Sir Titus Summer Trot – Race Review

Another weekend, another race. One of my aims for the year was to run at least one event per month, this was my fourth in July after (half of) Endure24, the Pendle Running Festival 10k and the Run For All Burnley 10k!


This race was my first half marathon since Leeds back in May and to be honest I have struggled to do anything over 10 miles in training since then, largely because of the recent warm weather which I refuse to call a heatwave because it actually already has a name; summer.

I have been looking forward to the race for a while as it was the first It’s Grim Up North Running event I’ve entered. All the reviews I have seen about their races has been really positive and I know a couple of people who run with them regularly and their feedback has always been very complimentary about the organisation and friendliness.

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The half marathon was part of a number of races on Saturday that came under the banner of the Sir Titus Summer Trot with all events starting and ending on the Leeds – Liverpool canal in the shadow of Salt’s Mill in Saltaire. Now for those of you who have never heard of Sir Titus Salt he was something of a philanthropist, he was way ahead of his time in many ways, Google him and you’ll be pleasantly surprised by his work. Saltaire itself is actually a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site no less and growing up in Bradford I have visited this brilliant village many times before.

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Race registration was in the beautiful setting of Victoria Hall, it was very quick and simple and after a brief visit to the facilities I headed off down to the canal for the race briefing. The route was effectively two out and backs along the canal, firstly down through Shipley to Esholt before heading back through Saltaire past Five Rise Locks at Bingley and then a turn and back down again to the finish at Saltaire, simple. Well it would have been except for a late canal path closure which forced a slight change and extended the half marathon to 13.9 miles, oh well I’m a Yorkshireman, I like value for money!

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The marathon, 20 mile and half marathon races all started together and despite running on a canal path it didn’t feel particularly cramped and everyone spread out relatively quickly. Underfoot the path was in pretty decent condition although some sections were rutted from the harsh winter, there was also a grass verge along much of the route and some competitors decided to run on there. With it being a public path I encountered a real mix of other people during the race, there were cyclists, dog walkers, parents pushing prams and a rather weary looking group of young people, maps in hand, who I assume were doing a Duke of Edinburgh expedition. With the out and backs the majority of spectators/supporters decided to remain at Saltaire so they could see their friends and loved ones numerous times, that aside there was little support apart from words of encouragement from other runners, people I passed on the path or those on barges going along the canal.

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By their very nature most canal paths are designed to be pretty flat and so it panned out but I knew that around 10 miles we’d hit Five Rise Locks and getting up there would be a real test for the legs. On my way up I passed several runners who had already looped and were heading back to Saltaire, I tried to put myself in their shoes and knew that soon it would be me coming down whilst others looked at me as they went up with that slightly tortured look on their face. In all honesty I have run up worse climbs but there is no escaping that it is a steep ascent and when your energy levels are already depleted it takes some physical and mental strength to keep the legs turning over.

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Having safely reached the turning point and descended the locks my mind turned to one thing, cake. At the start/finish a couple of tables of fine looking treats had already been laid out, not just sweet I hasten to add, if you wanted spuds there were some lovely looking mini baked potatoes to boost your carbs. With the last couple of miles done and the bells of the local church ringing out for a wedding the finish line came into sight along with my wife and children. Although my time was far from my quickest I was happy with how I had done and I’d enjoyed the race and running somewhere different. The highly anticipated treats did not disappoint either with a myriad of choices to go along with the chocolate, beer and lovely medal already in the finisher’s bag.

I would certainly recommend It’s Grim Up North Running to anyone, the organisers are a great bunch, they make a fantastic effort to put on a top event and for me they deliver plenty of what I am looking for in a race, so much so that I have already signed up for their Christmas Cracker in December, can’t wait for the mulled wine and Christmas cake.

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Double 10k Weekend Review

Up until Friday lunchtime last week my latest race review was going to be of my second attempt at the Pendle Running Festival 10k on Saturday. That changed though when a good friend, thanks Col, spotted that Run For All had tweeted a request for pacers for their Burnley 10k on Sunday. Col tagged me in the tweet and I thought, “why not?”. A couple of emails later and I was booked in to pace at sub 55 minutes. I’ll therefore break this blog down into two, with slightly condensed reviews of each event.

Pendle Running Festival 10k

I ran this race last year and loved it. It very much has the feel of a local race, the registration is in Barley village hall, the ladies there put on brews, cakes and bacon butties, the majority of the runners are from local clubs and everyone seems to know each other, it just has a real community feel about it and for me that is part of the attraction, it doesn’t pretend to be anything it isn’t.

