Ran my 2nd Half, and only the fourth 10 mile+ run, of the year on 26th July, at Down Tow Up Flow (DTUF) half marathon. Raghs had discovered this race, and when she decided not to run it, I signed up instead1.
DTUF is a point to point race, run on the Thames towpath between Marlow and Windsor. The route alternates each year between Down-Tow (Marlow-Windsor) and Up-Flow (Windsor-Marlow). This year it was running as the river flows, from Marlow to Windsor.
The buildup to the race had been as expected, with temperatures ranging in 20s, feeling like even low 30s in the sun. A lucky weather system off the Atlantic changed it all on morning of the race. It started drizzling as I got into the bus for the start at Windsor. The drizzle turned into a proper downpour soon after, and stayed strong and steady most of the way through the race.
The registration and start were in a rugby field with no proper cover around. After quickly registering, made a visit to the portaloos to prevent the episode from my previous long run, and then found shelter inside a baggage truck to keep myself dry.
While there, it was interesting to see people’s reactions to the rain. People had trained, turned up and registered at the start early on Sunday morning, and were now pulling out because they didn’t want to run in the rain! There were discussions all around between people who hated running in the rain, and those who didn’t mind it. I was in the small group who love running in the rain :)
Quick warm up jog around the rugby field, and off I went to the start. Due to the narrow towpath, the start was staggered into waves, and I was allocated to start in first wave (don’t know if the waves were constructed alphabetically, based on estimated finish time, or by random selection).
The initial sections were on grassy trails through fields, heading in the opposite direction to Windsor to a bridge where we’d cross over to the proper side. There were cows, kissing gates, and (at the bridge) narrow staircases to navigate.
Since this race was part of my marathon training, I wanted to go slower than usual, hoping to maintain a 5:25/km average, instead of the usual sub 5:00/km I end up averaging in races. However, pacing myself when starting in a group is always difficult. Despite trying not to go too hard, I ended up with first 3 Kms in 4:44, 4:53, 4:57, respectively. Way. Too. Fast.
Even after I realised this, somewhere in the 4th K, it was proving hard to slow down much. Immediately after was the small on-road section which, after slogging on mud and grass, felt like I had just put the skates on. Also, thanks to the rain the temperatures had dropped to the optimal for running fast.
It was only by the 8th Km or so that I could get the avg pace down, but I was still struggling to keep it steady – a few hundred metres in 5:30s and then a few in 5:00s. It was then that I found my pacer – Hazel Lote, of Wimbledon Windmillers2.
Hazel had started in the same wave as me and had been, thanks to my fast start, behind me most of this time. Somewhere around the 8K mark (I’m guessing), she overtook me. Struggling with pacing as I was, I decided to try to stick with her, and see if it helped.
It worked wonderfully! She ran a very steady pace, only slightly faster than my target 5:25/km, suiting my race plan perfectly. So, for the next 7 miles or so, I happily stayed with her – mostly behind, occasionally besides.
She didn’t seem to mind initially. But as the miles ticked by and we neared the finish, she was getting worried that, after using her to pace me all through, I’d sprint and overtake her at the finish. She needn’t have worried. I’d just finished my gel, and was looking for some water. At next water-station, I walked to down a couple of cups, while she carried on. Saw her later at the finish and thanked her for pacing me along. She was just happy that I didn’t overtake her at the finish :)
While almost all the route was on muddy towpath or wet grassy trails, the advantage of starting early was that the mud wasn’t much churned up for most of the route. However, as we started to near the finish, the path became really bad. There were some sections where it seemed like running on ice.
After all the slipping, sliding, slogging in the last 2-3 miles, the final approach to the finish was on road. It felt like someone had added springs under my shoes – high knees, high cadence, happy spirit. It was fun to hear the announcer pronounce my name as I approached the finish – spread my smile wider despite (or because of?) the pronunciation.
Finished, collected the medal, a banana and some water. Raghi and Chewie were to meet me at the finish, but I’d finished 6 mins ahead of planned time, and they were late as usual. So, after downing the banana and water, I went for a short run beyond the finish to take the total distance on Garmin from 20.9 to bit over 21.1 Km – Strava is an arse about not recognising half marathons that are short by a fraction :/
Thanked Hazel, collected bag and changed into a dry tee, took a medal selfie, and got a massage before my reception team finally arrived! I was just glad to have them there, I was starting to feel cold.
My target time for the race was 1:55:00. Despite the muddy path, the fast start, good weather and Hazel’s pacing had combined to help me finish in 1:49:25. I could’ve run faster. I should’ve run slower. In the end, I was happy with the way the race went.
Now, for longer runs, more hills, and sandy trails :(
- Raghs’ reason for skipping the race, and mine for signing up were the same: potentially hot temperatures given late July date. She didn’t want to race in the heat, while I was looking forward to it as training for racing in the heat. ↩
- I didn’t know Hazel before the race. I don’t know her now either. The only reason I know her name is thanks to Strava – one of the few good features it has. It automatically shows other people it thinks you were with during an activity. Of the nine other runners it showed me for this particular run, there was just one woman. ↩