Race Review : The Two Tunnels Half – The UK’s Longest Underground Race

Steady, Eddie

I’m going, I’m going, I’m going
Deeper underground
I’m going, I’m going, I’m going
Deeper underground
I’m going, I’m going, I’m going
Deeper underground
I’m going, I’m going, I’m going
Deeper underground

And so on and so forth, according to Jamiroquai, and who am I to argue? It would be virtual insanity (see what I did there?) to disagree with the foremost British funk and acid jazz band of the 1990s.

Looks legit. Let’s run it.

This weekend I was supposed to be heading to the Brecon Beacons with the Nepal Marathon crew but an injury after my 2 marathons in 8 days has meant I needed to lower my expectations a bit. Rather than a hilly trail 50K through the Welsh countryside that would take hours to drive to, I decided instead on a half marathon in beautiful Bath. 90 mins train journey, lovely hotel, lovely restaurant, lovely dinner, and hopefully a nice relaxed sub 2 hour half marathon to give me some confidence at the Relish Running Two Tunnels Half Marathon. I was signed up to run this race a couple of years ago but DNSd due to back spasms and instead just lounged around in a spa hotel the whole weekend in the town famous for Roman baths, the Royal Crescent and being the home of Jane Austen, and William Herschel, the guy who discovered her anus. Sorry!! Uranus (teehee).

It was a random find, probably due to Marty Ewers, who has run the Bath Skyline series, another series of races, like the Two Tunnels races, with interlocking medals.

Oooh, it makes a pyramid!

The Two Tunnels is the UKs longest underground foot race. How long is it underground? Hold on, let’s start with how is it underground? It is held just outside Bath several times of the year and runs through the old steam train tunnels. For the 10K distance 4K of it is underground, for the half double that. You pass through 2 tunnels, a 400m tunnel and a 1600m long tunnel.

There is a “hilly ticket” option that forces you to run over the tunnels rather than through them. But where would the fun be in that? This is the UKs longest underground race so I want to be underground as much as possible and so we booked ourselves on the “return ticket”.

On a more personal note I have not been able to run since MK. I felt my knee go at about mile 13 of London and ran through the pain. Couple of slow jogs on the dreadmill before MK to loosen the rest of the legs and I ran MK taped up like a Christmas present. I have my life A race on 4th June in South Africa, as you know, and so this is just to see if I can run. Hopefully I won’t do any lasting damage.

And yes, the route does look like something out of Ivor the Engine.

I had originally planned to walk to Brickfields Park and the race HQ. It was only half hour away from the apartment but, after several hits on the snooze button, sense prevailed and a cab was ordered and I am so glad I did, for the park is atop one side of the valley. I would not have been happy if we had rushed to get to the start only to find a nasty steep hill to climb before the race. It did give us some breathing space and, as we arrived at the red flagged park and surveyed the scene we saw a burger van, coffee van and stall selling running kit from Bosom Buddies, as well as a bag drop, ably manned by a young boy who had just come from the colour run earlier and was covered in paint, a very organised packet pickup and a massage tent. It was quite clear this was a well organised outfit. Bag dropped and toilet queue joined I finally caught up with Vicki. We had chatted on Twitter for about 3 or 4 years, and had even planned to meet up at this race 2 years earlier but with me bailing it never happened. It was good to see her as it is meeting all of the good peeps.

Time ticked on. There were 4 toilets and the men’s urinal thingy and it was obvious we were not going to make the start but then an announcement that was 1. Pretty much unheard of, and 2. A winner for us, came over the PA system. “Can those running the Return ticket half marathon, those with green bibs please go to the front of the toilet queue so we can start the warm up?” Brilliant!

Toilet visited, this was to be the first time I had run since MK (with the knee injury) and so I actually took part in the warm up. Me? I know. Shocking! I know!

It’s how I remember it

And from the warm up area we were told to move to the start. It wasn’t a start area as such, more just the other side of the tape, there was no Start bridge but there was a Finish not far away. Music blared out at us and we looked around. There was about a 200 of us for this event (the Return Half), maybe a little more looking around, jogging on the spot. There was no chip timing, this was gun time and they would be writing down my number as I crossed the finish. But until then I had the small matter of 13.1 miles to negotiate. Countdown from 10 and we were off.

The Race

The race started in the park and you ran an L-shape from the start to a gap in the fence that took you down and to a footbridge over a road. The park had quite a few ankle twisting divots and holes. They are marked with orange paint, and you need to have your wits about you. Jen stepped down into one when we hit the second water table at the start of lap two. These are particularly dangerous unless looking for them.

Once out of the park there was a long slow climb up a slight incline along wooded paths. You hug the left hand side as the paths were not closed to the public and they were clearly a favourite of cyclists and runners alike. After a few hundred metres along the path you reach the first tunnel, and you do not really know what to expect. What you get though, is a nice concrete surface, pebbles on each side and about enough space to swing a cat.

You can probably just about fit people running 3 abreast running in opposite directions but it would be dangerous. As your eyes adjust to the dimness of the tunnel, despite there being overhead lights, you get shouts from cyclists bombing by. Some have lights, most were courteous and waited for a gap in the runners, some were fathers out teaching their young children how to cycle and doing a good job of weaving in and out of the runners, whilst, unfortunately others were the atypical Team Sky wannabe wanker cyclists I see riding in formation around Regents Park’s outer loop completely ignorant of other people’s safety.

The first tunnel is just a taster, 400M down and then up and I found that our pace sped up. You just don’t have a point of reference until you see the light at the non-proverbial end of the tunnel. Until then it is just coolness, your footsteps and other people’s breathing. It is odd but you can hear other people’s breathing. I run breathing through my nose ordinarily, and quite stealthily, so when I suddenly heard huffing and puffing around me I questioned if I was having an asthma attack. But no. It was someone either  ten feet behind or ahead panting away and I was getting the echo.