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Photo credit David Belshaw

 

Last year we had the pleasure of starting down a narrow track next to a large pile of dung, you can read my review here. This year the start had been moved and we set off from just outside the village hall. In contrast to last year’s cool, drizzly conditions we had clear blue skies and bright sunshine and by 10.30am it was already hot. I set off probably slightly too quickly but knew that I would soon slow as I hit the daunting climb of Stang Top Road. Sure enough after about a mile and a half I hit the sharp left as the hill starts and instantly remembered why I wasn’t entered to do the half marathon, you have to climb this beast twice if you run that race! Despite the conditions I was determined not to walk and although my pace was slow I did fashion what can just about be defined as a run all the way to the top.

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Photo credit David Belshaw

With the brutal bit out of the way I grabbed a drink and a jelly baby and wound my way around the country lanes that rise and fall in the shadow of Pendle Hill. Having crossed the two cattle grids, always an interesting experience, the route hits the road back into Barley. Initially there is another drag of a climb. I had been swapping places throughout with a runner from Trawden AC and again I passed him on this section, I joked that I’d no doubt see him again on the descent but he was spent and we met again at the finish and congratulated each other (I also saw him on Sunday at the Burnley 10k as he was on marshal duties, good man!). The final mile or so is all downhill, the 923 feet elevation gain is done and I took the hand brake off and let my legs go.

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Photo credit David Belshaw

The finish on the village green was a welcome sight not least because a bottle of water and some shade was waiting. My time of 54.08 was a couple of minutes slower than last year but given the conditions and knowing I had another race to come in less than 24 hours I was pleased with my morning’s work, in fact having checked the results I actually came two places higher this year.

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Photo credit David Belshaw

Once again I really enjoyed the race and it is always one I would recommend if people want to test themselves on a tough course, I can’t entertain the thought of doing the half marathon with over 2,000 feet elevation gain but the festival also includes a 5 mile trail race which may take my fancy next year.


 

Run For All Burnley 10k

Another day, another 10k but this felt different. I have managed to get over pre-race nerves recently and enjoy the build up but on Sunday morning the jitters were back big time. I knew that I could run a sub 55 minute 10k, I knew that I could run the course in my sleep, what was bothering me was would I be able to pace it correctly and would I be letting people down if I couldn’t? As this was my pacing debut there was lots of other things going on in my head too. How do you go to the toilet pre-race with a flag on your back?

I arrived nice and early at the picturesque setting of Towneley Park, collected my bib from the Run For All tent and then headed to the Up & Running stand as they look after the pacers. I received a bright yellow vest and flag in a backpack. To make sure I was comfortable I did a couple of short test runs and although there was a slight drag from the flag the straps on the backpack ensured it didn’t really bounce and was easy to wear, I just needed to be conscious of low hanging tree branches!

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There were three other pacers pacing sub 45, 60 and 70 minutes and it was reassuring to chat with them as they had all paced plenty of races before. In no time at all the pre-race warm up had started and we headed to take up our positions in the starting chute. There had been two changes to the course since I ran the event two years ago. The start had been moved to the main park drive which leads up to Towneley Hall rather than the car park and the old tip loop section on a bumpy loose path had been taken out and replaced with a lap around the outside of Burnley FC’s Turf Moor stadium, both excellent changes in my opinion.

On my way to the starting pen I met Franco who was the first to pin his hopes to my flag as it were, what a nice guy. I had decided to be chatty, informative and encouraging as a pacer so we had a good chat about his races and I told him my plan for taking it slightly steadier on the uphill sections and making the time up on a couple of the downhills. In the end he had a problem with his hamstring but still finished the race and it was nice to see him and his friends at the finish.

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Given the undulations in the course I was never going to hit a consistent pace throughout but I stuck to my plan and had a reasonable sized group of people in front of and around me. As happens some dropped away, some caught up and passed me and others dropped back having set a higher early pace. Everyone seemed happy with how I managed the race though and I made sure I told those around me when hills, speed bumps and water stations were coming up as well as updates on pace and time. It was great to chat to a couple of people with me too as I tend to be very much a music on, head down racer.

I knew throughout that I was slightly ahead of pace and I was comfortable with that so that I could slow down at the finish and encourage people to come past me and hit their target. With a mile or so to go I tried to get those just in front to think of their motivations (prosecco, a Chinese takeaway and running for Pendleside Hospice were just a few of those shouted at me!) and find that last bit of energy to push on. Likewise I tried to pull those behind me on and one or two put on some fantastic bursts of speed. Ultimately I finished in 54:49, not a bad attempt for my first go at pacing.

As ever with Run For All events the organisation was slick and I couldn’t fault it. In terms of pacing I loved it. I got a great sense of satisfaction from it, numerous people came up to me afterwards and thanked me and I even received a complimentary tweet from a spectator to say how encouraging I had been. If the opportunity to pace presents itself again I would grab it with both hands.

