Robin Hood Half-Marathon – Review


Sunday 27th September 2015 (Start 9:30)


WHERE IS IT? Starts by the River Trent close to the cricket and Forest and County football grounds, leaves the city past the Castle, takes in both universities and Wollaton Park before returning to the river to finish.


This is a big event: as well as the Half there are other races, it’s a big field, and well-supported. The race village is large and has lots of catering and sponsors stalls and a substantial kit-tent by Sweatshop. The course is undulating with one major hill and shows the city off well.

It’s always this last weekend in September and more often than not is usually blessed with perfect autumn conditions, chilly to start but the Trent and parks looking glorious in the glittering sunshine.

Big event

Big event


Big. Over 7,000 people finished the Half this year, plus 1,200 in the full marathon and a mini-marathon for kids and families.


The race starts on the banks of the Trent at Victoria Embankment and after passing the station in the city centre turns at 1.5 miles to climb steeply up at the side of the Castle, and after a brief dip climbs steadily again for another mile until levelling out. After this you RH XXpass through the impressive Jubilee Campus of Nottingham Trent University before heading out past the ring road to Wollaton Park, with another climb (the park is beautiful at this time of year with huge golden trees just beginning to shed their leaves) and a chance to run on the grass at the side of the track if the throng of spectators leaves space.

Emerging from the park after 6 miles it’s back to the urban streets of Lenton before turning back out (and passing runners a couple of miles ahead of you already on their return) with a bit of a climb before dropping to run on gravel along the lakeside below the elegant buildings of the University of Nottingham. Exiting the park before 9 miles you are now passing the runners behind you heading out, back on a smooth long road to eventually pass below the Castle again for the run-in back to the Trent. Just before the final turn into the finish-stretch, the full-marathon people are directed off to the left to start their second half, and you wonder “maybe…. Maybe next year?”

Click here to see the route on my Garmin


Excellent. You get good bulletins by email in the runup to the event, including training and preparation tips and encouragement if you are fundraising.

On the day there is a changing space (too small this year) and the baggage deposit is well-staffed and efficient. The start is colour-coded according to your predicted finish times. The start often doesn’t go off very quickly and there can be a spell of hanging around, most likely because people are still arriving. This is the only main glitch: the site itself is very large with lots of parking, but access roads to it is limited to the two main approaches so there is usually a big tail-back in the hour and more before the start.

There are plenty of toilets although as always there are queues in the half-hour before the start: one good thing here is that for the gents there is a pen of temporary urinals. More practically, with a short jog away from the crowds, there is also a huge river and a couple of rows of large trees to serve as a last-minute facility (and in recent years it’s become quite normal for ladies to have a discreet squat before lining up – and why shouldn’t they, too!)

Once on the course there are lots of marshalls, and plentiful drink stations – crushable water pouches with the tabs already pulled by the staff and just needing a firm squeeze to drink or dribble over your head – clever! And at the end there are lots of helpers giving out goody bags as well as medals.

Traffic jams aside, this is a very efficient event.


£33.75 for non-affiliated runners; £29.75 for club runners. Not cheap, but on the whole the scale of the event and facilities it’s not out of step with others these days.


This is good. A large heavy good-quality medal; and (for an additional payment, not included in the race fee) good quality tech tee in short or long sleeves.

Shirt aShirt b








MORE INFO & ENTRIES and @RobinHoodHalf

JOHN’s two-penn’orth

Disclaimer. I can’t really be truly objective about this one: it was my first Half, it’s my home town, and this year was my 20th appearance at the event (including two Full 26.2). Even so, for the scale of the event, the challenging and interesting course, and the overall quality of the event, I would definitely recommend it.

This year I had had a good summer and was very well-trained with long-runs in the last weeks up to 16, 18 miles. I paced it conservatively to 9 miles (averaging 8:20/mile and cruising the hills; at 6 miles I had a proper chat with my body, and we agreed that if I still felt good at 9, I could let myself run. So I did: two miles under 8:00mins, and the last two under 7:20. I finished quick, breathing easily through mile 12 at 7:19 min/mile pace, and still on my toes through 13 at 7:17 pace. This was a special run for me, and those last four miles were just pure joy.

