Once upon a time I lived in Chepstow in South Wales, and often jogged the country lanes, including out and back over the old Severn Bridge – always a bracing run with high winds and spectacular views. Now I live in that place called faraway, but visit the UK each summer to see family. So it was that I found myself planning to be in Bristol for a weekend, and discovered that there was to be a Severn Bridge Half Marathon that same weekend. Of course, there being no fool like an old fool, I entered.
The one, hardly significant, difference in running across the Bridge was of course the passage of time. On being sixty, plus a little bit, I was entered in the male 60+ veteran category. I later discovered that I was just one of 58 in the same category. Not bad, but clearly not exceptional.
The race itself was much bigger than any of the local races I remembered – over 2,000 entrants. I had to get up early, having been warned that the Bridge would close to traffic at 7.45am, in preparation for the race start at 9am. In the best tradition my motorcycle and I crossed the toll booth at 7.42am, saving twenty minutes extra drive. The start area was busy but well-organised, and I quickly collected my race number, had coffee and consequent loo stop, changed and was ready to go.
Somehow the Bridge was a bit longer than I remembered, and a bit steeper, and I’d certainly never crossed it in such company- a tide of runners, flowing almost as majestically as the Severn itself. The Bridge itself was conquered in little more than an hour, out and back. However this turned out to be just the first half of the race. Less fun was the climb up through Bulwark on the Welsh side, followed by the long lane down through Mathern to Pwllmeyric. Nostalgia indeed, since I lived just round the corner for twenty years.
Unfortunately, in running, what comes down must go up. The run back up Dark Lane, passing the twelve mile marker, was fairly tough. The race ended with a short downhill back to the start. Finished in two hours and five minutes, my slowest half marathon but not bad, given the preceding month-long holiday spent in France, eating well and exploring the fine wines of Mersault. Lovely, but not race preparation.
Within hours, the hasty decision ” never again” was under threat, especially as the race organisers had announced a one-off Severn Bridges Marathon next year- out over the Old Bridge, back over the New. That must mean England being cut-off from Wales for several hours! Runners completing the half-marathon this year would be guaranteed entry to this special event next year. Oh dear. At what age do we become sensible?
Words and images by Steve Hill.