Tuesday, September 22, 2020
Spartan Race

My favourite half-marathon races in the UK

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Olivia Higginson
Olivia Higginson
Olivia can usually be found running around the East Devon countryside with her fellow club runners. She has raced all distances from 5K to 50K, but her favourite distance is a half-marathon. Her dream would be to run in races around the world. Olivia is also a Sports Therapist, assisting runners to keep on running.

If you’ve done a few running races, chances are you have your favourites. We asked our writer Olivia this question: ‘What are your 5 favourite half-marathon races?’ She had a hard time narrowing them down, but here are her top picks to inspire you to try new races, or to consider your own favourite events and why.

Plym Trail Half

The race

Plym Trail is organised by First and Last Running and there are four race weekends (offering a half option on both the Saturday and Sunday) per year, plus an extra Christmas race. The out-and-back route starts and finishes in Clearbrook, Plymouth, which is on the edge of Dartmoor. It follows the old railway line, which is now cycle route number 27. Alongside the half-marathon, there is also a marathon (which we reviewed here) that follows the same out-and-back route x2.

Favourite half-marathon races in the UK
At the Plym Trail Half

Why I love it

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Plym Trail is slowly becoming my absolute favourite of these five half-marathon races – I truly love it. I love the small race field, the fact you can just turn up, park easily and wander to the village hall. I love the fact this race attracts regulars, which means you see the same runners every time you race. Plus everyone is super friendly, especially Davey the organiser. Davey is just a lovely guy; he makes you feel very welcome and part of the Plym Trail family.

I also love the route, as it’s so quiet, the scenery is stunning and the views in to the valley are spectacular. This is because you’re on the edge of the moor and the cycle route is quite high up. There’s one bridge you run over that’s really high – and I don’t like getting too close to the wall! Yes, the route is out and back, which doesn’t suit everyone. It’s slightly downhill on the way out, but I don’t seem to mind this. You can just switch off, let the legs tick off the miles and take in the views.

This race may not be for everyone because of the route and the small race field. But give it a go!

Medal from firstandlastrunning
The Plym Trail Winter Weekend medal

The bling

You’re rewarded with a goody bag filled with tasty treats, which is great for the drive home. You receive a beautiful medal with an animal linked to Dartmoor, plus these medals link together, producing an animal tableau. If you race both days of the weekend, you can choose a cap or a water bottle as a special extra.

Escot Christmas Half

The race

Escot Christmas Half Marathon runs alongside a marathon and is organised by Jolly Running. The inaugural event took place in December 2019. Over the weekend there’s also a fun run and a 10K, all held at Escot Estate in East Devon. The route consists of three and a bit laps, which take you through two woods and across the fields.

Favourite half-marathon races in the UK
Slipping and sliding at the Escot Christmas Half Marathon

Why I love it

There’s something special about this half-marathon that I’ve never come across in a race before. Near the end of every lap there is a water slide – yes, a water slide – which assists in helping you to get to the bottom of the hill! The slide is optional, so you can just walk/run down the hill instead. I saved the slide for the last lap, as otherwise my wet bottom would have caused my fingers to go numb, closely followed by a cold body.

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The slide was just so, so much fun and the gang had a laugh deciding on different ways to slide down it. There was also a bonus at the top of the slide – a feed station serving mulled wine and gin!

Christmas themed goody bag from Escot
Goodies from the Escot Christmas race

Bling

For your efforts you were awarded with an amazing medal where Santa slides down the slide. The goodies also included a mini local Christmas pudding and a Santa-themed neckscarf.

The race was superbly organised, especially as they had to overcome the atrocious weather. There were also a couple of food vans for pre- and post-race munchies, and the race started at 8:30am, which meant you were finished before lunchtime. Definitely a worthy pick for in my favourite half-marathon races!

Dark Valley Half

The race

As the name suggests, the Dark Valley races take place in the dark on a Saturday evening in November. They are organised by White Star Running and the trail run takes in the grounds of Moors Valley Country Park in Dorset.

The half is a two-lap route, with the 10K runners running just one lap. I would call the route an easy trail, as it’s not technical (even in the dark). Most of the route is on compacted paths, which makes it a great night-time beginner race. I experienced it after days of heavy rain, yet most of the route wasn’t horrendously muddy.