And another nice touch was that after the hill at 2.5 miles, I heard a call and had a tap on my shoulder, and there was McBreezy who I had finished with last year: how lovely of her to pick me out and say hello!

Best bitsTime

The new course; the scale of the event – a big field but clear enough to run your own pace after the first mile.

Worst bits

There were some moans about the hills… but not from me, I run hills all the time where I live, so I love that change in the rhythm of the run.

Could be improved by

Nothing really: the carpark queues are a pain but there’s not a lot they can do about that, and this big space by the river is a perfect setting for the start/finish.


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If a run is worth doing it’s worth repeating

September 1994. That was when we first met. And we have had a deep and meaningful relationship ever since: not always smooth, admittedly, but as the years have passed rather than become wearisome it has actually deepened.

That was the year I ran my first Robin Hood Half-Marathon in Nottingham, my home town. I had run the London Marathon (my first race event) that spring, and assumed that I would cruise a Half. And you can guess how that worked out.

So 17 Halfs, two full Marathons, and only two absences through injury, and here I am preparing to make my 20th appearance at the event.

Bling (Nottingham lace in the old days)


That either makes me a dull unadventurous bore, or maybe a loyal ‘keeper’ with an appreciation of the best of things. I like to think it’s the latter, given that I have not been exclusively faithful to Robin Hood; this will also be my 44th Half overall.

I love the distance of a Half: even if a regular runner it still demands some work and commitment, and is certainly demanding on the day (the 9-11 mile stretch never fails to be physically and mentally tough, and more than once I have paid for disrespecting the distance). But it is also a serious outing without the all-consuming disruption to body and family life which a full 26.2 demands.

And I would recommend Robin Hood unreservedly. It is a very big event, well-supported, in a fine and interesting city, and very well organised with excellent facilities on the day. Forced by tram-works in recent years, they messed with the course for a spell and even removed the city-centre sights and hills in a vain attempt to reposition as a speed course. But I’m glad to say the hills and heart of the course have now been restored: Nottingham was founded on the twin hills of St Mary’s and the Castle and it simply wasn’t right without them.

So I’m a repeater. Someone once said to me: “That’s a waste, why not try new courses?” Well, that’s like saying “Ive played that piece of music before and know what it’s like, so no need to hear it again.” Some pieces, whether Mozart, Bowie or Ellie Goulding just touch you and become more deeply intense the more you play them; so too, for me, with special runs.



Robin Hood, actually, is now far more than just the run itself. It is one of the fixtures in my year and this weekend in September – complete with the chill feel of an autumn morning and turning leaves – is as prominent in my year as my birthday or Christmas. So this weekend I will enjoy my rituals again. The early start and drive down an empty M1, until the sudden funnels of traffic approaching the carparks, my running mix playing loudly (as if I needed any more winding up!). The crowds and tannoy and arrival-cuppa from a stall while I look in the gear-tent. The changing and depositing of the kit-bag, and the warmups in the parking field. And especially the final strides away from the crowds along the Embankment, bursts of speed next to the misty Trent, glasslike apart from the silent graceful cut of the rowers. Now I’m ready to run.

And all of that simply cements Robin Hood more deeply into its special status.

So I have a special anticipation for “RH XX”. Not to the extent that I am putting any RH XXpressure on myself and I will simply enjoy the occasion. I am past racing and PBs these days, though I am in as good a shape as I have ever been: I have a timing plan and I will manage it for 12 miles… and then let myself go with whatever I have left.

And next year? Well I fancy some new races: the Rock-&-Run in Liverpool, Silverstone simply because it’s on the track, maybe another new Half somewhere else, maybe even 26.2 in the Autumn. Maybe, that would be Robin Hood. Or somewhere else, and I will be back for the Half again.

Whatever, I will be back.

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20 ways you can tell you’re a PROPER runner

(Note: This piece first appeared on Run Leeds, slightly abridged, in August 2015.)


