Puddletown Plod Half Marathon featured in the Dorset Road Race League and Club Championship this year which led me to sign up. I think one great thing about these two competitions is they introduce you to different events which you either might not know about or wouldn’t ordinarily fancy racing.
With England playing Russia in Euro 16 the night before, which left me in a state of disappointment and leading me to drink a little more than normal, I awoke with a slight hangover… and I quickly got on the water!
I travelled there with other Harriers, unfortunately halfway there I realised I’d forgotten my watch….grrrrr! We got there quite early so we picked up our numbers, which was well organised, and chilled out and caught up with other Harriers.
Once I pinned my number on my club vest I headed out for a warm up. We checked out the first hill which while not incredibly steep the gradient went on for quite a bit.
My race plan on any hilly or undulating courses is to maintain a consistent effort but then hit each decline with a turn of pace. This approach seems to work for me, although I often get taken going up the hill I have the the energy to accelerate on the crest back to race pace and retake all those that passed me.
I took a gel, put one in my pocket and lined up on the field on a grass 400m track. It was a small race with about 250 runners but well supported by local clubs with it featuring in DRRL. Local celebrity runner Steve Way made an appearance to help his club Bournemouth AC try and secure the team points prize in DRRL (first 5 club runners).
The route is about a 2 mile out and back with a 11 mile loop at the bottom of it. It’s all on country roads which are very quiet but open to traffic; I think I saw about five cars on the while route. The route starts in Puddletown and takes you through about five small put on a postcard country villages. There is a hill at the start and one at the end with the middle being very undulating.
The go was given and we were off, I tried to not go off to quick and stayed behind the pack around the field, we exited the school and headed into the first hill. I did as planned and dropped the pace slightly to maintain the effort, once at the crest I accelerated on a downhill and closed in on the second lead pack. We again hit another hill where I tailed off once more but as soon as I saw another downhill I stretched my legs and joined the back of pack. At this point I became leading Harrier.
I just tried to keep a consistent pace, difficult to monitor without my watch but I ended up dropping off the pack as I felt they were pushing a bit too hard. I was unsure what to do here as I could either stay in no man’s land and run solo or drop back and join the pack behind. I decided to stay there as I might be able to catch anyone who dropped off.
About mile 4 the runner in front did drop off so I set about trying to catch him slowly for the rest of the race.
While I was the leading runner in the Club at this point I was conscious that Paul would no doubt catch me by mile 9 which I knew and accepted. My battle today would be with Matt so I knew I had to keep pushing to keep him at bay and score those vital 49 points; he has a knack of closing me down at the end of races!
About mile 5 I had a very frustrating moment with a car driver. I was on the right hand side of the road running towards traffic and he just drove straight at me, admittedly slowly but rather than just go around me he pulled over completely blocking me and making me take adversive action around him! There were signs posted everywhere giving warning to drivers that there was a running race on, so it was no surprise that I was there and still can’t quite understand why he didn’t just go into the middle of the road and avoid me and those behind.
At mile 6 my friend Phil went past on his bike and told me Matt and Paul were about 150 yds behind. I was pleased I had a bit of distance on them but knew I had to maintain my current pace to keep the daylight between us.
About mile 7 you have to take a cut through to avoid a busy road, this leads you through a very overgrown path before joining another quiet road. My only complaint for this race is that I and other runners nearly tripped here as our feet got tangled in branches and so on. Also with everything whipping against me something irritated my legs and I came out very itchy! At the end of the race my legs were bright red with blotches all over and I needed to take antihistamines when I got home. It’s probably unrealistic to expect them to cut this back but it is a danger and I’m sure a couple of people must have tripped through this bit.
I took a gel at this point as I was going through a village so thought there’d be a bin for my wrapper, there wasn’t any public bins but I amazingly lifted a commercial wheely bin lid, threw the wrapper in without even breaking stride 😎
I was keeping a consistent distance from the Lytchett Striders runner in front of me, still about 100 yds gap, I just couldn’t seem to close in on him and feared pushing too hard on this unknown course.
As expected Paul caught me between mile 8 and 9, he was in great form and looked like he was on a leisurely jog!! I asked him where Matt was and he said about 100 yds back. With that knowledge I knew I had to keep the pace up and the fear kicked in.
Paul set about doing what I’d been trying for the last 4 miles and closed in on the runner in front, it took about 2 miles and it was an interesting watch. The Lytchett Striders up’d his game and they both went off into the distance leaving me all alone.
Just after Mile 10 Phil passed me again on his bike, this time though he told me Matt was 50 yds behind. Panic kicked in but I knew there was a big hill at the end so I couldn’t push any harder than I was currently, I just hoped the hill would affect him more than me!
You hit the final hill at the beginning of mile 11 and it’s a steep incline till just after mile 12! This mile on tired legs was tough, I mean really tough but with the knowledge of Matt closing in I had to drive it! When I finally got to the crest of the hill I was shattered. There was a lady cheering us on there so I asked if there was any orange behind me and she informed me that Matt was now 20 yds behind!!! Matt later informed me that when he passed her she told him that I was worried about him 😂
With that knowledge I had two options either let Matt catch and pass or give it everything I had, I went for the latter which was helped by the decline! I can honestly say that I pushed myself to the absolute limit on that last mile and it paid off as when I got back to the school and glanced back Matt wasn’t there. I was 150 yds onto the track when I saw Matt so I knew that I had a safe gap and could finish relatively easy.
I finished 10th overall and second Harrier with a very respectable 1:23:29.
Without a doubt this is the toughest road half marathon I’ve ever competed in but it’s a rewarding one and I quite liked the rainbow medal particularly with the sad events in Orlando. Additionally it was great for the team as we finished 2nd overall and scored some important points in the league. My result also put me into 10 position in the individuals league which is really pleasing but still early days.
Would I do this race again? If I’m honest probably not unless in the DRRL or CC again. This decision is purely down to the fact that when on the road I like them flat rather than hilly because I want to run fast, on the trails I don’t give a hoot about my time but on the road it’s all about the speed 😆
My thanks however do go to the organisers and marshal’s who did a great job, were very friendly and put on a great race. Oh I must mention the cakes, oh yes afterwards there are free homemade cakes, loads of them and they were delicious especially with a cup of tea!
So would I recommend this races to others? Yes definitely…. but it will come with a warning that the last hill is brutal!!!!