Leeds Half Marathon – Race Review

Family, friends, Bradfordians, please forgive me for what I am about to write. On Sunday, Leeds, for a couple of hours I loved you. The cheering crowds, the kids with bowls of sweets, the ladies with orange slices, the sunshine, Leeds was the place to be and it was magnificent.

It was an early start for me as I made my way over to Leeds and arrived at around 8.15am. It had just stopped drizzling and was still somewhat overcast on the walk down from my parking spot outside the University. I’d arranged to meet up with some of Twitter’s finest and as I made my way to the portaloo I came across Luke and Tristan, it was fantastic to finally meet them in person even if wasn’t in particularly salubrious surroundings. We headed up to Millennium Square and met up with Sarah, Colin, Keith, Steve, Caterina and Alison. Even though we barely knew each other there was a great camaraderie with people exchanging stories, tips and hopes for how we’d get on over the coming 13.1 miles, this was the #ukrunchat community in full effect.

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The start was staggered and I was in the red group at 9.30am so I headed to hand in my bag, very efficient, and then made my way to the start pen to do a quick warm up. After a slight delay we shuffled forward and turned the corner onto The Headrow to pass the start line.

By this time the clouds were lifting and the sun was out. As a result of staggering the starting groups the field was well spread and with fully closed roads we were able to fan out quickly, the numbers were also thinned out as people headed off into the bushes for a quick comfort break, for next year I think it would be good if the organisers arranged more portaloos at the start.

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The first couple of miles were pretty uneventful until we turned onto Stonegate Road at mile 3 and the road took a relatively sharp climb upwards through Meanwood. The crowds at this point provided real encouragement, and bowls of Jelly Babies, and it wasn’t too far before we turned again and headed down to the ring road section.

Miles 5 and 6 were for me the dullest part of the route as the dual carriageway headed towards Weetwood. As you would expect there were few spectators in this section and the highlight was the water station at the bottom of the next hill.

Just past the 6 mile marker at the top of the hill the crowds returned and there were some great homemade placards hammered into the grass verge, my favourite was “pain is just the French word for bread”.

We wound our way through the residential streets of Weetwood for the next couple of miles and the support was superb, as you turned every corner people lined the streets to encourage complete strangers, it was genuinely heartwarming and made me proud to be a Yorkshireman. At the top of Butcher Hill there was a church choir on the grass bank singing their hearts out, there must have been at least 30 of them. I felt rather sinful as Guns N Roses were blasting through my headphones at that precise moment so I pulled one earphone out to give them a listen and applaud them back in recognition of their efforts.

A couple of hundred yards down the road was the 8 mile marker and the cue for me to take on board my SIS electrolyte gel. I’d planned my fuelling and I was feeling great at this point but knew I would need this to see me through and keep my energy levels up. Note to other runners here, if you are going to use gels please try and put the empty sachets in your pocket or the nearest bin rather than drop them all over the road for someone else to slip on, rant over.

From mile 9 the rest of the route was flat back into the city centre along Abbey Road and Kirkstall Road. My friend Catherine had arranged to cheer me at mile 10 and it was great to see her and her girls, it gave me a real lift just when I needed it, I stopped briefly for a quick hug and carried on. The sun was now high in the sky and the shade of the earlier sections of the course had given way to wide open roads with nowhere to hide. I spotted the Kirkstall Road viaduct in the distance knowing that signalled we were nearing home, it is a huge structure though and it proved to be a deceptive temptress as it felt like an age before I passed under it.

Finally I reached the bottom of The Headrow and knew the end was nigh. I pulled out both earphones here to take in the support of the crowd, having my name on the front of my top really helped, “come on Stu”, “keep going Stu”, “nearly there Stu”, unbelievable, I was really focussed on keeping my stride pattern going but made sure everyone who cheered for me got a thumbs up. The finish line was in Millennium Square so I passed the start line, turned left and there were just walls of people 4 and 5 deep on both sides for the home straight making an amazing noise, it was breathtaking.

