This was the third year running the Oxford Half Marathon, in memory of my cousin Liberty Baker. Loads of friends and family members get together to take to the streets of Oxford and complete the 13.1 mile challenge. This year to remember Liberty’s 18th birthday we had a huge 19 runners and, on top of this, a great support crew to follow and cheer us through to the finish line. The day started bright and early to get the 7.30 bus into Oxford. I took my classic race day bagel with jam to devour on the way. More team members joined us on the bus and then we hit Oxford to meet the rest of our team outside of the Ashmolean Museum. Once we arrived we said our hello’s, spoke excitedly about what we were about to take on and the spared a few moments to remember why we were sadly there and let off some balloons.
Next stop we dropped off our bags, I found someone to french plait my hair, and posed for a few photos. Why is is that when people take pictures of your back you still smile? As though it’s going to make your back smile!
This year’s run was going to be slightly different as rather than Vitality as the organisers, Virgin Sport had taken over. We headed to the start line which, as with most races, was a little crazy with everyone wandering around finding their correct start zones. Before we knew it we were heading towards the start line, stuck with the Zone D runners (I was Zone F!). Carried away with the faster crowds the race started through the lined-streets of Oxford.
All going well with plenty of support we headed out towards the Summertown area, passing my dad at mile 2 on the way and throwing my gloves to him (it was cold at the start!) – I don’t know if it’s the name of the area or the clean-feel of the streets but I always enjoy this part of the route even when there’s other runners in the opposite direction. This year was slightly better though with a band playing at the end of the road where the turn-around point was. This gave the area more of a buzz, not only could we see the where we had to turn but meant you had a spring in your step for the 2-mile trawl before the next turning point.
From mile 5 I decided I’d kick in my race strategy I’d tried the week before on a weekend long-run. 10 minutes running, 1 minute recovery walk. I’ve found this helps keep me going without wanting to crawl my way along the last three miles. A few kind words from people during my walking stages ‘keep going’ ‘you can do it’ and I wanted to place a sign on my head saying I AM PACING MYSELF, I AM NOT STRUGGLING.
The worst part was upon us. The dreaded route out of the city towards Marston village. In previous years this has always been a struggle – struggle on motivation with less supporters along a dual carriageway and a slight incline on the way back into Oxford. This year I found it quite pleasant with the new organisers putting on music and entertainment to keep the runners occupied. With roadworks the worst part of the course through an underpass had been removed – such a relief!
At mile 9 (weirdly my favourite mile in any half, does anyone else have these?) I caught up with my uncle and stuck with him for a bit – at the other side of the road at around mile 6 we saw some of our other team members and gave each other a wave and a high-5 as we passed each other. I left my uncle and carried myself further around the course sticking well to my pacing strategy. Around this point I knew I’d see my dad – his annual spot. I downed a gel and so after a quick hello and some photos I turned the corner knowing that a mile later, due to the course layout, I’d see my dad again.
The final three miles. My legs feeling pretty good, I kept going through the beautiful University Parks where more live music/DJ’s were playing. Next Russell Square which they use this jigsaw style flooring so that runners don’t have to struggle over the cobbles and around a few corners before the final stretch to the finish line. The finish line was buzzing again lined with supporters and hearing the cheers I managed a sprint finish across the line. A new PB at 02.17.05 that was my fourth official half marathon complete.
One of the only negatives of the event occurred here. The ques at the finish line to collect medals were massive. When all you want is a large gulp of water, some food and to stop we ended up stuck together like sardines in a tin waiting to move forward. This wasn’t too pleasant and once we had received our medals and goody bags it was a 5-minute or so walk to meet family and friends.
The goody bag was great, a tote bag that came with a long sleeved technical t-shirt, lucozade and a banana. With lucozade being a main sponsor we were also handed out their new fit water – it was drinkable if thirsty but I won’t be rushing back to purchase more.
Finally, I made my way to the rest of the team and cheered everybody else through the finish line. Waiting for the park-and-ride to get back to the car I asked my dad about my gloves … too busy taking photos to even know I’d thrown them to him they continued to lie on the streets of Oxford. Denying he’d seen then there’s some fantastic photo evidence to show my throwing them!
Apart from a cut back due to chafing, this was absolutely my favourite year of taking part in the event, enjoying it so much that I’m considering taking part in other Virgin Sport events in the future. Free race photos too made it even more worthwhile!