When I first signed up for this race, I didn’t really give the course route that much thought. I knew I wanted to run a half marathon and Bedgebury is only about 50 minutes from where I live so it seemed like a good idea at the time. Now the website states that the course is an ‘undulating’ route around the trails and paths in Bedgebury forest, which I thought would be perfect, what better than to run my first half marathon in and amongst the beautiful scenery of a forest. Wrong! In reality the word undulating should probably be changed to one big muddy hill. Now don’t get me wrong it was great fun, but also probably the hardest run I have ever done. I’m writing this post on Monday, the day after the race and my legs honestly feel like they’ve been hit by a ton of bricks.
The race started at 9am and being a little less than an hour away we left the house at 7:30 to ensure we would be there about half an hour before it started. When we arrived, there was a bit of chaos with the car parking probably due to the amount of people at the park. There was also a 10 km race going on and both this and the half were sold out, which meant there was due to be over 500 runners. This wasn’t really that much of an issue other than we were diverted to a different car park which meant there was just further to walk to the start line. I say we because Josh, my parents and my sister and her boyfriend all came along to be supporters. After making our way to the start, I did a quick warm up, just a few running drills and then parted ways with the others to make my way to the start line.
There was a bit of a wait at this point, the run director informed us that we were still waiting for the last few runners, but we would start shortly. I feel this is probably where my apprehension kicked in, my dad and Josh had both joked about how hilly it would be, but I had sort of brushed it off until now which is probably a bit late. Either way I was there now, and it was too late to back out. Before I knew it, go had been yelled and off everyone went.
The first 500m involved running across a field, and although the weather was fine on the day, it had clearly rained the day before and in the night, so within minutes I was already caked in mud as I wadded through the field trying not to get my feet stuck to the ground. I had seen a few people wearing road shoes and boy am I glad that I opted for my trail shoes because it can only be described as one big mud slide (there was also one guy who ran barefoot, madness I know!) At the start of the run I was feeling good, the adrenaline had kicked in and the race vibes set me off on a good start. Unfortunately for me this was not very long lived and about 5-10 minutes in I started to get some serious calf cramping. Once across the field the next few kms were just on gravel paths and what should have felt easy was feeling pretty difficult. I was so confused, I had been strategic about my training the week before and my legs should have been feeling fresh and strong. I never usually cramp especially not this early on, what was happening? It was only when I ran past the first aid station at the 5km point that I sort of clocked that the reason I was probably cramping was because I had barely drunk anything the day before and consequently was probably dehydrated. So, in hindsight it was pretty much my own fault (at least I learnt my lesson, Hydration is key!).
The course was 2 laps, and I would definitely say the first was the hardest. I persevered through the leg cramps and luckily it subsided because there were some nasty hills to come. Honestly, I didn’t really have much of a strategy or goal time for this race and I’m pretty glad. Since I didn’t really know what to expect of how hilly the course was, I didn’t really feel like I would be able to estimate a good pace to run at. Instead I decided that I would just run to feel and see how things went, this also took a bit of pressure off because the goal was just to complete it. (although in the back of my head I knew I definitely wanted to do it in under 2 hours). After my struggle at the beginning I started to get myself into a rhythm which allowed for the miles to tick by and before I knew it, I had completed the first lap. I saw Josh and my parents at this point as well which gave me a bit of an energy boost, especially when Josh told me that I was currently the 6th woman.
The second lap started well, and I was feeling better, probably because I knew what I was expecting. Having a good idea of where the hills were, I knew when to speed up and when I needed to slow down because there was going to be a climb. Although mentally I was in a better place, the same can’t be said for my legs, which were starting to feel pretty heavy at this point. This was made worse because the course was now 10 times muddier, having 500 runners go through it meant that any of the spots that had been solid ground were no longer. I spent a lot of this lap leaping rather than running, trying to avoid any major puddles, I can’t say it really worked, there were definitely swimming pools of muddy water in my shoes. Going downhill wasn’t that bad because the mud made it sort of like ice skating giving me extra momentum, although I was aware that by not trying to slow down, I was running the risk of falling flat into the mud, luckily this didn’t happen. On the uphill this absolutely did not help and with every step I took I was pretty much sliding three steps backwards. A few people lost their shoes in the race and I’m assuming that this was probably the section that it happened as the mud felt like quicksand trying to drag you down.
Making it up this hill was the point that I looked at my Garmin and realised that I might be able to make it in 1:50! My legs were really aching, but I was determined not to slow down and was trying my hardest to dig deep and keep going. I saw the mile 11 sign and this is where I really tried to push it, I’m not sure that I was really running that much faster but it felt like it, probably due to the fatigue that was kicking in. Regardless I was so close to the finish, I was determined to keep going.
I had almost completed the second lap and now there was just over a kilometre stretch until I would reach the finish line, my watch was at just over 1:45 and I really thought I would make under 1:50. What I didn’t know was that the last part of the course was one big steep hill and I would also have to cross the muddy field that the start line was on. At this point I realised that I was not going to run fast enough to reach that target so instead I just focused on trying to keep my legs moving. I struggled up the hill and made my way across the last stretch of the race. I could see everyone at the finish line and gave it my all running as fast as I could to the end, I had officially completed 13.1 miles! For those of you wondering my official time was 1:52:07, it may not have been under 1:50 but I honestly don’t think I could have gone any faster. Looking at my Garmin afterwards my heart rate averaged at 174 bpm for the whole race which means I was running in my red zone pretty much the entire time.
I was the 13th female out of a field of 168, and in my age category I came 3rd out 29 and overall out of everyone men and women I was 64th out of 359.
Overall it was a pretty good first half marathon, it might have been tough, but the scenery was great and I’m very proud that I made it round in one piece. My initial aim was just to do a half marathon and that I did! Next time I’m looking forward to doing something flatter where I can try and go a bit faster, as well as this now I’m officially starting my marathon training for Manchester in April! Although I think I’m going to have a few rest days from running because my legs definitely need to recover 😊
Thank you for reading!