Endure 24 Leeds – Race Review

Epic, Brutal, Relentless. Three words on the beautiful race medal that sum up the weekend perfectly.

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For me this was really a weekend of firsts. First time camping at a race, first endurance event, first trail race, first time in a relay team, first time racing in a headtorch, first time I’ve seen a Blues Brothers tribute act at 10pm in the woods part way round a course!!!

The weekend had been a long time in the planning. I had teamed up with seven absolute legends and the aim was to enjoy ourselves and just let the running take care of itself, we had a plan but it was very much subject to how everyone was feeling.

I arrived at the event site at Bramham Park on Friday evening and met fellow team member Allison there. She’d driven up from Oxfordshire and had scoped out a prime camping pitch for us. Within about 45 minutes the main tent was up and we were already sharing plenty of laughs. Allison departed to her much more comfortable hotel for the night and I was left to eat cold pizza and check out the race village and facilities. The fire pit was glowing and DJ Ludo was spinning his tunes as I walked down to be pleasantly surprised by the ample supply of loos, showers and water stations. Even on Friday night the atmosphere was great and it set the scene for a fantastic weekend.

I managed to pinch bits of sleep here and there before finally giving in and getting up around 6.30am on Saturday. The smell of sausage and bacon permeated the air and the sun was already beating down. Within a couple of hours my team mates arrived from various parts of the country and we had several other familiar running luminaries visiting us in camp before the serious stuff got started.

At around 11:50am we headed down to the start line and Ben who was our first runner, I still don’t know how he even managed to stand up given his jet lag, joined the starters in the chute. There was a genuine mix of participants, hardcore solo ultra runners, fun runners, running clubs, pairs and team of friends like ourselves. At bang on noon the gun sounded and we cheered Ben off on the 5 mile course. The plan was to get everyone a lap in and see how we found it. Ben did a cracking job leading off and it seemed like no time before he approached the team handover zone to pass the wristband onto Col. We were all keen to find out what lay ahead of us, Ben’s verdict was to the point, “undulating”, was his summary, this was confirmed by the next couple of team members who went out, I was seventh out of eight in our team to head out and it was late afternoon before my turn came around.

Even at 4.30pm it was still hot. The course was indeed undulating, some of uphills were short and steep, some dragged, some were hellishly dusty. The downhills were mainly quite short and the course took you through some beautiful areas of Bramham Park. The wooded sections provided valuable shade as some of the more exposed areas felt like running on the surface of the sun! Under foot the paths and grass were mainly in decent condition although I did spot a couple of rutted areas and made sure that I committed them to memory knowing I would be going out again at around dusk.

In between running the camp was full of fun, laughter, games, napping and cake. It was basically a great camping weekend during which one of your friends disappears off and another returns every so often.

Suitably refuelled I went out for my second lap at shortly before 10pm. By this time the wearing of a head torch was mandatory although the sun hadn’t quite yet set. The open parts of the course were just about ok but I needed some illumination through the woods to make sure my footing was good. The temperature had also dropped off by this time and it was much more comfortable conditions than earlier in the day. Once I’d handed over I went back to camp, ate some extra large hot dogs, had a brew and bedded down to attempt some kip.

By this time the plan was to send out our runners on double lap stints to try and give people time to sleep. Full credit to everyone in the team who went out in the dark and put in some real shifts. My double didn’t come around until 7am on the Sunday by which time I had been awake a while and was ready and raring to go. Of my three stints over the 24 hours I enjoyed this one the most. I knew what to expect from the course, I paced myself well and I felt good. Two laps done and breakfast consumed it was time to start dismantling camp before we headed down to the finish for the finale.

In all our team completed a very respectable 30 laps (150 miles), ultimately though for me the running and the result were secondary factors in the weekend. For me it was primarily about spending time with some of the best people I have the fortune to know. The spirit in our team, and beyond, was fantastic, the support and encouragement were on another level and plans for next year are already in their infancy.

Finally a couple of thank yous, to the marshals and organisers for a truly great event, to my family for giving me time away to take part, to all the participants for being inspirational and last but by no means least to my squad, you are like my second family and I have nothing but love and respect for you all.

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Run Tourism – Florida

12 months ago I took my running kit away on holiday for the first time to Spain, since then there has been no question, have kit, will travel, run tourism is a part of my holidays that is here to stay.

This time we were on our way to America, and more specifically Florida, to tread the well worn path of theme parks, water parks and buffet restaurants. I knew that running whilst away would not be easy given the schedule that we had but I was determined to get out and keep my running going.

We stayed in a villa on a complex around 20 minutes from Disney and on the second morning there I headed out for the first time around the complex and surrounding streets. It was early when I set off but even at 6.45am it was hot and added to that it was humid. I ran 5k and by the end of it I was drenched, I may as well have got in the pool I was that wet from the sweat.

