English Half Marathon – race review

Only one week since I completed my second ultra-marathon and I’m back out on the start line again for another race – the English Half Marathon. I thought  I’d tell you about my day and the race itself.

English Half Marathon (EHM)

The EHM has been running for 10 years although to be honest I wasn’t aware of it until last year when a number of my Twitter compatriots were raving about it having just completed it. Buoyed by their enthusiasm I decided to book for 2018. Yes a whole 12 months in advance!

Part of the attraction was the fact that the race is pretty local, only about 30 miles away in Warrington. Perhaps this is why I missed it; frequently events with such grand names tend to be centred around London and the South East which is further than I tend to travel. Anyway, rave reviews read and entry booked. As it happens I was running in an even more local 10k last year on the day of the EHM.

What I hadn’t anticipated at the time of booking was that I would be running an ultra-marathon the weekend before. If I knew that would be the case, I probably wouldn’t have booked it, as quite frankly doing any sort of race 7 days after an ultra is a bit silly. But we are where we are, and as a staunch northerner, I’d paid for my place so I was definitely going to be turning up! And at £20 all in (early bird entry) it was pretty good value for a large event such as this.

The race-number (including chip timer) came by post a few weeks ahead of race day, along with a simple A5 sheet of instructions, which included all the information you needed.

The EHM is actually a weekend of events which included a 5k, 10k/HM (you couldn’t do both as they started simultaneously) and a 1 mile race. There was a gentle persuasion to do multiple events to get a slew of additional finisher medals, although as it’s something I have no interest in, it didn’t appeal to me. Aside from that, did I mention I ran a very long way last weekend?

Race tactics

I’ve mentioned the ultra a couple of times intentionally. You see I’ve never done this before and as such had no idea how recovered I would be. So any race strategy was firmly in the ‘suck it and see’ bracket today. Looking at the course profile with me in fully fit and rested state (and normal running conditions) I’d be confident of a sub-90 result. That’s based on my PB course having twice the elevation, so does have some fact behind it!

However, today’s plan was to just see what the legs did, and ultimately just get around.

I arrived bright and early (as usual!) and easily got parked up (for free!) in one of the designated town centre car parks. Ignoring the problems of getting stuck inside a closed shopping centre, it was only a few moments away from the start line. I got chatting to a few runners before seeing the #visorclub meeting place, which was in the rain. But I nipped over to say a few hellos and made it to the traditional pre-race photograph:

Racecheck #visorclub pre-race photo

Racecheck #visorclub pre-race photo (yes, hiding at the back as usual!)

Not a huge meet, with several missing the photo and a lot of others in the group running at Reigate HM today instead.

By the time we got down to the start-line we were chatting about race strategies, and I firmed up my own plan; which remained as to go out and see what happens. But a sub 1h40m would hopefully be achievable. Wouldn’t it?

And then we were off.

EHM Race route & profile

Here’s the route & profile:

English Half Marathon route and profile

English Half Marathon route and profile

With less than 500ft of elevation during the race, this shouldn’t have been a tough ask on fresh legs. However we’ll come back to that……

The race started in Warrington town centre before heading out into open countryside and visiting a couple of local villages before coming back.

I really enjoyed the countryside; that part of the race reminded me of the Wilmslow Half Marathon with the only difference being that Wilmslow is downhill for the first half and uphill later, so the opposite of the EHM.

In the countryside bit there was one ‘turning around’ section which was quite slippy, although the marshals warned the runners well in advance to ensure nobody went flying. I must say I’m not a fan of routes that do this, although I understand that sometimes it’s the only way to get the distance.

Upon returning to Warrington, the route headed towards the town centre before embarking on an out & back section which took in the Halliwell Jones stadium. After this the route seemed to wind its way around the town streets before the golden gates outside of the town hall appeared and marked a great finish.

Crowd support was fantastic, not only in the town itself, but throughout the whole course.

A tough day at the office

I started my race a little way back from the 90 minute pacer as I knew that was definitely not going to happen. In fact my first mile was on point, however that’s where that dream ended. At about 4 miles I realised I was running on empty, bolstered only by the Tailwind in my drink. I could see my pace was slowing considerably, although I balanced that with the fact this this first section of the route contained about 98% of the climb for the whole race.

That said, even as the road began to drop away gently downhill after the half-way point, it wasn’t a chance for me to start smashing out fast compensatory miles. But it did mean I kept on moving forwards.

There wasn’t a higher gear to click into today. I knew my fitness overall had dropped off over the summer, but today really was a very rude awakening. Yes, the ultra had taken a lot out of me. But that’s only half the story. For one reason or another (work, lack of interest in road running) I’ve simply not done the training.  I’m carrying 5kg extra weight too, so that’s not helping.

It’s disappointing knowing that the course is potentially so quick, but not unexpected. Today was very much an onwards and upwards day.

The last section seemed to be an endless winding through different streets and changing direction, although looking back at the GPS trace it doesn’t appear to be anywhere near as bad as it seemed! It was great that it provided a lot of opportunity for crowd support (I think I’ve high-5’d more people today than in the rest of my life combined) but the last section felt very disjointed to me. As if they were just trying to make up the mileage.

And the results?

Oh, I almost forgot about my results……

It took some finding to locate the official results. In fact I had to download an app onto my phone for this purpose which was a bit of a convoluted option. Most big races send you a text! Anyway, I got this from the app, but the full results are now available here.

EHM results

EHM results

Finish-line goody bag

Today we got a bag of things, plus a t-shirt and a finisher’s medal. It looks like this (ignore the ancient Cafe Nero card that seems to have taken up residence in my kitchen of late – that was there before the bag arrived):

EHM finishers bag

EHM finishers bag

Photos

When I first published my review, the race photos were not available and I was unable to comment on their cost. Since then the photos have been released by FinisherPix. There are a good selection of photos to choose from and these have been provided as a link to your race number (you’ll see that link relates to my photos). It appears to be their policy that the default is to buy all of your photos for a fixed price of £25 (all formats) or £18 (well I’m not sure what the difference is TBH). I guess if you want all the photographs, this isn’t too bad, but realistically most of us will look for the best photo and use that as the memorabilia of the day. Looking at mine, there’s plenty I’d be happy never to see again, with only a couple I’d consider purchasing. However, at £11 per individual photo download, this seems steep to me. So £11 per photo I’d want, or £25 for a load of photos I’d almost certainly never look at or share. I’m out!

I appreciate that there are costs involved and that it needs to be worthwhile to the photographers to spend their time at an event. However I wonder if they’d priced it more competitively (per individual photo) if they’d actually sell more photos and make more profit from the event.

English Half Marathon – final thoughts

The EHM was a very well organised event at a very competitive price. Photos were too expensive for my taste, and as such I didn’t bother.

Overall I enjoyed the EHM, with most of the negatives of the day being down to (my) poor preparation for the event. As I said above, it’s definitely a wake-up call!

For me, if they could streamline the route at the end so it flowed a bit better, that would be the only change I’d make. And not require you to have to download an app to find the results immediately after the race!

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