Wesham 10k – Race Review

I can hardly believe that it already over a week since I actually ran this race. I am usually quite good at being prompt with my race reviews but the last seven days have included celebrating my birthday, the usual family commitments and to be honest lazing on the sofa watching people eat sheep penis and pig anus. It’s not that I didn’t love the race either, what’s not to enjoy about a lovely countryside course on a crisp winter morning and a PB by over 90 seconds?

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I am still slightly confused by a couple of things from last Saturday though. I have lived in East Lancashire for nearly 10 years now but my trips over to Preston and the surrounding area have been few and far between and have mainly been to catch a train to London. I have never been to Wesham before and despite this race being the Wesham 10k, I still don’t think I have been to Wesham. On the drive there I never saw a sign for Wesham. The race was a loop course starting and finishing in Lea Town and going through Boltons Croft and Clifton, according to the rather smart map on the finisher’s t-shirt. I know I could just look at a map but where is Wesham and more to the point how do you pronounce this place name? In my head it was Wesh-am, but during the pre-race briefing I am sure the chap doing the talking said Wes-ham, my brain works in odd ways, these things actually keep me awake at night!

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Getting back to the race itself and it was a new one for me. The race HQ was at a local pub, genius idea from whoever came up with that. Plenty of seating to keep warm once I had collected my race number and timing chip and there were brews and bacon butties on offer for anyone wanting last minute fuel or for those who had turned out to spectate, I half expected someone to be necking a pint of ale too. The car parking was plentiful and was right next to the starting funnel. Having left the pub I took shelter from the early morning chill back in the car for a while and watched as those a bit braver than I warmed up by running up and down the car park. I eventually grew a pair and joined everyone else for the briefing, tucking my arms inside my top to maintain a degree of warmth, the chap wearing the Blackburn Road Runners mascot outfit had gone to the other extreme, it looked hot in that suit!

The course itself was a lovely route around country lanes and once I got going I soon warmed up. My training has been going well and I decided to just go for it and see how it went but I made a conscious decision again not to check my watch. The field of nearly 500 spread out quite quickly but I was always running with someone or chasing someone down. The lanes were slightly rough in places and a covering of mud and horse muck made a couple of areas a tad slippery but nothing too dangerous. This part of Lancashire is pretty flat and there were a couple of sections I would describe as rolling but nothing that could be defined as a hill.

After what seemed like no time at all the race HQ pub came back into view and I knew the finish would be nearby, although I wasn’t 100% sure where the line actually was. Turning back onto the main road through the village and I saw numerous spectators and some runners who had already finished. The friendly marshall who had earlier guided me into the car park from the other direction was now signalling me to turn left back into the car park and it was at that point that I saw the line and the timing clock. Only at that point did it dawn on me how fast I had actually run. My previous best was 44:06, pre-race I secretly hoped to shave those couple of seconds off and go under 44 minutes but to come in at 42:32 was a genuine surprise.

For a local race with a reasonable entry price the finisher’s medal and t-shirt were really good and I love the colour of the top too which is always a bonus, there were also plenty of race photos uploaded onto Facebook, as you can see I have saved several, inflated race photo prices are a real turn off so it is great to see a smaller race helping to publicise itself in this way and also give runners so nice souvenirs. My main criteria for rating a race is my initial reaction of did I enjoy it and would I do it again, in this case it is a resounding yes on both counts. A big thanks to Wesham Road Runners for putting on the event and to their team of marshals and helpers who were all really welcoming, I might try your summer 10k in 2019, possibly a bit warmer.

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Manchester Half Marathon – Race Review

When I signed up for this race I made a mental note that this was going to be one of my “A” races for the year. Big city, big field, big chance of a PB given a fast, flat course. Whilst the first two on that list weren’t going to change my struggles due to anaemia over the summer meant that I had no idea if a PB was realistic. I’ve kept myself ticking over with plenty of shorter training runs in the last 6 weeks but have only covered the half marathon distance twice in that time, that said both those runs felt good and so I went into the race with a degree of confidence that a time of around 1 hour 40 minutes was possible.