WashingThere are things in your washing which no-one else but you will touch.

LaneYou look at a section of road or bridleway and think to yourself “That’ll go!”

Certain songs will always be the headsong for a particular run, and whenever, wherever you hear them you are transported back, trancelike, to that day when…

You have a drawer full of tech shirts with place names, logos, dates… They go with the box of medals. And the collection of crumpled race-numbers. And pile of space-blankets.

Love-HateYou have a love-hate relationship with one of these.

Driving along the road you check out every runner you see: their kit, their form, their pace, how hard they are working (… and of course, whether she/he is pretty/fit)

Meals are a case of whatever goes with your carbs.Need shoes

You still *need* one more pair of trainers (especially if there’s a bargain).

You have a collection of race photos with “Copyright” and “Proof Copyrightonly” stamped across them because you refuse to be mugged for the clean image (or, you don’t think you look as cool and athletic as it seemed in your head at the time). [Copyright]

When an evening with friends or a family event is being arranged, you silently calculate what runs will have to be rescheduled to maintain your mileage and activity levels.Memories

Some places are forever associated with special, lifetime-memory runs (Yose
mite National Park, Derwent Water round, Pollenca to Formentor, cliffs of Malta… or insert yours here).

You are not put off by the weather. In fact, the worse it is the more it reinforces your status as an athlete. And if there is fresh snow…. All weathersSnow

If you don’t ache a little when you get up in the morning something simply isn’t right.

You notice the colour of your pee and resolve to rehydrate. Dulux



When you travel with work you take your kit and get up extra-early to try out the canal-path or nearby park you’ve spotted.

Your calendar isn’t the traditional “Day/Month” but “n-weeks until that race”.

When a family holiday is being booked, you are thinking about where you can run to.

BeforeWhen you get new shoes they have a handover from the old ones. And the first thing you do is go find some mud to make them respectable.After


LineYou see this and HAVE to run along it, because in your head it is the blue line in your marathon.


And of course: if someone uses the “J-word” (as in “You’re a bit of a jogger, aren’t you?” or “How was your jog?”) you smile politely while masking your fury as you struggle with the urge to punch them.

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Race review: Harewood House Half Marathon


Sunday 8th February 2015 (Start 10:00)

 RECOMMENDED? Definitely (if you’re ok with trails!)

WHERE IS IT? Just a few miles due-north of Leeds on the A61, heading towards Harrogate.

Harewood House is a stately home standing in its own grounds, and the race takes place entirely within the private estate without needing to take to the surrounding lanes.

Harewood House, morningWHAT’S IT LIKE?

This is a fantastic trail course. Just one single mile is on tarmac, and that is part of the private estate. The rest is undulating tracks and grass. If you are purely a road-runner this isn’t for you; in fact if you occasionally go onto flat grass and paths in a managed public park it still may not be for you. It’s not a fell race, but nor is it a gentle jog in the woods. And there are hills, some of them quite harsh. The winning man came in at 1:23:26, the first lady 1:37:07, and the tail-enders around 3:30. This is a challenge, not a PB course.

Our day was a glittering winter morning, warmth in the sun in spots, but much of the ground still frozen hard and a bitter breeze. You may need a base-layer and gloves.


A medium-sized event with around 820 finishers. But this was the first year it has been run: if BHF are able to repeat it I suspect it will become much bigger, very quickly.

The Start

The Start


The course meanders in and out of itself to stay within the estate. It is simply perfect if you are a habitual trail runner; and beautiful too. Some of it is on Harewood’s public footpaths and bridleways (including some stretches of yours truly’s longer runs) but much of it on stretches which are not normally open to the public. Look to your left at 5 miles and you will see the Emmerdale set; look above and you will see the Red kites. You will weave in and out of the woods, skirt the Fish pond, see glorious – and sometimes new – views of the house, and run alongside pools and Kitefalls you haven’t had access to before. Much of the course is on grass and gravel track, some on wooded trails, some on open fields – just the sheep and you as you trust those in front of you know where the line is actually supposed to be.

