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Reviews

Fast at the front but not flat: Reading Half Marathon review

04-03-2014

The Reading Half has been factored into spring marathoners’ training programmes since 1983 but is also a great event for those targetting their first half.

Organised by Sweatshop and sponsored by Mizuno, it’s a mass participation event with an entry limit of 16,500 - which is always reached long before race day. This year the race was part of the RunBritain Grand Prix and acted as the GB trial for the World Half Marathon. This meant it attracted many of the country’s fastest endurance athletes including Running Feat’s Amy Whitehead.

Reading Half Marathon

Fab finish: The race ends in the Madejski Stadium

When is it?
The weekend the race falls on varies but it’s usually in March or early April. This year’s race fell on Sunday 2nd March.

The course: On the website the course is described as “flat and fast” but in fact there are numerous hills so undulating would be a better description. The route begins alongside Green Park by the Madejski football Stadium and heads out through residential streets to Reading University. There’s a steep hill at mile three followed by a longer downhill stretch into the university campus. Another downhill takes runners into the town centre where there are a couple of short up hills. As runners then head back towards the stadium, there’s one more longer incline around eight miles. Then it’s flat along a dual carriageway for a mile with the stadium in sight. In the final two miles, you run out and back beside Green Park where the race started before entering the stadium to run the last 100m on the boarded over pitch.

The facilities: A race village is set up by the stadium with toilets, baggage tents, changing tents and various refreshment and merchandising tents. There’s a large number of temporary toilets so on the three (!) occasions I went before the race, I never had to queue for long. Four different car parks are open but spaces have to be pre-booked and one of them involves catching a shuttle bus. If you intend to use the car parks, it's best to book early as this year they sold out a month before race day. There are also shuttle buses running from the train station.Reading Half Marathon Madejski Stadium

Mass event: Thousands of people take part from elite to beginners

What’s good about it?
As you’d expect from a big city half marathon, there’s a great atmosphere around the course. There are few stretches without spectators as the people of Reading enthusiastically line the streets. On one street around nine miles good luck messages had been written on the road in chalk and one perked me up when I felt tired, heavy legged and annoyed about being off PB-pace. It said: “Remember to have fun”. There are ample Lucozade and water stations and numerous bands along the route. My favourite was the drumming band in an underpass around the five mile point whose beats helped me stay in a steady running rhythm. Finishing in the Madejski Stadium is another highlight. Half the stands are open to spectators who roar you to the finish line. It’s chip timed and if you registered your mobile number in advance, you get a text shortly after you have finished with your time.

What’s bad about it?
As this is a race catering for thousands of runners of all abilities, inevitably not everyone will have a good race day experience. For instance, the start was delayed as some people were struggling to get to their start zones in time given it begins a short walk from the race village. This would have been stressful for the late comers and was annoying for those getting cold hanging around at the start. Afterwards there were long queues to collect bags from the baggage tents and for the shuttle buses back to the car parks and stations. There was then congestion on the roads as people drove back to the motorway. I didn’t experience any problems with this personally but there were some grumbles from others to the organisers on Twitter. Meanwhile, the organisers can’t control the weather and while runners were lucky the rain held off till the afternoon, it was exceedingly windy. The mile back to the stadium was all into the wind and the strength of it probably cost many a PB.

Reading Half medalWhat do you get for finishing?
A super medal, pictured right, and a cotton T-shirt, refreshingly available not just in one size to (supposedly) fit all, but in XS to XL. A decent goody bag containing: a bottle of water, a bottle of Lucozade, a Mars bar, a Harvest bar, Alpha Bites small cereal box and a Lucozade recovery bar.

How do you enter?
Online at www.readinghalfmarathon.com, entries open in the autumn on a first come, first served basis, and close when it’s sold out. Charities are given a number of places. You can also enter a corporate relay team. Elite entries are available which were advertised to men who have run sub 70 minutes and women who have run sub 80 minutes. However, it appears there is some leniency here if you can prove fitness, as a number of men and women named on the elite start lists had PBs outside 70/80 minutes respectively.

In a nutshell: This is one of the biggest races in the country and as such you can expect it to be busy and involve some congestion before, during and after the race. Despite the queues experienced by some and the slightly delayed start (only by five minutes), I felt it was well-organised for an event on such a scale. While the sheer numbers taking part adds to the hassle of getting there and back, it also adds to the carnival atmosphere of the event. This is the third time I have run Reading and I like the fact it caters for all runners from professionals to first timers. I love the variety of the route and the support along the way - but my only gripe is that it’s described as flat. If you happen to be having a bad day like I was on Sunday and are running on tired legs, those up hills are an unwelcome pace killer!

Race reviewed: Sunday, 2 March 2014 by Lucy Waterlow, finishing time 85.51. Amy Whitehead was fourth female Brit finishing in a time of 73.14.