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The forecast for Sunday was typically Mancunian, rain all day. With a 9am start time I was up just after 6am to make sure I got ready and was able to make the drive over and find a parking spot that wasn’t miles away from the start. I’d been recommended a place near Salford Quays which was easy to find and I was there in plenty of time so sat in the car to stay warm and get ready, at this point the rain started and it didn’t stop.

I made my way over to Hotel Football just by Old Trafford (Manchester United) as this was the Race Check meeting point for the day and where I’d arranged to meet the Twitter legend that is Bill Andrews. Bill and I have become online friends over the last year or so but had never actually met in person and so it was great to finally be in the presence of running royalty, he even wore his visor tiara. There were plenty of other familiar faces around and I met Bri, Rach and Ash for the first time in the flesh too. We chewed the fat and sheltered from the rain until it was time to head up to the start through the different coloured starting pens and queues for the portaloos. I made it to pen B at around 8.50am and despite being near the back it was very crowded. Plenty of people were still coming through and some runners vaulted the nearby barriers to get further forward which was quite dangerous I felt. 9am came and went and there was an announcement of a delayed start. I’d had the foresight to put on a bin bag to keep dry and warm and this served me well as we stood around. Eventually the wheelchair and elite runners set off and then wave A went next, wave B were called forward and at that point I ditched the very fashionable attire, little did I know that we’d be held for another 5 minutes or so until we set off.

The first half mile or so was carnage, I’ve never seen or experienced as much bumping and barging as people fought for some space, this wasn’t helped either by those who needed to make one last wee stop and veered in front of others as they headed for the bushes by the side of the road. If this had been my first race I’d have been very put off by what happened. The first couple of miles were a loop from Old Trafford (Manchester United) out and back round on some pretty narrow residential streets. In general there was just about enough space for everyone but quite a few people used the pavement and when I came up on the 1:45 pacer he had a large group with him and I had no choice but to use the pavement to get by.

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By the 5km marker the loop was complete and we were on a much larger road running out of Manchester towards the M60. This section helped to get the field better spread out and the twists and turns of the first part of the race gave way to a fast, straight course. I’ve driven into Manchester a couple of times this way and so knew where I was and had some rough markers in my head. It didn’t feel like that long until we went under the M60 and beyond to Sale. This section was all new to me but the straight course continued for a couple more miles until we turned and began the second half of the race, we were back in residential streets mainly and I had no idea where I was apart from catching the odd Metrolink station sign.

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At this point I think it is worth mentioning the crowds, the weather was awful and yet the support out on the route was superb, there were choirs, pub bands, brass bands, steel drum bands and a whole host of others. In honour of my running buddies I’d got “sausage” as my name on my bib and I was surprised by how many people were prepared to shout, “go on sausage”, at a passing stranger, it certainly raised a smile and a few questions from kids to their parents as I passed by asking if that was my real name! Special shout out here too to Bri, Rach and Ash (sorry if I missed anyone else) who weren’t running for various reasons but had come along anyway to support everyone, thanks for the encouragement.

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By mile 11 I’d regained my bearings and we were back under the M60 and on the final push towards Old Trafford (Lancashire County Cricket Club). My legs felt good, my feet felt very soggy but I was determined to just keep going and not look at my watch, que sera sera. A friend from work who was also running had received some advice from his running club mates that the finish straight was deceptively long and so not to open up a sprint too early as you can see the finish gantry from a fair way out. I kept that in mind as it came into sight and tried to up my pace without burning my remaining energy out. I’ve made the mistake before of posing for the finish photo and forgetting to stop my Garmin, I never buy the photos anyway and so as soon as I crossed the mat I hit stop and that lovely new record message appeared. To be honest I wasn’t 100% certain what my previous PB was, it turned out I’d beaten it by just 8 seconds but I was thrilled, and now cold and even soggier. The organisation at the finish was infinitely better than at the start and I was presented with my medal and then ushered down towards the cricket ground entrance where volunteers aplenty were handing out goody bags and keeping people moving on towards the massage tents, bag drop and various other stalls.

