I'd decided to enter the Bath half for a few reasons - I fancied doing another after my infuriating 2:00:11 at the Severn Bridge Half last year, I thought it would be a good motivation to stay on top of the run training over the winter and thus benefit my triathlon goals for the year, Bath happens at about the right time in the spring, and having gone to University there we know the area and have friends who run it every year.
I was feeling reasonably optimistic, having made some good progress over the winter and having managed a training run of 21.1km in 1:48.40 a couple of weeks beforehand without really feeling I'd stretched myself (I'd not actually intended to go that far, but was feeling good so carried on). All I needed to do was repeat that in the race to make it an official PB - and maybe if I did push myself it might be closer to 1:45. Should be simple right?
Then real life and parenting intervened. The weekend before we'd realised The Boy was big enough to get over the edge of his cot (likely to be followed by a metre or so fall onto a wooden floor in the middle of the night), so he suddenly graduated to a bed. This change was actually fairly uneventful for the first few nights at home, but everything fell apart when we threw strange surroundings into the mix by going to stay with my parents for the race weekend (because they're a lot closer to Bath). On the Saturday night he woke up with painful wind at about midnight, then once he'd got over that spent a couple of hours climbing in and out of bed and practicing all his new words if Sarah or I were in the room, or screaming the house down if we left. A toddler pointing at you, smiling, and saying "Daddy!" is possibly the cutest thing in the world in the daytime. Slightly less so when it's 2am and he's repeated it what feels like several thousand times without pausing for breath.
In total, I managed about four hours of sleep before the alarm went and it was time to get the three of us up, breakfasted and dressed (with a bit of outfit dithering - I'd already decided that my new tri shorts were far more comfortable to run in than my running shorts, but couldn't decide whether to go the whole hog with the sleeveless tri top as well or just wear a t-shirt).
After a quick run down the M5 and around Bristol, we had an eerily quiet drive into Bath just before the roads were due to close (with the attendant paranoia that we'd got the timing wrong and at any point someone would move some cones across the road ahead of us). Car safely parked, we met up with Will and Jo and hung out for a while in the warmth of the bar where they'd been having a cup of tea while waiting for us. Runners (Will and I) and support crew (Jo, Sarah, and The Boy) then parted ways.
Into the event village, and I sneaked my hoody into Will's rucksack which he was leaving in the bag drop, sticking my cycling arm warmers on for the hour or so we still had left between being called to the start pens and actually getting moving. Our pen turned out to be back round the corner from the start, so it was at least in the sun.
The start gun went, and some six minutes later Will and I wished each other good luck as we crossed the line (the local newspaper reports about fifteen minutes to get everyone started - in contrast to the Severn Bridge race where, due to waiting for a friend to have a last minute toilet break, I crossed the line at the absolute back of the field, but only four minutes after the gun).
My initial pacing was reasonably good, easing myself into it over the first few kilometers then picking it up. Having got moving and left the shady canyon of Georgian architecture that is Great Pulteney Street, it was noticeable that the day had started to warm up. Arm-warmers were off within 2km, and by about 4km was regretting settling the wardrobe dilemma in favour of the t-shirt rather than the tri vest. I've been reasonably happy doing long training runs without water over the winter, but it didn't look like that would be a particularly clever idea today.
Fortunately, the course was extremely well furnished with aid stations - four or five on the main loop which is covered twice, and another on the spur leading to and from the start/finish line (so again is passed twice). Less fortunately, after ignoring the first few, the one I picked was handing out Lucozade rather than water. I don't really like having the sugary aftertaste of energy drinks in my mouth (whether I'm running or cycling), and much prefer to use gels (one of which I'd just had, to make matters worse) then wash them down with plain water. Also, I was getting hot, but didn't think pouring Lucozade over my head to cool down would turn out well! I took a bottle anyway - it being the first lap I didn't know how far the next one would be, or what they would have - and drank as much as seemed sensible. Inevitably, there was another aid station, with water, within a couple of kilometers, so I paid them a visit as well.
I'd also noticed my heart rate sitting about 10bpm higher than I would have expected for that distance and pace. Slightly concerning, but since I firstly didn't know whether to attribute it to the temperature, lack of sleep, or simply race-day adrenalin, and secondly didn't really know if it would actually be an issue to sustain it for the race distance, I decided to just stick to my pace and hope for the best.
At the end of the first lap, I passed Sarah and Jo, who had set themselves up in the car park of Jo's office (and popped in to make themselves a cup of tea between cheering duties) . Time for a quick smile and wave before throwing a pair of sweaty arm warmers at them and carrying on. It's worth saying at this point that the atmosphere and support around the entire course was amazing - it felt like half the city was out on the pavement. You could probably have made yourself very sick accepting jelly babies from everyone trying to hand them out, and I probably high-fived twenty or thirty kids on the way round.
On to the second lap. With hindsight, I probably should have had the second gel I had with me at this point, but for some reason decided I didn't really fancy it and that it would be fine. By the time I got to the furthest part of the course and made the turn back into town for the second time, things were still on track, although my feet were hurting and heart rate up around 170 by now
Then it all started to go downhill. The 18th 1km lap split flashed up on my watch at 5:24. No real problem, overall I'm still under the 5:12 average I need, just consider it a warning to pick the pace back up. Next kilometer - 5:43 - I think this might be getting away from me. Kilometer 20 - 6:06. I passed Sarah and Jo on the far side of the road this time round. Partly because I'd been running down that side to keep in the shade and didn't have the energy to detour across to their side, partly because my head really wasn't in a good place and I just wanted to hide. Kilometer 21, with the tiniest uphill ramp in the middle of it - 6:26. Almost as slow as climbing the big (8-10% gradient, nearly 1km long) hill in the middle of the Severn Bridge Half. Then it was finally back into Great Pulteney Street and a feeble kick towards the finish.
I've seen it suggested that only your gun time (from when the race is started), and not your chip time (from when you personally cross the line), really counts. My opinion is that people who say this about amateur races with massive fields are idiots and can be safely ignored. Nevertheless it was somehow a final kick in the teeth to watch the finish line clock tick over two hours just before I finally struggled over the line and stopped my watch on 1:53:43.
Back into the event village and realised I probably should have arranged somewhere to meet up with Will - there were a number of exits from where they were dishing out t-shirts and goodybags so I couldn't be sure of spotting him. I'd also forgotten what his race number was, so I couldn't even go and wait at the appropriate section of the bag drop. I could have just phoned him, but had lost track of how long it had been since I'd finished, so didn't know if he'd still be on the course. All in all, completely useless planning! After standing around for a while in vague hope (and bumping instead into someone else I knew from Uni) I got bored and cold and set off to meet Sarah and Jo outside the restaurant where we were going to have (a very large) lunch.
In the post-mortem, I'm left with mixed feelings. Obviously a six-minute PB is pretty good, but I'd hoped for more. I could have backed off a bit mid-race to keep my heart rate a bit lower, but then I'd still have been slow. There's a bit of me that would rather blow up just short than go conservative and be left wondering. Also, it's a really good race, and may well go on the list for next year.