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I took the following morning off and then embarked on a 7 day run streak, all setting off before 7am. I was awake at that time anyway and decided that I may as well make the most of the time. I didn’t venture too far, my furthest run was 10k but I enjoyed seeing a bit more of the area where we were staying. Getting up early provided some great views and I also ventured slightly off road onto the sandy trails in the area.

After another day off came one of the highlights of my holiday, yes I enjoyed the fireworks at Magic Kingdom and meeting Chewbacca but I was most looking forward to the Sommer Sports Candy Land 5k race in Clermont. I entered both myself and my mother in law. Given the heat the race started at 7.15am and so we were up and out by 5.50am to make sure we made the 40 minute drive with no problems and got there in time to collect our race packets. The race was the first in a series of four throughout the summer and there was also a triathlon taking part.

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The field was very mixed and the lakeside setting provided some lovely scenery to run in. I started about a quarter of the way back in the pack but soon made my way forward through the field. Having set off relatively quickly the heat took its toll on me in the latter stages of the race but I still finished in a respectable 23:25 which placed me 19th out of over 500 runners.

The atmosphere created by supporters and the race host was really enjoyable and the candy theme was a nice touch which gave the event a unique feel. The medal was a whopper too. I even managed to chat to a fellow UK runner at the sweet tent as we tried to decide between all the goodies on offer.

If you are going away I can fully recommend putting out a request on Twitter which is how I found this race and having an experience of running a race overseas, I know that Disney themselves put on various events but sadly none fell during our time there.

Overall I found running in the States to be fantastic, the humidity was something I had never experienced before and being able to take part in a race was the icing on the typically huge slice of cake. If you are away anywhere over the summer, take your kit, get out and enjoy running somewhere new.

 

Leeds Half Marathon – Race Review

Many parts of this review could be a cut and paste job from my review of last year’s race. The crowds were fantastic, the weather was glorious, I met some amazing runners etc etc. But there was one difference in my race this year, it wasn’t about me, it was about my running friend Laura.

Without giving away too much I am part of a fantastic group of runners who formed a bond during the Marathon In A Day event last year and who have stuck together through personal highs and lows ever since. Laura is an integral part of that group and this year she is pushing herself way out of her comfort zone to raise money for St James’ Hospital liver transplant fund. Laura’s mum received a liver transplant last year and this is her way of saying thank you and giving something back, you can find out more on her Just Giving page. Anyway, Laura was due to run at Leeds with another member of our group, Brett, but unfortunately due to illness he had to pull out, in the true spirit of our friendship though Brett still came down to the start to pass on some words of wisdom and wish us all good luck. Late last week then once Brett’s absence was confirmed I offered to run with Laura and pace her around and so I arrived outside Leeds Civic Hall for the start feeling very relaxed and looking forward to a new experience.

Laura and I had a chat before the start and she was concerned about the couple of hills in the first half of the course, I reassured her that they weren’t as bad as they were made out to be but as she trains in a very flat area even the minor incline up the Headrow at the start was described by Laura as a hill!! The forecast rain and cloud had not materialised and as we set off the morning was quickly warming up with hardly a cloud in the sky. We decided we’d aim for sub 2 hours and just see how we went on, no pressure.

Ordinarily I train and race alone, the majority of the time with earphones in and so to run with someone and chat along the way was very novel for me and I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it. I tried to use my experience from last year and knowledge of the course to help and prime Laura for what to expect. We negotiated the first couple of miles with relative ease before the quick twist and turn that leads onto Stonegate Road. I remembered this was the steepest part of the course so about half a mile in advance I made sure Laura knew what was coming and how best to keep her legs going despite the sharp elevation. I slowed the pace to compensate and Laura kept stride with me all the way.

The crowds on this section provided great support and really lifted all the runners. Having my name on my running top really helped and there were countless shouts of “Go Stu!”, “great running Stu!” etc. Never has someone from Bradford been so popular in Leeds!

With Meanwood ticked off we enjoyed the downhill section on the ring road before the second long climb of the route up to Weetwood. Whilst not as steep this climb drags and I actually lied to Laura as I told her we were at the top when I had forgotten that even though the road starts to level slightly there is still a push up to the roundabout at the top, ooops, my bad. We were still keeping a good pace at this point and the 2 hour pacers were well in our sights.

Going through the residential streets of Weetwood was fantastic, more big crowds, more cheers, bands and very happy and supportive marshals all lined the route, there were plenty of sweets, oranges and hose pipes too to help runners out. At around mile 8 the route headed downhill and brought us out onto Kirkstall Road, the long stretch for home started. I knew from here on it was pretty much flat out to the finish and I started to push but with a quick shout Laura reigned me in and I maintained a more consistent pace. The sun was high in the sky by this point and this wide open road offers little shade, that said it did offer more outstanding support and outside Kirkstall Abbey I got some great cheers from the Macmillan Cancer Support cheer point, thanks! I also caught up with a runner from Trawden AC, a club local to me, and we had a nice chat as we went along for half a mile or so.

