This should really be called “The tale of a runner at the tail……”, but read on and you’ll see why. What I would say is this was my perspective on the race and I get a completely different angle compared to someone up at the front of the pack or someone packed in the middle

 
The Shrewsbury Half Marathon, one that I’d considered as it was fairly close to home but hadn’t signed up as it’s quite a busy period in my calendar.
 
A few months ago the lovely Helen (@_Fatgirlscanrun) did a raffle with some awesome prizes for her charity –  you can still donate to her JustGiving page here (https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/12marathonshelen). 

I was happy to be told I’d won a UKRunChat vest. However they were running low on stock so Joe kindly offered me a place at Shrewsbury or a hoody or tee instead.

Hmmmm, tempting. Now I don’t know about you but the first thing I do when a race comes up that looks good is to check the previous year’s results (as well as racecheck.com to see the reviews of course) and see what time the last person finished – to make sure that it wouldn’t be me. In 2015 it was 3:14 and 3:13 in 2016 so both a good minute or two quicker than my Half PB. So I was a bit nervous about saying yes – particularly when hearing there are hills out there as well.


I thought what the heck, I get to go home for the weekend, chill out a bit and have a trot around Shrewsbury on a Sunday morning, sounds quite nice right? 

I was in there, like David Hasselhoff in swimwear. It turns out that the Northern UKRunChat contingent were coming too and there would be quite a gathering – if you know me, you know I love a good tweetup!

I was tucked up in bed by 9.30 Saturday as I was meeting Ash (@stokeash) at 6am at Fenton Manor (not as posh at it sounds) for a road trip to Shrewsbury. The early start was due to the roads beginning to be closed off at 8.30. As I left the house at 5.45 it was already, nice, not warm, but not cool either – it was going to be a hot day.

We arrived at the Showground with plenty of time – just how I like my race weekends to start, I hate being stressed about getting to starts on time and rather get there way to early than with just enough time.

As soon as we arrived it felt instantly like one of those races my dad used to do. You turn up in a field in the middle of the Peak District and about 100 runners would go off in a random direction for a tee and a tiny medal. It was like another tick I  the box for me because I’d only ever done big city races before and it felt really nice!

We made use of the loos which were in a bar/barn combo and then grabbed a bench to get ourselves prepared in the shade (hot already), eat a few snacks and wait for everyone else to arrive and arrive they did.

 Slowly but surely the team ukrunchat and team green vests appears and it ended up as quite a crowd of us. We stood around chatting for quite a while and Shropshire Runner who I very briefly met at London 10,000 came to say hi and before long it was time for another visit to the loo, bag dropped with Sherie and into the starting…..herd.

 

I’ll be honest, I was really nervous. Normally my trick for nerves is to ask myself why and that way I realise I am being silly. Typical questions:

– Will I get round (well it was hot and hilly so, no guarantees here)

– Will I be last (not that it matters, but yeah it was a possibility)

– Will I be the colour of a beetroot after (quite possibly)

 Yeah, that didn’t help.

Compare to my usual 3 goals per race, I had one and only one target – finish. I wasn’t going to give any thought to time – I mean there was zero chance of PB’ing if the hills lived up to their reputation and in that heat it just wasn’t worth killing yourself for.

Someone caught me smiling! (C) Luke Zwalf’s wife!

Hooter goes off an we’re running, hello legs, time to wake up now, and to be fair, I felt ok. My usual Half strategy is to keep myself slow through the first 10k, steady to 10mile and then just get to the finish as quick as I can.

Straight out of the showground you were going uphill, I decided to take it easy and walk not to tire myself out running up hills where I really didn’t need to at this stage.

 

Most the remaining field came through and I plodded along quite happily. We arrived at the 1 mile mark really quickly, and it was gorgeous along the river path with the river on one side and park on the other. I could hear some heavy breathing behind me – I assumed it was a runner, and it was.

 

A lovely lady called Helen who had Bariatric Surgery, lost like over 7 stone and was doing a ton of incredible experiences with her Bariatric support group. We ran and chatted for a good 2 or 3 miles through the town and spotting pubs, ice cream parlours and a ‘sleep shop’ along the way and fantasising about how good that would be right now. Through the town was nice, but I was starting to get a bit sweaty even at this early stage and made sure I ran in the shade as much as I could.

