This was meant to be my Strava notes post race, but then realised it was getting a little long and so it’s become an accidental race report. This is the “Berkeley 20 & Half Fission” race. A small race down at Berkeley Nuclear Power Station, and consists of a 20 mile race and a half marathon. I’ve been training for Brighton Marathon on 7th April, and this event fell perfectly into the calendar for the last big run before tapering down. A good race to test all the final kit, nutrition, pace etc.

So the week before this race wasn’t exactly to plan.

The bike ride on the Monday before felt off, and a few hours later, I’m sleeping in my lunch hour before taking the rest of the day sick. Evening was flannel on the forehead, and fever of 38.9degC. Next day was bed rest, and then back to work which was okay, by Thursday I could do a walk/run with Ruth. So by Friday, I was staring down the barrel of a Go/NoGo decision on running on Saturday morning. 20 miles – longest so far and no idea if I even had a 10k in me.

Was listening to the Rob Burrow book and decided I was probably going to go for it. I was a two lap race, so there was a natural bail point at 10 miles, so seemed there was a plan A and a plan B.

Morning of the race was a little less organised than usual, just something off. Turned up with decent time spare, but then found the car park was a 10 min walk from the start. It was freezing cold, so the idea of getting into race kit then and there wasn’t appealing. Decided to keep an extra couple of layers on. Hadn’t planned on dropping a kit bag, so an Aldi bag for life made a quick alternative.

I saw James Baker in the car park, so we wandered to the start together and met Katie Keates at race start. After I found the race, James and Katie Keates who were also training for Marathons also signed up. It was safe to say none of us were looking forward to it. Katie was suffering from some lurgy, and compared to how she sounded, I felt like a specimen of health. We got ready, stashed the bags in the hall and got in the toilet queues. Race briefing was a guy we could hardly hear, and his opening words of “you all should have got out of bed earlier” weren’t conducive to me trying to struggle to listen to him. The crowd eventually started shuffling away from the finish line, so we followed our walk to the start.. And continued to walk.. And walk.  Slight concern that there was also a Half Marathon starting from somewhere else at the same time, but everyone around us had the same coloured race numbers as us, so we figured we were in the right place, or there was a huge number of us in the wrong place. We carried on walking, and walking and were waiting for a start line. It was a chip timed event, so figured at some point we would cross the start line and/or a gun would fire. There was no start line and no gun we noticed, we realised when everyone started running that the race had probably already begun. The three TTGers ran together for a bit, then remembered that we were on completely different race paces, so split, hoping to see each other in a few hours time at the finish.

The sun had come out, and so the earlier fears of freezing to death subsided. There was a nice group around me, lots of people in very similar looking running bags, the race is timed perfectly for people putting in their big runs for Manchester/London etc. The run was on lovely quiet country roads. Beautiful scenery, but my focus was on the watch. This was an event for me to nail my “comfortable” marathon pace of 10 minute miles. As per the plan, the crowds and the event hadn’t distracted me from that, and my numbers were looking good.

There was a nagging concern from me around the “No Headphones” rule on this race. I normally listen to an audiobook on a run, but for marathon training the long runs had been to the Lucy C-B playlist I discovered a few months ago. Those power tunes have been the soundtrack to the training and the words have got me through a lot of tough runs. My comfort blanket wasn’t allowed on this run, so I would be left alone with just my own thoughts for 3.5 hours on this one. That was probably my biggest worry about this race in the days before.

As it was, I kept myself occupied during the run and the lack of headphones wasn’t as impactful as I thought it would be. Starting to knock the miles down, gels every 30 minutes and before I knew it, I was 3 and then 6 miles in. At 9 miles, you start to think about nearly being at the half way point (and NOT thinking that it would still be less than a third of the way on the big day) . The runners thin down, and then I find myself in a small field of people who are running around the same pace as me. VERY slowly overtaking the odd person, and occasionally being overtaken by another. Around the 10 mile point, we complete the first lap. Turn right for the finish (some of the half marathon lead runners had been streaming past me for the last half hour) but left for the “Bonus Lap” of another 9 odd miles of now slightly familiar scenery.

Getting into double numbers meant I started to feel it a little. Nothing of concern, but it was a little harder to keep those 10 minute miles. The Heart Rate creep meant my impressive 133 I was staring at an hour ago was now creeping up into the 150-160 range. Still nothing of significant concern. The usual knee and ankle niggles were taking their turns. This year, rather than a single injury causing the drama, there seems to be a democratic form of timeshare, where the two knees and the left ankle are taking it in turns on the run for my attention. After a mile or two of grumbling, the joint will hand over the role of prime concern to another and serve as a useful distraction to the fatigue. 

