With three weeks to go before the Brighton Marathon, I’d signed up for a race to do my final 20 mile run of the training program, the Surrey Spitfire 20. I wasn’t going to “race” it – as in go all out for a PB, but just to use it as a final training run with the added benefit of having a marshalled route, water stations and a medal at the end.
There were 5 of us from our circle of parkrun/running/triathlon club friends going, and on Sunday morning at 7pm we all piled into Ben’s car to head down from St Albans, picking up a couple more along the way in Watford. I do like a good road trip as well as a race!! We got to Dunsfold Aerodrome – not only the venue for the race, but also the Top Gear test track! – at about 8.45am. Sadly, The Stig was nowhere to be seen, but there were lots of runners instead! It was going to be a warm day, we could tell – the sun was already shining and although still a chill in the air, it was going to be a hot one especially since we’d be running in the midday sun. Probably the first warm-weather run many of us had done this year. I much prefer cooler weather for the actual run, but last year I had learned that if at all possible, acclimatise to the spring heat as soon as you get the chance, as otherwise you’ll be used to running through the cold winter and bang, there could be a heat wave on marathon day! So today I was testing out not only my ability to keep cool, but also my new shorts and summer vest top.
Rich went to register for the 10 miler – we’d persuaded him to join us a few days before. He’s not got a marathon coming up so no need to go for the 20 at the moment. The rest of us were all doing the 20, as Ben, Wai-Meng and I are training for Brighton, and Esther – and I also – are doing London. The 20 was two laps round the countryside and surrounding villages, including about 3 miles each lap round the airfield runways. Soon we were on the start line and ready to go at 9.30am. The organisation seemed good, there was plenty of car parking, and didn’t take more than a minute to cross the start line. The only downside was there was no dedicated baggage area – you were expected to keep stuff in your car or leave it unattended in somewhere like the cafe. Not the best if you came by public transport!
I was a bit apprehensive about this one, as there were no MP3 players allowed due to open roads. Have to admit here I’m used to running with music, and although am fine for a big race where the crowd support is good, this was much more low key and running for nearly four hours with your heavy breathing for company isn’t my favourite method of motivation. This did make it a much more sociable race though, and I very soon got chatting to another lady who was running at the same pace as me. We are both doing Brighton – she’s done it 4 times already, and we chatted about other races we’d done and our training up until this point. Hopefully will see her at Brighton this year in a few week’s time!
The race went pretty well, and yep it was indeed hot!! I am so not used to the heat and water pouring cups of water over myself at every drinks station. I was so jealous of people sitting outside pubs drinking a nice, refreshing beer or lemonade, I wished I was there too! I must have drunk well over 2 litres of water, as my hydration backpack was nearly empty at the end, and I drank at every water station too. It was also quite hilly, and on the second lap I did have to walk some of the hills. The start of the second lap back through the airfield was tough – although flat, it was all on unsheltered tarmac, very hot with the sun beating down on us. At least once we were on the roads there seemed to be a lot more shade. A light breeze now and then was also very welcome. The drawback of the route was that the roads were not closed to traffic, and did get busy at times. The cars came quite close, and you really did need to be able to hear them coming (plus people shouting stuff to pass on!). Loads of cycling clubs out too – many were very encouraging but there was a bit of a dodgy moment where cars were trying to overtake runners, but going into the path of cyclists on the other side of the road. While I thought the race was good value for a 20 mile run, I really do prefer closed roads, even if we only have half the road closed.
I wasn’t hugely worried about my finishing time – I’d hit my target last week on a solo 20 mile run, and I knew that with accumulated fatigue, the heat and the hills there was no point trying to beat that time. I just wanted to get round in under 4 hours, around a 11.30 to 11.55 minute mile pace (my aim is to do Brighton in under 5 hours). Well, it took some effort on the flats and downhills having walked some of the inclines, but I finished in 3 hours 54, so was happy. I even (almost!) caught up with Wai-Meng at 19 miles, who was only about a minute ahead of me, after all this time not seeing her! It was a nice straight stretch to the finish, and the best part was having finishers cheering you on and seeing the huge blingy medal around their necks, knowing mine was only seconds away! I was so pleased to finish, and managed to high-five the volunteer and even give a thumbs up at Rich who was taking photos, as I came up to the finish line. I was given a gorgeous medal, big and chunky silver-coloured, with Surrey Spitfire 20 engraved on it. Not so many goodies though – water (in cups) and a chocolate bar, but I’d bought my own snacks and a spare bottle of water in the car. I hung around drinking quite a bit at the finish line as it was so hot – I wish we’ve been given a bottle of water so I could have carried on walking though. A great touch was the race director coming round to chat to us as well, that was nice of him.
Afterwards, we sat around for a bit relaxing in the sun, before heading back to Watford and having a massive Indian meal to celebrate!