After a quick photo I dug out the space blanket from the bag and tried to regain some heat as I went back down to the finish line to find a vantage point. I managed to get up on a wall to see if I could cheer home several people who I knew were running but in the half an hour or so that I was there I saw none of them and as I was losing the feeling in my fingers and trench foot was setting in in my sodden Nikes I decided it was best to walk back to the car and get warm.

The drive home afforded me plenty of time to reflect on my morning and for my muscles to seize up. There were numerous positives to look back on, the main one being the great camaraderie experienced before and during the race, yes a PB was nice too but for me times aren’t the be all and end all. The course was fast and flat as promised but apart from the two Old Traffords I felt it lacked any real character, that said the support probably made up for that in the end. Would I run this race again? Maybe. There are plenty of other races on in the autumn calendar that I’d do first before I came back to it but never say never.

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Fairhaven Flyer 10k – Race Review

If I really wanted to be cheeky I could have written my shortest ever blog here and just posted, “Absolutely loved it!”, and left it at that. But then that wouldn’t have satisfied my love of writing and anyone reading it would probably have thought I was some sort of clown.

I had responded to a Facebook post from Fylde Coast Runners in the summer asking for pacers for the inaugural running of the Fairhaven Flyer 10k. I was allocated the 55 minute pacing slot which was the same as my first pacing assignment at the Burnley 10k back in July so I knew that I was capable of doing a decent job.

Arriving on the Fylde Coast around an hour before the gun time I was greeted with a blustery wind blowing in off the Irish Sea and drizzle interspersed with heavy downpours. I headed to the race HQ tent and collected my pacing flag and bib before retreating to the car for some much needed shelter until it was time for the obligatory pre-race portaloo stop and a quick chat with the lead cyclist to get a briefing on the route. It was very much a flat course, a couple of laps of Fairhaven lake, then down to St Anne’s, a quick loop round the crazy golf and beach huts then back up to Fairhaven, through the park, past the Flyer itself and finish just off the front down by the lake.

Just as we got under way the rain started again after a brief respite and it began to get heavier, the wind got up too and my pacer flag was flapping around all over the place. After the first lap the field settled down and it was clear who was running with me, I had a group of about half a dozen and I made sure I had a chat with everyone to see how they were and what they were hoping for. There was also a group not far in front who were trying to stay ahead of me. My main concern was the flag, low hanging trees, lamp posts and bus stops all proved hazardous and I had to keep looking up and around to see which side the flag was on.

By the time we reached 3k the rain was really coming down heavily and we were all soaked to the skin, the cross wind was also testing in spite of some shelter from the dunes. On reaching St Anne’s and the halfway mark the precipitation had abated but we were now faced with the dilemma of either long jumping over some sizeable puddles or running through them, with already soggy feet it was a no brainer. My group had now fragmented from its original make up with a couple upping their pace and pushing out in front and some of the group who had previously been ahead dropping back, I also lost one or two out of the back which was a shame but having checked my watch I knew my pace was consistent so there was nothing I could do.

On the final stretch back through the park I picked up a couple more runners and encouraged them to find what they could to finish strongly.  We ran along the sea wall and then turned back down through the trees to the finish line crossing it and stopping my watch at 54 minutes 54 seconds, job done. I was glad I’d been able to pace the race so well and my mile splits were really consistent, helped greatly by the flat nature of the course. It was also heartening to have several runners approach me afterwards to thank me for helping them achieve PBs, even one young lady who dropped back came to find me as she’d still run a PB, I also received some really nice comments via the Fylde Coast Runners Facebook page later on Sunday which made my day.

Finally there was the race medal, Fylde Coast Runners in my experience always have superb bling even down to the ribbon and this one did not disappoint with its nod to the Spitfire memorial which stands proudly in the park. Overall I had a fantastic morning and it was great to be able to support other runners in setting new PB times. I would recommend both this event and Fylde Coast Runners in general to anyone in the running community, they are a really welcoming bunch who put on great events and their spirit was summed up for me today with how cheerful and encouraging the marshals were despite standing there is less than pleasant conditions, a big thank you to them all, let’s do it all again next year.