And you will go up, and down, back up again, and down again – once in particular, approaching 7 miles I think, on a steep arm-wheeling bank with the house in the distance ahead of you. My Garmin measured 1,118 of ascent, slightly more than the pennine Hardrian’s Wall Half. Some of these climbs are long and steady, and a few are brutal; especially the short-sharp-shock to turn behind the house at 13 miles just when you don’t need it. Download Harewood Half map here.

Just perfect.



Excellent. The team at BHF do a great job and send out a high-quality race pack including letter and itinerary for the day, fundraising pack, and a booklet on their work. There are also reminders by email in the weeks before.

On the day, there is catering and plenty of BHF staff around the information and baggage tents. There are temporary toilets as well as the established car-park ones: long queues at one point, but there are plenty of trees and bushes beyond the carpark so no need to miss the start. On tip: Harewood only has the one access road, so be prepared to allow a few extra minutes to get into the carpark, and to leave at the end.

The only improvement I would suggest would be to partition off an end of the baggage tent for changing (especially at this time of year when its cold and breezy).

FEE: £26.00

Harewood medal

Harewood medal

BLING: Excellent quality tech t-shirt; the medal is more in keeping with a family fun-run than a serious Half.

BHF Shirt

BHF Shirt




JOHN’s two-penn’orth

Loved it. Just loved it. My 42nd Half-Marathon, this was a home fixture for me as I can reach some of the trails from home on LSR day: it was a joy to be able to explore some of the hidden corners, and big congrats to the organisers for keeping the whole course on the estate. After Hadrian’s Wall for my 40th and a great York Marathon last autumn, this was another one for the “special memories” category.

My chip time was 1:55:98, Garmin (at 13.34 miles) showed 1:55:27. Comfortably inside 9-min/mile overall, both are significantly faster than my LSR pace on the same terrain and I

Sub-2 / 8:40

Sub-2 / 8:40

confess I was blowing a bit on a couple of the hills. Very satisfying, especially given the hills; and comfortably stronger than Hadrian’s Wall last year.

Best bits: being so local for me; glorious course and a joy to meander through the estate.

Worst bits: erm….. nothing really, even the b***ard hill at 13-miles was satisfying once it was over.

Could be improved by… Shelter for changing. Maybe signs to guide spectators to good viewing points: we thought 3.5 & 8 gave a double chance but the family got lost… Not BHF’s fault, obviously!

One final thought: a couple of years ago I had a heart attack. Only a small one and I’m fine and under supervision and running well. I was conflicted about whether to go for a fundraising push on this one – and BHF certainly deserve that for an excellent event – but somehow…. well, my heart just wasn’t in it. Maybe that’s an indication that I haven’t really come to terms that it happened. I did make a donation when I entered, though. And another after the run, with a message of appreciation for the heart team at Leeds General Infirmary, and for the pharmacists who keep me safe; as I run, and every day.


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Ten tips for a struggling beginner

In the pub last Sunday night with Nick, a girl – a stranger – came up and spoke to us out-of-the-blue. She was probably early twenties, petite, dark and so intensely pretty you had to concentrate hard to ignore it.

She was running a half-marathon; it was in aid of a friend who was terminally ill; she was struggling, couldn’t get into it; she was so very tired (and the wine had affected her more than it should); in fact, she was hating it.

We assumed she was about to ask for a donation, and Nick was probably worried that I would kick off into full-on “Coach” mode (to be fair, had Nick 2 been with us as normal I might well have done so, and left them to their cars and gadgets). And, she was right about the wine, was not entirely coherent, and was inordinately interested in whether we were a couple, even when we explained that we were married… to our respective wives, we added quickly, not each other.

But she didn’t want a donation: she just wanted to offload. She was trying, she really was, but it wasn’t working and it wasn’t fair, it wasn’t meant to be like this! Nick surprised me and said I’d run a bit, so we talked briefly. She seemed encouraged and wandered off in the end, probably – by morning – to forget anything we’d said.

But it got me thinking.