 

I was using the Beachy Head method “run the flat and downs, walk the ups”. The first four miles weren’t too bad and I was happily trotting along at a nice steady pace. Then I saw runners coming down hill and caught Ash, Ellie and Jon #TeamGreen coming down and we shouted something to each other and then it was time to go up! That hurt, it was around a twisty housing estate, fortunately leafy so quite a bit of coverage (did I mention it was hot?)

The hill was continuous, it just felt like it was going to go on forever, I was scared to look round the corner just in case it kept going. There was a nice crowd by a school with band playing, garden hoses spraying and a couple of tubs of jelly babies.

I got caught by the tail runner (Sally) & two other ladies just before the drop back down into the town and we all ran together  for quite a while until the second drop down after the bridge. Sally and I had a really nice chat, about why she was running it, if she’d done it before, who she knew etc etc. As she knew the route it was invaluable to run with Sally. She told me that we went back through the town, over the bridge then it’s one last big hill (the infamous Wyle Cop) to get out of the way and then we were into the countryside. The hill was shortish, but really sharp and the legs did not enjoy it. On the way down I really want to run to get my legs moving so I left the ladies behind me an trotted on.

We were quite well spread out through 6mile so I was quite surprised to see the back of someone in front of me coming close quite quickly and clearly struggling. I had already decided I wasn’t going to push myself today & was happy to stick with others and chat along. I caught up to the guy in front and he was really struggling – said his feet were killing him (there was a reason for that but I didn’t notice myself). We nudged over the 7mile marker and I asked him if he’d done parkrun before, then queue up the “there’s only two parkrun’s left” but he said he hadn’t done one before. We chatted and I told him how fabulous it is when you can say you’re a half-marathoner etc etc, offered him my gels and colin the caterpillars but he wouldn’t have any. I waited with him until Sally (tail runner) caught us up with a couple of ladies and stayed as a three for a bit. We walked along the baking hot road, it really was gruelling with no shade at all as the sun was directly over us and on our backs.

 Then two girls popped up from behind the tail runner – where had they come from? They had taken a wrong turn somewhere and already done an extra two mile off course. Now there are a lot of opportunities to go off course, but if you work on the principal of just staying on the same road until a sign or marshal tells you otherwise you can’t go too far wrong so I don’t really how they could’ve gone so far off.

They joined us a bit, but one of them was doing her first Half and was really fed up (as I would be if I’d done 10 miles but the signs are saying 8). Again I offered water and sweets etc and had a trot along with them both leaving Jimmy with Sally.

I knew after 8mile we were physically turning back home and that was the point I was looking forward to. We passed the water station, medics etc and it was on to some tiny country lanes and more undulations over bridges and all sorts. I tried my hardest to get back into a rhythm of run/walk after walking so much with others but I found it so hard – even on the flat sections, I was tired and really just wanted to get it over with.

 

At 9mile I knew I wasn’t going to do anything spectacular, I’d figured this out at Mile 4, so it was just a case of getting home in one piece and not giving a damn about what the time said over the finish gantry. And what a relief, I was chilled, not in great shape but I felt fine with not chasing a time. It was so hot and hilly, there was no point in killing myself or getting myself into a state for no good reason – I said this to the people who ran Brighton Marathon in April – finishing that today was the achievement.

 

I could hear this jingling quickly approaching behind me – it was Sally with her collection bucket, Jimmy had dropped out, he was in a really bad way. But what I didn’t realise is that when he said he hadn’t done a parkrun or race before, is that he hadn’t even ran before – he hadn’t even done a single training run. On top of that, he wasn’t wearing running trainers, just a pair you’d pick up in JD Sports or other 90’s sports shop. I think he’d clearly got caught up in the VLM hype and seen, maybe unfitter people than him complete it and think he could give it a go. But as Sally and I discussed, it isn’t just the 13.1miles on the day, it’s the hundreds of miles done in preparation, the 13.1 is just your victory lap where you get your bling.

On any other day at a different location he might have had a chance of finishing, but today was brutal, even the best runners amongst us found it difficult. I just hope that he comes back stronger, trained and with better shoes next year and smashes it. 

