Kent Coastal Half Marathon is organised by Thanet Runners and sponsored by Kent County Solicitors. It takes place in the seaside town of Margate.
The organisers state that there is ample parking, and this is definitely true. There is plenty of space to park for free which eliminates one of the stresses of taking part. As you walk towards Palm Bay Primary School where Race HQ is located you can hear the foreboding sound of a monotonous drum beat, making you feel like Jumanji has washed up on a nearby beach. While I thought this was a nice touch, it got a little annoying after a while.
Despite the Race HQ being located in a school, there are only portaloos available for pre-race convenience, although they did eventually let people use the toilets in the school when it was very last minute. Your race number is posted to you before the event so the only thing you need to collect on the day is your chip timer which straps around your ankle. This means that there is plenty of time to stretch, warm up, and do any pre-race rituals before it's time to go.
The race start is across the road on a large grassy area with a pop-up burger bar offering coffee and food for racers and spectators and there are tables and chairs as well. Before you know it, it's time to assemble at the start. There are pacers for the half marathon which is great, so you just find the man with in a high-visibility vest with your desired finish time printed on it and stick to him like glue.
This event is a half marathon and a full marathon simultaneously, with both races following the same course to start and then the marathoners continuing once the half marathoners have finished. This does mean there could be a lot of temptation to finish the full marathon at the halfway point if you're struggling.
The route is advertised as being largely flat, but this could not be further from the truth! The first 3 miles loop around the local Parkrun route and are very gentle. At this point, I was happily rubbing shoulders with the pacer and was taking it very easy. Then the hills came into view.
This is the first hill. It's at least an 8% gradient and meant that I could no longer keep up with my pacer friend. Usually, I don't mind running uphill, as it keeps the course interesting and challenging and it also usually means there is a downhill to come as a reward! However, after powering up this mean hill and using a lot of my energy expecting a downhill section to get my breath back, I was met with more hills! It just kept going up!
After 8 miles I had completely lost the pacer and was struggling to keep going. I have never had a DNF in my life and definitely wasn't going to have one for this race, but as I continued running, wondering when the downhill was going to come, I started to think I might have to walk a bit. I hate to walk while I'm racing and I've never had to do it before, but by mile 10, when the uphill still wasn't relenting, I had to take a break. Considering it's an out-and-back course, I couldn't really fathom how the physics of it worked that I was still going uphill after 10 miles!
By the time the downhill came, my legs were so sore I couldn't even enjoy it! However, now that I've finished complaining about the hills, I can say how fabulous the views were and how amazing the support was. There were more marshals than I've ever seen on a race and there were even people standing outside their houses offering jelly babies to runners which I thought was fantastic. A section of the run went through a fairly busy seafront section, and everyone was cheering us on and being very supportive which was amazing.
As the finish line finally came into view, I thanked my lucky stars I wasn't continuing with the full marathon course and there was a great reception at the end. A beautiful medal and a free technical t-shirt were the prizes which I thought I had definitely earned after the toughest half marathon I've ever done.
This was an exceptionally well-organised event with lots of extra touches making it very special. There were inspirational messages written on signs along the course, such as "Everyone behind you wishes they were as great as you are". All of the main marshals had their job title written on their high-vis vest which meant you knew who everyone was (race director, lead cyclist etc). The race director had a great presence and seemed completely in control of the whole event with a very cool, calm head. They had scouts handing out water and there were plenty of water stations along the route.
It seemed to be a very tight-knit running community with a lot of people knowing each other by name and the marshals cheering people on and chatting away as well. It was a very friendly, supportive atmosphere which was great.
I'd certainly recommend this race, however, do your hill training in preparation and be under no illusion about how tough it is!