The opportunity to run around Brands Hatch Grand Prix circuit is something that most local running and motorsport enthusiasts should jump at. The moment I saw the inaugural British Heart Foundation Brands Hatch Half Marathon I signed up. I knew it would be no easy run, and definitely not a Personal Best, but having watched hundreds of car races around the circuit over the years I had to take part.
The circuit itself was a joy to run on. The track is very springy and so is easy on the feet and the knees, and I know what most corners look like from taking photographs trackside but the view was even more stunning from in the middle of the corners. The course was anti-clockwise, so against the normal direction of races (although the same direction as the cars original raced in the early 1930s).
The race itself was tough. It was very hilly, very windy, and the off-circuit sections were very muddy. There was definitely something for everyone and the field oscillated around as different people took to their favourite combination of conditions as and when things changed. The track itself was hilly, the off-circuit sections were muddy, and the wind battered the runners hard everywhere else.
I got caught out at the start by the camber on the pit straight. I always thought it looked perfectly flat on television and from trackside but as the race started I found myself sliding to the left as the banking caught me out. Also many of the corners were a lot steeper than I was expecting – the climb through Clarke Curve, the dip in the middle of Stirlings, and the climb to Westfield, were all a surprise.
The run up to Druids from Graham Hill Bend was my favourite section of the whole course. It was steep, but the kink on the exit of Druids made a really nice picture, and we were running into the sun so there were the shadows of the trees and the shadows of the runners all reaching out. The exit of Druids was daunting as you could see Paddock Hill Bend approaching but that was nowhere near as tough as I was expecting.
The race had the full range of runners, from those who sprinted off into the distance in the first few hundred metres, to many half marathon regulars like myself, and then those who were taking part because this is a charity event and were giving it their all. The event was a joint 10k and half marathon so it was difficult to tell who was on what lap and was in each race, but we just got on with it.
The spectators were allowed to roam free and, although many of them stayed along the Brabham Straight or on the approach to Graham Hill Bend, a few ventured out too further parts of the circuit. Many spectators were encouraging on the runners and also the runners themselves were very well-mannered and thanking the spectators as they passed by. A runner will always appreciate any shout of encouragement.
I started to hit the wall after about 12 miles and so the final lap of the Indy circuit was tough, particularly towards the end with a final climb up Paddock Hill Bend, and my feet were really hurting. It really helped to have a good knowledge of the circuit though as I knew exactly what was coming up and where I could push and where I would need to back off.
I got a text message soon after crossing the finish line saying that my time was 1 hour 52 minutes 57 seconds. This was a nice surprise – I had been hoping for 1 hour 45 minutes, and early on I was on course for that time, but during the second half of the race I really struggled with the wind and knew my pace had dropped off slightly, so was very happy to still be well under two hours.
I would happily do this event again. It was a well-organised event, there was lots of information on the day and it was clear what we should be doing, and the spectators and the supporters all very much got into the occasion. And then there was the opportunity for hot food, and a pint for those who really needed one, in the Kentagon restaurant afterwards.