On Sunday, 13 November, I ran my 4th half marathon: the Poppy Half Marathon in Bexhill-on-Sea.
I had been looking for a half marathon on a flat road course near to where I lived in either Brighton or London. The Poppy Half fit the bill, and after seeing the late start time I knew it was the one for me! The fact the race helped to raise money for the Royal British Legion was icing on the cake.
The race start was at 1230 but I needed to pick up my race number and timing chip. Bexhill is only 1 hour away from Brighton but since we'd never been there before and I wanted to leave plenty of time, we decided to leave around 1000. Very civilized! There was no traffic all the way there and despite stopping for petrol, we were there in no time. Race info said that there would be plenty of free parking near the race, and how right they were! We had no problems finding a spot just a 10 minute walk from the start on the seafront.
Race HQ was set up right next to the Sovereign Light Cafe. There was no waiting for either my number or my timing chip. Easy peasy! It took seconds to pin on my number and then attach my chip using the neoprene and velcro strap.
No extra toilets were set up but the public toilets on the seafront were more than enough for a race of this size. After the shortest queue ever, almost no traffic, and quick registration-- I was ready to race with 45 minutes until the start at 1230.
Luckily it was a beautiful day in Bexhill, so I just tried to relax and enjoy the sunshine.
The day included some kid's races and by the time they finished, the start of the half was running a little late. But given the relaxed atmosphere and the fact we were practically right on the starting line, I wasn't worried. We started to line up quite casually in what felt to me like one of the smallest races I'd ever been in. (A stark contrast to the London Asics 10K with over 27,000 runners!) As expected there were no timing pens so I just lined up towards the back...and even then I wasn't very far from the start. With little fanfare....we were off!
The Poppy Half was on a looped course--4 times around to the start/finish line. The start was just off the coast road and after going back and forth across the seafront, we went up and around Polegrove park before we came back to the start. Each lap was 5.28 km, mostly flat except for the short--but relatively steep--ramp that took us up and down the seafront.
For most of the seafront route there were runners going in both directions, out and back. While there were a few barriers often times there were not, so the first lap a cyclist at the front the pack cleared the way to make sure people were staying to the left. We got the swing of it after the first loop around, but it did get a little more complicated once we started to get lapped, as we had to make room for both the lead runners and those coming from the other direction. At first I thought it was little strange for a cyclist to be leading the way, shouting. However, it definitely helped to keep things clear for the frontrunners and made sure we got out of the way when we needed to.
In general I would say the course was quite narrow, especially since there were still cars parked on the road in some places--but the race was small enough for this not to be a huge problem.
The looped course meant there were lots of opportunities for cheering as your friends and family could shout each time you went around. I thought the locals were really supportive too, often calling out people's race numbers (even mine!) for encouragement. The marshals were excellent, as their cheers never waned and they were also key to directing traffic. I was also surprised when the announcer called out our race numbers each time we started another loop! A real personal touch not possible in larger races.
Unlike the Dublin Half, I got a medal at the end. And I have to say it's one of the nicest race medals in my collection!
I thought the Bexhill Runners did a great job of organizing the race....except for one thing. A lone wheelchair racer had been allowed to join in amongst all the runners. While it's great he had the opportunity, it seemed strange to have him there at the starting line and then racing so close on a narrow course. The wheelchair racer also didn't seem very experienced. My fears were confirmed when he crashed into a runner just 1 mile into the race--quite hard too! I could hear her sobs just behind me as she tried to continue although I don't know if she finished.
I think the Bexhill Runners should have thought twice about this because in the end, runners' safety should have been considered first. I hope they will re-think this for the race next year.
A relaxed half marathon on the seafront, well-organized by the Bexhill Runners. A flat road course with PB potential. Extra points for overall ease in race logistics--no worries about parking or queues! Late race start due to Remembrance Sunday a bonus for those who struggle with early race starts. Like most club runs, this race has a great community feel. It's a race worth thinking about if you live near by and you don't mind a looped course.
Stats in 2011:
Date: 13 November
Entry Fee: £19
Number of runners: 570
Timing chip on neoprene ankle strap
Medals for every finisher
Technical t-shirts available for purchase