The St Albans Half Marathon has developed over the years that it has been running, into a major health and fitness event, in addition to the charitable element. It has been eleven years since I ran the event in 1998 at my peak, achieving my best time which still stands. The course however has changed due to the infamous explosion at the Buncefield oil depot.
A half marathon walk was added 3-4 years back which starts at 8am and gives the slower walkers the opportunity to finish with the runners. There are also other shorter events held exclusively within the historic Verulanium Park. I had planned to start my journey by rail replacement coach at 6.20am but did not set my alarm correctly, waking at 7.10am. Luckily I made it for the 7.55am coach which changed to a train one stop down the line at Bletchley, allowing me to luckily arrive in St Albans at 9.25am for the 10am start. Made it to the start with only 5 minutes to go and immediately heard a participant comment that ‘there a Vegetarian Cycling & AC and a Vegan Runners… ‘ so obviously we are spreading our message. There was a VC&AC member I saw briefly on entering the park.
As we started I could hear the chip timing system bleeping which reminded me too late that I was not wearing my chip. Hopefully there would be a clock at the finish or a familiar runner nearby to reference in the results. My training had been fairly limited with few runs longer than half the distance say, so was thinking in terms of a 1.40+ time. The course turned out to be a loop of about 2.5 miles and another loop of about 9.5 miles, the longer loop following the old course of the St Albans (or Fred Hughes memorial) 10 miles held in January. The large loop was particularly undulating but mainly country lanes, the smaller loop took us through a golf course and other countryside so overall it is an attractive course.
After completing the smaller loop, there was a long slow climb that we would enjoy in the other direction on completing the large loop. It was noticable that there were drinks stations at about 1.5 mile intervals and whilst it was beneficial in the first half, I decided to miss some out in the second half. As we started the large loop, the leaders of the walking event were going in the opposite direction. With a smallish field of walkers, apparently 200 or so but over 2000 runners, there was plenty of room as we passed increasing numbers of walkers (a few were jogging). There came a point when the outward and return routes separated.
Unintentionally I increased my pace as time went by and found myself running competitively. Would I pay for it later only time will tell. I recall a long climb to the furthest point on the course followed by a comfortable descent. There was one familiar female veteran competitor near me for several miles and on the downhills it was noticable that she overtook me and vice versa. Later I was aware she was wearing some device that was bleeping every 30 seconds or so. The only residential part of the course was Chiswell Green where we started passing walkers in our direction and a mile or so further on we rejoined the outward route which for us was now the inward route.
I was now feeling confident of achieving a much better time than anticipated at the start. Continuing to move up the field with 3 or more miles to go, would I be able to hang on at this pace? With 1-2 miles to go, the hills were behind us and I was running more like 10K race pace. On the long downhill approach to the park I passed a VC&AC walker I had been planning to meet. Allana Clare had in fact run the half marathon back in the 1990s before switching to long distance walking with her partner Bill also a VC&AC member.
The finale through the park seemed shorter than anticipated, I had expected that we were going round the pond but not this time, it was almost a straight line to the finish. My first sighting of the clock was well under 1.35 and I eventually finished in 1.35.09. Where did I find the energy & fitness to attain this time? A bit of a mystery!