With a mile left I looked at Laura and knew she didn’t have much left in the tank. From looking at my watch though I knew we would be close to her half marathon PB and so with some gentle words of encouragement interspersed with the odd expletive we headed to the finish. On the corner of the Headrow where the route turns up to the finish line I spotted some more running mates and they shouted some final words of encouragement. You can see me just after 40 seconds of the clip below.

At this point Laura told me to go and sprint but there was no way I was running 13 miles only to abandon her and so she stayed on my shoulder up to the line.

We quickly stopped watches and waited to see if that all important PB message popped up, within seconds it was time to celebrate as Laura had indeed managed a new PB of 1 hour 53 minutes 41 seconds. Laura being her usual self she was quick to heap the praise on me but this was her day, yes I supported her but she ran that time and hopefully proved to herself what a great runner she is.

After collecting the obligatory goody bag and medal we walked back down to the Headrow and met up with our friends who had already finished to share stories and successes of the morning. All agreed it had been a fantastic event and by the end of the day I had already signed up for my third go at the race in 2019.

Thanks once again to everyone involved in the event. The Run For All organisers really know how to put on a top race and the people of Leeds and West Yorkshire really know how to get out and get behind the runners.

Given this blog is pretty much all about Laura the final word has to be about her, Laura is a real inspiration, she is challenging herself and supporting a fantastic cause and in doing so I hope she realises the amazing things she is achieving. If you want to support her then please use the earlier link to her Just Giving page and give her a follow on Twitter to see how she gets on throughout the year via @liver_running 

Leeds Half Marathon – Race Preview

This time last year I wrote a preview of this race and talked about the demons a half-marathon held for me and how I hoped I would overcome them during the race. Well if you read the post race review you will remember that any doubts I had about being able to run 13.1 miles were laid to rest on that sunny day and thinking back now it really gave my confidence a massive boost and for the first time I genuinely saw myself as a runner.

This coming weekend I will return to the streets of Leeds and for the first time I will be running an event for the second time which having thought about it quite a bit recently provides some positives and negatives.

The cons are by no means insurmountable but have bugged me a little. After last year’s race I was on a massive high, the adrenalin was pumping and everything about the day was pretty much perfect, can this year really live up to that? Does it have to live up to that? As this is my second time out on this course I have set a standard, a marker has been laid down in terms of a finishing time. Do I try and beat that time? Do I just go out and run my race and see what happens? If I am slower does that mean I’ve gone backwards? Too many questions and doubts. I need to block them out and focus on the positives.

The pros will hopefully take over in my head. I know the route, the kick up around 3 miles won’t be a shock this year when I turn that corner in Meanwood and I will remember the leg sapping little incline up to the bottom of the Headrow as we strecth out for home. Last year I met some great people before and after the race and this year will be no different, I’m looking forward to meeting some amazing friends almost as much as I am actually looking forward to running. One of the real plus points of this race too is the support. I was truly stunned last year by the number of people who turned out to cheer us on and running in that atmosphere is something that will inspire me again.

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Here’s hoping the weather is good, but not too good and that at the end of the race I have as big a smile on my face as I did last year because ultimately that’s what it’s about, run it, enjoy it, do it all again next year. Bring it on.

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Running Dads

Not content with just writing my own blog, I have recently written a guest piece for the fantastic Running Dads site.

Running Dads has been set up by Anthony Turner as a community of running-loving dads, promoting health, fitness and achievement to our children through our running exploits.

Everything about Anthony and this community rings true with me and it was a pleasure to write a piece for his website.

You can read my guest blog here.

You can also get involved with Running Dads on Twitter @dads_running  and on Facebook here.

The Blackpool Festival Of Running

Just over 6 months ago I completed my first marathon in York. Entering and training for the marathon was the catalyst for writing this blog. The day itself went pretty well but afterwards I vowed never to attempt the distance again, I even had the words “Never Again” engraved on the back of my medal.

I found the training a slog, the race itself was mentally draining and left me flat for weeks afterwards, I walked and ran the last 5 miles or so and finished in a time of 4 hours 1 minute 58 seconds. Whilst I was proud of that time, it began to niggle me as I knew I was capable of going under 4 hours.

In December the good people of Fylde Coast Runners ran daily competitions on Facebook to win places in their many fantastic events. I blindly commented every day and then received a message from them, I’d won a place in the Blackpool Marathon, part of their Festival Of Running weekend, on 22nd April 2018. Shit!!!!!!