I crossed the line in 1 hour 44 minutes and 55 seconds, I was thrilled and really proud that my training and preparation had paid off.

The organisation in the finish area was great, goody bag, medal and celebratory pint of Erdinger Alkoholfrei were collected in a flash and I sat down in the shade of the MacMillan Cancer Support tent to cool off and bask in the glory.

It wasn’t long though before I headed back down to the finish to cheer everyone else on. Runners are honestly some of the best and most supportive people I have ever met and it was nice to be able to see Alison and Sarah coming home and give them a shout. We rounded the day off with a few drinks to celebrate and it was great to share each others successes.

I can’t let this review pass without thanking everyone who has donated to my fundraising too, you are all so kind and generous and have given me extra motivation to train and run and be the best I can be.

This really was a day to remember. Yes it was hot, yes there were hills (they weren’t that big), but the event was very well organised and I have already signed up for next year. I felt great and really enjoyed my running, after my nightmare at the 2007 Great North Run my demons have been banished and I can now focus on the York marathon in October with renewed confidence. I know it will be tough but I also know that I can do it and when I need that extra boost a combination of energy gels and cheering strangers will get me through.

Thank you Leeds, it was emotional.

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Leeds Half Marathon Preview

Sunday 14th May marks the next stage in my #marathonbore journey as I take on the Leeds half marathon.

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In writing this I have mixed emotions about what lies ahead of me. On the most basic level it’s 13.1 miles, a distance I have covered  several times in training in the last few months as I’ve built up to Sunday’s event and to be honest the distance in itself does not faze me. I am excited about the challenge ahead and I’m looking forward to taking in the atmosphere and support of the crowd. I hope to meet a few fellow tweeters in person for the first time at some point on the day which will be great and will add that extra level of encouragement and camaraderie, especially as my family aren’t able to attend. To be honest I’m also eager to get my hands on some nice bling as a tangible reward for putting in the hours and miles needed to get me to this point. I’m using this event and the York marathon to raise money for two great charities as well and in the last couple of weeks my fundraising totals have started to pick up, this has added to my motivation and the generosity of friends, family and complete strangers is genuinely heart-warming.

I am though a little anxious about running in such a large field as this will be the biggest event I have run in since my epic fail at the Great North Run 2007. I am a bit of a lone wolf when it comes to running, I like space to settle into a rhythm, get my head in the right place and enjoy what I am doing, if nothing else space also allows me to clear my airways without the risk of catching anyone else in the crossfire! There are staggered start times on Sunday depending on predicted finish times and I’m in red group which sets off at 9.30am along with blue group. These are the first two groups, I’m pretty sure I entered a realistic finishing time of 1 hour 45 minutes, so I’m expecting a large chunk of the group to be quicker than me, my plan is to start near the tail end of the group and hopefully create some room for myself that way rather than getting caught up in the middle of a pack and pulled along at a pace that’s too fast for me.

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Growing up in Bradford and having spent some time in Leeds as a student back in the day I have a degree of familiarity with the area and know parts of the course in my head. The first section starting on The Headrow gives me no concerns but looking at elevation maps of the course, as we get out beyond the city centre the route climbs steadily for the vast majority of the first half of the course as we wend our merry way up towards Weetwood. My worry here is that although the climb isn’t overly steep it is a constant drag and could prove to be energy sapping on what could be a quite warm today, potentially leaving me with little in the tank for later on, I need to get my fuelling right here so that this doesn’t become a reality. The second half of the course is much flatter and I’m looking forward to heading back into Leeds past the picturesque Kirkstall Abbey and then the final push down Kirkstall Road back to Millennium Square, just visualising this as I type brings a smile to my face.

Sunday will be a great barometer for me of how far I have come and how far I have yet to go, not just physically but mentally, I’ll post a race review next week, wish me luck!

Demons

A belated race review of the Great North Run….2007!

