Yesterday I ran my final race of 2019 – the Hertfordshire Half Marathon. I signed up for this race months ago and, despite training for it, I never intended to use it as a PB attempt. Instead after a year of injury set-backs, my main aim to to use it as a fitness test before I start training for next May’s Edinburgh Marathon.
Although I knew I wouldn’t PB, I was still hoping to get a sub-2 hour time, so I was a little disappointed when I crossed the finish line in 2 hrs 2 mins. Now looking back, especially considering how hilly the course was, which I’ll explain in more detail below, I’m happy with the fact that I managed to run the whole course without giving in to walking once, even on the toughest hill. I’m also pleased with the fact that I came 30th out of 100 in my category and 215th out of 620 women.
The Hertfordshire Half Marathon is a small race and there was only just over 1,500 runners on the day. The small number of runners means that late entries are allowed and runners can sign up for the race in the final week. I signed up in the summer and I received my race number, chip and race day information through the post. Those who sign up in the final week have to collect their number and chip on the morning of the race.
In the lead up to the race the event organisers kept in contact via email and their website included all the race day information needed as well.
Race day morning
Luckily after a week of cold and rainy weather, the morning of the race was perfect running conditions. The rain stopped, there was very little wind and the temperature was cold but, as someone who feels the cold easily, I wasn’t shivering waiting at the start line in a t-shirt.
The Hertfordshire Half Marathon starts and finishes at Knebworth House, which is located in stunning grounds. I got there early, parking up at about 7.30am for a 9.30am start. Parking was free and on fields close to the event village. Although small, the village had lots to offer runners and spectators including hot drinks, food and massage area. I didn’t get a massage, which were free, or any food but I did get a pre-race coffee to keep me warm while I waited. Even though it was a small race there was a stage with a band playing music as a pre-race build up and a host helping to get runners motivated.
There were lots of toilets and the queuing didn’t take too long, even 30 minutes before the race and the baggage drop off was organised and efficient.
About 20 minutes before the start there was a warm up which is a fun way to help get runners ready for the race.
The race didn’t start in waves, but a race official read out times so that runners could enter the start pen in roughly the right position for their target time. Once at the start, it didn’t take long for the race to begin, so runners didn’t get cold.
Generally the atmosphere in the village before the start was friendly and the area was well organised with lots of people about but not overly busy.
The Hertfordshire Half Marathon course
The Hertfordshire Half Marathon is not an easy course but I really enjoyed it. The first two miles take runners around the grounds at Knebworth House and these miles are pretty easy, but once outside the grounds and into the countryside it is constantly uphill and downhill. For an idea of what it was like, take a look at the elevation that was recorded by my garmin.
The route is closed roads the whole way round, which makes it a relaxed run where you don’t have to worry about traffic and can instead just enjoy the race. In addition to this, the route is through beautiful countryside and pretty villages, so the view is lovely the whole way round. And the fact that it is closed roads means that runners can wear headphones if they want to – although most chose not to. Three water stations were positioned around the course with water handed out in bottles and from what I could see there was plenty available for all runners.
The Hertfordshire Half Marathon is such a tough course because a lot of the toughest hills come towards the end of the race. Just after the nine mile marker, when my legs were already tired after constant uphill running, there was a lovely downhill section but a foreboding steep hill soon loomed in the distance. I managed to power up the hill, but getting to the top completely destroyed my legs. And I still had just over three miles to go.
This hill was followed by a few downhill sections but a lot more uphill running. It made the last three miles a huge challenge but I managed to keep going and, with just over half a mile left, I turned into the grounds of Knebworth House. Then a happy race marshal told us it was all uphill from here! And she wasn’t lying. The final half mile to the finish was an uphill struggle that made runners work for that finisher’s medal.
While the course was tough, the atmosphere was great as runners weren’t taking the race too seriously and instead just having fun, with a few stopping for selfies along the way. There was music at a few sections on the course, but apart from that it was quiet with only a handful of spectators once away from the start and finish line. Although I enjoy large, popular races with cheering spectators lining the course, I also like the quieter ones and really enjoyed just being able to run a half marathon on closed country roads surrounded by other runners.
Probably because it is a small, quiet race on a challenging course, the Hertfordshire Half Marathon was clearly more popular with experienced runners than first-time half marathoners. There were lots of running club members taking part and the majority seemed to be seasoned distance runners. But it was also a very friendly race and, because it isn’t a fast, flat course, most runners weren’t aiming for a PB and instead were just there to have fun, making it a good race for those doing their first half marathon. If it is your first, be warned the course is challenging, so having a good training plan that incorporates hill running is a must.
The finish line
After finally making it up that final hill, the finish line was in sight. The last 100 meters is relatively flat so you can do a sprint finish if you have enough energy left. I didn’t! Once over the finish line you get a medal, t-shirt and can grab water and food. Once I was through the finish area I quickly headed to the baggage tent to get some warm clothes on. The baggage area was much busier and the officials let some people into the tent to get their bags, but they tried to keep most runners outside, giving bags to runners who waited outside the tent. I was able to go inside to collect mine and I quickly threw on some layers before heading back to my car.
Leaving the grounds was quick and although there was a little queue out of the exit, considering there were over a thousand runners it didn’t take long to leave.
Would I recommend the Hertfordshire Half Marathon?
For those who like fast, flat courses with the atmosphere of large races and spectators lining the course then this race would probably be a disappointment. But, if you are an experienced distance runner looking for an end of year challenge then this is a great race to do.
It is well organised, has a good atmosphere and the medal looks great. It also has the added bonus of providing free race photos. The registration fee was £32 which for a half marathon, with full road closures and a finisher’s medal, t-shirt and free race photos is good value for money.