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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