Labelled as a “fast, flat and accurate course on roads through the hop fields and orchards of Kent”, the Paddock Wood half is Kent’s largest half marathon, and takes place just 15minutes from my house.
Promising “excellent facilities including ample parking, local train station, supervised baggage store, refreshments, physiotherapist, Start & Finish Chip Timing”, plus results immediately after the event and full First Aid cover, the Paddock Wood half marathon is regularly voted amongst the best races in Runners World Top 100.
I’ve never taken part, purely because of the super-strict headphone-ban rule, but thought that I might be able get away with AirPods under a headband like I did at the Tunbridge Wells half in February. So, I paid the generous £23 entry fee and ordered a bespoke technical t-shirt for £10, to be collected on the day. The race pack – with timing chip, race number, baggage tag and information – arrived through the post a week or so prior.
So on Sunday 7th April, I paid £5 to park in the Compaid charity car-park in Paddock Wood, which was a 2minute walk to the start line. There were plenty of portaloos – with a long queue which quickly diminished – and the start area had timing slots with pacers.
The weather was dry and mild – perfect running conditions! I wore a Karrimor base layer, Tunbridge Wells Harriers club vest, Runr buff, Nike headband, Nike gel pouch, Primark mesh leggings and black 1000 Mile trainer socks with Brooks Ghost 7 trainers, resulting in a super comfortable outfit. I’d had porridge, a banana, orange juice, and a cup of Beanies coffee for breakfast, along with two Clif Energy Bloks and Sports Jelly Beans; and felt super positive and full of energy.
I hadn’t looked at the route map beforehand, so it came as a surprise (which I prefer!). The course is flat and scenic, past orchards and pretty fields. There were more than enough water stations (and sponge stations – had never come across these before!) which were all well-managed. Friendly marshals cheered us on, and there were pockets of spectators around the course – some were handing out Jelly Babies which I took advantage of around mile 10, which saved me from having to use my second energy gel! The first gel (a yummy Torq strawberry yoghurt) was consumed around mile 6.
For the first few miles of this race I felt as though I was full of beans and super speedy – I was over-taking people and maintaining a good pace. I was well ahead of the 2hr pacer, and a runner with a Garmin in front of me said that we were running to a 1:50 finish. I couldn’t believe it, as my PB is exactly 2:00. I ran with my friend Katie at the beginning and in the middle, and then I held back and started to flag around mile 8 or so. My legs felt tired and heavy, and I began to struggle. At mile 11 I heard the 2hr pacers approaching from behind, and tried to pick up the pace to keep in front. At mile 12, one of the 2hr pacers called my name and I turned around and realised that it was my friend Darren! He shouted encouragement all the way to the finish line, and it was honestly the fastest/hardest mile I’ve ever run – but I ended up with a PB of 1:59! I was so, so pleased. If I had been running alone, I would have slowed right down and taken my time, and probably ended up with a 2:00 – 2:01. It’s amazing what you can do, and achieve, when you really push yourself (and have additional support)!
There was another runner who ’lifted’ me at the end – a very sweet man who saw me slow and struggle on the slight incline over the bridge towards the finish line, and he held out his hand and pulled me up! He told me that I’d never forgive myself if I slowed down now; and he patted me on the back and told me to get moving because he didn’t want to over-take me. That, combined with Darren in my ear, helped me so much.
I never thought that I would have it within me to be a sub-2 runner, and I’m super grateful to Darren and the lovely man for helping me.
Overall the atmosphere of the Paddock Wood half was fantastic – it was energetic, fun, buzzing, and I really enjoyed the experience. The event seemed well organised and well-managed; and it was easy to collect my pre-paid event t-shirt at the end. The medal is bespoke and chunky, and there were bananas and bottles of water handed out at the finish line. I’d definitely take part again, and would recommend this event to others. Loved it!
NEXT UP: Hildenborough Road Races, Monday 7th May 2019