I’d already booked my place on the half marathon which was taking place on the same day, did I really want to go back on my word? I mulled it over for a day or so and then took the plunge, do it, get the sub 4 hour time and then retire from marathons in a blaze of glory. I transferred my half marathon place to the Fleetwood half in August and I was in, no turning back.

Apologies here for the rather long preamble. I would have put all of this in a preview blog last week but I wanted to keep my participation as low key as possible. In the build up to York I’d been shouting about it from the rooftops, I was fund raising, writing my blog and actually I think to a degree I put unnecessary pressure on myself, I didn’t want to let people down and in a way I felt I did. This time though I only shared the news with a close circle of people and only tweeted about running on Sunday morning just hours before the start.

 

 

Before I get to Sunday’s events though a quick word or two about Saturday. The festival was a two day event with 2k, 5k and 10k races on Saturday and then the half and full marathons on Sunday. Saturday was glorious in many ways, the weather, the atmosphere, the apple cider lolly on the seafront bringing back childhood memories!

First up my wife Catherine and our friend Tara ran in the 10k, Tara hurt her calf after about 4k but they ran together and saw the race through in a decent time. Next up I ran with Linda, my mother in law who has been taking part in the Couch To 5k programme. It was 1pm when we started and it was HOT! The plan was that I would just stretch my legs before Sunday’s main event and help to pace Linda round, she wanted to run as much of the 5k as possible and to her huge credit she did apart from a nasty incline up off the front which to be honest everyone else we saw walked too. We crossed the line hand in hand in just under 36 minutes which was a fantastic achievement.

Linda now wants to run a 10k which I think is brilliant. A big well done here to everyone else from Activo in Nelson who took part and are achieving amazing health and fitness goals.

Finally there was the 2k, a large chunk of the field was made up of children either running on their own or with their parents. I think this is a great idea and something that other events should look to incorporate, I know some already do. It was lovely to see the enjoyment on everyone’s faces and my son Isaac even asked if he could race next year, more on him to come.

 

 

 

And so to Sunday. I had been checking the forecast virtually hourly for the week leading up to the race and it had changed from sunny, to cloud, to drizzle and then to rain as the week went on. Given the heat of Saturday and the weather in other parts of the country I was actually glad of the cool, damp conditions, I could have done without the wind but beggars can’t be choosers! I had picked up my bib on Saturday and so arrived in Blackpool about 50 minutes before the start to park up. As soon as I turned along the promenade the first spots of rain hit the windscreen and my prayers had been answered. I sat in the car for a while and then made my way down to the start via the usual loo stop. As seems obligatory for me I happened upon one of my running acquaintances Steve in the loo queue and we walked down to the start together discussing upcoming races and Steve’s amazing fundraising for Jane’s Appeal, find out more here. Just chewing the fat completely took my mind away from any pre-race nerves and before I knew it we were lined up and the gun went.

I shook Steve by the hand and wished him well and then I got my running head on. The plan was to just run by feel, my training had gone well and I’d done two 22 mile runs in around 3 hours so I knew that the ultimate goal of sub 4 hours was possible. I didn’t want to mess with my head by pacing myself too much though and checking my watch every couple of minutes so I just went with the flow and what felt comfortable. About a mile in I passed Caterina who I know from Twitter and have met at a couple of races including York where she had so kindly checked if I was ok at the point when I was really struggling. We had a brief chat and then I carried on, we saw each other again during the race and at the finish, she is a top runner and a thoroughly lovely lady.

The course itself was two laps up and down the promenade passing all the famous Blackpool landmarks. I know that some people find this type of course boring and it was my first time trying it. I have to say that I actually found it helpful, I know Blackpool well as a town anyway but the landmarks helped me mentally as I knew exactly where I was and there were no nasty surprises lurking around a corner.

The rain which had briefly abated at the start quickly returned and within a couple of miles we were all soaked, thankfully after an hour or so the rain eased and with a stiff wind blowing down the promenade I soon dried off. The miles clicked past nicely each one indicated by my watch vibrating on my wrist. I took gels on board as planned, sipped at my carb drink and sucked a few boiled sweets. Given that the promenade was closed off there was plenty of room to run and after the first lap the half marathon runners split off down the home straight whilst us marathoners turned back up to the main road and headed towards the Pleasure Beach again.

The support on the course was sporadic, it certainly wasn’t helped by the weather. At the start and finish there was a decent, vocal turnout but along the front we mainly passed stag and hen parties heading out for breakfast who looked at us like we had two heads! There were some groups of family and friends of runners huddled together though, mainly in bus and other shelters waving placards for their loved ones and applauding everyone else for their efforts, I made sure to acknowledge everyone as it was a filthy morning to be stood out for any length of time.

