What are friends for?

What are friends for? Or a bit of writing about the Windsor Trail Half Marathon.

Before the Race

Windsor Trail Half Marathon Finish Arch“I don’t think I’m going to finish”, “I’ll be pleased if I do 16km”, “I don’t want to start yet lots of people will overtake me”.

These are just a few of the pieces of nonsense I heard from my friend and running superstar Liz in the lead up to the Windsor Trail Half.

You are probably thinking “some friend you are” after I call her doubts nonsense, but this is the girl who turned up at a 10km last summer (I wasn’t expecting her), greeted me with “oh I haven’t run in 6 weeks, this is going to be painful, I’ll see you at the finish”. Then promptly over took me in the first 3 miles and bagged herself a PB – natural running ability, see.

I’d won us the places to this race and did feel a little responsible for her doubts. When I heard she’d done parkrun all guns blazing the day before I felt a little less sympathy. My response to her doubts was “let’s run together, chat and just enjoy ourselves, I’ll stay with you”. She is wayyyy quicker than me, so I wasn’t worried about this even on her sore knee, doubts and “lack of training”.

Thanks to the lovely community that Leah set up, Team Naturally Run, I also knew that Katy, Beki and Lucy where running. So there were plenty of friendly faces to see in the event village and plenty of pre-race chat. The communications coming from F3 Events were contradictory at times, (how the waves were set up and what the chip was) so it was great to be able to calm our worries by bouncing off each other.

Windsor Trail Half The superstar that is Katy, cycled over to mine and joined us for the road trip down to Windsor and bagged herself an epic half marathon time. We tried to keep up with her but she was just too speedy – and only 6 weeks after her marathon debut at London. We managed to grab this running selfie though, where I tactfully shove my water bottle in front of Liz’s face.



The Start

Pre race selfie Windsor Trail Half MarathonI’ve got ahead of myself a bit there, let’s go back to the start, bit of Coldplay, anyone? Whoops, Digressed again. Katy and I arrived early and had a snoop around the race village, there wasn’t much but the sun was shining and we relaxed in the atmosphere, trying to spot the other girls.The queue for the portable toilets was large but quick moving, it’s a shame because there were public loos with no queue on the edge of the park but no signposts to let people know.

Whilst snooping around we had a peek in at the baggage collection (we didn’t use it) and spotted buckets of medals and water for the finishers hiding under the finish marquee. We also spotted a large collection of trophies ready for winners!

At this point I was a big fan of the race and organisation, everything was running smoothly, with the village on the Windsor side of the Thames and the start on the Eton side there was plenty of room.

F3 Events had decided on a Laissez-Faire attitude to start times, waves were implemented but you could choose when to start. As people started milling to the start (really well sign posted) we found Liz, who KT taped up her leg as her knee had been bothering her. Later on we put this down to a bad case of half-maranoia.

A bucket of medals Windsor Trail Half MarathonWindsor Trail Half Marathon Trophies


Windsor Trail Half Finish Over on the Eton side, it was impossible to hear the race director who was shouting random facts about the route over the crowd. Buy a megaphone! We loitered near the back, I had planned to head off in the 8:30 wave (get to the food quicker) but Liz’s nerves were kicking in and with a little coercion we got into what I think was the 8:45 wave, it was a bit chaotic. I’m not entirely sure when we started. One of the snippets we did manage to hear from the race director was that there was a fallen tree on route.

The Race

As I mentioned earlier, we set off as a threesome, chatting away, until my legs started slowing and Katy’s legs started having a party so I left her to disappear into the distance. This is the point were I started boring Liz’s ear off. As a side note, I love that there is an unwritten and unspoken acceptance that you don’t ‘have’ to stay with your friends. If you’ve got it in you, go for it. We hadn’t discussed our race plan, just going on what we felt like and I felt a surge of pride and happiness as I saw Katy disappearing round a bend. If I’d thought she’d hear me I would have shouted “you go girl!” Running’s not a team sport, but we can be a ‘team’ by merely supporting each other.

I used to work in Windsor and live in Eton so I know the area fairly well, but this was back before my running days so the trail are a mystery to me. I was able to point out a few things on route. We went past the Riverside Brasserie in Bray where I have eaten one of my best ever meals. The beautiful Oakley Court on one side of the river and could peek through the trees to a Human Race Triathlon on our side of the river.

I had heavy legs but the beautiful weather, scenery and chats with the darling that is Liz kept me going. We got to the half way point where you pop out and run about 15m next to a road before turning back on to the lanes. This was all well marshalled and signed. I had no problems with navigation at any points on the race, despite not looking at the route. Liz was very kindly periodically encouraging me to go on ahead and it was just after the half way point that I realised I just didn’t have it in me, even if I’d wanted to.

I won’t go on about how I felt but honestly I couldn’t have got through the second half without having Liz there by my side, we chatted about her upcoming wedding, faddy diets, how much our legs were hurting and I convinced her to do stupid things for the photographers.

F3 Events Windsor Trail Runs, May 2014 by SussexSportPhotography.comA big shout out goes to Sussex Sport Photography who as well as capturing Liz and I’s last half marathon together, where we also crossed the line at the same time despite not seeing each other until the final km (well Liz saw me, I was slowing down big time) this time they had photographers EVERYWHERE on the route. I now have 48 pictures of Liz and I to cherish!

