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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Blackburn Road Runners Winter Warmer 10k – Race Review

The phrase “winter warmer” for most people conjures up images of cosy log fires and hearty bowls of steaming hot, homemade soup but for me last Sunday it was all about taking on a challenging 10k course around the outskirts of Blackburn in anything but warm conditions.

This was my first attempt at the Blackburn Road Runners Winter Warmer 10k and so I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect other than the dreaded uphill test that is Buncer Lane. The race started at 11am and as I arrived at Witton Park at 10.15am the junior 2k race was just finishing. The facilities on offer were fantastic. Registration took place inside the Witton Park Arena building, within a minute of arrival I had collected my bib and timing chip and was chatting to other runners about what lay ahead and how long and steep Buncer Lane actually was.

Although there were over 600 runners, plus marshals, spectators, masseurs, the local mayor and a significant cake stall the indoor hall was spacious and allowed plenty of room to get yourself ready, drop off your bag and even do a few warm up sprints if you really wanted. Inside and out there were also plenty of toilets for those last minute pit stops, it has to be said though that some people still preferred a nearby bush, maybe they take the phrase “a call of nature” too literally. By gun time the sun had just managed to break through but it was far from warm and I was glad I’d opted for the long sleeve top and trusty runr snood.

The race started with a lap of the Witton Park athletics track which gave everyone a chance to fan out a little, listen to the band who were playing on the first bend and get warmed up properly before the real work started. Having completed the lap we exited the track out into the park itself and within 20 metres we were already running uphill. A word of recognition at this point should go out to the race organisers who had been out early and given the freezing conditions had gritted at various points on the course where it was sheltered and likely to be treacherous. The first hill led us out of the park and was a mere aperitif for the fun that lay ahead as we turned left onto the infamous Buncer Lane. I found a steady pace that I was comfortable with and kept my legs turning, some runners in front were already struggling and seemed like they were going backwards. I assume as a little tease part way up the lane the course took a left turn down a side street before a sharp incline, another side street and back onto Buncer Lane a little further up. At this point the gradient really went steep for what felt like an eternity but was probably more like 100 metres or so. We weren’t quite done with the climbing yet though as the road again rose up in front of us and so as I crested the next uphill section I asked a handily placed marshal if that was it for the climbing, he laughed and nodded to confirm I was out of my misery. Don’t get me wrong I like a test and I knew it was coming but I’d already done pretty much 3k of uphill running and my legs and lungs were starting to fall out with me.

The next part of the route was fast, straight and largely downhill through some lovely countryside, after enjoying myself along this section and letting the legs go there was a nasty sting as the course kicked up again around a sharp bend for a short burst near the 4 mile mark. I got the legs going and we then turned again and headed into the far end of Witton Park. The paths here were perfect to build up to a fast finish and even a short section over a field wasn’t too muddy as the overnight frost had kept the grass quite firm. I’d managed to keep the same group of runners in sight throughout most of the race and was determined to finish as close to the 45 minute pacer as possible. Having checked my watch he was just ahead of time but given the nature of the course it was impossible to keep an even pace throughout.

The closer the finish came the louder I could hear the race host/commentator calling out names as finishers came through. The Arena building finally came into view and I heard my wife and children calling my name as they stood waiting by the side of the track, we looped back round through the gate we had earlier passed through and ran a final lap of the athletics track in reverse to finish off.

The support from the crowd was fantastic, most of them were probably high on cake from the stall inside, but it gave all us runners that last boost as we took the final strides to the finish line.

The organisation at the finish was first class. The track had been divided in two to filter those running the last lap and those who had already come home. Finishers were able to catch their breath down the back straight and then collect the mightily impressive goody bag and medal. The bag, which was a quality fabric drawstring bag itself, included a banana, water, porridge bowl, SIS gel, trolley token and a commemorative mug, the medal too was a really nice bit of bling, all for a bargain entry fee of £15. Some of the larger races who charge an arm and a leg for entry fees could learn a thing or two here. An added bonus too is that nearly 3,000 photos have been shared via the race’s Facebook page, some of which I have included in this post, given the price for some race photo packages I think this is brilliant and I’ve loved scrolling through them and seeing the joy (and at times pain) on everyone’s faces as they went round. There was a also a club member I overtook early on who was running with a Go Pro so I am looking forward to seeing his footage. Before going home I also popped inside to bag myself a cake and it went down a treat that afternoon with my first brew in the new mug.

