For my first race of 2022 I decided to try something different - the Watford Half Marathon. So far, I've only been to Watford for visiting the Harry Potter Studio Tour at Leavesden, so everything I'd see would be new. The weekend before the race I did my 20 mile training run for the build-up for an upcoming marathon, so this wouldn't perfectly rested legs, but it'd be good to get out and race again. Perhaps this could be the start of running being like how it used to be; before the pandemic struck us.
It was a two hour drive to Watford town centre, and for most of it the rain hammered the motorway relentlessly. There were times when visibility was so poor it was difficult to even see what the road signs said. The Leicester Half Marathon last year had been during a torrential downpour and it looked like this was going to be a repeat of that. Once I reached Watford though, it started to ease, and after sitting in a car park for thirty minutes the sun actually came out and showed some promise of staying this way at least for a little while. Up until that point I'd questioned whether I really wanted to be doing this, or whether I should just do a training run at home where I can get in the shower quickly afterwards and not have to drive home wet for two hours. The sun coming out made it feel like the decision to go ahead with the race was the right idea.
Considering what runs I've done over the last week, I felt it was unlikely I could give a strong performance today, so the focus would be on being comfortable and making sure my legs would be in a good place for doing a 21 mile training run in a week. So, just in case it rained again I put a recycling bag in my flipbelt that I could use as a makeshift poncho at the start if I needed to, decided to keep on my thicker top, and went for a short jog from the car park to the race village in Cassiobury Park. As a side note I'd parked a little further away than I needed to as it would be £3.20 (if I'd had the right change) to park near the leisure centre, or quite a bit more than that to park closer by using the Council offices car park. Anyway, I jogged to the race village, and realised after half a mile I'd taken a wrong turn and had to turn back to find the right road to get there.
Once I'd collected my race number I stood around in the cold wind and waited for it to start. I was glad I'd got the thicker layer - although did wonder if I'd should have gone for my thickest one instead as that wind did hit hard. I stood behind the 1hr30 pacers at the start, and wondered where I'd be compared to them when the race was over. Even though I was going out relatively easier than normal I would still have liked to finish ahead of them. When the race started they rocketed off much faster than I wanted to go - I was doing 06:20/mi to start with as it was, and intended on slowing down quickly to something around 6:50. The route went to the outside of the park pretty quickly, and then followed another path almost immediately back into the park so that after a mile was still inside. I knew all of this bit I was running now, and everything up to around 3.5 miles, I'd be running again in the opposite direction so tried to be very aware of what this section was like.
Once out of the park at 1.5 miles, it was up hill through a housing estate, and then down a jitty (you might call it an alleyway) onto a country road that went down hill. Just after crossing the Grand Union Canal, it was the first of the hills. At the start they'd made two notes: that this course had standing water due to the rain, and that it as undulating. They were not joking about either. From just before 5K all the way to 6.5 miles it was mostly up hill with the odd descent and flat bit. Unfortunately just before I reached the top of that hill at 5K I decided to walk, and this started the pattern of walking up the bigger hills, and running the rest. It meant I was now going a lot slower than I would have liked, but I realised that maybe it could be good practice for Guernsey Ultra 36 in May. That was going to be far hillier - if I couldn't manage this I wouldn't manage that. I wasn't that bothered about this race though.
Just after 5K the route went counter-clockwise around what would be a big loop. Somewhere between mile 5 and 6 was the first of the very large 'puddles' where the road had become flooded. I managed to keep my feet dry by going up on the curbstones against the hedgerow. After mile 6 I then ran continuously at a steady pace. I thought maybe I'd finally settled into the right pace, but that was until mile 8, and at that point decided I didn't want to run up a hill, so I walked it. After Chandler's Cross (I was tempted to stop and photograph the sign - Friends!) but continued on, and shortly after came across the other section that had been mentioned as having 'standing water'. This was not standing water. This was flowing from one side of the road to the other and there was no getting around it; no visibly shallower section. It was probbaly running faster than I was. I could see splashes as people ran through it, so I slowed down to decide what to do. Realising I had no other choice, I then followed them through. With the first stride I could feel water swell around my ankles and flood into my shoes - it felt cold against my toes and I could feel the water squelch with each subsequent stride. Each stride splashed water up as high as my waist - there was no staying dry now.
It felt like there'd been so many hill climbs. It felt ridiculous how much, or at least how often, I'd walked. My toes were cold, and it felt uncomfortable running in shoes so cold and wet, but I continued on as much as I could and eventually made it back to Cassiobury Park, retracing the route back to where I'd started earlier. I crossed the finish line in 93:59: my slowest half marathons in years. Position-wise I'm usually in the first 10%, so finishing 172nd out of 1,084 finishers proved that it wasn't just the course. I really did do very badly. So now I wonder whether I will ever get back to the sort of pace I was doing before the pandemic. Will it take at least a few years to get back there? Or maybe I'm just slowing down now with age. Only time will tell.