Confession: I’ve never watched the Boat Race. At least not live, as in standing by the river Thames between Putney and Chiswick and watching the crews of Oxford and Cambridge duking it out over the five miles of one of the oldest rowing races in the country. I’ve seen it on television but despite having lived in Twickenham, St Margaret’s, Richmond, Mortlake and the Putney end of Fulham, I’ve never ventured out. I mean, you get a better view on TV don’t you? A couple of strokes and they’re gone.
This year I might actually watch it if only in deference to the first ‘Boat Race’ of the year, the pilot event held by Fulham Running Club, last Sunday. Not only is it ridiculously handy for me, and run by my club, but it’s also on a route that couldn’t be more familiar to me unless it was ‘Two Bridges’, a 4-ish mile loop incorporating Hammersmith and Putney bridges. Starting outside Bishop’s Park, where Fulham Palace parkrun is held, past Craven Cottage, home of Fulham Football Club and then following the Thames Path all the way along the river, the course goes inland briefly before crossing Chiswick Bridge and heading back east through Barnes to Putney, across the bridge and back to Craven Cottage for the finish.
As this was the first time the club had held a race, entries were limited to 50 but as with all good events, the ratio of volunteers to entrants was excellent – in this case 26 high viz club members or friends who kindly got up at the crack of dawn (the day the clocks went forward as well), to register, time, marshall or be tail bike. In the end, there were 48 runners, with 24 men and 24 women.
As a ‘home’ race, I saw lots of familiar faces like Steph and Cat, and was pleased to see coaching client, Julia, ready for a marathon paced effort (with her pom-poms ahead of her fancy dress World Record attempt at London), and colleague Laura, also training for London (her first marathon), keen to try a new distance race and see some new scenery.
Although chilly in the morning March wind, I had a feeling the sun would soon be out so I took my sunglasses and perched them on my head just in case. After a short race briefing, we dropped off our outer layers and bags and trotted down the road to the start.After little delay a whistle went and we were off. Simply by standing next to Martin White, local speedster, I found myself at the front of the small field which felt a bit odd as a resolutely middle of the pack runner. However, the likely race winners soon sped off and I found myself running with fellow FRC runners Sydnee and Stephen. Sydnee had recently got a half marathon PB a minute faster than mine so she seemed like a good pacer.
We ran together and chatted occasionally for a couple of miles after which she dropped back slightly. By this time the leading group of about ten was out of sight so I focused on maintaining a hard-ish pace. I’d planned not to look at my watch too much for this race and for the most part managed to run on feel and still be fairly consistent. There was a slight diversion near Barnes Bridge but still no sign of any other runners until I approached Chiswick Bridge where I spotted Nick Marriage out on his own on the other side of the river, heading home.
Phil gave me a cheery wave as I hit the bridge and I looked back down the road behind me for the only time in the race to see Sydnee and Stephen no more than 30 seconds behind me. At the top of the bridge was Max who told me I was in 8th place which was a good incentive to keep the two behind me at bay for the second half.
On hitting the road at the bottom of the bridge steps however, I realised this wasn’t going to be easy. The relatively comfortable pace of the first five miles wasn’t just me feeling fresh. Apparently I’d been running with the wind, something which was now fully in my face as I headed east. Mentally, mile 6 was the toughest and I laboured a bit, comforted only by the fact that everyone would be feeling the same.
By the time I saw Rod and Richard at The White Hart (ideal vantage point for the actual Boat Race), I’d got over my little grump and had decided to attack a bit harder once past the road crossing at Barnes. Back on the towpath and with about 3.5 miles to go I kept pushing every time I felt like it was getting too easy. Maria was at Hammersmith Bridge and it was again great to see a familiar face en route.Just over two miles left.
I could feel my form going and tried desperately to focus on the path ahead and walkers to pick off, to overtake. One of the downsides of such a small field was that I hadn’t seen another competitor ahead of me since mile 2 which turned it into a somewhat lonely time trial. Now, I’m not the sort of person who needs a crowd of supporters or even other runners to motivate me, and by necessity I do most of my training alone, but this was tough.
Even maintaining my pace was now becoming hard and as I picked my way through the boats and throngs of people in front of the boathouses approaching Putney Bridge, I could hear a runner behind me. It was Stephen, looking annoyingly fresh and said “Good running,” hoping my voice would indicate I had tons in reserve for a storming last mile. I’m not sure it worked though as he glided effortlessly up the road as I did my best to up my pace.
The tiny incline of Putney Bridge felt colossal as I did my best to keep him in sight but if anything he was getting further away. Left into Bishop’s Park, a quick wave to Bob Lynam as I followed the parkrun route and out of the park back onto Stevenage Road.
A short sprint finish and I was done.“How did I do?” I asked Ilsuk, on timing duties.
Time – 1:15:55
Avg pace – 7.13/mi
Finish place – 9/48
Category M40 – 1/2
Plans are afoot to increase numbers next year but probably not by too much which is great as small events are special and increasingly rare in this age of expensive, commercialised races. A huge thanks to everyone involved, volunteering, supporting or running.I might go and watch the actual Boat Race this year. Bet it won’t be as good as this was though.
I almost forgot. Despite there being only two people in my category, I won a prize! You also deserve a prize if you can guess what it is from the envelope…