August Bank Holiday Saturday, for once the sun has its hat on and all is good with the world. There’s only one thing to do, head for the coast; sand, slot machines, fish and chips and a 10k race! Ok so that last one isn’t on most people’s list for a typical day at the seaside but my Saturday in Blackpool centred around the Illuminations 10k organised by the lovely people at Fylde Coast Runners (FCR).
I’ve been looking forward to the race for a couple of months, it was a sell out and based on the great reports I’d heard about other FCR races and the reviews from the inaugural running of this event last year it was going to be something to behold.
The race was due to start at 8pm but to make the most of the weather we took the 45 minute drive over to the coast early and arrived in Blackpool at around 3.30pm. When I say we, this was the first time that my wife and two children have attended a race to support me all together so it was a real family affair and added an even more special touch to what was already going to be a pretty unique day.
The kids happily cycled along the promenade as we went in search of the registration tent. Having bumped into several other runners along the way we located the tent near the start line, as per the instructions email, on the middle walkway near the Hilton hotel on the North Shore. For those familiar with Blackpool this is just under a mile from the North Pier and whilst a slight leg stretch out of town it means that the race is able to start away from the madding crowds of Blackpool on a Bank Holiday Saturday night, a wise decision. The registration process was quick and simple and I collected my bib, timing chip, pins and glow sticks (yes glow sticks) without delay. As it was only 5pm we headed back into town, deposited the bikes back in the car and the family polished off a McDonald’s whilst I sat there sipping water. There was also time for my wife to add further to her shoe collection and to take a few selfies before walking back up to the start. Catherine and the kids hung back and went in the arcades, this gave them time to fuel their 2p slider obsessions and find a decent vantage point to see me come down the first stretch of the course.
The start area was already heavily populated half an hour before gun time but I found my Twitter buddy Natalie and her girlfriend snazzily dressed in running gear and tutus and we had a good chat, Nat also helped me to put on my green glow stick bracelet which for a 39 year old man was proving ridiculously difficult. The consensus was we were going to just get round and enjoy the race with the bigger picture of impending marathons and half marathons in mind (spoiler alert, it was PBs all round!). With a minute or two to go the queue for the toilets finally cleared and I skipped out of the start pen and had my customary pre-race pit stop and then we were off.
The opening stretch was along the middle walkway running south towards the North Pier, the field fanned out nicely and I was soon high fiving my children before we dropped down to the lower walkway and turned north again to make the run up to Bispham. Passing the start again, just lower down, the race hosts (sorry I didn’t catch their names but they were fantastic) called out as many runners’ names as they could which was a nice boost right at the start of a race and the crowd at this point was strong and cheered friends, family and strangers into the distance.
The sun had started to set and it was a cool, calm evening, perfect for running, the view out to the Irish Sea was glorious and something that again added to the distinctive feeling of the event. The course itself was pancake flat and the surface was perfect for trotting out a decent, consistent pace. In what seemed like no time I reached the point where the race split and those who had entered the 5k made the climb back up to the promenade whilst us 10k runners continued on. Not much further down the front was the water station, I don’t tend to drink at all during a 10k so left the bottles for others but it was nice of a fellow runner to notice I didn’t have one and he offered me his bottle before he disposed of it, the running family at its supportive best.
Looking up as I neared Bispham I could see the Illuminations lighting up the dusk above me and those at the front of the race who had already made the turn for home, I have to say this spurred me on and having checked my Garmin I knew that a PB was possible. I felt strong despite having already run nearly 43 miles in the week and all those sensible thoughts of just enjoying myself went out of the window.
Back on the promenade I picked up the pace and passed quite a few runners from both the 10k and the tail end of the 5k. I had only spotted a distance marker at 4k and so I was reliant on my Garmin being accurate but as the number of spectators increased I knew I must be approaching the finish although I couldn’t actually see it. Time was ticking on, I knew I was going to be close to 45 minutes but it was nip and tuck. The route then dipped off the promenade back onto the middle walkway, the banks of spectators grew and I could hear the race hosts again. I put my head down and went for it, in doing so I totally missed seeing my family but I was in the zone, I crossed the line and stopped my watch at 45.11, a PB, fantastic.
I collected my water and beautiful spinning medal and found the family to celebrate and cheer others home. It was great to see the same determination in so many runners approaching the finish and the support of the crowd was genuinely heart-warming, there was some fantastic fancy dress too with several runners going full on Christmas tree with the number of fairy lights they’d managed to decorate themselves in.
Once Natalie had made it home we strolled back to town, took a few more selfies and helped out others with their obligatory celebration group shots with the famous Blackpool Tower in all its illuminated glory as the backdrop.
I was thrilled to have felt so good and to have produced a time so close to a target that I had actually set for myself already for next year, to run a sub 45 minute 10k. On reflection I loved everything about the event, if I wasn’t PB chasing I would have probably taken in more of the Illuminations which were actually turned on especially for the event as the actual official switch on isn’t until this Friday, 1st September. I will definitely be entering more FCR events in the future and would recommend this race to everyone whether an experienced runner or not, it caters for all comers and it is a fabulous way to spend a Saturday night.