I’d been looking forward to the British Heart Foundation‘s inaugural Harewood House Half for ages. Not only was it a promising-looking new event only half an hour from home, but it was to be my first off-road jaunt. I’ve been wanting to do some proper trail running for ages, so this seemed the perfect opportunity to give it a go. I’d been doing some of my marathon training runs in my trail shoes off-road in an attempt to acclimatise a bit. The course profile looked a bit hilly – and unfortunately hills are something we’re a bit short of in York – so I guess I was a bit ‘in at the deep end’, but nothing ventured nothing gained!
The Harewood estate provided a fabulous backdrop to the event – just travelling up the drive towards the house makes you feel a bit Downton Abbey! Parking was nice and close to the starting area, which was very compact and had plenty of all-important portaloos. In fact I was so impressed with the loos I had two wees, just to be on the safe side! There were around a thousand runners, and we really couldn’t have asked for better weather. The day was cold, dry and sunny – perfect racing conditions. My friend and sports therapist Colin Hawxby of Muscle Management was also taking part, although as a top-notch duathlete he is a lot faster than me!
Off we set, with a gently undulating first couple of miles, including some tarmac, to get us going.
After a while I heard a bloke behind me say to his mate “The ground’s a bit uneven, isn’t it?”, making me wonder what he’d been expecting. Lord knows what he thought a little while later when we had some big hills to deal with! I soon learned that you can’t approach this type of event in the same way as a road race, i.e. having the mentality of running at x minutes per mile, because the terrain just won’t allow you to do that. On the flat and downhill bits you can run really well, but your final time all depends on how well you manage the climbs. It was reassuring to see a lot of people (including me!) walking some of the steeper sections. My mile split times ranged from 8:30 to 11 minutes, and my lack of hill training was sadly apparent. This is something I definitely need to work on if I’m going to do more of this kind of thing!
There’s no doubt this was a tough course – I even heard some of the leading runners saying this afterwards – and maybe a bit of a baptism of fire for a first off-road experience, but really enjoyable too. The views as we crested some of the hills were fantastic, helped by the fact that it was such a beautiful winter’s day. The final climb up to the house just before the end was a bit cruel, but no doubt made for good marathon training! The atmosphere was really friendly and the numerous marshals were all brilliant, often warning us of upcoming uneven or muddy areas. There were also three water points en route.
I came in at 2:11, which is by far my slowest ever half marathon time, but pretty much what I was expecting under the circumstances. Mind you, my Garmin did measure the course at 13.4 miles! Colin finished in 1:36, very impressive. Unfortunately the results are published only as chip times with no positions, so I don’t know how I compared to others – not really important to me in the grand scheme of things, but I guess other, better runners might have liked to know. I was pleased that in the finishing funnel we weren’t given a ‘goody’ bag of rubbish, but were just handed a medal, a bottle of water and a granola bar. There was also a really nice t-shirt, collected before the start.
It was lovely to see Darran Bilton doing really well in the race. When I started running, about six years ago, Darran did the gait analysis when I bought first ever pair of shoes at Up and Running in York. We settled on Brooks Adrenaline, and they’ve served me well ever since, with never a blister or lost toenail in four rounds of marathon training – although I do sometimes wear Brooks Pure Cadence for road races these days too. Darran doesn’t work there any more, but is still very much involved in running, organising the annual Dalby Dash 10K in November in aid of Help for Heroes. I really should enter that, especially as my brother is in the RAF.
The only downer on the day was leaving at the end. Steve, who’d been supporting me, was cycling home, so I had to drive myself back, and it took me almost an hour and a half to get off the site! Cars from all directions were funnelling onto one exit road, which was crossed by the course, and as some runners were still finishing it made for very slow progress. It was a bit annoying when I’m sure everyone just wanted to get home and have a shower! Apparently the organisers are looking into improving this for next year, which would be good. On the whole though I’d really recommend this event – challenging but fun – although my legs felt a bit jelly-like for a couple of days afterwards!
Next up for me is the Snake Lane 10, back on the road at Pocklington near York on 22nd February. Hopefully my quads will have recovered by then!