My plan was to run the Gran Canaria Half Marathon on January 26, 2020. I wanted to escape the UK winter for a bit of sunshine. Then they moved the race to November (rude). With a 16 mile long run on the plan for this weekend, I wanted to find an alternate race. Enter the Farnborough Half Marathon. “Just because it has “farm” in the title doesn’t mean there will be a farm,” Lior said. Upon checking the race logistics, I realized that I’d either have to wake up super early and take a train that arrived to the station 30 minutes before the race started, rent a car and drive, or arrive the evening before. Upon searching for hotels, I found one close by with an indoor pool, and a Saturday night deal providing dinner and breakfast the next morning (with enough time to digest before running), for what seemed to be a reasonable price. Bonus–they offered late checkout, so I could fit in a post-race shower. I consulted with Lior and he was down to make a night of it, so I booked the hotel and race. After the Portsmouth Coastal Waterside Half Marathon course running short, I was looking forward to taking a new stab at an improved half marathon time!
So far, marathon training seems to be going well, and I hope this half marathon will be a good test of my current fitness and ability.
I made the rookie error of not bringing any energy gels, but I did bring two Kind bars, which should be a decent substitute.
Price: 37.1 GPB/$48.75–not bad
Website: I had all the information I needed, which was mostly a map of the course, so I could book a hotel close to the start line.
Publicity: Pretty standard? The race was listed on a few running sites. A week and a half before the race, I received an email with additional info, including that there would only be three water stops for the half marathon. While it shouldn’t be hot in the UK and the end of January, three water stops still doesn’t seem like a lot. I’ve gotten used to running with a hydration pack, so I can sip water whenever I want. (The Tokyo marathon has relatively frequent water stops, so I won’t bring my hydration pack.) I contacted the race organizers, asking if I can wear my hydration vest (some places don’t allow them for security reasons), and I received a response the same day, saying that it was allowed. Publicity: A
Transportation: Train to Farnborough the day before, and a leisurely stroll to the start line! Seriously, the start/finish area is right behind the hotel.
Weather: Mid 40s and overcast. It sprinkled a tiny bit during the race, but that was actually nice because it made me forget how much I was sweating.
Time: 9:00am. I woke up at 7:00am and made coffee, took Imodium, then went down to breakfast a bit after 7:30am. The hotel gym opened at 8, so I went then to complete my 1.5mi warm up on the treadmill…this turned out to be the right decision because after I finished my run I needed to make an urgent bathroom visit. After that, I felt significantly lighter, and felt this was a good omen for my race!
Start/finish area: The race started/ended right behind my hotel, in an old airplane hangar. It was no-frills, but that was fine with me.
Packet pick-up: I picked up my number the day before and the process was very quick.
Race shirt: The shirt cost an extra 10 pounds, so I declined to purchase it. The race site said my registration includes fleece gloves (in the past, runners received a hat). At the event, I saw the race shirt and it was not worth the money. The design was nice enough, but it didn’t look like a high quality shirt and I think it was unisex. Shirt: D
What I wore: Long sleeve shirt, leggings, running sweatshirt, buff, and gloves. I could have gotten away without wearing the sweatshirt, and shorts may have been okay. This was a test for a potential Tokyo marathon outfit…if the weather is similar, I’ll probably wear the shirt (no sweatshirt) and shorts.
Bag drop: Available but I didn’t use it.
Course: Farnborough is apparently known for air shows, and we got to run around the air field a bit, which was interesting. We also ran through some woods. The entire race was run on roads that were in pretty good condition. There were some very slight rolling hills. I’m training in a pretty flat area and the hills didn’t bother me. My goal was to try and run goal marathon pace miles (around 9:45 min/mile), but I was nervous that I was going to majorly bonk due to not having my tried and true margarita-flavored shot bloks.
My fueling strategy ended up working! I took my first bite of Kind bar at mile 5, and then another bite every 2 miles. I crossed the halfway point at around 1:03-1:04, and knew that as long as I didn’t crash and burn, I’d run my fastest half marathon in awhile. (I don’t count the Portsmouth Half Marathon because the course was so short.) I started struggling a bit around mile 10+ until the end, but I never actually hit the wall–rather, I was feeling good, so I decided to up my pace.
Above, you see my splits. Once I got to Mile 12, I realized that if I gunned it, I might be able to squeak in under 2 hours. In the end, I ran a 2:00:51. I would be annoyed, except that until mile 12, I honestly didn’t think I had a sub2 in me. So instead I’m proud of my effort, and know that with a good training plan, sub 2 hour half marathons can become a regular occurrence again.
Water stations: There were three, about every 5km…but because I had the vague urge to pee for most of the race, I only took water at the last water station…it worked out fine.
Bathrooms: I didn’t see any on the course… Bathrooms: F
Pictures: The website advertised free race photos
Medal: I saw previous years’ penguin medals and was excited to receive one of my own!
My only complaint is that there is no year…but since I’m never running this race again, it’s not that big of a deal.
I also received a reusable plastic water bottle filled with High 5 electrolyte products (which I plan to use), a full-size bag of snack mix, and a few small samples. The fleece gloves are nice, and I plan to use them during the remainder of my time in London, to see if they are a good option for the Tokyo Marathon. (I currently use a pair of cheap pink gloves that I bought as a throwaway for Tokyo 2018…and ended up wearing the entire time. But if it rains, they’re going to get soaked and will become useless…)
I had a great time at the Farnborough Half Marathon, but as Lior pointed out, it had more to do with my fast time and pacing than the race itself. The course is fast and lends itself well to PRs, the medal is cute, and the goodybag is good. The course isn’t the most scenic, but it’s just interesting enough. There is minimal crowd support. I highly recommend that people local to London go run the race at least once, but if you’re not local-ish, there are more exciting races to be had.