Windsor HM River Trail – the good, the bad and the thirsty.

This blog could go two ways. I could adopt my ‘bad cop’ review hat and give the event a bit of a hard time for the now well documented problems people encountered on the day, (just look up the event on Runners World reviews), or I could focus on the positives. Since I’ve just come back from a blissful 40-minute swim in a very empty public pool, (empty of people, not of water I might add), I’m inclined to don my ‘good cop’ hat and focus on the positives.

So here goes…

Windsor Half Marathon River Trail was simply beautiful in terms of scenery. The course was a flat route, starting from Alexandra Gardens, Windsor,  with views of Windsor Castle, then meandered along the Thames public footpath, through Bray – before looping back over the other side of the river to finish at the park. We passed what we dubbed the ‘Billionaire’s Row’ of waterfront homes, the stunning ‘Waterside Inn’ (the Roux Brothers’ Michelin Star restaurant), Danesfield House Hotel (the setting of George and Amal Clooney’s UK wedding celebrations) and many locks, barges and day cruiser boats. Not to mention being able to glimpse the Olympic Eton Dorney Rowing lake through the bushes! (Which I have in fact run around 4 or so times in a previous Half Marathon).

For a change, I was not worried about my time or breaking any PBs. I have got a bit hung up lately on breaking a sub-2 which makes Half Marathons a bit stressful for me (current PB is 2:02). Instead, my role on the day was really one of moral support – to get a friend through her first Half Marathon in her goal time of around 2 hrs 30 minutes. Due to events beyond our control, (lots of queues and issues with bag dropping), we actually started the run really late – at about 9.10am. This actually worked to our advantage as there were no crowds of runners on the tow paths from the mass start and we felt almost ‘on our own’ – a very different experience to many of the running events I have entered before. We enjoyed the peace and tranquillity around us and relaxed in the sunshine, keeping to a steady pace.

windsor2Having fun before the ‘dog attack ;)’

Five miles in, we had a little bit of a glitch. As I was running along, I felt what I thought were paws on my back and the yelp of what I believed to be a large dog. I shrieked, turned around and saw that it was not actually an errant hound, but my friend falling to the ground behind me, having tripped on a branch! It is very funny now that we look back on it, but my friend was pretty cut up and bleeding and we couldn’t see any first aiders nearby, so we pressed on and managed to wash the cuts up as best we could.

We carried on up the river and were delighted to see our support crew – a friend and his two daughters who ran alongside us with a Go Pro in their fairy dresses! It was very cute to see and gave us a lift (as we were flagging a bit with dehydration – ok here comes the negative…) The event had run out of water at the 8 KM water stop. As it was a hot day we were really disappointed –  we’d decided not to carry our own water as runners had been promised regular water stops along the route. We were given a High 5 gel though by a very apologetic Marshal, which at least was something, but our mouths were as dry as the Sahara!

thirsty

Thirsty much? (pic credit: animalpics1.com)

However, the lovely residents of Windsor had obviously heard that there was a shortage of water along the route and a kind man came to our rescue and offered us a few cups of water which was perfect and couldn’t have come at a better time. By now, we were over half way and feeling strong and ready to go again. After a quick calculation on my Garmin, I was able to tell my friend that we were well head of her target time. This had her so excited, she started talking about running a marathon next time (since revoked).

As the miles ticked by, my friend was starting to drop pace a bit as her earlier fall was causing her hip to play up a bit. I kept up with my motivational chat and promised her glasses of red wine, chocolates or bubble baths at the finish if she just carried on a bit longer. If I could have mustered up George Clooney to meet her I would have done! Finally, I was able to announce that we only had a Park Run to go (5K) which lifted her a bit and meant that the end was in sight.

At nearly 13 miles I told her to dig deep and just think of the word FINISH: “We’re so close now, think of that medal,” I said. As we turned the corner, we saw the finish line and I grabbed her hand and pulled her the last few metres!  We’d done it: 2 hrs and 22 minutes and 15 seconds. We’d taken 8 minutes off her target time and I’d had one of my best half marathon experiences – just chatting, being relaxed and just having a good time.

windsor1My friend, Petra, (left) and me (right)

I might have a go at it next year again for myself to see what ‘my’ time would be – however despite the great day we had, I am not sure I’d enter again. I think the organisers have some way to go to improve the race experience for everyone. It’s potentially a great event and I think it could be fantastic – certainly one of the prettiest courses in this area. But as I am in a positive mood, maybe I’ll give them a second chance to put right a few of the  issues (and I’d  make sure I wore a Camelbak next time).

Race in a nutshell: Flat, pretty, friendly participants, all abilities welcome. Decent bling.

The good: Route, medal, parking in local school, chip timed – with instant time print out at the finish.

The bad: Late start, baggage drop queue (and £5 payment), long toilet queues, inadequate amount of water for the number of runners, no goody bag. Lack of first aid on the route.

 

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