The Royal Windsor Trail Half Marathon. It was my second time heading to Windsor to race in 2 weeks, and as I woke up at 5:30am (GAH!) I couldn’t complain, another cloudless day, blazing sun and river breeze made for perfect conditions for my longest run since the last half I did in February.
This was my first half marathon I didn’t 100% prepare for. In the past I’ve stuck to the training plan (build up long run mileage each Sunday and do at least 3 18k runs before taper week) but this time the race snuck up on me and I may have been a bit to go go go signing up for a lot of other races and events in the weeks leading up to this race. There just wasn’t time for long runs. The x-press challenge I’ve been doing with Tempo Pilates filled the training void a bit, I worked to build up strength in my core, legs and glute with their HIIT classes and hoped that this newfound strength would carry me through the 21.1kms.
The butterflies were suitably in place in my stomach when we walked up to the event village. F3 & Maxifuel (the major sponsor) created wonderful setup with minimal fuss and maximum space to get ready. Perfect! The start line was across the river and done in waves. So the speedies started at 8:35 and then every 5 minutes another group could start. The waves were “loose” and anyone could start at anytime, but the trails were so narrow you didn’t want to be the person being passed the whole time. We walked up to the startline right at our wave time (which was awesome – a few flags and a timing mat in a huge field, no fuss) and just started running. It was the best start to a race ever – no crowds, no screeching on a megaphone, just you when you’re ready.
The first half of the race was stunning – probably the best route I’ve run in the UK yet. We followed the Thames along a forested path that went past beautiful locks, so cute hamlets, and even a 12th century church. We also ran past the village of Bray, pretty nice waterfront houses there if I say so myself. This was the most technical trail part of the course as the ground was very uneven and there were lots of other competitors trying to find their pace so lots of huffing old men seemed to be passing me at this point. My legs felt like tree stumps from 3km which was probably due to me over training and not having a proper taper. That said while they were heavy, they kept working hard so I didn’t complain.
Just before Maidenhead we took a sharp right and ran down some suburban streets (gasp! Pavement!) and along a pretty busy motorway to head back to Winsdor, following the Jubilee river. This was definitely the worst part of the races as the sun was out and there was no shade. We ran along a cycling trail which was wide open and not as nice as the first part. There were loads of birds and farm animals to keep us entertained (something to think about other than the actual running) but in reality it was just long and flat and hot. I was using the virtual pacer on my Garmin Forerunner10 for the first time, so I tried to keep ahead of pace during this section and just keep moving forward.
The waterstops were nicely spaced out and there was deliciously cold water and gels at every stop (except the first one that was pillaged by the time I got there). I took the time to stop and drink full cups of water at each one knowing the sun was doing it’s damage. I carried with and ate a cliff shotblok at each stop which was a new experience for me. They are super easy to eat (easier than a jellybaby) and not sickly like gels. I really liked them and will probably keep using them on these longer races.
As we turned away from Slough and the bank holiday traffic motorway (thank god) we followed the train tracks back into Windsor. My marathon-math-mind started at this point and I thought at 18k I only had 2km left and was guaranteed a PB. Silly Laura. When I realized the mistake I also realized I had to seriously hussle the last km to get in under 2 hours. This wouldn’t have been a problem judging by the previous race path, but the last km included running up a steep path to a bridge, over the bridge and back down to the 300m finish sprint. I obviously chicked 2 guys on the uphill (they walked it, seriously?) and then decided to go all out for the downhill to the finish. Again I misjudged the actual length of the final 600m (how come in marathon-math-mind that seems so short?) and cruised over the finish line in 1:59:07. Close! I finished at the same time as a woman who carried her baby for the last 300 meters, so I finished to cheers of “yummy mummy!!!” hmmm?
There were icy buckets of various lucozade products and water at the finish, and nice medals being handed out. I found my husband & friend easily enough and we picked a spot in the shade and stretched out. There was also loads of free redbull at the end, not my fav but a nice touch.
From there it was straight to a pub beer garden where we arrived at 11:30. Just in time to grab a starter breakfast and then order burgers for lunch at noon. A runners dream!
The race and whole experience was a 10/10 and just the perfect introduction to a long distance trail race. Of course the weather played a huge part, but according to my experiences, it’s always sunny in Windsor!
Sounds like a fun race! Do you feel Pilates was an effective way to cross train?
I think if you’re already up to race fitness then it’s excellent as it gets those core muscles and the big glutes/hamstrings into power mode.
Great post. Sounds like a great race. I can so relate to your marathon-maths-mind. I can’t do even the simplest calculations when I am running and tired. Calculating a projected finish time is totally beyond me!!!
Great post Laura, it looks like a really good one to do, I might sign up next year 🙂 Can you tell me a bit more about these gels/jelly babies etc. and why they’re good mid-race? I train with water and don’t have any energy drinks or anything on race days but always wondered whether I could be better if I did. I’m aware that it’s best not to try anything new on race day, so I’ve always just plodded around in relative pain.
I’m no expert, but basically the gels and such are just sugar & caffeine to give you a bit of a short term energy to get through the race. Most professionals don’t recommend them for anything less than an hour of running (you don’t need it) but I tried them for the first time in this half and found the cliff shot blocks easy to take and the extra energy helped. Most people just have jelly babies or whatever cheap candy is around as the gels and sports chews can get expensive for basically the same thing!
Hmm OK sounds like it’s worth a try, I’ve done a couple of very undertrained and tiring half marathons (you can read about them here: fit-bits.blogspot.co.uk), during which I wondered why kids were giving out jelly babies at the sidelines. I was on Weight Watchers at the time and was slightly horrified at the potential pro points value! Never crossed my mind that as I was running 13.1 miles I might just be allowed one or two!!
Hi Tess, I don’t feel comfortable commenting on points/calories while running. I’m no expert. You might want to consult a sports nutritionist if you want advice on properly fuelling for half marathons.
Of course, no worries, I’m not asking you to! I’m much more clued up now than I was on how to fuel for runs, I’m seeing a nutritionist already. Anyway, a good post and thanks for the advice on gels/shot blocks etc. 🙂
Looks like another fab race under the belt Laura! I love the medals too. Well done, despite your under/over training it sounds like it all came together on the day.
Great race and recap, congrats. Also, I’m so impressed that you have both feet in the air in your pix. I generally look like I’m walking in all of my race pix! 😉
Great race report! I was searching for reviews of this one as I am thinking about doing it next year (I did one of the F3 triathlons this year) and yours came up on google. Congrats! I love the medal – is it actually pink or is that just the lighting? Good luck in your future races! 😀
Hi Jenna! Thanks for the kind words. The medal is pink! Pretty great one too. It was a great race and I highly recommend it for everyone next year!
You’ve persuaded me to enter my second half marathon (after Hampton Court), thanks. I’m guessing road shoes rather than trail?
Thanks Michael! Road or trail would be fine. It’s about half and half but not boggy enough to warrant proper grip
I have just come across your blog now, while search for reviews on this run. Just wondering, how much “trail” is there on the route? I am not a fan of trail running (am yet to do one, but they don’t really interest me), would you still recommend this run?
Hi Kate, the route is 100% off road but it’s hard to answer your question because it depends on your definition of trial. (Like the Inuit word for snow there are a hundred different types of trail!) The start is on a field, the first few miles are a trail through trees but it’s hard pack so bikes were doing fine on it, then there is about a mile on a sidewalk along a motorway, then back on to a large/wide gravel hardpack trail until the last mile where you’re back on the forest trail and over a bridge to the finish field.