Reading Half – Peter Simpson

It was about 1998 that I last ran the Reading Half Marathon from a different start point on a clockwise course around the town and finished in about 1.26 near my peak. I was aiming for a season’s best this time following earlier events this year. John Morgan improved my chances by providing overnight accommodation about 1-2 miles from the Madejski Stadium, the home of Reading Football Club and a runner’s meal! The next morning it was a cold start so the walk was ideal, arriving about 850am with the supporting Green Park Challenge in full flow, the youngsters wearing green t-shirts. As I entered the stadium, it was already quite crowded and the young runners were finishing.

There were already long queues for the toilets inside the stadium but when wandering over to the marquees and other facilities, in the what would normally be the car park, there were approaching 100 of the mobile toilets with few runners queuing. Sponsors and caterers were there in a big way so there was no doubt we were participating in one of the UK’s biggest half marathons.

Time soon passed and it was time to get changed and visit the loos which were busier but still short queues. We had a long walk to the start but I soon realised that the strap around my ankle did not contain the chip that other runners were wearing. I quickly ran back to the marquee and fortunately was able to retrieve my bag quickly and find the chip in the envelop. At that point member Wolfgang Kunst noticed me in the club vest and briefly introduced himself whilst I was in a slight panic searching for the chip. We could have walked to start together but time was getting short and Wolfgang left.

The walk to the start became more congested as the carriageway was divided with barriers and marshals attempted to stop runners from taking shortcuts or joining the wrong pen. Eventually arrived at my pen with 10 minutes to spare where there were also further portaloos. With numbers assigned to pens according to your estimated time, we were expecting a fairly smoothly start and it was soon confirmed.

Despite the cold start it was calm with some sunshine. It was advisable not to go off too fast with hills about 2-3 miles. John is resident inside the course and closest to the 3 miles area and was easily picked out having told me where to expect him. A little later we were entertained briefly by the Joe Pepper band in full swing and similarly near the town centre a drummer’s band underneath a flyover. There was good support around most of the course, especially in the town centre and near Prospect Park. Despite wearing the club short-sleeve top it was still rather cool in the shade throughout.

My pace was fairly consistent throughout apart from the climbs where I seemed to maintain good position if not moving up the field. The last few miles were fairly flat although I started to feel stiffness in the calves which was a concern but did not hold me back. On the approach to the stadium I found some extra energy and on entry was amazed by the almost full stands on two sides where spectators were allowed. Crossing the line, the clock said about 1.37.50 but had forgotten that this was the gun time for the elite who started one minute ahead of the rest. After a brief rest we moved through the funnel to collect the welcome foil blanket and items for refueling.

No time to hang around, I aimed to get back to the stadium as a spectator to see if I could support our other runners, Maria & Isabel. Wolfgang will have finished minutes ahead of me. Finishing around the peak time, it was difficult to pick out runners from the stands and later wearing their foil blankets as I stood next to the mesh barriers. Fortunately the official meeting points were near the runners’ exit so retreating there as planned, within minutes Isabel found me, obviously happy after lowering her PB by 5 minutes or so.

I had not seen Daf Davies during the run and would unlikely have heard his shout as I was a bit deaf in my left ear at the time, the side from which Daf was calling. I did not have time to hang around too long as John needed to get to work for 2pm so I left shortly after 1pm with huge queues waiting for the courtesy buses back to the train station. Walking briskly I was even overtaking the traffic in the busy area.