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.

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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.