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?
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.
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.