Thursday, 21 March 2013

Race Reading

It’s race day and time for the Reading Half marathon.

This was special for me as it wasn’t a race I’d normally run and I was actually only taking part as the event was hosted by sports manufacturer Mizuno and I was given some of their recent minimalist footwear to test.

If you’ve been reading this blog you’ll know that Mizuno have recently launched a new range of minimal road shoes and part of their marketing campaign was to follow a number of internet bloggers and see how they got on with the new products.

The culmination of this campaign was the blogging team getting together at Reading where I got the chance to put faces to the names. My training partner Andy Hind and myself made our way to Reading’s Premiership Football ground where Mizuno had arranged a VIP area where we were greeted with by lots of friendly faces and a rather nice goodie bag (totally unexpected especially BEFORE the race). This made a nice change to turning up in the middle of a muddy field five minutes before the start.

Our changing facilities!

 This VIP area was in the heart of the stadium and was what looked like normally the directors or player’s lounge. I was in total shock at the level of “plushness” as I pulled on my Evo Cursoris shoes whilst sitting on carpet which was better quality than my house! In fact the only damp point to the day so far was the weather! 30 minutes to the start and the light drizzle had transformed into torrential rain.

As I said, I was joined by my informal training “partner” Andy H who had been kindly given a place by the race organisers. We were both ready and as we stood with the rest of the Bloggers and I wondered how many different standards and disciplines of runners were represented here? (eventually one of the team would finish only a few minutes behind the winner!)

Andy with the lovely Fiona in the centre

I was looking forward to running somewhere different, meeting new people and especially looking forward to trying these Evo’s in their first race (following the 20 miler “out of the box” in the Evo Levitas). I know this is starting to sound like an advert for Mizuno but actually I don’t mind promoting a company that has shown an interest in the “real” running community” so props go out the them as it’s all too well knowing top runner Scott Jurek loves brand X but the majority of runners aren’t to their levels and he probably won’t go into details on how a shoe performs when worn with different socks or even give you tips on the best place to get them cheap….

Anyway, back to the rain. It was tipping it down and we started to notice that people were donning bin bags in preparation of the start (note to self, buy bin bags). Well after asking if anyone had spare bags we copied the crowd and blagged some XXXL t-shirts that we could lose later. Andy decided to ask the lovely Mizuno ladies one last time if they had any bin bags as they would be slightly more waterproof. They said sadly they didn’t and for some reason everyone was asking for them? Andy had turned around to leave when the girl called him back….. “I do have a box of these large waterproofed Mizuno branded ponchos, are they any use?” RESULT!

As we stood on the start line we decided that the extreme rain combined with the newly acquired deluxe wet weather gear meant that we should run with the poncho’s worn. This wouldn’t be as bad as it sounded as it was hammering down. As we got under way everyone had lost their bins bags and there was Andy and me still wearing ours like a couple of extras from Harry Potter!

The Cursoris were holding up well and they seemed to work with the thin compression socks I was using (£3.99 from Lidl, not bad considering you can pay £20 plus). I’d been really careful previously to keep them dry as they were so breathable I thought they’d fill up like a couple of sponges but as the rain hammered causing me to sometimes run sections of the course under water, the feet got wet but they also drained quickly and within a few minutes the lightweight material had “wicked” itself dry again and the feet were warm, most impressed!

Andy was feeling strong so he started to pull away from me at this point. I’d ran 10 miles the day before and my legs were feeling heavy so I decided I’d take it steady and run the same pace for the whole race which was currently around 8:20/min miles. This was already a lot faster than we’d planned but we felt ok so went with it. The course was 100% road based and wove in and out of Reading town centre and despite the weather it was really well supported by spectators cheering on the 18 thousand runners. This was a huge race and the only similar race I’d ever seen was London marathon.

Eventually Andy was gone but by mile 4 the rain had eased off and the sun even made an appearance. I was starting to cook under the poncho so decided it was time to take it and the huge t-shirt I was still wearing on top of the other two layers off. The t-shirt was donated to someone in the crowd but the poncho was too good to bin so I tied that around my waist. At this point I actually bumped into Andy again as he got held up in some traffic and he’d already removed his poncho! So I told him whatever happened I’d won the “poncho man test”.

I was impressed by the facilities on the course as every other mile we were presented with endless amounts of water (in squidgy “plastic bag” containers which I’d never seen before but worked well) and lucuzade sport. I’d also like to personally thank all the bands and groups which played music live supporting the runners even though they must have been soaked! Supporting runners is something that I feel is under estimated by many and really helps me especially if I’m feeling low in a race. As I’ve said previously, this year I’m trying to make an effort to support events when I’m not running and this forces me take time off to rest but also gives something back to the sport.

By now Andy had once again shot off into the distance, it was now mile seven and the heavens opened once more, this time even harder! I decided now that I’d try and push as I didn’t want to drown and after a couple of miles I actually thought I might have seen Andy again way off in the crowd.

Kit wise everything was fine, the Evo’s were still slipper-like and even the slick wet tarmac wasn’t causing them any problems so I had nothing else to focus on apart from running. I felt alright and so kept pushing, by mile eleven I was now sure I could see Andy and as the rain came down even harder all I could think of was running faster so I could to get the race over with and mentally all I was looking for was the stadium so I knew the finish would be close.

Finally I could see Reading’s ground but there was still a mile to go on the GPS and we turned sharp right away from the finish along the road we started on. I knew this detour couldn’t be for long though as we now had less than one mile to run and I also realised that the race route looped back on itself on the other side of the road so I might be “running into” Andy any minute. Well as we approached the turnaround point I saw him close for the first time in ages and now only about 100 meters away. I was by now feeling quite strong as I’d held back earlier and I pushed to the point where I was just behind him.

If you’ve read my last race report, you’ll know I’d done a similar thing (honestly not on purpose) and I felt for Andy as he’d worked hard all race and I was about to pop up and say hi at the finish. Metres to go I decided to make my move and tapped him on the shoulder. He turned around and I can’t write what he actual said but it wasn’t “well done Ian it’s so nice to see you after all this time” but its safe to say he was a little surprised. Don’t get me wrong, we weren’t racing each other and we never have done previously but I did get the feeling he thought he’d managed to “lose me.” We ran together into the stadium and finished in 1 hour 49:48 which considering we were taking it easy wasn’t too shabby and was actually quicker than my last half marathon.

Andy was still swearing at me as we collected our medals and as the majority of the finishers donned their foil blankets we returned to our plush VIP suite. After writing this report, I felt as if there wasn’t much written about the Evo’s etc. and felt a little guilty, well what can I say though they were pretty much perfect. I had absolutely no issues with them and I could have run in them all day and been happy.

Wearing our "capes" with pride!

Actually when I was speaking to one of the Mizuno reps at the finish I told them the above and said that my only gripe was that they were road shoes and I’d wish they’d produce an off-road version as this would suit me more. I only use road races for training and I think with a different sole unit they could have a shoe that would rival Merrell and New Balance, well you never know ;) Watch out other manufacturers if they do as Mizuno produce quality running equipment and as they gain feedback from real runners anything they offer I’m sure be worth a look!

I’d like to thank Fiona Bugler for coordinating the whole Evo project, cheers to all the other bloggers but special thanks to Victoria and Rob at Mizuno.

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