Phoenix Fortitude Half Marathon – Day 1/10: Race 1/10

Registration

And so it begins again. Last August I ran 10 ultra marathons in 10 days. This year, I’m dialling it back. A combination of 5 half marathons, 3 ultras and 2 marathons in 10 days. My last back to back races as training for my first 100 Mile Ultra in 3 weeks.

Starting with today’s half marathon with Phoenix Running at Walton-on-Thames. Phoenix are running their first 10-in-10 series this year. I love their events. They’re low-key, there’s a core crowd that you can always expect to see and most of the races are timed loops. Up and down the Thames Tow Path for one 5.3km lap. 4 laps for a half marathon. 8 for a marathon. 9+ for an ultra. Ring the bell when you’re finished, collect your medal and help yourself to the tuck shop.

Arriving at the X-Cel Leisure Centre, I quickly collected my number. 4 copies for those doing all 10 races (must not lose them all…). A quick race brief and then a 3 minute walk down to the towpath for the start.

Ready, set, go

The mayor had come along to announce the start. He started the race with a chain around his neck. The rest of us has to run to earn them.

As today was day 1 of 10 I knew I had to be sensible. However, as it was also my birthday the stupid parts of my brain overrode the sensible bits and I decided to have fun. The countdown finished, the siren blared and I shot off.

The start

Reaching the first section of muddy track I glanced back and… I’d pulled away from most of the field. This was not being sensible. (Worth noting that a lot of people were running marathons and ultras – I could more readily afford to burn my legs).

The path follows the River Thames for the entire route. As Rik, the race Director, always says: “If you ever can’t see the river, you’re the first ever lost Phoenix runner”.

At around the 2km mark runners cross this bridge:

The blue bridge of doom

It’s a small bridge that needs crossing twice a lap – once on the out and once on the in. That’s 8 times during a half marathon, 16 times for a full marathon. And each time you cross it, it feels like it’s getting higher and higher.

Half a km further and I reached the turnaround point. A bright sign, helpfully labeled: “TURN AROUND”. Duly noted.

Back I went in the other direction. And then comes one of the reasons I love these types of races so much. As I headed back I passed the runners still heading out. Familiar faces, new faces, all giving a thumbs up or calling out encouragement. Me trying to do the same. I’ll see them several times over the course of 4 laps and the encouragement never diminishes.

Back along the Thames to the start point, where I collect a wristband to mark my first lap. I ignore the aid station this time. Don’t need chocolate or water yet. And back out I go.

Up and Down

It was heading out on lap 2 that my left hamstring started to twinge. At this point any sensible runner with almost 10 full days of running remaining would ease off. We’ve already established that I wasn’t in a sensible mood.

I decided that what it really needed was a good stretch and what better way to stretch it than by carrying on running.

Thankfully I haven’t suffered too much for my stupidity. Nothing a rest and massage won’t fix.

The next couple of laps passed almost unnoticed. A procession of faces, smiles and encouragement. Plenty of people who, frankly, put my running to shame.

At the turn point on my final lap I passed Paul Commons who was on lap 3 and running a full marathon. Paul and I ran large chunks of last year’s 10 ultras in 10 data together. He put on a spurt of speed and we ran the next section together, having a catch up.

Paul Commons – a true gent

The final stretch was a push, the twinge in my leg making itself know but I crossed the line and rang the bell. I was the first half marathon finisher home, with a respectable time of 1:31:21, but most others would be heading out for longer distances.

Rik gave me my medal. All 10 days are a different coloured Phoenix grasping a shield with the days theme on it. Day 1 being “Fortitude”. The shields are removable and fix on to a large wooden presentation plaque which all finishers of all 10 days receive.

Naomi has baked a cake for my birthday this evening but had baked a smaller one so that I could have a slice on the finish line. She’s awesome

And then off to Brighton for tomorrow’s marathon (the only one of the 10 which won’t be at Walton) where I’ll pace Naomi for her first ever marathon. I can’t wait!

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