Ten Tips for Beginners

  1. If you’ve not run since you left school, then don’t expect to run a race and win, first time you go out. And don’t expect to run every day in the first weeks and months. Once a week is 100% more than you did last week. Add a second and you have doubled your running. Small steps.
  2. Start gently. Find a park or lake or playing fields or circuit of local streets, and walk round it briskly. Then put some 20-metre jogs into it. In time you will join those up until you can comfortably do the full circuit. In easy, gentle steps. Then extend it, add loops and figure-8s and you can move on to pick longer routes. In gentle, easy steps. The 10% rule. Don’t increase what you do by more than 10% in any week: number of runs, distance of longest run, total miles.
  3. The only thing you really need to begin with, are good shoes. You don’t have to pay £100, you can picked them up on sale sites for £30-40. Go to a proper local specialist running shop for advice. (Once you’re into it, you can of curse amass as much lovely kit as your budget will allow, and some items will become close companions which share special adventures with you.)
  4. Road or offroad? Try it, see how it feels. Road is easier for traction and progress. Off-road is better for your limbs (assuming you don’t sprain an ankle) and you may find it joyful to be out in the woods and seasons; but it is more effort. Try combining the two.
  5. Maybe try an event: it will give you a goal and a focus and a date to work to. Don’t be shy, they are not just for elite athletes: once you are there you will see that all shapes and sizes and ages do it. A 10km is a great event for beginners: a classic distance and definitely do-able. A half-marathon is a much bigger challenge and only to be tackled seriously. A full marathon takes over your life, and that of your family and friends. The personal emotional rewards are in proportion to the distance and effort involved.
  6. If you do an event, then take it seriously and manage it. Work back from the date: plot how many miles do you need to be able to run at x-weeks before the race, and plot some runs in between those weekly-long-runs, to build your fitness and as a base for your endurance. Treat this plan as a guide, not mandatory. And remember the 10% rule.
  7. Consider a local running club. Many people find the social aspect and regular sessions help with their motivation and get them out; and they are a great source of support. Ask at a specialist shop, they will know your local clubs; or look at the shirts and vests of people you see running, especially the groups. Clubs are not just for elite athletes: they cater for all ages and abilities, and they will welcome and embrace a beginner and share what they know. And everyone there had a “first time”, so don’t be shy.
  8. Listen to your body. Always. If it’s too much, ease off; if you get a pain, ask what it is and allow for it; if you feel you can do more, then do so. Your body will adapt to what you ask of it and become stronger with care; and it is sensitive and wise, it will tell you when to ask less of it. Always listen.
  9. For your first event, ignore times and splits and pace stats. Your goal is to get to the start-line healthy, to complete the event and collect your medal. In years to come, whatever you go on to, you will keep and cherish this one. Now you have a time; and for your next event you can set targets for yourself based on what you have learned.
  10. If it’s not working for you, change it or drop it, and maybe consider if this really is right for you. Running can be joyful and spiritual as well as physical, and if all you are getting is pain and frustration then question what that is telling you. But. Think about why you are doing it: what made you try running or commit to an event in the first place? Maybe it’s not meant to be easy; maybe the thing you are running for is worth some effort. You may find, with perseverance in the early days, that one day you find yourself running more easily, enjoying it more, even looking forward to the next time. Many people find they struggle to begin, then have a breakthrough and never look back. And that medal: it matters so much, precisely because it wasn’t easy.


So there you are, pretty dark-eyed girl. Lace up, and go in small steps… Good luck!