I didn’t actually check my time across the line until I reached my family as I was busy chatting to other runners about how much they had enjoyed the race. The 45 minute pacer slowed slightly as he came onto the track and I managed to pass him with around 300 metres to go so I knew I would be around that time, in fact I finished in 44 minutes 21 seconds, my fastest 10k race time ever. I was really chuffed with that given the nature of the course and the fact that I’d done a 15 mile training run on Friday night as well. A sub 45 minute 10k race had been an aim for 2018 and I have now achieved it twice already, I’m not far off a sub 44 minute time and realistically if I maintain my fitness and the race conditions fall into place I think I can reasonably hit that time before the end of the year.

Overall Sunday’s event left a fantastic impression on me, and from reading some Race Check reviews I wasn’t the only runner to have a great morning. Thanks once again to everyone at Blackburn Road Runners and their army of volunteers who worked tirelessly to make this event happen, when can I sign up for next year?

Blackburn Road Runners – Winter Warmer 10k Preview

As I mentioned before in a previous blog one of my main aims for the year is to run more local races. Having really enjoyed the buzz of the East Lancashire Hospice 10k a couple of weeks ago, I signed up the following day for the Winter Warmer 10k organised by the Blackburn Road Runners club.

This will be another new race for me and I’m really looking forward to Sunday for a number of reasons.

Firstly the race starts and ends on the running track in Witton Park, I haven’t run on an actual proper track since I was at school, that’s over 20 years ago! Secondly the race is sold out apart from a handful of places the club have saved for on the day entries. I am starting to get to know some of the local running “faces” and despite not being affiliated to any club it is good to feel part of this community, hopefully one or two people I know will be there too to catch up with. The next reason for my pre-race excitement is the challenge the race will present. I have run numerous 10k races on various routes but I have never experienced anything like the infamous Buncer Lane. Blackburn Road Runners handily shared with me a shot of the route profile just so I know what I’m in for, yes it’s that bit below that looks like it’s vertical!!! The course is also on various terrain which again excites me.

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Finally I am excited about the finish, if the weather holds then there should be a decent crowd to cheer us home around the track, then there is the promise of cake stalls (say no more!) and last but not least the goody bag looks immense. Nice bag itself, fancy bling, porridge bowl and a commemorative mug, what more can you ask for?!

My only other decisions are around kit. At this time of year I like to wear long sleeve tops with shorts but I tend to train at night when it is colder anyway. I wore a short sleeve top for my last race and it was rather parky hanging around at the start but once I got going I was glad I didn’t have long sleeves on as it prevented a bit of overheating, I’ll take a check on Sunday morning and see what feels best.

Sunday will also see the retirement from competitive action of my first proper pair of running trainers. My faithful Nike Pegasus 33s have seen plenty of action in the last 12 months including my first marathon but I can’t ignore the fact that the sole has pretty much worn through at the front of them and they need to go to the great trainer retirement home in the sky (or at least be stashed in the loft just in case!). Not to worry I managed to bag myself another pair, albeit in different colours, in the January sales so I just need to start wearing them in.

Given the route profile I doubt a PB attempt is realistic on Sunday but all being well I’ll push as hard as I can and see what my legs have got, I’ll post a review early next week to let you know how I get on and if the beast that is Buncer Lane, the cake and goody bag live up to my expectations!

East Lancashire Hospice 10k – Race Review

I’ve set myself various running goals for 2018, some are time related, some are little personal milestones and another is to run more local events. I spotted an advert on social media for this race in aid of a local charity a couple of weeks ago and it ticked plenty of boxes for me so I decided to make it my first race of the year, in fact it was my first non-virtual race since completing the Yorkshire marathon last October.