Out of the first tunnel you are back into the sunshine again, and it was sunny, despite supposed rain and a few spots at the start. The stench of cowslips and other wet foliage greets you and you pass through more tree lined paths before the main event – the big tunnel. The second tunnel is 1600M long, a good mile. So when you think about it, we were going to run through it twice in each direction, so there are four miles of the course done and dusted just through one tunnel alone.

And I think that is what I took from it, in the tunnels you kept going, and actually speed up. you are motivated. They have the distance to each end of the tunnel on the floor so you can see progress at 100m intervals. But then out it was only so long before you hit the next tunnel again. From the second tunnel, with its music half way and chilly deepest point, you are, once again, out into wooded paths and the only water and food stop on the course. It had water and Isotonic drink in plastic cups, Jaffa cakes, oranges, bananas and jelly beans served by several cheery marshals. We paused for a drink and then continued up the path to where the turnarounds started. First you had the turnaround point for the 10ks then further along the turnaround for the Return ticket half, whilst the Hilly Ticket went out into the hills. The 5K doesn’t go through either tunnel, you turn around before the first (shorter) one. So it isn’t really a Two Tunnels race IMHO.

Turn around and back the way you had run – wooded paths, water stop, long tunnel, wooded path, short tunnel, wooded paths, few foot bridges and then back into the park for the other water table (same goodies on this one), avoided ankle breaking divots and holes ringed by orange paint, and then back out to repeat the course for the second lap.

Thoughts

I did like this event a lot. The organisers managed multiple events on the same day but with ease. There were different starts and bibs, so we, running the Return Half wore green bibs and went off first, then we would see grey bibs, red, blue and black bibs for the hilly half, return and hilly 10ks and 5K. Cyclists, not always with lights bombing down the tunnels, was not great and a bit of a hazard but they were no way near as bad as aggressive club runners, running 3 abreast, elbows out, when there is barely room for 2 abreast in each direction. It is not the Olympics, calm the hell down, elbows!

Elbows!

Timing wise this was not important although at one point I checked my watch and realised that we had run the first 9KM in 50 mins and I was feeling comfortable. I joked that at that pace I would finish Comrades in 8 hours. JOKE. Yes, definitely a joke. There was no official photographs at the beginning, end or on the course and, to be fair, there would have been no room in the tunnels anyway to fit a normal sized photographer. We did stop though a few times for selfies and to capture the course as it really was unique. I had wanted to slow my pace at times and walk but my super pacer (Jen) wouldn’t let me and so we ran the whole thing together from start to finish, and then it became a day for meetups.

Having met Victoria (@Toria_80), and travelling down with Jen (@_Jen_Mo), it was already a great day for the peeps. I then met up with Jane (@HayJaney), who I had met and donated chips and a drink to at Chester last year, before a tap on the shoulder at the midpoint and a “you are RunnersKnees” from Carol (@Chlebbi) who had seen me at Brighton. We also met up with Jacky (@RoadRunnerJacky) too at the end before a hot chocolate from the superb coffee stall, can of coke and started the hunt for a pub to have lunch at. Always good to see the Twitter peeps. Everyone is so supportive and you cannot help but feel like you are part of something special being part of #ukrunchat.

Oh, and then an unexpected comedy highlight. We got into a conversation with a lady in the line for the loos. She also played the race shirt bingo that I do on the way to work, spotting shirts for races she had done and looking out for good ones. After we had finished, changed, seen the others, had a hot chocolate and were heading out we saw her again climbing the hill toward the finish line. We cheered her on, calling out “well done” and “not far to go” to which she said “thank you, toilet queue people.” And no, this will not become our new nickname.

Bling

The bling, much like the Bath Skyline races, is one of a series that fit together. This one you have 4 options that when interlinked become a pyramid! Say it ain’t so! You can choose the medal you want (1-4) with the ribbon of the race you did. I am not sure that I will get to run 4 races in this series, but I am certainly considering another later in the year. As you can see above, this is one of 4 medals that make a pyramid. A freaking pyramid! And it is the best one of the four, as it has the locomotive on it.

In Summary

It was very relaxed and very well organised. If anything the lack of chip timing and race photographer saved money (it was only £20) and removed additional stresses. It was calm. Jane coined that it felt as relaxed as a large Parkrun and I tend to agree with her. I have run races where several events happen at the same time and it can be tricky to pull off. They did it very well, and with such a narrow course, there was not too much bunching. Other than the aggressive club runners, the only issue we had was running into what would have been the last race of the day, the slowest 10K or 5K. We hit them as we ran from the final tunnel, all bunched together and taking up the whole path so Jen, me and the runner behind me had to go single file to get by and not collide with them.

I like the event, the coffee van and burger vans were great, all the staff too, the toilet queue jump was excellent and unexpected, the bag staff cute, and I think we unanimously voted that this was a winner. I seem to recall, as were even running it, that Jen mentioned she loved it and would want to do it again, and we hadn’t even finished at that point. Pretty unheard of.

And with no BUPA London 10K this year due to my travel to South Africa for the Comrades race this became my 136th medal for my 100th race in 5 calendar years running.

Would I recommend the Relish Running Two Tunnel events? Yes, I would. It is a very unique experience running through those tunnels. Forget the underpasses of MK, or the road tunnels of London, these are something completely different and fun.

Would I run the Relish Running Two Tunnels again? Yes, I think there is a PB chance here. The surface and route would definitely give me the chance to break the 10 or half records set in my dark and distant past.

NEXT UP:

Advertisements

One Comment Add yours

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s