When I last ran the Buxton Half Marathon, it was as part of the 13 Challenge. As part of that challenge, I wanted to try a mixture of half-marathon races and not just stick with flat courses which I knew I could do. Buxton is far from flat and it was a definite challenge – and a highlight – in 2013.
I’d intended to run it again, but with marathon training and various associated injuries, the opportunity didn’t present itself.
Roll on to 2018 where I’ve stopped my quest to break my body in training for road marathons and that opportunity has become available again. I was interested to see how I’d fare, with 5 year’s more distance-running experience and a significantly higher level of fitness.
The weather and conditions
We’ve had a spectacular month of weather in May this year with more sun in the last few weeks than probably the whole of the last couple of years. And it’s been very warm too. Great for living. Not so great for distance running!
Continuing the sun-streak and contrary to all weather reports (except for the one given by the race director), the weather on Sunday 27th May was stunning. Completely clear skies, mid 20s Celcius temperature albeit with a strong breeze. It was gorgeous. Although the discussion on the start line for the race was more about ‘survival tactics’ over specific ‘race tactics’. Buxton is not a PB course, with 2 big climbs and 2 smaller ones. But unlike Leeds from a fortnight ago, about 12 miles of the course is on quiet country lanes in the most stunning scenery available. Buxton Half Marathon is beautiful, but heck you’ve got to work hard to get back to the Pavillion Gardens and claim your finishers medal.
I’ve already described the course, the profile of which makes up the logo for the race and has been on all the recent finisher t-shirts. A far better logo than the shocked cat logo on my 2013 finisher t-shirt!
In 2013, it was the hill at mile 7 that did the damage and I made it around the course in just over 1h46m. For 2018, I had hoped to learn from having run the course before. Back then I knew it was hilly but didn’t know the profile; sites such as Strava were in their infancy back then (although I had bought my first running watch so not completely in the dark ages!)
Buxton Half Marathon – my race
As with all races, you can only do so much planning and preparation and still be derailed by something at the last minute. Actually the days leading up to the race I’d felt like I’d been beaten up, with aches all around my chest. I think it was probably the start of my hayfever which tends to happen from the end of May and due to the associated food allergies, the reaction can be a little extreme. Still, with the usual medication that all seemed to be settling down by race day.
Another usual race-day symptom, the dodgy stomach manifested on cue, and thankfully there wasn’t a queue at the gents when I got there, so that was all fine too.
I brought a lot of water with me as I knew I’d need more than that available on the course – that’s as much a psychological thing as anything. I know carrying a bottle does nothing good for running form, but today of all days, that water was coming around with me! I did somehow forget to pick up any gels. Or sun-block. So that wasn’t particularly clever.
Picking up the numbers was easy. For the first year the race was chip-timed via a reusable bracelet not dissimilar in shape and size to some of the FitBit activity trackers. We used these same devices at the Kinder Downfall Fell Race in fact. If you booked your place before the end of April you were entitled to a free cotton race t-shirt and that was collected at the same time as the number.
Briefing – and then the start
The race briefing was short and clear; for a change from many races the use of a PA system really helped! I started a little further back than I might do normally, knowing that we’d soon be on open roads and starting the 3 mile climb. That way I wouldn’t start too quick and would be able to pick through the field easily enough should they be slower than me!
I wasn’t feeling great at the start. Mostly I would suggest through a lack of road and distance training. But we got going up and out of Buxton passing lots of cheery marshals and plenty of support from the locals which was really nice. Before long it was runners versus a hill in open countryside. It’s not particularly steep but at 3 miles in the heat is hard work. I passed a lot of people which surprised me, but then there was a long way to go!
I reached the road junction and started the first descent. I felt I was running OK and soon found myself cruising at 6.30 min/miles which was pleasing, although it was was going downhill. However as the next mini-climb started we had the full force of the wind to the front and things slowed down. In fact somewhere in that middle bit I had to drop to a walk although soon picked up the pace again. After the second hill (smaller one) it was a long descent into the valley which was glorious. Fields and hills all around and, save for the occasional bike or car, completely peaceful.
The realisation was rapidly dawning that, as in 2013, I had over-cooked things early in the race. A marshal was handing out pieces of orange which helped with getting some sugar back in me, but as I started the mile 7 climb I dropped to walking pace. It’s a long walk back from here so I wasn’t planning on doing too much of this. In fact although a load of runners passed me at this point, each time I got running again I passed many of them who had similarly started walking!
This is a shorter hill, only about 1.5 miles before a shorter descent where I was able to pick up speed. Now we were closer to the hillside the breeze wasn’t affecting us as much and as such the temperature seemed to soar! I ran with a group from Bramhall for a short whilst as the next hill started up, but as the gradient increased towards its peak they carried on ahead of me. Thankfully supporters were handing out jelly babies, so another supply of energy (why didn’t I bring my gels….?) to keep me going.
This was the last of the big hills, with a steady decent from 10.5 miles back in towards Buxton itself. A complete relief for me, and I could let gravity do the work, although the pace wasn’t going to set the world alight!
The last 1.5 miles of the course has always felt like a bit of faffage around the area to build up the distance. The route it meanders through a residential area for what feels like forever (it really isn’t!) before joining the road which runs alongside the Pavilion Gardens. Slightly downhill yet seemingly going on forever! It is here that they’ve changed the route in 2018.
When I did the race in 2013 (a route which was one of those believed to have been measured short in error) the course used to go around the top end of the Gardens and then back up to the Pavilion itself on the other side. This has now changed so that the last 400 or so metres runs through the Gardens themselves which was far more enjoyable, even if there were a few near-misses with people blindly pushing buggies around into the path of oncoming runners. Over the wooden bridge and then up out of the Gardens to the Pavilion and the finish.
It wasn’t quick, but at 1h42m07s and in 53rd place, it was the best I could do on the day. It was also 4 minutes faster than in 2013, albeit in tougher conditions (and a slightly longer course!).
Price & Photos
This is a very cheap half-marathon, costing £15 (affiliated) yet still providing a t-shirt and a medal.
The photos were also provided free of charge via Bryan Dale’s Racephotos.org.uk website.
This is a fabulous race and I believe should be on everyone’s bucket list. It’s tougher than most half-marathons especially in the heat, but the scenery is stunning and the route is beautiful and rural, yet finishes in the Crown-Jewels of the town itself, the magnificent Pavilion Gardens. With a low entry fee, free photos and such great support, I’ll certainly be back. If for no other reason than to see if I can adopt a race-strategy that works for me!