I hadn’t entered this race before so used a couple of contacts and read a few reviews to find out what to expect. Everything people said was positive, nice course, pretty flat, finisher’s shirt, medal, well organised and so I was looking forward to it.

I arrived in good time and headed over to Gaskell Motor Bodies to collect my bib, this car workshop was actually where the finish line was and on a cold morning it provided some decent shelter, I’d opted for short sleeves, optimistic maybe but not as optimistic as the chap I saw running in what looked to be sunglasses; in January; in East Lancashire. There were plenty of people around as well as brews and bacon sandwiches for spectators.

As the runners gathered I opted to start about halfway back in the pack and I was surrounded by runners from various local clubs who had turned out in force. The first mile or so took us out of the industrial estate and onto a cycle path, this provided some space for the field to fan out before the route narrowed onto a single file trail. It was muddy and passing was possible but you had to very much go off line and dodge some bushes. We crossed over the canal and started on up a wider farm track which presented the opportunity for some overtaking. Part way up the hill the front end of the field came racing back down and it was nice to see Ben who I used to work with was well up there, he eventually finished 5th. Following a quick circuit of a local park it was my turn to start downhill and then hit the canal tow path.

With just over a mile left the route joined back onto the original cycle path and I managed to chase down a couple of runners in front of me. The small hill at the started provided a nice chance to let the legs go towards the finish before a short uphill spurt to the line. Thanks here to David Belshaw for his action snaps at the finish, he’s a great supporter of local races and raises lots of money for charity.

My finish time was quickly confirmed as 44:28, my second fastest 10k and my fastest race time, overall I was 74th out of over 600 finishers which I was thrilled with. Having collected my finisher’s t-shirt when I picked up my bib I looked around for the medal, call me a bling magpie, but only the children who had completed a 2k race had any medals. After a quick enquiry with one of the organisers it transpired that there had been some sort of printing error and despite guarantees the medals hadn’t arrived. A slight disappointment but beyond the control of the organisers and I was assured that they will be posted out when ready.

All in all I really enjoyed the race. The mixture of terrain was a good challenge as I run pretty much exclusively on roads and paths. It was great to see and hear the camaraderie among the club runners, well done to whoever brought along the cow bell, and a special mention to the runners and supporters from Ramsbottom (Rammy) Running Club who were out in force and really got behind their team mates and everyone else.

Whilst the big budget races are good, I am developing a liking for smaller local events and I will certainly be entering more throughout 2018, watch this space.

 

#REDDecember – Halfway

The quick witted among you will note that the title of this week’s blog isn’t strictly accurate. Yes there are 31 days in December and so writing this at the end of day 15 isn’t precisely halfway. Given that I have no intention of pausing tomorrow’s run having completed 50% of it though to write my blog and then finish the rest of the run, this is the best you are going to get, and anyway I never was that good at maths!

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The 8 days since my last blog on my #REDDecember challenge have flown by in a flurries of snow, sheet ice, nativity performances, festive lights and the obligatory Christmas jumpers/t-shirts.

I won’t go into the detail of every single run but I have had some genuine highlights and remarkably I am still feeling strong and enjoying my running/ice-skating.

Part of the reason I am enjoying it so much is that I am running without pressure. The beauty of running in long sleeves is that I can’t see my watch and all I have as an indicator is the vibration on my wrist every mile. I’m not worrying about pace or time, I am running for the thrill of the challenge and the enjoyment of being out there and being the best I can be. I have no doubt at all that all my efforts are also releasing some powerful endorphins as I have a really positive approach to life at the moment and as I am taking part in RunUp2Christmas in aid of Mind this can only be a good thing as it highlights the clear link between exercise and improved mental health.

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Narrowing down my highlights of the week I would pick three of my runs out. On Sunday afternoon I had a lovely run, largely along the Leeds-Liverpool canal down from Nelson to Burnley. I have run part of the route before but carried on to a new section for me. The path was dusted with snow from overnight, as I set off from home there was the odd flake floating down, just over an hour later as I arrived back it was more like a blizzard. It was a really peaceful quiet run though away from the usual hub bub of the traffic and I’ll certainly be returning there and running along more of the canal in the future.

