This run was a little further afield than I’ve gone previously. This one was primarily about the place and its connection to a hero of mine, John Churchill, the first Duke of Marlborough. Take a look at my podcast series here if you want to see the full horror of my fanboy obsession.
We booked a room to stay in Woodstock after the race and a car to get there so at 07:30 in the morning we were on our way. Many roundabouts later (you have to pass through the edges of the dastardly Milton Keynes) we arrived, parked up and then stumbled about in the atmospheric mists to find the race start.
Blenheim Palace, even shrouded in mist looked a splendid sight. It’s a building that invokes mixed emotions in many. It is an extremely grand and imposing building but does get rather carried away with Baroque twirly bits. The words subtle and Blenheim Palace are rarely used in the same sentence. I adore it and felt a warm glow of joy and affection for the building and its grounds as I walked down to the start line. I’m also feeling considerable affection for my wife Carrie, who is with me, offering invaluable support, taking pictures and trying not to mention how worried she is about me running with such a stinking cold.
We are given a choice at the start as to whether we’re under two hour runners or over. With a personal best of 2:12:42 from the Cambridge Half Marathon I have to put myself in the over 2 hour pens while all the speedy folk line push forward closer to the start line.
10:30 and we’re off. The speedy runners move and then it’s our turn. There was a bit of a panic while the marshal tried to tear the plastic strip that kept us in our pen. She didn’t succeed but people jumped in to help and slid it to the ground so we could jump over it.
We ran over the bridge toward the Blenheim Victory Column and then turned left up the first of what were to be a surprising number of hills. Don’t get me wrong – these aren’t huge vertical inclines. They are more like undulations than hills but I live in Cambridge. It’s nearly all flat here so we’re likely to even refer to speed bumps as hills. I am however starting to develop a technique for these undulations that seems to help a little. Running downhill can be quite painful. The books all tell me that I can ease this pain by turning my legs over fast and making it into some kind of semi-controlled falling action. It sounds bizarre but it actually does seem to work and it means I go a lot faster downhill than I normally would. The difficulty I found today, was with my breathing. My chest felt really clogged up so when I did my faster downhill descents I was reaching for deeper breaths, failing and then gasping like a beached fish. I must have looked like I was having a heart attack.
We were running around a loop and I was seeing signs that said 6 kilometres. My goodness, thinks I, we’ve gone further than I thought. A little later I saw a sign for 3 miles and was terribly confused. The kilometres kept clocking up but the miles were sadly lacking. I eventually figured out that the kilometre markers were for the 10K race later in the day. I should ignore these and only take notice of the mile markers.
We headed out of the grounds onto a road. Half of it had been closed so we were protected from the traffic by a row of traffic cones standing silent sentry guard from encroaching homicidal motor vehicles. There were more hills but also more mile markers. When you set off on a half marathon run the 13 miles seems a ridiculously long way away. There’s no point looking towards the end as it’s just too far away to contemplate. At about 7 miles all that suddenly changes. You start to realise that the end, if not in sight, is actually somewhere that you could reach and you might not even die of exhaustion and despair on the way. The 7 and 8 mile markers came along in quick succession but then I got an entirely new pain afflicting me. The call of nature didn’t so much beckon as thwap me in the stomach making immediate demands. I nipped off into a field to pee and then jumped back into the race trying desperately to look as nonchalant as possible whilst giving off the impression that I’d just nipped into the hedge to investigate an interesting looking berry. I suspect not one single person was fooled.
Unfortunately the peeing helped not a jot. There were more significant movements going on down there and I was extremely uncomfortable. I could do nothing more than try to push these feelings aside. The end was only around 50 minutes away. Surely nothing really horrendous would happen before then. My imagination begged to differ and was absolutely certain something downright horrible was going to happen right here and right now. This battle continued throughout the rest of the run. It was extremely unpleasant but that’s all just part of the experience.
Despite the discomfort the miles kept dropping away and I soon began to hear the crowds around the finish line. The sound would tease and tantalise as I drew closer and then seemed to veer away and then back again. A couple of twists and turns later and I can see the grand house in the distance. Up the hill we go and I hear the announcer shouting my name. I grit my teeth and surge forwards. I am looking from left to right but there’s no sign of my wife Carrie. I stagger across the line, grab my medal and a bottle of water.
Wandering across toward the lake to find somewhere to sit down for a bit,
Carrie finds and congratulates me. It seems I’ve caught her unawares. I’ve finished much sooner than she expected. It’s looking like a new personal best. I am pleased but there’s another urgent matter that is pressing hard upon. I disappear into the visitor centre in search of a public convenience. What happened inside there is too diabolical to relate here. I think we should perhaps just pull the veil over this and just say that all ended happily without loss of life or limb.
I had the time confirmed later as 2:09:08