 I had a bit of a wobble at mile 11, I went very light headed and a bit nauseous – I had some more water and slowed down a tad. The two girls left me behind, but again, I didn’t care if I was going to be last – I just wanted to finish. I tried to trot on again. I used the tree shadows as markers, run 3 trees, walk 5 trees etc. I kept a thought in my head from when I met Sarah Williams (@_Tough_Girl), she said when things got tough at MdS (basically the same as Shrewsbury Half minus the Sand) you can go slower and the pain might be a little easier, but all you’re doing is prolonging the pain, get to the finish and get it done.

Runners going up Wyle Cop in Shrewsbury

Those last two miles were a really hard slog and I could tell Sally was just trying to find anything to keep me talking and take the thought of the pain and distance remaining off my mind – “when is your next race?, how did you get into running?, how long have you been running?, what’s your favourite cheese?” ok the last one wasn’t asked but I could tell it wasn’t far off. I was told to keep thinking of the medal but all I could think of was ripping my top off and tipping a bucket load of water over my head – basically I was dreaming of getting to the bathroom and not the bling for a change.
Even through the tiny villages of literally of one or two houses they were still outside with the hoses ready to dowse us down – I think at one I actually stopped and just enjoyed it being drenched. The countryside was beautiful and I just about remembered now and again to pick my head up and look around.

Passing 12miles we could hear the showground and it was just one big open field with one winding track left, I was close to home and I was going to do it – I would make it home. Sally was updating race control at every mile marker and as we were crossing the field she took a call from Joe and she introduced herself and being with “your friend, although I’m not so sure now, Carl” (I’m still your friend mate), a bit of banter followed in terms of you owe me a pint and I should’ve taken the hoody but I got myself into this – I’ve got to get myself out of it – and I genuinely was thankful for the experience – I mean Royal Parks is going to be a breeze compared to this. 
Out of the field I was joined by a few Team UKRunChat peeps and then turning into the showground, joined everyone. 

I was just stunned so many people had stayed around, but then not only to cheer me over the line but to run over the line with me was something else. 

 To run over that line as Team UKRunChat, with the first of us to finish to the last was incredible – incredibly humbling. Made for some pretty awesome finish photos and videos too!


 
I crossed the oddly positioned finish line (it was on a corner) and Becs from Breathe Unity was there ready and waiting with a medal and a big hug for me – bless her. 


Then I was draped in my t-shirt, despite asking they recommended Extra Small would be quite small so took an Extra Large instead and it appeared they had enough tees, water, lucozade and bananas for another few dozen finishers – they were very well prepared. 
Becs found me a seat and I couldn’t wait to get my Oofos on, ahhh bliss.

We had our post-race pic and chatted about how we all got on. I think most were really sensible in that they took it easy and some of the guys even ran together the whole way.


If there was one thing about Sunday’s race, is that it really was a community event. People came out and stayed out until the very last runner – they came out and they brought jelly babies, sprinklers and applause.

 The runners too were helping each other along and the amount of people in the event area post-race area was fantastic – the finish was still inflated, the banners were still up and photographers were ready and waiting.

It was a true race for the running community & on a day when we all needed to look after each other we all really did. 
The race is a challenge, this is not an easy half marathon – probably the toughest road race I’ve done in my young running career. 

But would I do it again – hell yeah!

The support – fantastic, the whole town comes out to support, people are outside their houses with jelly babies and sprinklers.

Organisation – can’t fault it, it’s done so simply, but done so well it’s a joy to take part in. The numbers (1,800 approx entrants) makes it really easy to manage and you never feel crowded or pressured (at least not at the back where I was).
The course – yeah it’s tough. Hills and long stretches of road out in the countryside, just dont forget to look up now and again and enjoy the beautiful sights of Shrewsbury and the surrounding countryside. One of the best for natural beauty even along A-roads. 
Also the quality of the FREE photos is fantastic, worth the entry fee itself. 
Being at the back of the field I had the lovely Sally with me – we had a great time and so much better than having a bloke on a bike or a cone collectors van following you – something all races should do.
Anything I would change

 – have some portaloos, the ones in the showground were not coping well with the number of people. 

– I only saw one toilet on course, a couple at the medic/feed stations would be good. If al else fails there wasn’t anyone around the county lanes – just saying

 – move the finish 20 yards (i am being really picky here), as being on a corner it was a bit of an odd position

All in all fab race, great support from the UKrunchat community, well organised and a good but doable challenge.