Okay, let’s put this into context. I had booked the Dartford half on 3rd October last year, six months before the actual race. Why? I saw the medal design. Simple as that. Yes, I am a bling whore, and I know I have a weakness for cool and unique medals. And this, the 40th anniversary running of Kent’s oldest half marathon was a cool and unique medal sporting the colours of the Dartford Harriers, and including their track, and crest. How could I say no?
Quite easy actually. This was pretty close to being a DNS. If I have to be honest, dear readers. And I haven’t had one of those for a long time.
Why? The day before I took the kids to the abject nightmare that is the Shrek Adventure and experienced a recurrence of the neck injury I had for Brighton Half a fortnight before. But this time there was no miracle trip to MFB Osteo to tape me up. Instead I relied on an non-prescribed South African muscle relaxant and an early night. This was a mistake.
I woke at 7am, took a swig of water and headed to Victoria Station to meet the UKRUNCHAT admin superstar Jenni Morris, fresh from her muddy excursion at the Rail to Trail marathon the week before. Jen had demons to exorcise, and whilst I suggested a nippy London 10k around one park or another, she decided instead to join me, Natasha and others in signing up for Dartford. So I guess I could not let her go alone to a race that was clearly (at least partially) mea culpa.
It was on the train though, heading through the joys of south east London and into North Kent, that I realised my entire body was not enjoying the muscle relaxant that was still in its system. My legs and arms were tingling and I felt weak and nauseous. I was too sick to eat or drink and was not a happy camper. So, let’s add it up. No sleep. Broken neck. No breakfast. Brilliant. This was going to be a shit show.
Coming off the train and out into Dartford there were no crowds of runners making their way somewhere. You would be hard pressed to tell if there was a race at all. We met a couple who didn’t know where the race was either looking at one of those local area maps you see by stations, the guy was not well and had been out with the flu for a couple of weeks, ruining his VLM training. He was not happy and his confidence had clearly taken a hit. But we have all been there and so Jen and I gave him a pep talk as we made our way to the park, Central Park no less, after being pointed in the right direction by, of all things, a cyclist. Who would have thought those lycra-clad pedalists were good for anything?
Tash collected our race numbers, of which I somehow was given number 2 something that would cause a little humour on the way around the course when some guy, at the bottom of the big hill at mile 10 asked if my race number was my seeding. No, sir, it was purely assigned to me based on when I signed up after seeing the bling.
But that aside I was still not well at the start. I was pretty sick to be honest, had nothing in my belly other than half a cup of hot chocolate and actually left the others to their stretching so I could sort my head out. This would be a little more challenging, I thought, as I took off my under armour because it was warming up, and this was a race that would be sans music. Something I had only done twice, at St Albans half and most recently the Supernova 5K.
It was then, as I zipped up my bag to dump at the bag drop that I noticed I had forgotten my lucky Berlin marathon wristband. I wear this to remind myself I have been able to run 26.2 miles in far worse shape than I am now. It is a psychological crutch for me, and one I had left at home.
I am, though, both a student of Douglas Adams, and a pretty seasoned runner I think, and so the old saying DON’T PANIC ran through my head a few times as I took to the starting corral completely freaking out about the opportunity of passing out along the way.
I normally check the route, but to be honest I didn’t for the Dartford Half. I guessed it was around the roads of Dartford town centre, along the river maybe, somewhere near the Dartford Crossing or tunnel. Urban and ugly. How wrong was I? It couldn’t have been more different.
After leaving Central Park and taking a few turns through town we were already into the Kent countryside. It was sunny, I was so glad I took off the under armour as I was very comfortable in shorts, no calf sleeves, and just a plain thin t-shirt. I carried a single Torq Nutrition gel (Raspberry Ripple of course) and nothing else. This was as bare minimal as I get and, as we ran winding country paths, looking over hedgerows into rolling hills and countryside, I think I realised finally why people like to run without music.
HOW I DID
Of course, there was the small matter of being unwell, unfueled but, much like the infamous hangover half marathon at Rock and Roll Liverpool I was acutely aware of my body. I slowed my pace down and tried a new tactic.