It’s now just under two weeks until I take my running to the next level as I take on the Leeds half marathon, I have a confession to make though, I’ve actually attempted a half marathon before. Rewind nearly 10 years and my life was rather different. I was single, I didn’t have kids, I lived on my own, I had a lot of spare time on my minds, but aside from the usual ties that bind us (family, friends, football teams) there was one similarity, I was training for a half marathon. When I say training I mean half-arsed runs with no plan or structure that somewhere in my head meant I was prepared for what lay ahead, the 2007 Great North Run. IMG_20170405_091821.jpg

A friend from university, thanks Catherine (not my wife!), had talked me into doing it and so in the summer of 2007 I knocked out maybe one run a week at most and went for it.

On the morning of 30th September I woke up early and headed up the A1. My nod to pre-race fuelling on the drive was knocking back a bottle of Lucozade Sport and working my way through a chocolate covered Kendal Mint Cake. Arriving in the North East I parked up near the finish line in South Shields and jumped on the Metro bound for Newcastle. It was still quite early but there were plenty of people around and so I headed over to eye up the start line. I seem to recall there was a stand dishing out free energy drinks and so I downed another bottle. Eventually I needed the loo, that was an experience in itself! I’ve never before used a urinal in the back of a converted HGV trailer, it wasn’t long before there was a steady stream of steaming you know what overflowing across the car park.

I got myself ready, handed my bag in and made my way down to the starting pen. I couldn’t tell you what finish time I’d estimated when I entered but looking around me there were some serious looking athletes, doubts were already creeping in. It wasn’t long until the mass warm-up and then the start gun and we were off down the inner-city motorway. Within a couple of hundred yards people were already stopping for a wee, guess they didn’t fancy the HGV trailer. As we ran under a couple of underpasses a shout of “oggy, oggy, oggy” went up, what had I got myself into? I’d never run in a large group before and it was carnage, people cutting me up, barging into me, a real baptism of fire.

It wasn’t too far before we crossed the iconic Tyne Bridge, out of nowhere a wave of emotion crashed over me and I found myself in tears, I was raising money for the British Heart Foundation who had supported my dad in his recovery from a heart attack and I think that combined with the occasion reduced me temporarily to an emotional wreck. Crossing into Gateshead I soon got myself together though and as the field thinned out a bit I plodded away down the dual carriageway. At just before 10k we turned off this road and started down towards South Shields, I remember seeing a large roadside display with the distance and gun time on and for me I was flying, 49:53 according to my race certificate. Even my 10 mile time split was decent.IMG_20170405_091827

Catherine though had warned me about the hill in the second half of the race. Memory tells me it started around mile 8 or so but I can’t be certain, you’ll know if you’ve ever done this event. What I do remember though is the amazing support on that section, it was a hot day and the crowds were out in force, there were bands playing on roundabouts and spectators offering us pints as we passed, welcome to the North East!

As the hill dragged and the heat seemingly intensified my early, frankly ridiculous pace, started to take its toll. My legs first became heavy and then turned to jelly, I sat down at the side of the road, next thing I was flat out on my back and a passing medic was loading me onto a stretcher and taking me to a conveniently close medical tent where I was put on a drip due to dehydration. 45 minutes passed and two saline bags later I felt better, I talked the medics into letting me continue and headed back out, bouncebackability. At the time of flaking out I hadn’t realised how close I was to the top of the hill, from there on it was down to the sea front and along the finishing straight. I was gutted, I’d blown it, how was I going to tell people what had happened? I sought comfort in a 4 pack of chocolate doughnuts and a family size pizza, refuelling at its best! My finisher’s medal and t-shirt from that day are emblazoned with the slogan, “Participate, Enjoy, Succeed”, just the one out of three for me then! After this experience my confidence was shot to pieces and although I did the Manchester 10k in 2009 I hadn’t until last year done any serious running since.

So there you have it, my demons laid bare. 10 years is a long time and I’ve learned a huge amount about myself in the interim. This time around I’ve trained properly, I think 13.1 miles may be my distance, physically I’m ready.

Mentally I have baggage but I’m confident that I’ve done all I can and in taking on this race I am starting to write a new chapter, there’ll no doubt still be setbacks to endure along the way but believe me when I say I won’t let them fester so long this time!

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