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.

blackpool isaac

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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My 2017 Running Awards

It’s that period between Christmas and New Year when if you are lucky you have a bit of time off work and if you are extra lucky you get a bit of time to yourself. I’ve been using all of my me time this month to complete my #REDDecember challenge but having already done my run for the day I’m going to use a spare hour or so now to reflect back on 2017 in the style of an award ceremony. Little disclaimer, if you are mentioned below there are no actual prizes or trophies, just bask in the glory.

2017 Best Medal Award

Despite running lots of miles I don’t actually run in many races but those in which I have competed have on the whole been great in terms of the bling on offer. Whilst there are several contenders vying for the minor placings in this category in my mind there is a clear winner. Before the big reveal notable mentions must go to the Leeds Half Marathon and Yorkshire Marathon, both Run For All events and both had quality medals. The winner though is my medal from the Blackpool Illuminations 10k. It has a great ribbon, it weighs a tonne, it spins, it glows in the dark!! You get it, it is awesome and reminds me of a great event, thank you Fylde Coast Runners.

 

2017 Most Underrated Event

As I said above I don’t race every weekend, as I know many people do, and this year I have tried to run in a mixture of larger and smaller events. The smaller events I have competed in have been good local races put on by people who genuinely love the sport and simply want to do their bit. Again there is a clear winner for me in this category which was the Pendle Running Festival 10k. If you recall my review of the race you’ll remember that we actually started down a random path next to a pile of dung, this was local racing, no chip timing, no big corporate sponsor, this was running in beautiful countryside (albeit shrouded in fog on the day), it was the type of race where most of the field knew each other and people stuck around to cheer their club mates on whilst having a brew and some homemade cake or flapjack from the village hall. The medal wasn’t huge, it didn’t need to be, the event itself warmed my heart and I’m looking forward to 2018’s event already, although maybe not that hill!

 

2017 Best Virtual Race

Before this year I had never even heard of virtual races but in the last 6 months I have ended up competing in three and I can honestly say I have enjoyed them all. As a father of two my weekends are normally spent with my children and so the virtual events have allowed me to take part in “races” as and when I want, to fit in around my life which has been brilliant for me. The virtual races I have taken part in have all been really well organised and have generated a genuine community spirit with people taking part in teams, either by running together in person or miles, sometimes even continents apart. This has helped to keep motivation up and everyone has backed each other even to the extent of donating miles or kms to those who fell short of their target due to injury or personal circumstance. The races have all donated proceeds to charities close to my heart too which have been a big pull for me and I will certainly be looking to take part in more next year. It seems harsh to pick a winner out of Marathon In A Day, Million Moo March and Run Up To Christmas but Marathon In A Day just shades it for me. This was my first virtual race and through it I met some people online, some of whom I have subsequently met in person, who have been unbelievably supportive of me and each other. A bond has formed between us that has extended way beyond this event and for that reason I had to chose it as my winner, oh and I got another cool spinning medal and a drumstick lolly too!

 

2017 Best Bit Of Running Gear

When I took up running it seemed like a cheap way to get fit, no gym fees, no fancy gear needed, just me, my legs and the road. How wrong I was!!! This category has some real contenders and I have deliberately left it quite open by using the word gear. In June my wife sanctioned an early 40th birthday present and I treated myself to a Garmin Forerunner 35, it’s not the fanciest running watch out there but it revolutionised my running by giving me the ability to pace myself and record my progress. I spent what for me was a small fortune on my first “proper” pair of running shoes when I bought my Nike Pegasus 33s, I have run the hell out of them and they are still going, they fit well, they look good and touch wood I have not had one blister in them. Strong mentions in this category too for my Karrimor running socks, they don’t cost the earth and despite this brand being much maligned I can honestly say these socks have really stood up to some punishment and also my Unilite headtorch, a cracking, robust product which helps me to see and importantly be seen, get one. This year I also discovered runr, an independent running brand owned by people who love running and produce some quality products, their hoodies in particular are to die for, don’t just take my word for it, so many runners I have met have them and love them and I pretty much live in mine which is why I have chosen the runr hoodie as the winner of this category.

 

2017 Best Added Benefit Of Running

The benefits of running are well documented and I have waxed lyrical in my posts during 2017 about how running has helped me not only physically but mentally to become healthier. Running has also positively impacted on my life and the lives of those around me in ways that I hadn’t anticipated and that’s why I have included this category. Whilst I have an undisputed winner everything in this section is positive in its own way. I have started writing this blog which has given me a way of expressing myself that I love. I have been told by friends and family that I have inspired them and several have started running or got back into exercise themselves. Because I have been burning so many calories I have needed to replace them and rather than just buy treats I have taken up baking, something I never thought I could do. Thanks to so many generous people I have raised nearly £2,000 for charity this year and whilst away on holiday running allowed me to explore parts of my destinations that I would otherwise not have seen as I embarked on my first experiences of run tourism. The winner or winners in this category though is the running community. I train and run alone and it wasn’t until March 2017 that I discovered the online running world. Since then I have connected with so many amazing people (some of whom you can see below, I didn’t have space for photos of you all so please don’t be offended if you aren’t there, I still love and respect you!) and I honestly feel part of something special. I haven’t met in person nearly as many people as I would have liked but a massive thank you here to everyone I have interacted with in whatever format, your support and encouragement has sustained and inspired me and driven me to things I never dreamed possible, you are a special bunch.

 

2017 Highlight Of The Year Award

One thing is certain in this final category, the winner will be me! Despite having this blog and being quite active on social media deep down I am pretty self-effacing and introverted so to big myself up is not my natural style. I started running back in February 2016 and since then I have come a long way, literally! This year has been my first serious year of running I would say and has seen me set personal bests at 1 mile, 5k, 10k, half marathon and marathon so it’s been pretty successful. As I type this I am currently 4 days away from completing my first run streak of running a minimum of 5k every day in December, #REDDecember, my total distance at the moment is 300k run for the month which blows my mind, fingers crossed I make it through to the end of the month. The stand out moment for me in 2017 though has to be completing my first marathon in York in October. It had been my goal since signing up back in February and I had dedicated every run I had done in the interim to being ready for that day. There are many great memories from the day too, meeting some of my online friends for the first time before the start was fantastic (the fact that they ran the 10 mile event and then stayed on for a couple of hours to cheer me at the finish was even better), running past York Minster, the high-fiving vicar and Archbishop, seeing my wife and children supporting me out on the course, the support of the other runners for each other, the crowd and ultimately the sense of achievement crossing the finish line was like nothing I had ever experienced before, the Yorkshire Marathon has to win this category.

 

And there you have it, 2017 in a nutshell. Writing this has brought a lump to my throat at times and I am proud of my year. Running plans for 2018 are taking shape nicely and I hope that this time next year I have as much to look back on with pride.