At York I began to fall apart mentally at around mile 18 and then physically from mile 20 and I was determined that would not happen again. This time my legs felt strong, I kept my head clear, ticked off the landmarks and before long I had reached the far end of Bispham and had made the final turn for home. As soon as I got down by the sea wall though the head wind hit me, I knew there were only 2.5 miles to go and I was certain that I would just put my head down and plod on.

 

 

 

My wife, my son and my father in law were waiting at the finish and as I eventually came back up to the middle walkway and the finishing straight I could see Catherine waving and cheering. Suddenly Isaac appeared through the crowd at my side and we crossed the line together. It was a really special moment and one I hope we will both look back on with great fondness in years to come. I know Isaac is proud of me but I secretly think he may just have been after the free Freddo I got too! I received my medal, a whopper, and a really nice tech top and then I needed to get warm. One of my mistakes after York was stopping dead and sitting down. After a brief chat with Caterina I walked the long way back to the car to get the legs warmed down and then relaxed as Catherine drove me home while I checked in with friends and family. I had good news to share, a PB by over 13 minutes, I had cracked it, I finished in 3 hours 48 minutes and 38 seconds.

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Overall the whole weekend was superb. Fylde Coast Runners are a great organisation and the work they put into their events is immense, I want to take this opportunity to thank everyone who was involved for their part from the marshals stood out in the wind and rain, to the girls at the registration tent and water stations and the lady who did the finish line commentary. Every single person played a part in making the festival a triumph and something that I will remember for a long time to come.

So that is it, I am officially retired from marathons but I am certainly not retiring from running. Next up is the Leeds half marathon in mid May and then the Endure24 event in Leeds at the end of June which I am running with a right bunch of sausages.

Thanks for reading what feels like a marathon blog, well done if you made it to the end in one piece, until the next time…..

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Darwen Heritage Half Marathon – Race Review

Despite running countless half marathons in training I realised late last week that this was going to be only the third attempt I’d made at this distance in an actual race. The contrast between my previous two half marathons couldn’t have been more stark, the first was a disaster, the second felt like redemption, what lay ahead this time?

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I’ll tell you what lay ahead, hills, hills, bloody hills everywhere!!! Now don’t get me wrong, I like a hill or two, I knew that the course fell into the category of, “challenging yet scenic”, when I signed up and I had scoped out the route profile in advance but boy was this tough!

The race started outside Darwen Aldridge Community Academy and the school’s Sport Centre hosted the race HQ. I arrived around 8.45am for a 9.30am start and there were two long, snaking lines split alphabetically to collect your bib, timing chip and souvenir t-shirt. As at the previous two events I have run this year there was plenty of representation from local clubs with Blackburn Road Runners and Ramsbottom Running Club seeming to have the largest contingents. The sports hall provided warm shelter on what was a bright yet chilly morning and I stayed inside to get myself sorted and use the facilities, my one gripe of the day was that there weren’t many cubicles in the gents and one that I found free upstairs had the door missing! I made my excuses and went in the ladies!

The start of the race set the tone, you guessed it, uphill start, in fact the first two and a half miles or so were all pretty much uphill as we headed out of Darwen into the rolling countryside. The first section was on closed roads but once we hit the A666 towards Bolton, runners were on the pavement and open roads. Just after three miles the route turned off the main road and we picked up the country lanes that are the backbone of the course. The weather was fine and I took time to take in some of the fantastic scenery and views that the route had to offer. Even out in the sticks there were plenty of supporters on the roadside and I realised later as faces reappeared that several people were taking the opportunity of an open course to drive around and cheer friends, family and club mates at various points on the course, one chap who was running around the same pace as me from Blackburn Road Runners seemed very popular and got plenty of encouragement around almost every corner.

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Just before mile 5 the route headed downhill, having seen the profile I knew this was temporary and so I held my legs back whilst others overtook me at speed. Once we hit the village of Edgworth the climbing started again almost instantly and it was steep, I tried to hold my pace and passed several runners who had overtaken me on the downhill section beforehand. Coming through Edgworth I spotted the local vicar and some of his congregation at the side of the road, it felt for a second or two like the York marathon and the high fiving vicar all over again but this time sadly not. They must have been on some sort of parade, a marshal was holding the group back to cross the road at an opportune moment between runners and although there were some shouts of encouragement a high five didn’t materialise, maybe next year he’ll receive a command from on high to follow his colleague!