Favourite half-marathon races in the UK
Getting ready to run at the Dark Valley Half

Why I love it

Well, it’s a White Star Running event, so I knew I’d end up loving it. But mainly I love it because it’s so much fun! I was nervous about running trails in the dark as I have a habit of failing over…

The word to describe this race is ‘party’ and that’s what it was. We were all having fun, and the marshals were partying away. Runners were dressed up in lights and florescent colours. Marshals were dressed up too; their marshal spot had lights and music, so there was a party on every corner and junction. As with all White Star Running events the feed stations were epic, catering for all tastes. So I ate a lot of Jaffa Cakes, but I wasn’t tempted by the beer or the gin.

Favourite half-marathon races in the UK
Goody bag from Dark Moors

Bling

As with all White Star Running races you receive a fabulous, stunning medal as a reward your efforts. Along with the medal we were given a bottle of beer and some tasty biscuits for re-fuelling.

The organisation is second to none and the marshals were the best I have experienced. They truly made the race for me, and turned it into an early Christmas party. I’ll be doing it again and hopefully the weather will be dry so that we travel to the park earlier and enjoy what the park has to offer. The park offers children’s activities, cycling routes, Go Ape and segways. As the race is on a Saturday, you could get there in time for parkrun and then explore for the day and join in the race at 5pm.

Heron Half

The race

The Heron Half is a relatively new race on the running calendar, and it runs alongside an established marathon race. Both are organised by Yeovil Town Road Running Club and takes place in the Somerset countryside around Yeovil. The race itself is on the flatter side of undulating and it’s run on country roads.

Favourite half-marathon races in the UK
Working hard at the Heron Half

Why I love it

It holds a special place in my heart, because it was my first half-marathon after four years of injury. Plus I surprised myself by running sub two hours, which was just unexpected and the icing on the post-injury cake.

This half just felt great while I was running it, and maybe this was because I was so grateful and happy I was able to run my favourite distance. Everything just came together on the day. My injury didn’t play up, I felt amazing, the miles ticked by… mile 12 was my fastest mile! So I had to include it in my roundup of my favourite half-marathon races!

Goody bag from the Heron Half
Huge medal and soft t-shirt from the Heron Half

Bling

Having been out of the racing game for so many years, I hadn’t realised the change that had occurred with medals. They are now much bigger and more beautiful. This one is just stunning, plus this exquisite medal has a raised design and everyone loved it. The t=shirt is a thick good quality race t=shirt and I put it on straight away.

There are two other bonuses with this race: first the free parking, and second it has a country fair atmosphere with music, activities and food vans.

Taunton/Torbay Half

The race

I know that I’ve kinda been cheeky here and mentioned two of my favourite half-marathon races in one, but I couldn’t choose between the two! Plus they both begin with ‘T’… so I think I can get away with it!

The Taunton Half Marathon is a one-lap route that takes in the countryside surrounding the city. The race route is undulating with the three main hills all coming in the last 5K of the race. Whereas the Torbay Half Marathon is a two-lap route running from the seafront at Paignton to the seafront at Torquay and back. With it being two laps you get the pleasure of running the hills twice!

Why I love it

I’ve always loved Taunton, because I think I have happy memories about the race. Memories from going as a club and running with people who don’t run any more. The route through Somerset villages is pretty, and in a weird way having the hills all together is okay. Maybe I love it purely because Taunton is my lifetime half-marathon PB course!

Having only raced Torbay once, it’s made a lasting impression on me. Maybe I love it because, just like with Heron Half, everything came together on the day. I felt amazing and I was rewarded with a post-injury PB. Also I love being by the sea, and with Torbay you run between two beaches. It has proper hills – ie they are BIG hills! – which means you run up and up, but you get to run down them at speed.

Picture of a medal from the Taunton Half Marathon
Throwback to the 2011 Taunton Half Marathon

Bling

Even though I love the Taunton Half, I haven’t run it since 2012. This is due to injury and other races clashing with the date. Not only are you rewarded with a medal, you now receive a technical race t-shirt too. This is the same as with Torbay.

T-shirt from the Torbay Half Marathon
Seaside colours for the mementos from Torbay

These are my top five – well top six really! – favourite half-marathon races in the UK that I love and will return to regularly. We’d love to hear if you’ve raced any of these, and if they’re your favourites too.

Also let us know what your favourite half-marathons races are in the comments below!

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