Race date: Sunday 20th September 2020
I was lured in by the promise of an ice cream at the finish line.
Usually taking place in Cleethorpes, the Humber Coastal Half Marathon is hosted by Tape2Tape events, and having seen some reviews of the 2019 race it was on my wishlist for this year. I adore being by the sea, and a promenade final stretch followed by a well-earned ’99’ sounded worth running 13.1 miles for.
Then coronavirus hit and the decision to move the race to a virtual one was made. It seemed a bit too sad to run a coastal half in landlocked Sheffield, so I decided to still get my miles on the prom, give the run a bit more of a sense of occasion and tie it in with a long-awaited visit to see my grandad, who lives right on the coast in Sandilands, not far from Mablethorpe and a convenient 21km north of Skegness.
It was only the third time I’d attempted this distance, so even without the pressure of a race day environment I was a little nervous – but hey, it’s flat by the seaside, so at least it’s easy terrain, right?! I had high hopes of achieving a PB and visions of jogging calmly along by the waves in my element. The reality was far removed from my expectations.
Tape2Tape did everything within their power to make it still feel like a “real” race – a t-shirt, medal and race number were posted out, and they even shared a start line video to set us all off. My grandad dropped myself and my husband/running buddy off in Skegness, and we headed northwards up the England Coast Path National Trail. Straight into what BBC Weather described as a “fresh” 20mph headwind.
Aside from the gusty wind, itself a (naively unexpected) challenge to run into, the first few miles were as delightful as I’d expected. Flat, beach hut lined promenade, with gorgeous blue skies and stunning views of the sea. As we made it past Butlins, I was feeling good and easily on track to reach my target time. And then we came up against a big fence with an arrow directing us through the dunes. Turns out the England Coast Path is in large swathes simply the beach. Why I hadn’t anticipated this, I have no idea- we were lucky the tide was out! The first stretch was 400m of soft sand, so we bounced over it as best we could (this bit was quite fun actually, the novelty overriding the extra effort needed) and were soon back to just the bracing wind to contend with.
We reached the half way point, Chapel St Leonard’s observatory, bang on target. I was still hopeful at this stage that I could stick to it and smash my PB, as long as there was no more sand. And then our next signpost told us the next 900m was on the beach. At this point the wind was really gusting too and so we decided to leave the seafront and headed a teeny bit inland onto the road for a little respite. Our attempts to get back onto the coastal path reinforced our feelings that maybe this was more intended for walkers, with (you guessed it) more sand and waist high undergrowth to battle through. My legs began to get heavier and heavier with the extra effort and 10 miles in I had to have a little cry as my hopes of improving on my time slipped away and I considered ringing my grandad to come and fetch me. Luckily, my husband had a bag of wiggly worm sweets on hand and with a bit of a sugar in me and a good old fashioned pep talk that I hadn’t come all this way in difficult circumstances to not finish, I was able to carry on, albeit at a reduced shuffling sort of pace.
Once I accepted a PB wasn’t going to happen I let myself enjoy the rest of the race – there’s nothing quite like the sound of the waves to lift your spirits and there was some amazing wildlife to look out for with little birds and dragonflies galore. I soon recognised the next stretch as being the final section of our planned run – a few more sand dunes put paid to any sort of sprint finish but we made it to 13.1 miles and headed straight for a little paddle in the North Sea.
I finished in 2:22:17 – I was initially disappointed with this, but given the conditions and the fact that over 10% of the distance was on sand, I’ve since found some pride in myself for getting it done. Definitely my toughest run to date.
I never did get that Mr Whippy…
NOTE: the full results haven’t yet been published but may appear here