On Monday and Tuesday this week my children took part in their nativity plays at school, they were both superb, as were all the other kids to be fair. On Monday I ran after my daughter’s performance but it was getting late and to be honest I ran purely to keep the streak up. I decided then on Tuesday to use the window I had between finishing work and my son’s performance starting to complete my daily run. I knew that there was slight time pressure and so I didn’t hang around. As the vibrations passed by I felt good, and I got that feeling all runners probably experience when you know you are on for a quick time. As the sixth vibration shot through my wrist I took the opportunity to roll my sleeve up and glance at my watch, a 10k PB was there for the taking. And not just any PB. One of my stated aims for 2018 was to run a sub 45 minute 10k as my PB stood at 45.11, well after Tuesday I am going to have to revise that goal as my new 10k PB is 44.06.

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Tonight’s run was my final highlight for a couple of reasons. Firstly, I am completing the RunUp2Christmas virtual race with my running wife Laura. We live nowhere near each other but had planned that for our runs today we would co-ordinate and both go all Home Alone to add some fun, Merry Christmas Ya Filthy Animals!! Secondly, I also decided to run up to a local house which has put on a fantastic Christmas light display (not sure my photo does it justice) in aid of a local stroke charity. I’d been looking forward to my visit and it didn’t disappoint, as well as the lights they had Christmas music playing and even a snack stall for visitors, I chucked a donation in the collection bucket and wended my way home.

At the end of day 15 of #REDDecember then I have completed 101 miles which I am thrilled with. I am being backed by some tremendously supportive people who I can’t thank enough and am determined to keep going even if the conditions are proving somewhat tricky.

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Blackpool Illuminations 10k – Race Review

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.

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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.

Pendle Running Festival 10k – Race Review

A pile of horse manure, plenty of hills, homemade flapjack and the warmest welcome you could hope to receive, it may sound like a rather odd combination but that pretty much sums up my Saturday morning at the Pendle Running Festival 10k.

If you are looking for a big budget event with all the trimmings then this race is probably not for you. What you do get here though is a wonderful running community spirit, some spectacular scenery (albeit shrouded in mist this morning) and a course that asks you plenty of questions.

I arrived around 45 minutes before the start and headed to the registration at Barley village hall to collect my race number, the great and good of the East Lancashire running scene were already in evidence with plenty of runners from Trawden AC and Clayton Le Moors Harriers sporting their club colours. There were also a smattering of runners from other clubs and I passed on a bit of local course knowledge to a few chaps from Holcombe Harriers as they stood inspecting the course map.

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Following the signs down to the start I did wonder for a moment if I was lost, I went down a path, over some cobbles, then down another muddier, rockier path and emerged in a clearing next to a rather large pile of horse manure. I was soon joined by others though and given there was a Start sign here we figured this was it. The race organiser appeared and after a short briefing about the dangers of narrow country lanes and the promise of home baked goods and bacon butties at the finish we were off.

The festival holds a 10k and half marathon on its first day and both groups set off together, 131 runners in total, going back up the path the way we’d come was a bit tricky, thanks to the man holding the low hanging tree branch up out of everyone’s way here! We soon emerged onto the road though and fanned out down towards Roughlee.

The weather was overcast with slight drizzle, perfect in my mind for running and the first mile and a half or so went by pleasantly, we even took in a bit of local history passing the Pendle Witch statue.

 

I knew things were about to change abruptly though as we took a sharp left turn onto Stang Top Road. It felt like a scene from the Tour de France, one minute the peleton is racing along in a bunch on the flat, the next they head uphill and it splinters. Stang Top Road is tough, steep and pretty much unrelenting save for a short downhill section before the final climb, if you do the half marathon you have the pleasure of running this beast twice! Some people started to walk, others seemed to be going backwards, I kept my head down and my legs moving and put my faith in my training and the fact that I actually enjoy hills, weirdo!

