Half a marathon at Dorney Lake

Posted on: 25 Apr 2022

Well … you can’t win them all!  At my age you are lucky to win anything at all!  To explain - I had hoped to run the London Marathon in April 2020.  This would extend my marathon running career into a sixth decade.  As we all know, there was no London Marathon in April 2020.  Nor in April 2021.   Time was moving on, I wasn’t getting any younger and so I came up with a plan to run a marathon in April 2022, although it would have to be somewhere other than London.

I settled on the marathon to be held at Dorney Lake, near Windsor and Eton.  Dorney Lake, as I’m sure you already know is an Olympic sized rowing lake.  Indeed it hosted the rowing events (and the canoeing) at the 2012 Olympics.   The facility was actually built and is owned by Eton College.  This rather illustrates the inequality in the British school system, that a secondary school can own a sporting facility of national importance.  But anyway … Dorney Lake is a major centre for training and competitive rowing (and canoeing).  It also lends itself to running, cycling and swimming events as well as triathlons, duathlons (running and cycling) and aquathlons (running and swimming).  At the eastern end of the lake is a very grand boathouse which can be hired for weddings and conferences.  It did occur to me that it would be a great location for a parkrun but that is never likely to happen as there are other events happening here most weekends.

Free Dorney Lake parking to return for villagers - Maidenhead Advertiser

The parkrun course is on a horseshoe shaped lap.  You run up the southern side of the lake, on the outer path, do a loop around the top, then run back along the inner path.  You then run up the northern side, on the inner path, loop round and run back on the outer path.  The full lap comes to around 10.5 km.  You do that twice for a half marathon and four times for a full marathon.  It’s all on tarmac paths and fairly flat, just a few gentle undulations over bridges.  On the downside - there is very little spectator support, except as you come back past the boat house.  There is little change of scenery.  Most of the time you are staring down a long straight by the lake.  And because of the staggered start, you rarely have anyone running at the same pace as you, so most of the time you are running solo.  To be honest I think they could have started everyone together, seeing as there were fewer than 300 starters in the half and full marathons.  As it was the fastest competitors and the very slow started at 9 AM.  The 4 to 6 hour marathoners started at 10.  And those aiming for three to four hours (that’s me!) started at 11.

My day didn’t start too well.  There were roadworks on the M4, so the direct route to the lake was cut off.  I found myself crawling through Windsor in a long queue of traffic and for a while I was panicking that I wouldn’t make it on time.  Eventually I got there at around 10:15, collected my number and prepared to run.   I was concerned about the weather.  It wasn’t necessarily too hot but the sun was beating down from a clear blue sky.  Being naturally fair skinned and going thin on top, I can suffer in these conditions.  It didn’t help that I would be running through the middle part of the day and on a course where there was no shade whatsoever.

Off we went at 11 AM.  I settled into a gentle pace, which turned out to be just under eight minutes per mile.  There were only around thirty starters in my category and the group soon broke up so that for the remainder of the time I was running on my own, either passing the slower runners who had started earlier or being lapped by the faster runners.  The first lap went past in 51 minutes, which was slightly faster than I had planned.  I passed ten miles in 79 minutes exactly, which was fine.  Heading back up the lake for the fourth time I felt like I was struggling.  I was starting to overheat and getting a bit dehydrated.  There was only one drinks station at the far end of the lake.  I took a drink there and decided I would see how I felt when I got back to the boathouse, whether I would continue.  

I got to the halfway point in around 1:45.  I think I could have gone on for a few more miles but I really couldn’t envisage managing another thirteen miles in those conditions.  I was going to step off the course but the marshalls told me that if I turned into the finish I could register a half marathon time and still receive a medal.  So that’s what I did.  I was slightly disappointed that I didn’t make the full distance but also slightly relieved.  I did see a few runners needing the attention of the paramedics and I didn’t want to end up like that.

So I succeeded in running a half marathon but failed to make it to the full marathon.  Am I bothered?  No, not really.  I accept that at my age, I can’t do all the things I managed in my earlier years.  I have learnt to be content with whatever I do manage to achieve.  There might still be a full marathon left in me but I shan’t fret if it never happens.

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