It’s been a little while since I’ve been in Wrexham. The fact I only ever go there to run races possibly accounts for that. Indeed, I’ve already run a half marathon in Wrexham. And my last road marathon was also in Wrexham. For a small town on the edge of North Wales there’s a fair bit of running that goes on.
The races I’ve done before were organised by Run Wales. In fact their Wrexham race festival event only started a small number of years ago.
Whilst warming up for the 4 Villages HM in Helsby last year, another runner I was chatting to mentioned about the Village Bakery Wrexham Half Marathon. This event, organised by Cute Fruit Events is now in its 25th year and whilst it seemed to missed my radar for races, it’s a huge event with something in the region of 2500 runners taking on the 13.1 mile course.
For me, it’s been a while since I’ve raced at this distance – my last HM was in Oldham last October when I was coming back from my lack of fitness in the summer. I’d heard good reports about it being a quick course and a well-organised event. And during the early stages of having a seasonal bug, I decided to cheer myself up by entering a race. Because that makes all the sense in the world to a runner.
It’s been a useful rain-check on my fitness. Whilst I’m significantly trimmer than I was last summer and my fitness is better, I’ve also had a month out with the seasonal bug. Oh, and my back decided to go last weekend for no apparent reason, although by race day, it was back to normal!
I travelled over with San & Dan from my Lyme Runners group. Both are in marathon training mode at the moment so a shorter and faster race was something they both fancied.
Village Bakery Wrexham half marathon – route
The course is essentially two loops – the first, smaller loop is 5 miles, passing by the finish gantry just after the start and just at 5 miles. The second loop is 8 miles and branches away before rejoining the smaller loop for the last couple of miles. The terrain is relatively flat, although the undulations seem to be more favourable at the start. And more challenging at the finish! Here’s what the route looks like:
Now if you’ve read my previous tales of running in Wrexham, you’ll be well aware that the Run Wales events had a clear affinity for industrial estates and housing estates. I think there were 5 different industrial estates in the marathon, which meant that it wasn’t the most scenic race.
However, whilst the Village Bakery HM starts out on an industrial estate, the vast majority of the course was out on quiet country lanes. The roads weren’t closed, and thus normal headphones weren’t allowed; not that this rule seemed to concern some runners who completely ignored it. Whether or not the organisers will deal with those remains to be seen. However it is frustrating to see the scant disregard to safety that some runners seem to take.
Finding the start
The first challenge of today was finding the start! There were multiple car parks available across the industrial estate, and having dumped the car to find some loos without a monumental queue we discovered we were about a mile from the start. The problem arose when we tried to go back to the car a different way to drop off excess clothing and got completely lost. A definitely learning point there!
By the time we’d found the car there was only enough time to get changed and to head back to the start line. Which by now was getting extremely busy. I think the race organiser was having a bad day before things got underway, as the runners at the front of the pack were lined up on the wrong side of the start line (and thus chip timing mats). Trying to get 2500 runners to move back 2 yards was clearly a bigger challenge than you might imagine (if only they weren’t wearing headphones….?) but in the end we got there, and were off.
Up until the start of the race, I didn’t really have a race strategy beyond finishing. I liked the idea of trying for a PB (spurred on after a conversation with Mike @parkgaterunner who recognised me at the start) but the reality was that this probably wasn’t going to happen due to the lay-off in training. However I did have my heart set on trying to get around in sub-90 minutes as I’d not managed that since Anglesey last March. There were pacers, but the 90 minute pacer was way ahead from where I was standing, so I just figured I’d work it out as I’ve always done – by feel.
We set off and the pace was quick. The pacer I was after wasn’t for hanging about and it took me a couple of miles at 6:35 min/mile pace before I caught-up. I heard him explain to another runner that he had intentionally gone out to gain some time as the last section was generally slower, so it would give a bit of a buffer to ensure he came in on time.
The 90 minute “funbus” was crowded, and after nearly being tripped up several times, I went past the group and decided to do my own thing. I toyed again with the notion of the PB, which would have required maintaining this as an average pace throughout (slightly faster actually), and realised that was likely to be out of the question. But I thought I’d carry on as I was comfortable. And as we completed the small loop, I actually wasn’t far ahead of the funbus, based on the announcements being made.