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I ignored the drink station at the top and carried on, up more hills, thankfully the gradient was slightly less than vertical this time and there were a few more flat and downhill sections thrown in. What I loved was that everyone was watching out for each other, everyone talked as they passed each other, some were clearly running in pairs or threes, the roads were marshalled but still open and so whenever a car was coming the call went up and along the line of runners from back to front as a warning. I also experienced a first in running on roads with cattle grids, given the rain these were treacherous and navigated with extreme caution.

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After heading across the moor towards Pendle Hill the route took a left back towards the finish at Barley. There was another uphill section into a headwind to negotiate before the final mile or so of pure downhill. I’ve consciously been working on my downhill running and I really saw the benefit, a 6:33 mile after all the climbing my legs had done felt fantastic. I had enough in the tank for a sprint to the finish and was welcomed home by others finishers as I crossed the line in 50:01. As there was no chip timing my Garmin gave me all my times and splits but I didn’t find out until later in the day that I was actually the 17th male finisher and 20th overall in the 10k field of 63.

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I was presented with my medal and a bottle of water and remembering the briefing I went back to the village hall to pick up a brew and some lovely gooey flapjack which I enjoyed whilst cheering more runners home and seeing some of the half marathon field back out on the rest of their race.

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I can genuinely say that I really enjoyed myself. The event was well organised, well marshalled and there was a real feel good factor about everything, this was running at its basic best. Today was never going to be a PB for me, today was about trying a new event, getting more miles in my legs, taking on a challenging course and pushing myself and I ticked all those boxes and met some lovely people too, what better way is there to spend a Saturday morning? I’ll definitely be back next year, I might even give the half marathon a go, I do love them hills!

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Pendle Running Festival 10k – Race Preview

As part of my marathon training I wanted to build in a few races to set myself small targets along the road to York and keep up with running in actual events with other runners rather than just training by myself as I do week in, week out.

This Saturday then it’s the Pendle Running Festival 10k for me. The race makes up one quarter of the festival which also features a half marathon, trail race and orienteering event all based out of the village of Barley at the foot of Pendle Hill. It is a relatively small local event which I chose because it is on my doorstep and it can challenge me.

Pendle Hill is an iconic local landmark and many people will have heard of it in relation to the Pendle Witch Trials of 1612, I also see it every morning when I open my bedroom curtains and it dominates the horizon in East Lancashire. I love the photo below I took a couple of weeks ago with the hill rising out of the surrounding landscape.

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Sunset over Pendle Hill

So as not to deter runners the race organisers describe the course as, “challenging yet scenic”. While the 10k is a road race and doesn’t take us up the hill itself, the route has over 800ft of ascent!!! Now I am a self-proclaimed lover of hills but I may have taken things one step too far this time. I’ll let you know if I agree with the organiser’s description or if I use some less flattering adjectives in next week’s review.

In all seriousness though I am looking forward to running. My marathon plan has on the whole started well and I’m banking some good miles but this shorter race with its testing course will give me the opportunity to push my limits and see what my legs can give me when called upon. The early forecast indicates a cool and overcast morning so hopefully it will come down to a test of man v course, rather than man v course v steaming hot weather.

If the weather does pick up though then I can always refresh and refuel myself post race with a new found favourite, gin and tonic cake, with a G&T on the side! I found the recipe on a friend’s blog, thanks Sophie, and I can highly endorse it, as can my wife and her friend, and my mother-in-law, who all sampled the cake and gave it a resounding thumbs up. The recipe is very simple to follow and the cake was super moist and really tasty.

Fingers crossed then that I survive Saturday, that I enjoy rather than endure the race and that the hills don’t get the better of me. One of the aforementioned Pendle Witches, Elizabeth Southerns, had a son, Christopher Holgate, and Holgate happens to be my wife’s maiden name, maybe I can ask to borrow her broomstick to fly up the climbs!

Accrington 10k – Race Review

Those who live outside of East Lancashire and particularly those who grew up in the 80s will have heard of Accrington for one reason and one reason alone.

The town is also the birthplace of former England cricketer turned Sky pundit David “Bumble” Lloyd and European Championship, Commonwealth Games and Boston marathon winner Ron Hill after whom this race is named.

img_20170301_193100_526Accrington, like most towns in this
part of the world, is far from flat and having reviewed the course video and route profile pre-race I knew I was in for a challenging middle section of the race with a pretty constant incline for around 2 miles, the weather forecast was also terrible with heavy rain expected.