Near the end we ran alongside the lovely Jubilee River, I pointed out Slough and the castle to Liz to show her how close to the finish we were. Luckily I was carrying a water bottle as the last but one water station had run out and was only carrying gels. Liz was getting thirsty near the end but we pushed on as it felt so close.

At this point we weren’t running exactly together, one of us would be ahead then the other would catch up, some bits of the trail were single file so the one in front couldn’t be completely sure of where the other was, but we always re found each other. I think as my legs were giving up, Liz was finding hers (superstar, I told you!). In the last few km we got stuck, stuck behind a women with headphones in taking up the whole path. A polite “excuse me” followed by a loud “excuse me” did nothing to phase her or get above her music and I was forced to run up and round on a steep incline. No acknowledgement and little did I know she then ignored Liz trying to get past her who had to do the same. gahh.

Windsor Trail Half Finish2The Finish

Just over 1km to go and we were still on the wrong side of the river,we coaxed each other up the ramp to the top of the bridge, passing a few walkers (yay!) and I took full advantage of the momentum on the way down. We turned past Windsor Leisure Centre before running the last few wiggly 600 odd metres to the finish. We started running past lots of pedestrians, children playing, supporters, people scoffing in cafes. After such a lovely quiet run together in the glorious sunshine this seemed quite an affront on the senses and I found it a bit disorientating. Watching someone bite into a hot dog I suddenly came over in a bit of dizziness and quite a lot of pain. I stopped, reluctantly. The marshalls and spectators shouted at me “only 200m to go” (I think, I wasn’t really listening) ” come on you are nearly done, you can do it”. I was about to spit some horrible sarcastic, anguished reply to these lovely, well meaning people when I realised Liz had stopped, she said exactly the words I needed to hear to get me going again.

As soon as we started running again we saw my boyfriend David, her fiancée Steve and Katy cheering us and taking pictures, we both managed a sprint finish for them, the crowds and ourselves before launching through the very short finish funnel. I collected my medal and then was surprised to be given nothing else. The water I had spied earlier on had run out, the red bull promised in the pre event info was no where to be seen and there was NO sustenance, not even a banana. They had been giving out copious amounts of SIS gels on the course (Which neither Liz nor I use) but hadn’t had the foresight to provide us with a simple banana at the end. We were Rungry! We caught up with Katy, David and Steve and I suddenly remembered I had bought cakes with me – thank goodness with our sugar levels at such a low I think we would have had to send the boys off for food!

We relaxed in the sun in Alexandra Gardens basking in the warm after glow of a run well done. We weren’t quick, it wasn’t pretty (in the effort-sense), but we ran 21.2 km and had a flipping good catch up while we were at it. Katy was sat on her empty goody bag, “dang” I thought, I missed out on one of those. Not really, all it contained was two leaflets – what a waste of plastic.

After the Race

Once we could move again and had rehydrated from the water bottles we had in our handbags, we headed via a whistle stop tour of Windsor for Katy to the fabulous Two Brewers for a Sunday lunch and great beers/ciders.

Windsor Trail Half SmilesWe kind of brushed off the problems at the start and finish because we had enjoyed the route so much, it was only later on in the day when we got home that the shine really came off the day. Turns out StuWeb Timings didn’t turn on the mats at the start so the only time they have for us was 8:30 – finish. Pretty off for those of us that started in the later waves. I know about this because I got an apologetic email from StuWeb Timings (not F3 Events), Katy and Liz got no email. As of today I still have no time for the race, but the really shocking thing is that I haven’t had an email apology from F3 Events (they have on FB and twitter though) and then I hear they are deleting complaints from their Facebook page and have asked people to not post complaints there. I’m really disappointed with the way they have dealt with the situation.

I met Liz later on in the week and she felt a similar disappointment, she bought up the case of Run to the Beat who gave out t-shirts to runners when they acknowledged all the mistakes they had made. Liz also bought to my attention the reviews on Runners World for the Windsor Trail Half. I saved reading them until after I had written this post, because I wanted to write about my experience and not be swayed by anyone else’s opinion.

I had a great run in the sunshine with a friend. It reminded me what friends are for and that I should really cherish those close to me, that support me and introduce me to fab hobbies like running. Honestly Liz you’ve changed my life and I couldn’t have done any of it without you. Running has been such a gift to my life and bought me so much joy.

My takeaway from this post for you, reader,  is that. Cherish your loved ones.

If you want more of a proper breakdown about the race Laura wrote about the race last year and it seems they were more prepared for their finishers. I really think you need to make your own mind up about this one. I wouldn’t condemn it but I wouldn’t run it again. If you fancy it have a good read up, or grab some pals and do the route yourself.

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  1. Laura says:

    Great write up Steph. It’s a good look at how races aren’t all about speed and time and the water stations, but about getting out there with friends and enjoying it.

    That said the race organisers didn’t seem to even bother with the basics! There really is no excuse for that these days when there are lots of other lovely events to do.

    Also, their communication and feedback strategy is a lesson in what NOT to do these days! Listen. Communicate. Treat people like normal humans. Easy!

    • Stephanie says:

      Thanks Laura, I found it quite difficult to write as I did enjoy it, but I can see how it would ruin the day for you if you were going for a PB or didn’t have any water. The poor comms and social media was what really swung it for me. They have now offered all competitors £10 off any other event this year, which is at least something.

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