This Sunday I got up before 6am to drive down to Oxford for the Vitality half marathon, it felt like an early start for a race that I hadn’t really trained for, having recently had a baby I was restricted to distances of 5km for most of my training runs – I got in two 10km training runs in the last two months, which certainly didn’t feel enough. So I set off with low expectations and not very much excitement.
The start of the race was very well organised, there was a bag drop with virtually no queue, enough toilets, places to get food and drink and even a choir on top of a double decker bus (no, no idea why); it all added to the sense of occasion and it felt like a ‘big’ race.
Onto the start line and the pens worked fairly well, it was clear that there were a lot of runners (there were over 6,000 finishers this year), there was a bit of a problem with a lack of openings to get into the pens and people were jumping the barriers quite a lot, but everyone seemed to settle in ready for the race. The start was delayed 15 minutes which felt a little frustrating in the cold, but no one really seemed to mind.
Once the race started it became very crowded in the 1:30-2:00 range, people were bumping into each other for the first couple of miles and the race surged forward and then pace slowed to a walk later. This made for severe pace variability early on and I was a minute down on my target after 2km.
Once things spread out a bit more it was possible to enjoy some of the scenery and it really was a lovely race, going from the city, out to the country and back. I was going at a pace that allowed me to enjoy the architecture and the beautiful countryside and I really fell in love with running again during the middle of the race. It was a flat course, there are a couple of small hills but nothing I’d call steep and I didn’t really notice them as I was at a comfortable pace.
There were plenty of water stations, the water came in bottles with sports caps so they were easy to drink (although I didn’t bother with water) half way around there was a ‘sports drink’ station which I had saved myself for, unfortunately this was poured into cups which meant the only way I could drink it was by walking with it… in addition it was disgusting! I don’t know what they used, but it was not nice.
Towards the end, inevitably, my lack of distance training started to tell. I felt cramp in my legs at 18km but by then I was just delighted that I’d made it that far within my target time.
Turning into the city center again there were crowds to greet the runners which felt very nice. The finish of the race was again very crowded, I also nearly ran into a camera man who was ducked down on the course near the end as I went to overtake someone, over the line there was water, then a banana, race medal, goody bag and t-shirt. It took a while to get through, but it was fairly well organised. Getting out of the barriers again proved a bit tough – I ended up jumping over them again and nearly fell on my face.
I had struggled a bit from 18-20km but then got that boost of knowing I was only 1km from the end. This was the longest run I’ve done for two years after an injury had prevented me from doing any sport for some time. It was my slowest ever half marathon by a long way, but I’d really enjoyed it and I was really proud of myself for doing it. It has inspired me to sign up for another half marathon, it’s a great distance; it feels like an achievement but you don’t hit the wall and have the mental battle of the full marathon.
I thought the Vitality Oxford Half Marathon was a great race – it has that ‘big event’ feel to it which is nice to do now and again, it was well organised and felt ‘fun’ throughout and there were enough people cheering to be fun but not too annoying. There are always downsides to big events – they are often crowded and that affects your pace, there’s no parking near by so you have to get buses into the city and they lack the ‘personal’ feel off small races, but I’d recommend it to anyone near by who wanted a good half marathon that isn’t huge like some of the London events.