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Interview with Vitality Reading Half Race Director, Judith Manson

by Paul Hayward
Monday 6th March 2017
Paul Hayward speaks to Judith Manson, Race Director for the Vitality Reading Half Marathon, ahead of race day on 19th March

1. The 19th March 2017 marks the 34th Reading Half Marathon, can you talk us through what the magic of this event is and how it continues to be so popular?
It’s hard to put my finger on just one thing that makes the event so special. As you said, we’re going into our 34th year of the race which demonstrates just how popular it is. The event had almost 20,000 registered runners in 2016, and the community come out every single year in their masses to support and cheer our runners all the way around the course.
It’s not just friends and family of runners that feel a part of it, but it feels like the whole of Reading gets behind this event and are proud to have such a fantastic race wind around their town. From Green Park, through the beautiful grounds of The University of Reading and to a momentous finish inside Reading Football Club’s Madjeski Stadium, the course has a lot to offer.  
The Stadium finish, year on year, never fails to give me goose bumps and runners and supporters say the same. To be able to complete the race within the stadium, with the stands filled with cheering supporters – and for some the home of their beloved football team (!) – I’ve never experienced a finish line feeling quite like it. 

Reading finish

2. For new runners taking on the race, can you give us your top tips for the day including what to see and the best vantage point for your family / friends to spectate? 
For runners, my top tips would be:
  • Leave plenty of time to arrive and plan your route and parking beforehand.
  • Pack the night before and lie out your race day outfit (with safety pins for your number!)
  • Know your pace, resist the temptation to go at others’ pace. 
  • Keep warm on the start line – good weather has been booked (of course!) but you should still factor in the slim chance that it may be cold while you wait to start. 
  • Most importantly, enjoy! I promise you this will be one of the best races you ever run, so we hope you enjoy all of it, not just the finish line!
Friends and family will find lots of great places to spectate. Just make sure they get to the Stadium for the finishes – that is something that they will not want to miss out on! There is the Nags Head pub ‘beer stop’ which is always a loud cheering spot for spectators and there are charity cheer points starred on the race route map, which are brilliant spots to position yourself if a loved one is raising money for a cause. 
3. Is it true that the race has a great tradition and offers some feed stations supported by the local public houses? 
It does indeed! The Nags Head on Russell Street usually set up a ‘beer stop’ table out front that is crowded with supporters, and the more fun-runners, taking a break. This showcases the ongoing local support from businesses who just want to get involved in the day.
As well as that we will have four water stations, positioned approximately three miles apart, and two Lucozade Sport stations.
4. Are there any route changes planned for this year or changes to the race from last year?
In the past, runners completed a loop of Green Park in the final stage of the 13.1-mile course when they are on their last legs, and all eyes are on the finish line. I changed that three years ago, so the loop inside Green Park is at the start meaning that as runner’s head down the A33 they can see where the finish line is and they run straight into the Stadium towards it. 
Since then the route has been the same for the last two years. However, in 2016 we had some challenges negotiating the start of the race round a new roundabout on Longwater Avenue which meant the start line had to be slowed down, not ideal and something I knew I would change for 2017 – and have done. 
This year the start line is in a new position after the roundabout, approximately 220metres from where it was in 2016. This means that once the gun goes, runners have a clear straight in front of them and we can get people across the start line much quicker. To make up the distance lost by this we have added two new small loops inside the University of Reading.

Reading Half runners

5. Looking forward to 50 years, what plans do you and the team have going forward - is there a chance of more than 20,000 runners, is there anything special on the horizon? 
We’re always looking to be bigger and better than the year before. Running events are now a competitive market place but we’re confident that Reading will remain a key date in the dairy for runners. We listen to runner’s feedback to ensure the course is constantly evolving to its best potential and we work with great partners and sponsors to make sure that the event is giving back to local causes, business and runners on the day in the race village. 
It’s hard to say what the race will look like in 50 years, that’s a long time in the future and I don’t have a crystal ball! One thing I can say is yes there is a chance for more than 20,000 runners, as the new start line position means we have more room on Longwater Avenue for the start zones so they can definitely grow. 
We are entering new territory this year as for the first time we will be announcing the 2018 date at the race and opening for entries the day after. Anyone taking part this year has the chance to win one of 34 free Half Marathon entries and if people don’t win a free entry, everyone taking part in the Half Marathon will get a special thank you from us by way of a £5 off early bird voucher – so make sure you check your finisher bag to see what you’ve won.
Also, let’s not forget the Green Park Challenge. This is so popular and gets bigger every year with over 2,000 entries this year. We may not see 20,000 entries in this race but I’m sure we can get it to 3,000 in a few years.
6. In your books, what will make this race a success come Sunday 19 March 2017? 
There are a number of things and people that make this event a success. Each person’s idea of success is different – for me it starts with the unsung heroes behind the scenes. I have an amazing team who work tirelessly to make this event happen and on the day, there’s an army of volunteers who return year after year to help, we couldn’t do this event without them so I really can’t thank them enough. 
Charity fundraising is an important part of this race, over a million pounds will be raised again this year making Reading one of the most successful road races for fundraising and we are proud to work with some amazing charities.
I get a warm feeling when I see runners cross the finish line and hear their stories afterwards – the smiles or sometimes tears on people’s faces is infectious and why we do it.
On the day, it’s good weather, happy supporters and success for every single runner.
We work hard and plan throughout the year to bring a success story to our racers on the day but really, it’s all about them and the experience they have. 
7. Thanks Judith, really excited for 19 March 2017. Is there anything you would like to add? 
For the past four years, I’ve been privileged to work with some great partners at this event. There is a great sense of pride that Reading has one of the best Half Marathons in the country, which is clear to see from the level of support we receive from organisations like Reading Borough Council, Reading Football Club, Green Park and The University of Reading. I have to thank all of them, as well as our sponsors and partners Vitality, Mizuno, Quintiles, Cancer Research UK, Audi Reading and the Hilton Hotel Reading – I look forward to working with you all to make the 2017 Vitality Reading Half Marathon a fantastic day full of great memories.
In addition to our headline charity Cancer Research UK, we have further partner and local charities which we encourage you to support. Find out more about them all here
The Vitality Reading Half takes place on Sunday 19 March. For more information visit www.readinghalfmarathon.com

About The Author

Paul Hayward

I am 33 years old and spend the majority of my life within an office environment. Whilst I played football, I never really took an interest in sport let alone athletics. In 2011 I joined a gym as I was slightly concerned about my weight. However I was, like an awful lot of my colleagues, coasting and I considered spinning three times a week a workout.
This changed when I took up a circuits class and found myself entering Men’s Health Survival of the Fittest London in November 2011. I was assured by my friends that this was a good idea and would be a “challenge”.
I had never entered any form of competitive event before and training for this run changed me. I listened to my personal trainer, who assured me that if I quit drink I could be dangerous, and sorted out my diet, stopped drinking so much and focussed my training. I completed the race in just over an hour and I was instantly bitten by the racing bug, I loved the challenge the event offered. 
Nearly two years on I have completed a half marathon in 1hour 49 minutes, came 6th in the Rat Race Horseplay 5k event and usually come within the top 30% at Obstacle Course races. I am also a part time triathlete and I am lucky to find myself in a running club where we have a great coach and the focus is on members. If I am honest - I came to running through these events and I am not alone.
My aim through Run 247 is to promote, discuss and publicise Obstacle Course racing. It is becoming huge and over the coming months we will cover all of the major races and the new competitors entering the scene. 

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