Pushing on through Edgworth the incline was almost relentless. At around 8.5 miles the road peaked and I glanced to my right to see runners in the distance heading down a steep slope before an equally vicious ascent, joy! Although relatively short this part was probably the toughest and numerous people were slowing to a walk as the gradient bit hard. Again I tried to maintain a steady pace and pushed on up. There was some brief respite at the top of this climb but it was short lived as the road continued onwards and upwards for another mile and a half. One nasty little section to the final summit remained to be conquered and the cheers of the large group from Blackburn Road Runners here really helped to push me and others on. At last there was nothing above but blue sky, all 1,244ft of elevation was behind me and looking down to my left at around 10.5 miles I caught sight of the school down in the valley below. It was time to let the hand brake off and open my legs for a fast finish, in fact my final mile of running at 6 minutes 55 seconds was easily my quickest of the whole race.

My wife and children were going to be at the finish to see me home and my parents had also come to stay over for the weekend and this was the first time they had been to one of my races so it was great to see them all cheering and waving. I made it back in 95th place, not sure how many finished but 500 entered so I was happy with that along with my time of 1.42:04.

 

Once over the line I received my medal and souvenir bottle of beer which had been brewed especially for the race. The medal is a beast of a size and it also has a section cut out so that it doubles as a bottle opener, nice!!!

Overall I really enjoyed the race, it was testing on the legs but a great challenge. Darwen Dashers who organised the race deserve great credit, the route was very well marshalled, the entry fee proved excellent value for money and by using the school as the base for the event all the facilities needed were on hand. A mention too for all the supporters out on the course and again those there primarily to back runners from the Blackburn and Ramsbottom clubs, they still made noise for every runner and I loved the clanging of the cow bells they’d brought along, very apt for what felt like some Alpine hills!!

This highlights video I think provides a great summary of the day too and gives you a flavour of the terrain and local scenery.

NB – If you have found the link to this blog via Twitter, I am still on my hiatus for Lent, I’ll be back soon, the link is set up as an auto post so feel free to retweet and @ tag any of the clubs I’ve mentioned above to share this.

It’s Running Jim, But Not As I Know It

The Beast From The East, snow, ice, wind, sludge etc etc, you all know the score, it’s been quite a week.

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Whilst I am a hardy soul, I ventured out for a swift 5.5 miles on Wednesday in spite of the snow and much to the incredulity of my wife, I drew the line at risking my usual Friday training slot in the midst of the meteorological onslaught. By then I’d already been off work for four days, working in a school does have some benefits, and I was going stir crazy, cabin fever had well and truly set in. I was itching to get out for a run but I didn’t much fancy catching hypothermia. My wife is a member at a local gym, she knows how I need to run, she doesn’t like me risking life and limb in the name of exercise and so with a quick phone call she set me up with a free 7 day pass at her gym.

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The gym is a pretty foreign place to me, apart from a quick session during a hotel stay a few years ago I haven’t set foot in one for well over a decade. Not much has changed, the machines have more bells and whistles, there are still blokes grunting and panting with large weights in a corner, although apparently it is now acceptable to facetime someone whilst you are cross training!?

And so I took a deep breath and put my best foot forward onto the treadmill. Firstly the measurements were in kilometers and kmph and I couldn’t work out how to change them to my preferred miles and mph setting so I was thrown. I had my Garmin on with my usual settings but apart from the time they didn’t seem to tally with the treadmill readings based on my rudimentary conversions. Although I had a window view and didn’t have to look at myself in the mirror I was soon bored. My legs felt like they were spinning at quite a rate but looking at my pace I was slower than normal, this also played with my head.

In the end I managed 50 minutes plus a 5 minute cool down. It wasn’t pretty, I didn’t enjoy it but it was more than necessary to stretch my legs and get some positive chemicals flowing. I finished off the session with a 15 minute cycle and some weights, don’t worry there was no panting or strained expressions!

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As I have a free pass and had some time on my hands today I thought I’d give the gym a second chance. The weather has improved slightly but the snow and ice has turned to horrible slush and I’ll wait until tomorrow to experience that delight. I set my sights a touch lower given Friday’s run and did what felt like a swift 5km, again the feeling and the reality were two very different things and I was considerably slower than I would normally be. A quick cross train later and some weights followed before I finished off with 10 minutes of intervals, at least that bit worked well once I had figured out how to alternate the pace of the machine.

As you may have guessed I am not a fan of treadmills but in the circumstances this was a necessary evil. The pass I have entitles me to use the local running track and so I will try to make the most of that, weather permitting, later in the week, another change of scenery will do me good and I enjoyed my short track outing at the Winter Warmer 10k last month. For now I will chalk this one up to experience, I’m not slating anyone who uses treadmills regularly, I am just saying that they are not for me, I need fresh air, I need a changing view and I need to know that the effort I am putting in actually equates to what I am getting out. Maybe I’ll try again in another 10 years.


NB – If you follow me on Twitter you will have noticed that I am taking a self-imposed break for Lent, I am using the auto post feature on Word Press to share this link so rest easy that I haven’t succumbed to temptation!