Or: A new personal record for slow running
The 2019 Severn Bridge Half Marathon and 10K took place on 25th August during an unusually warm bank holiday weekend.
I heard about this event just after I’d already signed up for Bridgwater Half Marathon, which takes place on 1st September. The idea of running on a closed motorway across a stunning bridge that connects Wales and England was irresistible. But I knew that running two half marathons (including my first) just one week apart might be a bit too ambitious. However, 10K seemed like a sensible distance to run one week before my half, as long as I viewed it as a training run. So I signed up for the 10K, along with my youngest daughter.
My aims for the race were to enjoy it and not push too hard. I didn’t expect to find it particularly difficult, as I regularly run further than 10k on my long runs. For my daughter, it would be her first 10K race. She’d ran the 10K distance in training before and had an idea of what time to aim for. I hoped she would enjoy the race and have a good experience.
We got up bright and early on Sunday morning for the drive across the river to Wales. I hadn’t slept well on Saturday night. It was hot and clammy overnight, and besides, I was anxious. I was anxious about the drive, about finding parking and getting to the event village in time. I worried that I wouldn’t get up in time, and then I worried that I couldn’t sleep. But I told myself that I’ve been here before, and that I would feel better once I got up and got on with things; and I did. It was a relief when my alarm went off at 6 am and the day began.
The drive to Wales was straightforward and the roads were quiet. As the bridge we would be running over was already closed, we drove over the newer and larger second Severn crossing, enjoying the views of the River Severn in the early morning sunshine.
We arrived at the event village in good time, and had just a short wait for parking. Parking was included for early entrants to the races; anyone signing up later would need to make their own arrangements. The car park we were directed to had plenty of space when we drove in (at around 8.20). By the time we’d got out of the car the car park was full. I was glad I’d made the effort to set out early.
As we walked into the event village, half marathon runners were already making their way to the start for their race, which started an hour before the 10K at 9 am.
As the race wasn’t due to start until 10 am, so had plenty of time for pre-race rituals, such as queuing for the toilet and applying sun cream. Then we sat on a grass bank enjoyed the atmosphere of the event village for a while. Although the race was full, with 2800 entrants across both races, it didn’t feel too busy or crowded. We looked back at the bridge that we’d driven over, and the one we were about to run. Both looked a long way away. As we sat and waited, it began to get hot. Very hot.
We listened out for announcements – wanting to hear the one that would tell us to make our way to the start. The longer we waited, the hotter it got, and we just wanted to get going. We were appalled by an announcement that someone had reported seeing dogs shut in a car in one of the car parks – could the people responsible deal with it, as it’s too hot for them to be left in a car?
Anyone using the car parks would be running – which meant they would be away for at least a couple of hours. And the weather forecast had promised the hottest bank holiday weekend on record. Really, I just have to rant. We hoped that the organisers would make sure the dogs were rescued – but what if the owners were running the half marathon and had already left?
At about 9.35 runners were told to make their way to the start line. We walked up a slope out of the event village, and down the slip road onto the motorway. I said it was strange to see people walking on the motorway. My daughter said it was like a zombie apocalypse. We agreed this would be a really bad place for people to start turning, although at least we were all dressed for running away.
After making our way onto the motorway, we walked a short distance and climbed over the central barrier to get behind the start line. I joked about it being an obstacle race, although the barrier did present a problem for people running with buggies, and those who were less mobile.
While we waited to start, there was music and more announcements. We were reminded to stay hydrated, and of the dire consequences of breaking the headphone ban. There was also a request for the person who had reported seeing dogs in a car to make themselves known to the organisers so that they could locate the dogs and ensure they were rescued. We’d been fretting about the dogs, and were relieved. I do hope the pooches were okay.
We warmed up to the music, and positioned ourselves well behind the one hour pacer. Despite the heat, we were excited and ready to go.
As we set off, it was sweltering. Even so, it was fun to run on the motorway; a lovely wide road with no cars.
The first part of the run slopes upwards to the centre of the bridge. I could see a sea of runners surging ahead up the road. I could also see a few runners already beginning to struggle in the heat. During this part of the run, I felt reasonably good – if hot. I was able to stay a few paces behind my daughter. As we ran onto the bridge, we began to see returning half marathon runners already running back along the pedestrian walkway.
The atmosphere was a little surreal. It was very quiet – there were none of the usual crowds of spectators. The quiet was even more noticeable for the lack of headphones, which we happily use to create our own personal soundtracks. The quiet was broken by bagpipe players – a little out of place in the space between England and Wales. And there were more photographers than I’ve seen on any event before.
After the centre, the bridge began to slope downwards. I tried to just let my legs turn – downhill is usually so much easier. I began to feel nauseous from the heat. After the previous week’s difficult long run, I didn’t want to risk making myself unwell. Just before the 5K point I slowed and walked until the feeling passed. We passed the end of the bridge and continued onto the motorway for a short out and back section. People running near to me were eagerly anticipating the water station. There was a general sense of disappointment when we got to the turning point, and there was no water. Realistically, you would’t expect the water station to be on the motorway itself as this would make getting the motorway open again on time much more difficult. But we’d been promised water at 5K, and we’d gone 5K, and we were (many of us) on the brink of a full-blown tantrum.
As I turned, I felt a light breeze that I hadn’t noticed before. This was very welcome. I ran back up the road a short way, and then turned down a slip road to find the water station. My daughter waved as she passed me going back up the other way. We were handed small bottles of water – one each. I poured mine into my empty water bottle and started off again.
More than half way through. There were musicians playing, and I thanked them. A pity I couldn’t make them go with me, as I was missing my playlist. Now we were running on the pedestrian walkway. I looked out for strips of shade cast by the cables and uprights of the bridge. I walked some of the way, ran some of the way, and chatted to people. I took more time to enjoy the stunning views of the river. I had decided that this was not going to be anywhere near my fastest 10 K. My objective was to complete the distance and enjoy it. As I said to a fellow runner, I was planning to make a new, slow, personal record. Then, whenever I run a 10 k in future, I’ll be able to beat it. The last thing I wanted was to make myself ill one week before my first half marathon.
As we passed the ‘Welcome to Wales’ sign I knew I was coming close to the end of the run. I hadn’t seen my daughter for a while and expected she was already back at the event village waiting for me.
Towards the end of the race, we plodded up the slip road, over the motorway and then back round to the event village along a footpath. It seemed to take a frustratingly long time, and involve an irritating amount of uphill. I managed to run the final stretch and cross the finish line smiling.
I met up with my daughter, who’d got back three minutes earlier, and compared times, thoughts and goodie bags.
I ran/walked my slowest 10K time so far – 1 hour 22 minutes. Even slower than Yeovilton Easter Bunny. But I didn’t care about the time. I enjoyed the experience. And today, I feel great.
Besides, I can now tell people that I ran from Wales to England and back again.
Looking at the times of other finishers – it was a tough race. Some people took well over two hours to complete the 10K (which had a cut off time of 1 hour 40 minutes). The half marathon would have been extremely challenging, and it took some runners over three and a half hours to complete the course (cut off three hours). I have the greatest respect for those runners who kept going in the heat for such a length of time.
If it wasn’t for the heat it would have been a brilliant race. The course itself is easy to run, and stunning. The organisation was good, except that we really did need more water.
There was a very pretty medal and a mediocre t shirt. But who cares about the t shirt when the medal looks like this?