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View from behind a race-number

To the supporters at the start celebrating with us as we set off,

To all the plentiful cheery stewards with your relentless smiles,

To the strangers along the way reading our names from our bibs,

To the children with your posters and high-fives and bright eyes,

To the old man clanging the brass bell on his porch as we stream by,

To the marshals holding the traffic and guiding us,

To the Church band and high-fiving vicar with your prayers,

To the person who says gently “good cause” on seeing your charity vest,

To the residents with drinks and jelly-babies,

To the peole with numb tingling hands, who can’t stop clapping,

To the organisers and the priceless time you give,

To the strangers mid-way, smiling and connecting with our eyes as we pass,

To the campanologists and your glorious full-peal,

To the people on the bikes who we think we’ve seen miles back,

To the bands and DJs, especially the samba bands and the spring you give,

To the people in deck-chairs, duffle-coats scarves and mittens; staying a while longer,

To the first-aiders with your outstretched dobs of Vaseline,

To the drinks-givers concentrating so hard to reach but not fumble,

To those who help a stricken runner in their exhaustion and pain, and their disappointment,

To the strangers in the final stretch, blurring into a haze but still heard,

To the stewards with the goody bags and blankets and the steadying hands,

To the medal givers, delight afresh for each one of us.


Thankyou so much; you may never know how much you do.

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Half-marathon no 41… and a first for me

It happened as I approached the 11-mile mark of my 41st marathon. It had never happened before. I had had a measured first half, testing my full-marathon pace for two weeks later, and then speeded up for the second half to see how that felt. I was just looking over to where the full-marathon runners split off for their second half, and wondering.


Then I saw it. A b-eat vest. I have worn mine like a billboard on my long training runs, and run many events, but never seen another one.


In a way, that’s kind of the point. I see countless cancer, and heart and children’s and disability and other vests from the big national and “corporate” charities… but eating disorders just aren’t fashionable. They are not talked about. They are not understood. Despite affecting somewhere approaching 2 million people in the UK; probably more, nobody really knows. Let me be clear: I have nothing against the big charities or their causes, on the contrary I fully understand that each vest carries a family’s story and probably a degree of pain. I wish them well. But they have their awareness, they have their share of airtime. Nobody is afraid or embarrassed or unsure how to talk about them, or where to turn for help.

That’s why I wear my b-eat vest. For various reasons I decided I couldn’t go heavy on the sponsorship this year; but I have worn my vest on my long training runs and will do so on The Day. Maybe, just maybe, someone will see it and find the website. Find they are not alone. Find some help.

Anyway: back to mile 11. It was a girl, early-20s maybe, and running with an easy natural stride, yet with the slight raggedness of someone who is tiring. I pulled alongside as we approached the chicane which takes the runners off the road and onto the Embankment of the Trent. She was not aware of me particularly, just another runner passing in the fog of her tiredness.

I said “Hi” and pointed at my vest; she smiled, her name was Hannah, and she is on twitter as @hannah_mcbrien. We talked a little, about where we were from, and running; and we spoke of our trials of recent years. Sometimes she was quiet, tiring; I said not to feel she had to talk. I hate it when people impose on the privacy and escape of my runs, and I checked whether she was ok for me to run with her a little; she said, yes, it might be nice to have someone help her along.

To make the distance, the Robin Hood Half has a U-turn just after 12 miles. There was a difference between my GPS and the 12-mile marker, but I said “There: you are in mile-13, and every step is making it disappear”. At the U-turn there is a short but cruel uphill from the Embankment to the road and the return leg. “Take a breather; short strides” I said, “just flat road from here and then…” but I was cut off by a yell and a shout and waves from the roadside. Hannah lit up, suddenly energised, a huge smile and waves back to the group now behind her: her stride stronger for a moment, her head and shoulders lighter. “My friends, they’ve been brilliant, I can’t believe it…!!” I wondered, did they all turn to each other after we had gone and say: “Who the hell was that old bloke…???”; and I wonder if they will ever really understand how much their presence and shouts meant.

I pointed out the runners ahead turning onto the grass for the final run-in, and as we drew near I said I would drop back and leave her in peace to finish her race on her own. She glanced across with a momentary – and touching – confusion… and then she was gone.

My first encounter with another b-eat vest; the first time I have ever willingly shared a race with a stranger. It was uplifting, and a privilege to share that mile or two. So thankyou for that, McBreezey; and my apologies again if I encroached on your first half-marathon.

Im not sponsoring this year but if you can manage a donation please go to

and say Johntleeds sent you 🙂


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