The Selsdon Half Marathon

The Selsdon Half Marathon took place on 24th March 2012. It is a quirky little race, but not one for the faint-hearted, organised by the Mormons who like to keep the Sabbath day (Sunday) holy by not participating in sports events. Fair enough.

The course map on the website looked convoluted to say the least with numerous twists, turns and road crossings. The start and finish was located at the Church meetinghouse just outside Croydon in not-so-leafy Surrey.

Saturday morning. Judgement day. It was warm and spring had just about sprung. I rubbed some ointment on my nagging shin splints, peeled my top off to reveal the classic LERC ‘86 vest, did a few stretches and set out on a little warm-up jog. By the time I got back the race director was making a few announcements on the ‘p.a.’ including advice about keeping on the paths, off the roads and the fact that a loop had been added as last year’s course was short. Then he handed the microphone over to the bishop who said a prayer for the runners asking God to keep us safe. We were soon going to be mighty grateful for this blessing. Then the congregation moved towards a giant blue inflatable and I stood underneath it searching for a non-existent start line in front of 145 runners.

Countdown. Horn. Garmin buttons pressed and we were off. I found myself setting the pace alongside a group from South London Harriers - an athletics club who’s stomping ground includes the track at Crystal Palace. A surprise sprinter, who I later found out to be Vasiley Veselin, suddenly surged forward and gained a big lead over the pack, but the South London boys were unimpressed and the one next to me said: ‘He won’t keep that up!’ The first mile was a fast downhill completed in 6 minutes despite circumnavigating roundabouts and crossing a tramline via a series of zigzagging pedestrian barriers. I lost my place in a demented dual carriageway crossing, somehow colliding with a bemused lad innocently waiting on the other side of the road.

The first steep hill past Addington golf course saw more runners pushing ahead of me and with barely 2 miles completed negative thoughts started bubbling up in my brain, however, ‘If only I’d done more hill work on the M1 bridge’ was not one of them. The first feed station sadly did not include bread, wine or holy water, but at least the ground was flatter and I started reeling in one or two runners.

Marshals stood by pedestrian crossings, seemingly ignored by both motorists and runners alike as we glanced behind and took our chances. You certainly had to have faith. It might not be a ‘pb’ course but were they seriously expecting us to push a button and wait for the green man? My split time had improved with sub-6 minutes in the fifth mile but then a steep descent and a sharp right meant you had to slam the brakes on, or risk ending up on a car bonnet. The nightmare continued with four roads converging at an evil road junction and a solitary marshal looking up - presumably hoping for divine intervention. After turning left on to a long straight on Brighton Road and passing the 6 mile marker, things started to improve, but then the runner ahead carried straight on at The Red Deer pub instead of taking the left fork. There were no marshals, or signs, at this critical point and when he reappeared just in front of me I apologised for taking a sinful short cut, not knowing that I had followed the righteous path. It later transpired that most of the lead runners went off-route on two or three occasions. Was this a case of the blind leading the blind?

The next section through a non-descript residential area was without incident apart from being overtaken by another South London Harrier. I was still waiting to behold the ‘beautiful Surrey countryside’ as described on the race website. After another climb, I was surprised to see Vasiley Veselin who must have gone way off course. I was starting to follow when a marshal appeared like a vision and called to turn left, so I turned back and headed down past Ribblesdown train station. By now it was getting hotter so at the next water station I grabbed a bottle, slurped and self-baptised myself.

The water station was located at the bottom of another steep hill and at the end (the 9 mile mark) my mile split dropped to over 8 minutes. The next three miles was a constant battle with a runner called Des Connolly. He would pull away uphill and I would catch him going downhill. I knew there was a big climb in the last mile so I had to put some distance between us. Most of the time we were shoulder-to-shoulder but at the next water station along a woodland track, Des (or the marshal) fumbled his drink and that gave me a little advantage. Pushing on downhill and turning on to Old Farleigh Road the gap had been extended but then the final hurdle loomed ahead. Sarah, my one and (I hasten to add) only wife, was here to offer a few words of support. Keep pushing. Head down and soon the land started to level out with the final speedy descent towards the finish … but wait! Footsteps behind and Vasiley Veselin is overtaking at speed. Sweet Jesus! Where did he come from?

I finished in 1:29:47 and fifth place but the three women recording the times must have been having a prayer meeting because they failed to notice me. Anyway the error has now been corrected. Amen.

Richard Ford

This report was brought to you by pabc


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