An article went around Twitter a few months back about a guy who ran a sub-3 marathon using a run/walk strategy. You are kidding? I hear you say. No, his walks were brief and his runs were very very fast. I decide on a variant of this, where instead of run walk, I would drop onto the shoulder of a runner and stay with them for as long as I wanted and, if I thought I had more in the tank, I would speed up, and catch up with the next person in front, or the last person in the next bunch of runners. I think I would call it the TAILGATING method, or Slip Streaming.
And this actually worked as I went through quaint little villages, and even got to the hills at mile 3 and a bit of a monster at mile 10. And as I meandered down from the summit through residential streets I feel absolutely fine, happy in fact. SHOCK HORROR. I had not only survived the weakness and nausea, only taking nips of the gel late in the day and only a mouthful or two of water at the water stations I probably found this the easiest half marathon to run regardless of the moments of elevation.
No music lent itself to this race, the rolling hills either side, and I thoroughly enjoyed it, especially knowing Jen and Tash were ahead and therefore doing well as I did not catch them at any point. And then it was done and I met up with the crew, James Surname and Lisa from Twitter for a group shot showing off a wonderful medal.
Completely bespoke and love it. It is exactly as described with the light and dark blue colours of the Dartford Harriers, and the track. Love it.
I have probably always thought of Dartford as a bit of a shit hole. But the park the the run kinda dispelled this idea and, as we walked from the track and race HQ in search of beer and celebratory burger, my opinion quickly returned to my original stance. That this place was a shit hole.
Dartford has to be the worst place to get the traditional post race burger and a beer. The first pub was empty other than a few trolls in the darkness, squinting up at us as we stood in the doorway letting the light in> We could have stayed there, to be fair, gaining their trust over time and eventually usurping the chief of the tribe and becoming their leader but as it was pointed out, the pub only sold sandwiches, with the only vegetarian option being cheese. That, and it and smelled of horse shit.
The next pub was populated by the crew of the Flying Dutchman, the ship in the Pirates of the Caribbean movie where they were covered in barnacles and made out of fish parts. There was a Weatherspoons, but in the 10 mins that we spent there not a single person got served so we left.
The next pub, The Court House, and the last was completely empty when ventured into. The conversation with the barman went like this.
Me – Busy?
Him – Not especially
Me – Do you serve food?
Him – No
Me – On a Sunday lunchtime? You think that is why no one is here?
Him – Probably. Don’t know where everyone is.
Me – At the Weatherspoons across the road
Him – Yeah.
Me – because they serve food.
So, defeated we decided to leave Dartford and head back to the big city, as surely they had burgers and beer there.
THE AFTERMATH II
Two things happened on the way back, first this…. (HOW COOL!) I do love my blue plaques in London, and being close to Abbey Road, worked by the Ziggy Stardust plaque on Heddon Street and I am always happy to see music related stuff.
And, limping ahead of us as we got to the station was the couple from the start of the day. The guy was limping pretty badly and looked thoroughly cheesed off. It turned out he had pulled his groin on the run and was very unhappy with himself. But, as we are good people at UKRUNCHAT, we sat with them the journey back and talked about all the positives to be taken from the day. He had finished, it was another 13 miles in the bank, and there are countless stretches he could do to recover his groin. All good.
So somehow, by 12 o’clock, within 5 hours of it’s nauseous and disastrous start the day was completely turned around. Now true, I missed out on a few things. I am glad I never saw the woman in the car, slowing down and shouting C#NTS to all the runners, or the woman who pooped herself that the girls told me about. I did see the giant earthworms though, crawling out into the sun and into the paths of a few thousand runners. Maybe our pitter patter of feet felt like rain to them? Who can say? Who cares? But, all in, I am glad I went, I was calm, controlled and happy.
OBLIGATORY RACE PHOTO
Little confusing, as there is a twitter account for the race, but also the club, and, whilst the result are on the website there are precious few photos and nothing to say if there was even an official photographer. So watch this space for the obligatory race photo. If it appears.
Would I recommend the Dartford Half Marathon? Absolutely. And I know a lot of people who will be running it next year.
Would I run it again? Now, I rarely say this, but I probably.
NEXT UP: THE MANCHESTER MARATHON