Essar™️ Chester (England) Half-Marathon

Essar™️ Chester (England) Half-Marathon

I never planned to run a half-marathon on this vacation, but Cor made it happen. Amazingly, his internet research identified a legitimate race that fit our travel itinerary: the Essar Chester Half-Marathon, which describes itself as being “one of the UK’s longest established and most highly regarded half marathons, starting and finishing in the incredibly historic Roman and medieval city of Chester.” So, we decided to sign up a week and a half in advance of race day — and then run it together at “vacation pace.”

It was a fascinating cultural experience! Here are a few of the little curiosities that Cor and I noticed about this race:

  • The race bibs did not have the corner holes for the safety pins punched out.
  • The race shirts weren’t handed out until the end of the race, along with the medals.
  • The fuel stations provided aqua-gel packets instead of the gooey sorts of energy gels that are popular in American races. But even with the unfamiliarity, I think I actually liked them better! They went down smoother, kind of like drinking a little shot of liquid Jell-O.
  • There was no national anthem at the starting line.
  • The race was started by Chester’s Town Crier dressed in 18th Century regalia. He rang a bell and said, “O yay! O yay!” three times — and then he made his remarks. He talked about Chester’s unique, 2,000-year history, saying, “The Romans gave us the Amphitheater… The Normans gave us the castle… [he also referenced other landmarks were given by other rulers who were less familiar to me]… and the Americans gave us the MacDonalds.” Everybody laughed at that last part.
  • There was also a person in an orange cat mascot costume standing near the Town Crier. I later put it together that it was likely supposed to be a Cheshire Cat, since Chester is in the Cheshire region (or province or whatever).
  • Running through the old town was pretty cool — but a surprisingly-large portion of the race went through rural areas to the north of the city.
  • The finish line was almost a mile away from the starting line, and there was little in the way of the American “Finishers Village” that I’m used to.
  • There was no beer at the finish line like there almost always is in American races (even though I would consider England to be more of a beer-drinking culture).
  • The food bag they gave us at the finish line (along with the medal and the race shirt) was mostly candy: mini candy bars… wine gums… a bag of bacon-flavored crisps… along with one aqua-gel packet and a Nature Valley granola bar. But it didn’t seem like much in the way of healthy or filling food options, like I would expect from an American race.

Cor and I had a pretty good race. We both finished in less than two hours, which was the closest thing I had to a goal for the race. Mostly, we stuck together and ran a steady 8:30 min./mi. pace. But Cor started to experience more gastro-intestinal distress in the second half of the race, so we had to stop three times. Still, even without relieving his distress, he pulled away from me in the last mile to finish ahead of me (though I’d like to note that I easily could have kept running during his port-a-potty breaks, and I expect that I could have finished well ahead of him). The race seemed to be a significant highlight of the vacation for Cor — so I’m glad that we all made it a point to make it happen.

The epilogue to the race was a challenge, though! After walking the mile back to our car, Cor and I joined the traffic jam just outside the Chester Racecourse. We spent about an hour and a half sitting in traffic before we made it to the Northgate Arena recreation center, where we’d planned our post-race showers and meet up with Marci, Elliot, and Olivia. Even once we got there, the rec center was dark and dingy, overpriced, with no soap or towels provided, and an uncomfortable situation with a father and his two-year-old daughter basically watching us the whole time we showered! It was an ordeal!

But all’s well that ends well. It ended up being an enjoyable addition to our vacation — and even the challenging stuff makes for a better story and a better memory.

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