When you sign up to a big race like the Windsor Half Marathon you tend to not focus on the details too much. Normally you look at the beautiful scenery, the awesome race bling and the social media aftermath of people saying how great the event was, then you stick in your card details and start your training.
We don't want to make you read through a whole race report to know the ins and out of an event. Instead, we like to give you the highlights from our own experience of taking part. The kind of things that might have helped your planning before you jump in the car to the start line. You know, stuff like traffic diversions and toilet queues.
Windsor Half Marathon tips
The Windsor Half Marathon is an event that's been taking place for 37 years now, and for good reason β it's one of the most scenic running events you're going to find within half an hour of London and by far one of the most impressive places to visit if you want to make a weekend of it.
Scenery doesn't help you very much when you're running late to get to the start or desperately trying to get up a massive incline though β for that you need a bit of expert insight from a fellow runner.
Here's what we learned when we were invited to join team Saucony for the 2019 Windsor Half Marathon.
There's a big walk to and from the start
The race starts and finishes on a famous path known as the Long Walk, a three-mile tree-lined route that goes all the way from Windsor Castle to the Copper Horse statue at the other end. You don't need to run the whole thing but if you're planning to walk to the start from Windsor then you're looking at a good half an hour walk to get to the event village.
That not only means you need to plan ahead in order to get there on time, but you also have to get back there afterward β well worth noting if you're planning on jumping on a train back straight after the race. It is an exceptionally beautiful walk though β even if your legs are about to give way.
The start can be very congested
The first and last kilometre of the route takes place on the previously mentioned Long Walk. And although that might be impressive in terms of length, it's not the widest of paths β especially when there are 4,000 other runners on it.
If you're fast and aiming for a PB make sure you're right at the start based on where the pacers are. We noticed a lot of people were probably a bit further forward that they should have been which generally meant that you have to overtake on the wet grass whilst dodging the various spectators. That first kilometre is uphill as well, so people were generally running slower.
It's a lot hillier than you might think
From the dozen or so people we spoke to about the race beforehand, the mention of hills cropped up quite a bit. But to be honest that happens when you talk about taking part in races with even the slightest undulation, so we massively underestimated just how hilly the Windsor Half actually is.
There are a few noticeable climbs across the 13.1 miles, but it's the relentless undulation that really takes it out of you. Across the whole course, you're looking at around 230m of total elevation with the route undulating between 24m and 87m. It's constant as well, so as soon as you hit a downhill you know you haven't got long until you're going back up again.
For a full breakdown of the race on Strava click here.
There's a lot of quiet time
The entire race takes part within Windsor Great Park, which although incredibly scenic, does mean that there are vast areas that are quite far from crowds. If you're not bothered about cheering spectators then you don't need to worry, but if you're the kind of runner that likes the ambient support of adoring fans, then it can get a bit desolate in some places.
If that sounds a bit of a mental struggle then you'll probably need some headphones. All forms of headphones are allowed in the race although the organisers suggest against it unless you're using bone conduction models like Aftershokz.
- Click here for our guide on the best headphones for running.
The Long Walk is an incredibly tough finish
At the start of the race the idea of a one kilometre downhill stretch seemed like an absolute dream β especially when the backdrop is Windsor Castle. Seriously it's an impressive finish to a race.
That last stretch is by far one of the toughest parts of the whole event though. The finish line in the distance seems an eternity away and doesn't appear to get closer anywhere near as quickly as you want it to. Luckily this is the one section that's full of crowds, so put your bravest face on and get smiling.
There are some really fast runners
Considering how tough the race is there were some amazing finish times coming in from the top athletes. The 2019 winners were Saucony athlete Dan Studley (Bristol & West AC) with 1:07:47 and Charlotte Taylor-Green (who also won the 10k on the Saturday) with 1:16:52.
And that's not just the pro athletes. Considering the level of undulation across the event, to see the first 80 runners coming in under the 1.30 mark is an impressive feat.
Make sure you book for food
As towns go Windsor has got its fair share of tourists. So when you throw in an extra few thousand people on top you can imagine that the place starts to get a bit busy. If you're hoping to make a day or weekend of it then you'll need to plan ahead and book a table at one of the dozens of restaurants in town.
For anyone who likes a bit of Italian before and/or after a race β which is probably most of us β make sure you check out Enzo's for some next-level pasta and pizza offerings.
Bonus insider tip
If you're heading back to London and need to find somewhere to have a post-race shower, it's worth noting that Paddington station has one right next to platform 12 that you can use for Β£5. Just head to the lost luggage shop, pick up your receipt and the stewards near the toilets will give you a towel to use. There's also shower gel in there.
To find out more about the Windsor Half Marathon click here. Entries for the 2020 event aren't live yet but you can sign up for updates so you're ready when they are.