 

I arrived in plenty of time and headed to race HQ to collect my number. The lady iIMG_20170305_084933.jpgn front of me got number 13, I got number 413, was someone trying to tell me something? I was also given a timing ankle strap, I’ve never worn one of them before and it made me feel slightly like a crim who’s tagged and has a 9pm curfew!!

I headed back to the car to get my things together and try and decide if I needed my running jacket or if I was going to tough it out. The sky was slate grey (nothing new) but no signs of rain so I decided to brave it and went off back to race HQ to use the facilities and keep warm until gun time.

There were around 500 starters, lots of runners sporting the colours of various local running clubs, so I decided to err on the side of caution and start dead last (apart from the man in the hi-viz 10k Sweeper jacket whose job it was to bring up the rear). I hoped to give myself a bit of a buffer on the pack and it’s always a confidence boost to pass people rather than be passed. As the race wasn’t entirely on closed roads headphones had been banned, I totally agree with that from a safety point of view, but I always train with headphones in and use the music to give me a rough guide of pace so I found the first part of the race rather strange as I tried to establish a comfortable pace.

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Pre-race snap in the car park! Ignore the quiff!

We set off down a nice wide closed road that gave everyone plenty of chance to fan out and gave me the opportunity to start moving up the field. After a mile or so we then turned onto a path along the side of the railway line and out the back end of town. A couple of twists and turns later and we picked up the start of the woodland path that marked the start of the hill section. To be honest it wasn’t as bad as I was expecting, the incline was steady but the problem was that the path wasn’t particularly wide and along both sides was a combination of mud and mulched leaves so if you wanted to pass anyone you needed to move off the racing line and into the brown stuff! It had also started to rain gently at this point and that added to the deluges of the last couple of days made the mulch somewhat slippy!!!

After seeing a 2k marker before we started on the path I realised after a while that I hadn’t seen another marker for what felt like quite a while, the absence of music didn’t help me here either as I had no idea how far I’d gone and how long I’d been running for (and it did feel like I was running rather than advanced jogging today). It wasn’t far though until I noticed 5k marked in yellow spray paint on the path which gave me a boost.

A few kilometres further and somewhat muddier we came off the track and back out into civilisation. This section was nice and flat and although the road was open the pavement was wide enough and the field spread out enough for it not to be a problem.

Finally at about 2k to go the much anticipated downhill section started. As mentioned in my post Eyes On The Prize I actually find going downhill quite difficult in terms of getting my stride pattern correct and this was the only time I remember being passed by a couple of other runners. We then hit the flat again before another sharp descent and turn into the finishing straight. I had no idea at this point what my time was but I felt I’d done a decent, consistent pace throughout. The clock was to the left of the finish line rather than above it, as I have experienced in the past, so I only actually glimpsed it as I crossed the line and I managed to pick out 47.img_20170305_102735

I was hopeful I’d done well and as I crossed the line I saw Ben from our IT team at work. Ben is someone I’d define as a “serious runner”, he finished 12th in just over 38 minutes! It was nice to see a friendly face but still no idea of time. I collected my goodie bag and set off for home.

I only live about a 15 minute drive away and so it wasn’t long until I was back and could log on and access the results section. A quick search showed me in 81st place in 46mins 28secs, a massive personal best, for context I’d done my previous 10k last June in 54 mins 49 secs!!!

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Whilst I was chuffed with the time I felt rough. I don’t usually run in the mornings and had only eaten a banana for breakfast. As this was about helping me to bag some preparation ahead of my marathon in October I think this morning provided a great learning experience, not only in terms of running in a field of other people but also in terms of fuelling and my future training schedule. I need to do more morning runs and I need to get my fuelling right or I’m going to be wrecked before I even get anywhere near half distance on the big day.

All in all a good morning’s work. Delighted with my time, challenging course overcome, well organised race, learned lots and nice to get out among a great bunch of people in this amazing running community. Now to rest up, refuel and get back on it next week.