Anyway, talking of distractions, back to the run, somewhere around this point we had hail. I had been fairly lucky with the weather, it was forecast rain for the whole run (would be a first in training so far for the really long runs) but it had been blue skies and dry so far. Well, until the cold, sharp hail turned up. Slightly painful on the face and legs, but just as the mind started to worry about it, it eased and we were back to dry and painless skies.

About 15 miles in, it was starting to take its toll, the mind just started to take on the “1 more mile” approach, and proactively staying on the pace goal. The hills started to get a little harder, and I started to drop a little bit of pace here and there. Nothing dramatic, but I promised myself to keep digging in. Then the rain came, the sky had been darkening for a while, but now it started to rain down. Not really a downpour, but enough to let you know it wasn’t going to be sunshine, rainbows and unicorns for the last part.

17 miles and the realisation “it’s just a parkrun”. Then the realisation that parkruns are normally run on fresh legs, and this would be a tougher finish. No headphones again leaves a void in the mind, that things like “fancy doing another NINE miles on Brighton race day” fills. I’ve done 3 marathons before, and I tend to fall apart and they don’t go to plan. The good news is that they are falling apart later and later, but 20 miles seems to be the bit where it goes wrong now. I was hoping to feel fresh towards the end of this race, knowing there was a good bank of energy for race day to push on that last 10k, but here in Berkeley I was running near empty at 18 miles.

At times like that it’s easy to overthink. Back to “one foot in front of another” and race day will be flatter and all the other things that might not actually be true, but if you can believe them in some small way, then it’s enough of a distraction to get to that next mile marker.

I look at my watch, 19 miles have now just gone, the “Bonus lap” is done and I’m turning right. Remembering that long walk to the start, I can’t work out how long is left. The Garmin has been fairly accurate, but the race mile markers were a little earlier than the watch more recently. I stick my head down. It’ll be 20 and a bit on the watch probably. I’ve been passing slightly more people than are passing me. Everyone is feeling it, again back to head down, reel in that one person in front and just keep going. Watch is looking like it’s about 0.25 miles to the finish. I can see the Power Station, it looks so small, how far away is it? I can hear shouting and a cow bell, that’s the finish area. I can’t see it, but I can hear it.

More gritted teeth, and around the final roundabout, I know this is the home straight.

The cowbell is louder, and I see it’s Ruth. She’s videoing, part of my head thinks put a smile on for the video, that thought it drowned out by the just keep frigging running and I view the finish gantry. I keep running, and cross the line (with the cliched stopping the watch as I go over). It’s done.

As usual, there are the eager volunteers who are trying to give me a medal and a bottle of water, just metres short of the finish line. I walk straight past and just stand. Just to not be running and to get my breath. “Are you injured?” says one of their concerned voices as they regard me leaning over a barrier. “No, I’ve just ran 20 miles” I respond unsympathetically. A few moments later, I gathered myself and got my medal and water and thank them. They look happy that I’ve moved on, perhaps concerned that I was about to provide some excitement with a collapse or some street pizza.

I grabbed my layers from my bag and headed back out to support, and immediately see James. My excitement wasn’t matched by him. There was a fairly harsh 2 hour cut off for the first 10 mile lap, and James was close to that and was allowed to continue, but a chat with the race director and James decided to finish early as a result of some feet issues. Better to finish an abbreviated run, than continue on and ruin all the months of training so far. Even with that early finish, James managed a 14.5 mile run, and set PB’s in Half Marathon, 15k, 20k and even 10k. I think he’s since worked out that a 20 mile run is not the place to be setting those PBs. Suffice to say, sometimes you learn more from bad days than the good days, and I know it took me a very painful first marathon all those years ago to learn to drop the pace and stay on target for events of this length. Still doesn’t make it easy or even get the races to go to plan, but they end up a slightly smaller disaster each time.

With legs now back to something like usable, we both walked down the home straight back to the sound of the cowbell to meet Ruth and wait to see and cheer Katie. Ruth had brought me a spare coat that I was very grateful for. Even with my extra layer I took to the start, it was still cold, so the coat was well received. A had a bit of a tired and grumpy ramble about the hills, the hail and various other things. Blimey I’m a grumpy finisher. With that all out of my system, we carried on cheering all those finishers in around that final turn onto the finish straight. Not long after, we saw Katie coming down the road for that final turn. Cheering her around the roundabout and over the finish line we were all done.

That was a hard day at the office for everyone. We’ve all had hard months of the “long runs” as we train for our respective marathons. Mixed outcomes on the day at Berkeley, but we all learnt a little something from it, and we’ll take those learnings into the next few weeks and onto the big day. Will it make it easy? nope. Will it make it easier? If it does we probably won’t notice, but I have no doubt that days like today make the other days a little less horrific, even if we don’t know it at the time.