I wake up this morning alongside a redhead. Bugger, it’s nice to have a bit of variety but L’s going to kill me. How did that happen? More to the point why don’t I remember it? Oh hang on, it is L. She says its aubergine. Hmmm. I guess so. I don’t think my reference to red cabbage went down too well.
No time to debate now, we’re off to the second city. L did the Birmingham Half Marathon last year, when it was the second running of it and it was combined with the World Half Marathon championships, and really rated it. I didn’t do it, as I did ‘Survival Of The Fittest’ the day before, but there’s no such clash this year.
The first odd thing is that the start time for this race, known as ‘The Race for Climate Change’ has been brought forward to 9am from 10am last year. Which is before the first train has arrived in Birmingham, forcing everyone to drive and they didn’t even provide a map.
We got caught in a traffic jam on the way to the car park at the NIA, which turned out to be caused by some temporary road works. Road works being done before 8am on a Sunday? How rare is that? But surely on race day, these seemingly minor works, which had a major congestion impact, could have been delayed a few hours. We get there a bit pushed for time, have to leg it to the loos and then on to the start. At least it’s not raining, wouldn’t want L’s new hair colour to run.
Last year there were some mumbling about problems with the start pens... This year there were more than a rumblings... in fact I thought they’d turned it into a ‘Survival Of The Fittest’ type event, as many people were having to leap over the crowd barriers to get into their start pens on Broad Street. The street seemed to be an inadequate location for a rumoured 15000 runners to assemble.
I think I managed to get into the correct pen, which was the black one but as there was only one black marker I wasn’t sure if we were supposed to be in front of it or behind it. I looked to be a long way from the start and the dominant colour around me was certainly not black. Two girls in front of me were debating whether they could manage nine minute miles. Nine minute miles? I look behind me at the thousands of runners stretching back towards infinity, they should be back there somewhere but there were no marshals either policing the zones or offering people advice on where they should be. It was every man for himself.
I tried moving forwards but progress was difficult. Things didn’t get any less chaotic after Great Britain's European Champion Mo Farah had officially started the race. It took me a good two minutes to cross the line and then just as I was beginning to get up to speed, everyone came to a grinding halt as the course narrowed where they crazily attempted to channel a dual carriageway into a single lane.
Then we were off again but unfortunately the course was still way too narrow for the amount of runners and the situation was made worse by the lack of segregation which caused faster runners to attempt, somehow, to pass the slower runners in front of them. The race spilled onto the pavements and spectators who had originally been stood at the edge of the course were suddenly in the middle of it and at risk of being knocked down. These human slalom poles were interspersed with traffic cones, which may have once marked the edge of the course but now that the race had burst its banks had become obstacles that needed to be hurdled or swerved around. Again ‘Survival Of The Fittest’ sprang to mind. I was surprised that nobody got badly hurt.
The runners themselves alleviated the pressure on the course by joining the opposite lane, which was for when the race came back the other way. The marshals understandably tried to shoo people back to the correct side of the road but there simply was no room. Thankfully the field spread out a bit before the leaders started coming back towards us.
So I spent the first five miles or so of my race weaving and tumbling over people's feet as I overtook folk, some of who had already started to walk. It was disappointing because I had trained really hard for this and felt that I was in very good shape to get a good time but trying to achieve a PB when you have to swerve around a lot of ipod wearers with coloured numbers that indicated they should have started way behind me was so frustrating.
Also frustrating was the fact that the drinks stations simply appeared from nowhere. There was no signage indicating that one was coming up, which meant that there was more confusion as people changed direction at the last minute to try to grab a water bottle. Unlike at Nottingham the other week, there was water only on one side of the course and not enough people to hand them out. I got a drink at three miles but then kept missing out until around ten miles. I never did manage to get a bottle of Lucozade Sport but it was rumoured to be out there somewhere.
In the end I simply assumed a PB was out of the question and just tried to enjoy myself because generally I loved the course. It had PB potential written all over it as it was very flat, on a mostly good road surface, and pretty fast, when I wasn’t weaving obviously. Then there was the support from the people of Birmingham, which was terrific and a credit to the city. So too were the bands and the guy DJ'ing in his garden.
We pass Headingly cricket ground which is currently undergoing redevelopment. Mainly brand new glittering corrugated iron stands. Ugh. We do a loop through Bournville before heading back to the city centre via a trip through Canon Hill Park and one of the few hills on the course.
I looked at some of my splits, when I managed to see a mile marker, but I didn’t look at my total time until mile 12, when I realised that surprisingly I was back on target for a good time. It had taken me several miles to claw back the time I had lost in the first few miles but somehow I’d just about managed it. So I put in a bit of a spurt along the finishing straight which was back on Broad Street, where they’d had the pens for the start. Now I see why there were barriers enclosing the course, to keep the spectators off the course so that it could be used as the finish. Unfortunately it also kept the competitors off the course before we started. An idea that I’ve not seen anywhere else. I think we know why now. It doesn’t work does it?
I was also confused to as why they’d left a row of cones and no entry signs across the road fifty yards before the finish. Oh well, one final obstacle.
I was thirty seconds slower than Nottingham, which I have to be pleased with and I had plenty left in the tank, which shows my training was probably spot on. Although that just makes it all the more frustrating. Some people even said that their GPS’s made it too long at 13.3 miles. Well I reckon with all that weaving I ran 15, or at least that's was I’m putting down in my spreadsheet.
I would have liked a massage but that was back at the NIA and it was just too far to go. My muscles would already be cold by the time I got there and then I'd have to come all the way back to meet L. So I wrapped myself in two foil blankets, began eating my way through the excellent goodie bag and settled in to wait for her.
I stood and ‘marvelled’ at the pandemonium now occurring on the finish line. They were handing out the foil blankets, drinks and removing your timing chip far too close to the finish line. This had now caused such a bottleneck that other finishers couldn’t actually get across the finish line, which is terrible and makes a complete mockery of the use of chip timing. I have never seen that before at a race, ever.
I really felt for anyone doing their first race and wanting that 'crossing the line' moment. L tells me later that she was even told by a marshal to slow down as she approached the finish, presumably to try and ease the congestion. People were receiving automated text messages from the organisers congratulating them on finishing the race while they were still marooned on the actual timing mat.
Somehow I missed L; perhaps it was the unfamiliar hair colour, so I headed back to car park and found her there.
My father who was going to come to support, never even got there. This is partly his fault but was also due to lack of signposting to the recommended race car park. I'm actually glad he didn't get there. Those crowds at the congested start/finish would have made it very difficult for him anyway. He would have had to have walked miles to see anything.
Oddly all this disorganisation would usually have really annoyed me but I actually enjoyed this run a lot, I won’t call it a race, but it should have been so much better. There's a lot of potential here but you just have to laugh when you consider that the supposed ‘Race for Climate Change’ caused so many congestion problems.
I will do it again, despite my criticisms because I would come back for that course. Although they've changed the route now three times in three years, so who knows what the route will be next year. They will also have to police the start pens in 2011 because I’m arriving early and going straight to the front zone. I imagine I won’t be the only one.
It should all be a source of great embarrassment for the organisers but that was Birmingham City Council and councils don’t get embarrassed about anything. This race was a classic example why you should never let a council organise anything and they’re talking about 20,000 runners next year. Perish the thought. I would hope that at some point it will be taken out of their hands by a private organisation, so that the race can realise its huge potential.
We head home for a warm down that included the traditional hot bath and a tub of something strong from the Fox and Crown.
(Sunday 24th October)