Hastings Half Marathon Extreme Ironing Race Review

Twenty minutes to go – where is everyone? I’m stood next to the St Michael’s Hospice tent, having just had a general phaff, dropping my bag off and having a loo stop. Pre-race nerves and all that..

Phil, Jo and StavI put my rucksack on. It’s got an ironing board attached to the back and spot Stav and Jo – we’re on. The team’s all gathering. Tom has apparently already gone to find a place amongst the starters. The rest of us fight our way through the crowd, led by Stav, looking for a space (despite there being a modest 4,000 or so runners, the Hastings Half always feels overly crowded at the start). We settle around the 10 minute mile starter spot, surrounded by fun runners (a familiar place for Jo and I) – the serious runners are ahead of us.

The first Extreme Ironing Half Marathon is about to commence – we are no longer half marathon fun runners, we are now Steam, Ultraglide, Water Tank, Planchita, Mrs Steam, Hotwire, Flex, Mrs Hotwire and Fe.

Time for a quick photo or two, then we hear the starters horn. We’re off!

Which with two or three thousand people in front of you means walking to the start. We build to a very slow job and run over the start line. The commentator gives us a shout out and the crowd roars. It’s spine tingling stuff. We have can lots of “he’s carrying an ironing board!” and “Oh look, she’s got a washing basket”, in reference to Jo’s back-mountain basket.

Start of the race, Team Steam

There are more shouts of support and we wait to the crowd and we hear the first (of many) cries, “you can do mine if you like mate!”

We’re soon at the bottom of Harley Shute Road, the steepest hill of the course, barely half a mile in. Lots of runners go straight to walking pace, by we press on trying to maintain our steady jogging pace. I it’s a steep, but short hill – I know that the real killer is ahead.

Once over the main hill, we settle in to an easy pace and I spot a mate John who lives in the area and gives me a shout. It’s the thing I love about running in my old hometown, just bumping into people from my past. I then see another old mate Phill, who’s running with his wife Emma. Like me, he ran the Hastings Half last year and we often seem to bump in to each other.

We approach the roundabout at the top of Crowhurst Road and again the support gives us a surge of adrenaline. It also means a little respite from the hills and we have a bit of downhill approaching the first water station, manned by the town’s Scouts. It’s welcome refreshment as it’s a hot day for a half marathon.

Then it’s on to Queensway. The real dragging beast of a hill. Essentially this is the town’s bypass, so there are no houses here – and therefore very little support. I’d been very pleasantly surprised how easy the start had been, but the real work starts here. I can no longer see Ultraglide’s bobbing ironing board in front of me – he’s going for a time. The other non-board carrying competitors, like Flex and Planchita are nowhere to be seen either. We’ll run our own race.

Ultraglide runs up Queensway

We approach the intersection for Napier Road and there are more supporters here and we get shouts of encouragement as we slog up the hill (I know from memory that we’re only about half way). “How long is this hill?” says an exasperated Mrs Steam. “A bit of a way to go yet,” I reply, thinking honesty’s the best policy when your other half is running with a laundry basket strapped to her back.

Then, finally, the Ridge approaches and we know that we’ve done the main hill. There are lots of supporters here and we get more encouragement – as much for wearing a St Micheal’s Hospice vest as carrying an ironing board. It feels like we’ve broken the back of the race. I feel a little tired, but OK. Thankfully, I’m not getting any rubbing or discomfort from carrying the board – those practice sessions getting the rigging right have paid off.

The Ridge is a long road that runs along the top of the town, effectively a single lane bypass. It has the odd incline, but is nowhere near as tough as Queensway. Getting on this part of the course means that we’re not too far from our first ironing station.

We pass the 6 mile point, but it feels like we’ve run further, but paradoxically time has gone really quickly.

We approach the Conquest Hospital and it’s here that I have a poignant moment thinking about my mum, who was admitted here almost a year ago, when her secondary cancer had taken hold. In those dark days visiting her, I ran home to Guestling, where my folks lived, to get some fresh air and think. Running is great for that.

Steam and Mrs Steam ironing at Station 1 on the Ridge, adjudicated by Brenda's cousin

As we pass the Kings church, the support again is superb. They’ve all made cardboard signs offering encouraging messages to runners.

