In what would turn out to be the last major race in the southern region before the COVID-19 pandemic forced a shutdown of all races and mass gatherings, the Bath Half Marathon went ahead in controversial circumstances.
Less than 7,000 of the 15,000 entrants actually turned out for the race in the end amidst fears of the virus spreading amongst large groups of people, given the close contact. There was a virtual race though for those who had signed up but felt they didn’t want to take the risk of attending on the day.
The race organisers were waiting on the outcome of an emergency Cobra meeting from the government before making their decision and off the back of that meeting, the government concluded that it wasn’t the right time to ban large scale events.
That presented many runners with one last opportunity to put all their hard work over marathon season training thus far into practice. Amongst those looking to do that were Bournemouth AC stars Jacek Cieluszecki and Sanjai Sharma.
After taking a break from hard training over the early part of the year, Jacek had struggled to find his best form thus far in 2020. Since the Blackmore Vale Half Marathon in early February though, he’d managed to ramp his training back up to what it usually would be and he was beginning to feel like he could soon be returning to his usual formidable form.
As for Sanjai, an ongoing glute issue had played havoc with his training and he was some way off where he would usually expect to be at this stage of the year.
After a significantly below par performance at the Wokingham Half Marathon three weeks prior, Sanjai was hoping he might improve on that at Bath. It had already been announced that the London Marathon was to be postponed, so he knew this training block would be null and void anyway.
The course is predominantly flat and fast and features two identical loops, making it ideal for the many thousands who usually turn out to watch. Given the current climate though, that number would have been significantly lower then usual. The route starts and finishes on Pulteney Street – a beautiful Georgian boulevard in the heart of Bath.
The weather conditions on the day were bleak, with persistent rainfall going from before the race started right the way through to the end. The temperature was also quite low and it reminded Jacek of his Boston Marathon experience when the freezing cold and lashing rain almost forced him to abandon.
Deciding to go out hard from the outset, Jacek went through the first mile at 5:10 pace which signified that he was not messing around in this one.
He was hoping to run it in around 73 minutes, which would have been roughly the same time he did when he won the Weymouth Half Marathon at the equivalent weekend last year. And a similar time to what he recorded when he won the Puddletown Plod Half Marathon in June.
For the next four miles of the race, Jacek ran at around 5:20 pace before cranking it up slightly over the next couple of miles. Going through the 10k point in 33:56, it was so far so good for JC.
Over the second half of the race he did well to maintain a similar sort of pace to what he had done up to that point. From miles 8 to 11 he going at roughly 5:25 pace before putting in a quicker one on mile 12 at 5:18 pace.
That left him with just 1.3 miles left to go. In the majority of half marathons it would have been 1.1 miles but the Bath Half Marathon does come up slightly long.
Registering a 5:26 for the last mile, Jacek finished very strongly in the remaining third of a mile to go over the line in 1:11:17 which put him in 38th place overall.
In such a high standard field, that was an impressive result for JC and his time was much faster than he’d anticipated it would be so that was an extremely pleasing result for him. That put him 4th in the VM40 category out of 412.
Jacek’s average pace for the run was a scintillating 5:22 minutes per mile. That’s a very impressive stat for a half marathon. He’s sad that the season is currently suspended due to the coronavirus outbreak but is hopeful that it won’t go on for too long.
As for Sanjai, he did as well as he could on the day but he was again, some way off his best form. He had actually run the Bath Half Marathon a few times before but his last time was back in 2015, so quite some time ago now. His best time was 1:23:07 which he managed back in 2013.
This time round he found the wet conditions a real challenge and his ongoing glute issues wouldn’t have helped either. He found it very difficult walking after he’d finished the race.
It was in fact, Sanjai‘s slowest half marathon time since 2010 as he went over the line in a time of 1:29:01. That put him in 453rd place overall and 11th out of 247 in the VM55 category.
With the London Marathon now rescheduled to take place in October, that will give Sanjai time to perhaps get a proper training block behind him, so in that sense, it could be blessing for him.
If he can shake off his injury problems by then and get back on track with his training, there’s every chance he could return to form by the time the race does actually take place.
A total of 6,831 people successfully completed the race on the day with the last runner coming in at 4 hours 5 minutes and 24 seconds. Of course, many more runners would have completed the virtual race instead.
The winner of 2020 Bath Half Marathon was Paul Pollock of Kent AC, who clocked a tremendous time of 1:04:14. Jamie Crowe of Central AC took second place in 1:04:38, with Jonathan Cornish of Hercules Wimbledon getting third in 1:05:16.
Youngster Becky Briggs of City of Hull AC was the first woman over the line, finishing in 1:14:34. That put her in 84th place overall. Phillipa Williams of Sheffield Running Club was second lady in 1:15:01 which put her in 91st overall. Then it was Rachel Felton of Shaftesbury Barnet Harriers who was third female in 1:15:07. That put her in 94th place overall.
It was a shame for Jacek and Sanjai and all the other runners who took part that the road had to end there. Of course, it hasn’t yet been determined when races will begin to be held again and that will all depend on how well the virus has been contained how the NHS is handling the mass influx of patients.
With many of the Spring marathons being postponed until October, that will certainly be a time to potentially aim for, but this is unchartered waters for society and no one really knows at this point what the future may bring.