water stations cropped up every three miles or so, but I only availed myself of their services at mile nine when I grabbed a cup for a quick sip. They also had a couple of sponge stations – the one at seven miles even came with stocks and a paddock wood runner ready to take a hit from your used sponge.
At 10 miles one of the marshalls indicated “only a parkrun to go”. I turned to my companion from Kent and highlighted that the parkrun I did yesterday was not so easy! My breathing was certainly picking up now (I was running “easy” for the first nine miles or so) but I tried to keep with my running buddy. Through the housing estate we picked off other runners one by one and our pace gently increased.
The final mile goes back over the big railway bridge but I still managed to knock out a sub 7 mile before turning immediately left onto the estate and the finish line. In the end the guy from Kent, Nicola, finished about four seconds in front of me, but I caught him as we got our tags removed to thank him for pulling me along the course so magnificently.
We were awarded medals, handed goody bags (complete with water, chocolate, yahoo, an energy bar, and a running magazine), and I grabbed a banana from the table. In the finish area massages were offered and for a small charge you could have your medal engraved with your finishing time. I had left all my stuff in the car so I just started walking back there, cheering runners as I passed.
By the time I got back to the car I had received a message on my phone confirming my place and time.
As you can see from the map outline, the route takes in a lot of open farmland and green spaces. My “too-fast” first mile turned out to be my slowest.
Despite all my pre race sandbagging I am now the owner of a half marathon time that I can quote in minutes (96:23) and I earned a PB of very nearly ten minutes over my previous best.
In the subsequent days my hip seems to have coped well, though I have also taken some time off running to enjoy family holiday time. Onwards and upwards, surely?!?