Last Sunday I took to the streets to take part in my first big city marathon. Whilst there was controversy over it actually going ahead, the organisers stuck to their guns and chose to go ahead. Many runners/spectators didn’t agree with this decision and so instead ran their own ‘virtual’ Bath Half in their own city or town, to avoid spread of the COVID-19 virus. I though, made the decision to run the course, looking at the evidence and opinions on how the virus spread it didn’t really seem to me that running or not running the Bath Half would make that much of a different considering I only like 25km away.
I’ll go through my experience of this year’s race, which was somewhat hampered by the weather. It was chucking it down! I don’t think it ever stopped until just after I had finished running. This meant that before even really getting to the event, just following the path through the city to runners village, I was soaked through. That was kind of my fault though, as I had come dressed in my running kit, so couldn’t really change into anything else once I had got wet.
The first thing to note was runners village itself. I got there super early, about 2 hours before we were due to start, and for the most part there was little to no shelter. We ended up standing under the edge of the Bath Rugby Stadium, making do with the little shelter that that gave. At about 9:45 they decided to let everyone know that they had opened one of the catering tents for runners to use as shelter. What they didn’t do though was create a path through the mud for everyone to get there, so after about 10 minutes the entrance to this tent was very slippery and muddy. Further to note here at about 10 o’clock I decided I need to swap my t-shirts around, so that I could wear both during the race as I anticipated it to be a cold one. There were changing tents and I tried to get into the female change, but it was tied shut somehow, so instead I had to go and use the portaloo, not the greatest space ever! Whilst in runners village there was bag drop, places to get food and hot drinks, as well as water refill stations. They also put on extra hand washing facilities to help with virus spread, but I didn’t ever see someone use this station once. There definitely should have been more. The one station they did place was right in the middle of the grass, with no path way too it, meaning as soon as it started raining no one was going to travel over to it. A better place for it would have been by the entrance gantry or by the arch way directing you to start pens, that way no one had to go out of their way to find it (or risk twisting an ankle).
It was then time to make our way to the start pens. I think there was a tannoy announcement that they had been opened for anyone to make their way there, but whilst under the tented shelter you could no hear a thing, except the rain coming down onto the tent. The route to the start pens were clearly marked and largely under shelter, the walk did take a little while though, so I’m glad I went over at about 10:30 (half an hour before the start). I was the green start pen, other pens may have had a slightly shorter route. But it took around 10 minutes to follow the slow moving crowd to get to the pen. I went over with an old hoody on, knowing that they were going to have drop off points to donate and thought that was a more sustainable option than the traditional bin bag. These items would then by donated to a charity. I took this off and put it into on of the many bags at the side of the start pen before waiting with the rest of the runners. And before I knew it we were off, but it wasn’t 11am yet? I’m not too sure what was happening but it felt like they were slowly increasing the size of the pen allowing those at the front to get closer to the next pen. It did feel like a lot of false starts though. Again whilst in this pen there was music and some one giving some kind of announcement but there was no way I could hear what was being said as it was so quiet. We needed either for it to be repeated when we were closer or more speakers around the place. The countdown from ten began it would seem and we went off running, before very quickly starting to walk again. Once we hit the line though we were off again, properly this time. I chose to start my watch on the gun time, knowing I’d then have a little buffer to try and get under that two hour goal of mine. I noted my real start time 00:01:3-something and went off.
So we were then exposed to the course. It’s a two-lap course around some of the flatter areas in Bath starting and finishing on Great Putney Street. The route was well marked out with railing and cones throughout, meaning it was very hard for runner to get too lost. There were many portaloos dotted around the course, including one not even a km in that people were using that close to the start! There were also lots of St John’s Ambulance medics in tents around the course to help anyone unwell or injured. What I did miss out on was the gel station. There was supposedly one the way back in to the city centre, but did I see it on either lap? Not at all, which I thought was so strange. Saying this though I didn’t see that many gel wrappers on the floor, I think I saw 3 total. This may mean that everyone was super clean and put it in a spare pocket, or simply that there was no gel station in the end. Which would seem a very big oversight, especially when no runner was told. Unless I was just blind and missed it of course. The water stations were still in operation though, with volunteers handing out water in plant based cups, as well as a bottle refill station. I had bought a bottle on the premise that I was going to fill it up and some point, but honestly I decided it would take too long to do so, so just made do with the water I had on hand from the start, a mere 250ml. Around the course there were also bands playing, however, there did appear to be a lot less than what was advertised. On the route plan there were 10 station for bands, and as I ran round I could only find 3/4 (one being a local pub). A very large drop out rate for those there.
On the whole the spectators were great. I had feared that they might have booed us round the course or simply not came out to support the runners. But still there was a fairly big turn out all cheering. The main epicentre of cheering came from Queen’s Square, and mainly of the areas close to the city centre. On Lower Bristol Road we were somewhat left on our own, which seemed like a very stark contrast to the other areas on the route. At one point there was about a 2km stretch (or what seemed to be) where they was only one course marshal about half way to cheer us on. She did a great job but on the whole that section felt very lonely. Each number had a name on top to help spectators give more personal cheers to everyone, this worked if you had a short easy to pronounce name. I ran near an Emma for about 5km and there were quite a few cheers for her. Any Nicks, Jamies, and Joes got quite a few cheers too. Basically anyone with a small name, I think I got cheered on 3 times a name like Rhiannon isn’t going to help you race day.
It then came to the final push. What didn’t help me at the point was that the finish was around a bend, so you didn’t really have any idea how close you were until 100m left. Now let me tell you, I had to SPRINT this finish. As I turned the corner I saw the clock tick over to 2:01:05, and knew I only had 25 seconds left. I was going to have stood out and ran through all that rain for 4 hours, I was at least going to get in under two hours. As I finished I think to myself that I had just made it. Which was solidified when my partner text me saying well done for getting in under 2 hours. He had been following along on the app (whilst also struggling to do so), and that had notified him that I had finished. After finishing drinks are then handed out, and volunteers help cut off your timing chip. Before then going down through the goody bag aisle to find your correct t-shirt size. I went for the smallest possible, but honestly I probably could have done with an even smaller size had they been available, as the t-shirt is very long. This goody bag contained snacks, t-shirt, and medal. The medal actually felt a little bit of a disappointment as it is fairly small, especially when that very same weekend I had got a monster of a medal for a very muddy 7km.
Overall the Bath Half did do what it set out to do, it provided a safe, fairly flat route to house a half marathon. What it didn’t do though, was have a route that can cope with rain, there were certain points in the course where we all had to go to one side to avoid a lane in total flood. In my opinion I don’t think it was worth the entrance fee of £44. On a sunnier day, where there was no global pandemic going on, I’m sure the event would have felt a lot friendly and fun. But when I finished I was not glad and proud, I simply just wanted to go home and forget that I had just ran on soaked prune-like feet for 2 hours that morning. Maybe many of you always feel like that after a race, but I do feel like I’m unlikely to do the Bath Half again.