Wigan 10k – Race Review

It feels like an eternity since I last posted on this blog, it was actually about 6 weeks ago, but in that time quite a bit has happened. I won’t go into the full details but over the summer I had a bit of a health scare which actually answered a lot of questions that had been nagging me about my fitness and form. This situation sadly meant that I had my first DNS at the Fleetwood Half Marathon but in the long term it was the right thing to do and I am now feeling like I am well on the road to recovery and I am really enjoying my running again.

On Sunday then all roads led to Wigan, just past the famous pier if you really want to know, and the Halliwell Jones Wigan 10k. I had signed up along with my mother-in-law Linda, she successfully completed the Couch To 5k Programme earlier in the year and enjoyed running so much that with the support of various people she has carried on. She recently did her first parkrun and having done the Blackpool Running Festival 5k earlier in the year she wanted to step up a distance and attempt a 10k for the first time in nearly 9 years from what she reliably informed me. The plan was that I would run with her, provide encouragement, support and all important pacing information so that she could complete the course in between 1 hours 15 minutes and 1 hour 20 minutes.

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The event organisers had posted out race packs a couple of weeks ago and so we were all set, all we needed to do was get to the starting area and enjoy the day. Parking was easy enough and we soon found Linda’s personal trainer and running mentor Fiona and her boyfriend Nathan who were also taking part. Fiona had run the event previously and assured Linda that the course was flat. There were a number of official race pacers and we started with the 75 minute pacer agreeing that we’d try and stay as close to her for as long as possible. There was a great family atmosphere about the event and having the Joining Jack charity as the official charity of the race gave everyone a sense of purpose and perspective.

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With around 3,000 runners taking part and us starting at the tail end of the field it took a couple of minutes for Linda and I to reach the start line. We both had our Macmillan Cancer Support tops on with our names on the front and we got a good luck shout from the race commentator as we got underway.

The first section of the course headed away from the town centre out towards the DW Stadium, home of Wigan Athletic and Wigan Warriors. Most of the route here was either flat or slightly downhill. As we passed through a largely residential area there were plenty of supporters cheering the runners on, at this point I also want to say a big thank you to the various bands and singers performing around the course who were brilliant and added a great flavour to the event. In hindsight we started a tad too fast but that was mainly due to the nature of the route, on the whole we ran, at times Linda broke into a quick walk but we kept a decent pace.

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Coming up to the stadium loop, around 4km in, we started to see runners coming the other way and it was nice to see a few familiar faces, including Franco who I had met at the Burnley 10k earlier in the summer and who owns Franco’s Italian Restaurant in Wigan town centre. We made it to half way in around 37 minutes and at this point we were still ahead of the 75 minute pacer. Another couple of kilometres though saw us passed as we started back up the steady inclines we had benefitted from earlier. By this point conversations of another 10k in spring 2019 were put on the back burner and Fiona’s name was being cursed, I won’t publish the actual language used, suffice to say Linda wasn’t impressed!

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Eventually we reached Mesnes Park and the last kilometre. The crowds in the park provided some fantastic encouragement for a final push to the line and with another name check from the race commentator Linda and I crossed the finish in 1 hour 17 minutes and 7 seconds. Job done, target achieved, one happy mother-in-law. Strolling back up through town we collected our finisher’s bag, a great medal included and then we found Fiona and Nathan in the pub and enjoyed a celebratory drink.

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I am really proud of Linda whether she goes ahead and takes on another 10k or not. She is signed up for a Halloween 5k already and it seems like she has the parkrun bug, she’s even started to take my 7 year old son along with her and I am sure she will carry on running with her friends and enjoying keeping fit.

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Next up for me is the all new Fylde Coast Runners Fairhaven Flyer 10k this coming Sunday where I am pacing 55 minutes, watch this space for a review next week.

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.

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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