And then we spot the yellow balloons ahead, the markers for the first ironing station. One of St Michael’s Hospice’s supporters offered her driveway for ironing and two boards are set up ready for us. My dad and my mum’s cousin are waiting with clipboards.

My Dad has already warned us that he’ll be scoring very strictly, so I make sure I do a good job ironing my t-shirt. The sweat is useful to provide a bit of moisture to steam my iron. I hang my t-shirt, hand it to the judges and we’re off. Fe has just come in behind us. My Dad says that Water Tank is way ahead and really going for it – I suspect that it’s going to come down to a straight fight between him and Ultraglide, who, although slower, gets more points for carrying his own ironing board.

We feel elated, but realise that there’s another hill coming up on Winchelsea Road and Rye Road. We approach the Kings Arms and the customers have clearly been enjoying the pub’s hospitality and rather than getting a good natured, “go extreme ironers” like we do elsewhere, we get a football-crowd style roar. I don’t mind, any support pushes us on.

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The next station isn’t too far ahead, based at the top of Harold Road at an old school friend’s house. The judge is my brother Martin. We’re set up ready to iron our shirts and, since the terrace house is elevated from the street, the rest of the runners can see us well and we get more shouts of encouragement.

And we’re off again, running down the steep Harold Road – I’m glad I’m not running up this hill.

Steam and Mrs Steam arrive

The support starts to build, Mrs Steam gets shouts of “you’re a basket case” and “go laundry lady!” and I get “your mate (Ultraglide) is 20 minutes ahead of you!” It all spurs us on.

It’s not long before we approach the old town and our last ironing station at the Cinque Port Arms on All Saints Street. It’s a bit cramped here and there’s a problem with one of the irons, so Mrs Steam and I have to wait for each other to finish ironing. Her parents are taking pictures, ply us with sugary sweets and we’re off again. The three stops make us feel a bit stiff, but it’s the last section of the race approaches.

The crowd at Rock a Nore is immense and we get one of our biggest cheers yet. It’s then on to the sea front. Thankfully the breeze is very light (I’m effectively running with a huge sail) and the going is flat. But this part of the course is deceptively difficult – it’s still more than two and a half miles long and there aren’t many supporters. Mrs Steam tells me to slow down – she’s right, I should pace myself a bit and not get carried away.

Hotwire and Mrs Hotwire

The sea is sparkling in the sun and it feels like a holiday. Only, I’m running a half marathon with an ironing board on my back. It suddenly all seems a bit absurd. I banish the thought and keep running. Mrs Steam’s knees are causing her difficulty (a ski holiday a couple of weeks previously has taken its toll), so I try to encourage her to dig in. I’m pretty sure we won’t win the contest, but I’m still keen to put a decent time in if we can. Whatever happens, I’m sure of a PIB (personal ironing best).

The finish line approaches and I urge Mrs Steam to join me in mini sprint (in reality, something slightly faster than a jog – we are shattered). The crowds noise reaches a crescendo. I dip my ironing board so it doesn’t catch on the gantry (now that would be embarrassing) and we cross the line. Euphoria pumps around my body – we’d done it!

We spot some of our friends and head to the St Michael’s Hospice tent for a cupcake and drink. Fe, Hotwire and Mrs Hotwire come in behind us. We’re all exhausted but on a high from the race – we’ll tot up the scores to find out who’s won later (check out the results post to find out). All that remains is a slow walk back along the seafront for some celebratory fish and chips. It’s an odd post-run meal, but hey, we’re in Hastings.

Team Steam at the finish line

On a personal note, thanks so much to the folk of Hastings for providing such amazing support at the Hastings Half Marathon – it made the day so memorable and helped us all around the course. Thanks also to St Michael’s Hospice for looking after us; Eric Hardwick from Hastings Lions, race director for supporting Team Steam; our judges and those that gave up their homes/pub to be ironing stations; HUTC for filming our promotional video and Philips for donating irons. So far, we have raised over £3,500, which equates to £4,260 with GiftAid, so the biggest thanks goes to those who have donated so generously.

 

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