The Hertfordshire Half is to half marathons what Sunny Hill is to parkrun. Featuring hills, undulations, slopes, mounds, mounts, hummocks, bumps, heights, ascents, inclines and gradients, the only thing you can say for it is that there is no mud. (Except for that bit in the second kilometre where you have to go round a locked gate). It’s also a beautiful scenic course and does have the saving grace that it takes place in November during soothing cool weather that makes its rollercoaster-like nature a bit more surmountable. Well, usually. Unfortunately last November we had a bit of a global pandemic going on and no one was allowed to go to Hertfordshire so the event was moved to June. June, as in that month when we finally got some hot weather after six months of shivering with hot water bottles and winter coats. I think I probably get on with running in hot weather better than most people – it does nothing whatsoever for my pace or stamina but there’s something about a warm sunny day that makes me just want to get out there and run. (Slowly). It blurs the line between “doing exercise” and “having a nice day out” and the world just looks like a nicer place when you turn the lights on. I did have misgivings about doing a half on such a hot day though and strongly considered dropping to the 10k (which is what I’d have signed up for if I’d known it would be in June). My worry was that I’d flake in the heat and be last and miss the cut off (thus holding up all the long suffering RunThrough people who I know would have waited for me even if I did miss the cut off) and have an awful time and be put off entering half marathons forevermore.
My plan was to “take it easy” and aim to come in just below the 3 hour cut off with as much walking as I felt like doing. I say “take it easy” but really there was no way of taking it easy because being out in the heat and the hills was automatically hard. I think even walking the whole thing would have felt hard. I set off with a vague idea of keeping my pace to around 8 mins per km and this was pretty easy for the first 10km which has more downhill than uphill.
Then at 6 miles, it was tantrum time. (You’d be disappointed if I made it all the way round without even a small tantrum, right?) I reached the water station… but there was no water left. Just a pile of discarded bottles round a yellow arrow. I’d only had a small slug of water at the last water station and had just taken a gel and I was hot and sweaty and really in need of that water. My mouth felt dry and the sugar from the gel was sticking my lips together. I hoped maybe there would be another water station just down the road, but there was nothing. Then finally, a blue tent on the horizon… and it contained a cheerful man bashing away at a steel drum. I could have throttled him. By the tent was a marshal with a bag full of discarded water bottles. I begged him to let me have one but presumably he thought it better for me to die of dehydration than risk the corona and he refused saying “there’s a water station just down there”.
“Just down there” turned out to be another mile down the road, and of course my fear now was that if the water at halfway had run out then maybe it would be the same all the way to the finish and I’d have to finish without any more water at all. (I’m not even sure I’d have been able to. I drink a lot of water when running, on a hot day I stop for water every 5km) When I got to the next water station, a full ten kilometres from the last time I’d had water, I could have cried with relief when I saw a full compliment of little bottles. I glugged a whole one down immediately and then spent the next two kilometres burping repeatedly.
I knew my pace wasn’t great (running the downhills and walking the uphills) but there were an awful lot of people doing the same and lots of them looked like they were finding it quite a challenge so there was quite a feeling of camaraderie at the back and none of the “embarrassing snail holding everyone up and getting in the way” feeling that had overcome me at Aintree. I gave my watch the odd glance and could see that I would easily finish within the three hour cut off if I kept plodding on and I had no intention of ruining my day by trying to exert myself any further than that.
I remembered the course quite well from last time and it wasn’t until very late in the race that I realised that it wasn’t quite the same this time. The absolute killer hill that had met me at the 10 mile mark was now at roughly 10.5 miles. As I puffed up said hill, I passed RunThrough regular Matt who lost both legs in an accident and uses a wheelchair. The hill was so steep that Matt couldn’t just wheel up it, he had to weave from side to side slalom style and he did not look as if he was appreciating the experience. I considered asking if I could trade him a push to the top for a ride down the other side but am fairly sure this would have ended in disqualification for us both, if not a major accident. Joking aside, I don’t often do the “you’re so inspirational!” thing but I did pause to consider that as much as I lament my legs and blame them for everything that is wrong with my life from poor sporting ability through to inability to pull Katarina Johnson-Thompson but at least they are still attached to my body. Perhaps I should shut up and think of Matt slaloming up the hill every time I moan that biology dealt me a poor hand.
I was expecting the last mile to be (as per last time) a lovely, long downhill where I could make up a little bit of time followed by a steep uphill that would nearly be the death of me and thus was holding back a bit. It didn’t click until the marshal directed me through a gate near the house that the ending had been changed and was now comparatively flat. I had been dreading that last hill but I had also been saving myself a bit for it so I felt completely short changed that it’d gone. If I’d realised I might have walked a bit less in the last 5k! Anyway, there was no real harm done as I was a good three minutes over my previous time but also well below my target of three hours. I sailed through the finish line with a big grin on my face then lay on the grass dying of exhaustion for a good half hour while Rob made several abortive attempts to get me to my feet and steer me to the pub.
Thankfully I have no half marathons until September now so am spared the joy of really long runs in the heat. Less happily my next big event is that triathlon that I’ve completely lost enthusiasm for in the three years since I signed up for it. I suppose I’d better go and see whether my bike has been stolen yet at some point.