And things carried on this way for the next 5-ish miles. I carried water/tailwind with me which, whilst isn’t great for running form, saves me battling with whatever water-station decisions have been made for the race (it was bottles today which is much better than cups). There’s also an environmental strand to me carrying my own bottle and keeping it as there’s so much waste generated by big races.
As we closed in towards the 10 mile marker, we were hit by a strong cross-wind. I’d been anticipating it being more windy before this point to be honest, but it was really energy sapping. And there was no escape from it. I felt my pace slipping and there wasn’t a huge amount I could do. I did some cross-checking with the pace-pocket I’d brought with me, and whilst I was still inside a projected 90 minutes, there wasn’t a huge amount of margin. This was a surprise at the time (I think I had 2 minutes to spare) but looking back with a rational mind at the average pace, I would have been at best coming in above 87 minutes, so it’s obviously right!
I pushed on but was really struggling to maintain my cadence. In the end, at about 11.5 miles I dropped to a walk to make sure I got a decent amount of tailwind drink in me and gather myself again. It was interesting that I wasn’t the only runner blowing up along this stretch; there were quite a few. I got going again and kept at it, although this section of road seemed to go along far longer than it did when we did the small loop. Passing the 12 mile mark was a relief as I had a visual guide of the remaining distance as we’d already done this section earlier in the race.
Finally the finish
Again it was endless before we made the final turn. When we did this at mile 5, the finish gantry seemed to appear quickly. Not it seems, at the end of the race. I was clinging on with everything I had to keep going. There were plenty of crowds and the atmosphere was good to keep you going. But it wasn’t easy. And even when the gantry did finally show up, it seemed to take an age to reach it. Importantly, it was showing 1.29.xx as I approached so I knew I’d come in within the 90 minutes, but it was going to be a close one. Although this was gun time and I knew I had a bit in reserve on my chip time.
I crossed the finish in 1.29.14 (official chip time) and 286th place. So I managed to come in on target, although my race-strategy left me a barrel-load of questions to answer.
Beyond the finish line the organisers were handing out packets of Welsh-cakes and a rather beautiful medal emblazened with the Welsh Dragon. Whilst I’m not generally bothered about finisher medals, I must say when I saw this one, I was chuffed as it’s very nice.
I waited for San & Dan to finish; both told similar tales of horror in the last section, so perhaps it was more an issue of the conditions today rather than being completely the fault of my strategy (or lack thereof).
We then followed a massive queue of people back into the industrial estate. A massive queue of people who hadn’t the foggiest where they had left their cars relatively to the finish line! Thankfully Dan had recorded the location by GPS so we could at least head off in the right direction before we found it. Meanwhile we passed lots of very confused-looking runners trying to find their transport away from Wrexham!
I booked this race late in the day and I think it cost me £25. I’ve received the ‘early bird’ price for next year which is £15. So that’s a pretty good deal all in all, especially as the race photography is done by Bryan Dale who makes his photos available free of charge. The medal is good quality and whilst the pack of Welsh cakes is no doubt inexpensive, it’s well received. The only reason they’ve not already been scoffed is that I’ve got some home-made flapjacks in the cupboard which will have a much shorter shelf-life. So they’re being gobbled first!
I quite enjoyed my most recent visit to Wrexham, despite it following the same pattern of being a less than great race-result. It was well organised and felt like a much lower key event, despite it’s size. It seems that most of the corporate race organisers would have had fitness people dancing on the tops of raised platforms to cheesy gym music. This had none of that rubbish, for which I’m eternally grateful.
The route was better than I had anticipated. Quiet country lanes are far more preferable to endless industrial estates!
I’d certainly recommend the race to others. And am currently considering whether or not to commit the date in my 2020 diary!
The route definitely has PB potential but is weather dependent. And not-being-ill-for-several-weeks-before dependent. That said, I think hillier courses suit me better these days. We’ll certainly find out if this is true in a fortnight ahead of my 6th visit to Anglesey!