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 

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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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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.

Leeds Half Marathon – Race Review

Family, friends, Bradfordians, please forgive me for what I am about to write. On Sunday, Leeds, for a couple of hours I loved you. The cheering crowds, the kids with bowls of sweets, the ladies with orange slices, the sunshine, Leeds was the place to be and it was magnificent.

It was an early start for me as I made my way over to Leeds and arrived at around 8.15am. It had just stopped drizzling and was still somewhat overcast on the walk down from my parking spot outside the University. I’d arranged to meet up with some of Twitter’s finest and as I made my way to the portaloo I came across Luke and Tristan, it was fantastic to finally meet them in person even if wasn’t in particularly salubrious surroundings. We headed up to Millennium Square and met up with Sarah, Colin, Keith, Steve, Caterina and Alison. Even though we barely knew each other there was a great camaraderie with people exchanging stories, tips and hopes for how we’d get on over the coming 13.1 miles, this was the #ukrunchat community in full effect.

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The start was staggered and I was in the red group at 9.30am so I headed to hand in my bag, very efficient, and then made my way to the start pen to do a quick warm up. After a slight delay we shuffled forward and turned the corner onto The Headrow to pass the start line.

By this time the clouds were lifting and the sun was out. As a result of staggering the starting groups the field was well spread and with fully closed roads we were able to fan out quickly, the numbers were also thinned out as people headed off into the bushes for a quick comfort break, for next year I think it would be good if the organisers arranged more portaloos at the start.

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The first couple of miles were pretty uneventful until we turned onto Stonegate Road at mile 3 and the road took a relatively sharp climb upwards through Meanwood. The crowds at this point provided real encouragement, and bowls of Jelly Babies, and it wasn’t too far before we turned again and headed down to the ring road section.

Miles 5 and 6 were for me the dullest part of the route as the dual carriageway headed towards Weetwood. As you would expect there were few spectators in this section and the highlight was the water station at the bottom of the next hill.

Just past the 6 mile marker at the top of the hill the crowds returned and there were some great homemade placards hammered into the grass verge, my favourite was “pain is just the French word for bread”.

We wound our way through the residential streets of Weetwood for the next couple of miles and the support was superb, as you turned every corner people lined the streets to encourage complete strangers, it was genuinely heartwarming and made me proud to be a Yorkshireman. At the top of Butcher Hill there was a church choir on the grass bank singing their hearts out, there must have been at least 30 of them. I felt rather sinful as Guns N Roses were blasting through my headphones at that precise moment so I pulled one earphone out to give them a listen and applaud them back in recognition of their efforts.

A couple of hundred yards down the road was the 8 mile marker and the cue for me to take on board my SIS electrolyte gel. I’d planned my fuelling and I was feeling great at this point but knew I would need this to see me through and keep my energy levels up. Note to other runners here, if you are going to use gels please try and put the empty sachets in your pocket or the nearest bin rather than drop them all over the road for someone else to slip on, rant over.

From mile 9 the rest of the route was flat back into the city centre along Abbey Road and Kirkstall Road. My friend Catherine had arranged to cheer me at mile 10 and it was great to see her and her girls, it gave me a real lift just when I needed it, I stopped briefly for a quick hug and carried on. The sun was now high in the sky and the shade of the earlier sections of the course had given way to wide open roads with nowhere to hide. I spotted the Kirkstall Road viaduct in the distance knowing that signalled we were nearing home, it is a huge structure though and it proved to be a deceptive temptress as it felt like an age before I passed under it.

Finally I reached the bottom of The Headrow and knew the end was nigh. I pulled out both earphones here to take in the support of the crowd, having my name on the front of my top really helped, “come on Stu”, “keep going Stu”, “nearly there Stu”, unbelievable, I was really focussed on keeping my stride pattern going but made sure everyone who cheered for me got a thumbs up. The finish line was in Millennium Square so I passed the start line, turned left and there were just walls of people 4 and 5 deep on both sides for the home straight making an amazing noise, it was breathtaking.

I crossed the line in 1 hour 44 minutes and 55 seconds, I was thrilled and really proud that my training and preparation had paid off.

The organisation in the finish area was great, goody bag, medal and celebratory pint of Erdinger Alkoholfrei were collected in a flash and I sat down in the shade of the MacMillan Cancer Support tent to cool off and bask in the glory.

It wasn’t long though before I headed back down to the finish to cheer everyone else on. Runners are honestly some of the best and most supportive people I have ever met and it was nice to be able to see Alison and Sarah coming home and give them a shout. We rounded the day off with a few drinks to celebrate and it was great to share each others successes.

I can’t let this review pass without thanking everyone who has donated to my fundraising too, you are all so kind and generous and have given me extra motivation to train and run and be the best I can be.

This really was a day to remember. Yes it was hot, yes there were hills (they weren’t that big), but the event was very well organised and I have already signed up for next year. I felt great and really enjoyed my running, after my nightmare at the 2007 Great North Run my demons have been banished and I can now focus on the York marathon in October with renewed confidence. I know it will be tough but I also know that I can do it and when I need that extra boost a combination of energy gels and cheering strangers will get me through.

Thank you Leeds, it was emotional.

Leeds Half Marathon Preview

Sunday 14th May marks the next stage in my #marathonbore journey as I take on the Leeds half marathon.

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In writing this I have mixed emotions about what lies ahead of me. On the most basic level it’s 13.1 miles, a distance I have covered  several times in training in the last few months as I’ve built up to Sunday’s event and to be honest the distance in itself does not faze me. I am excited about the challenge ahead and I’m looking forward to taking in the atmosphere and support of the crowd. I hope to meet a few fellow tweeters in person for the first time at some point on the day which will be great and will add that extra level of encouragement and camaraderie, especially as my family aren’t able to attend. To be honest I’m also eager to get my hands on some nice bling as a tangible reward for putting in the hours and miles needed to get me to this point. I’m using this event and the York marathon to raise money for two great charities as well and in the last couple of weeks my fundraising totals have started to pick up, this has added to my motivation and the generosity of friends, family and complete strangers is genuinely heart-warming.

I am though a little anxious about running in such a large field as this will be the biggest event I have run in since my epic fail at the Great North Run 2007. I am a bit of a lone wolf when it comes to running, I like space to settle into a rhythm, get my head in the right place and enjoy what I am doing, if nothing else space also allows me to clear my airways without the risk of catching anyone else in the crossfire! There are staggered start times on Sunday depending on predicted finish times and I’m in red group which sets off at 9.30am along with blue group. These are the first two groups, I’m pretty sure I entered a realistic finishing time of 1 hour 45 minutes, so I’m expecting a large chunk of the group to be quicker than me, my plan is to start near the tail end of the group and hopefully create some room for myself that way rather than getting caught up in the middle of a pack and pulled along at a pace that’s too fast for me.

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Growing up in Bradford and having spent some time in Leeds as a student back in the day I have a degree of familiarity with the area and know parts of the course in my head. The first section starting on The Headrow gives me no concerns but looking at elevation maps of the course, as we get out beyond the city centre the route climbs steadily for the vast majority of the first half of the course as we wend our merry way up towards Weetwood. My worry here is that although the climb isn’t overly steep it is a constant drag and could prove to be energy sapping on what could be a quite warm today, potentially leaving me with little in the tank for later on, I need to get my fuelling right here so that this doesn’t become a reality. The second half of the course is much flatter and I’m looking forward to heading back into Leeds past the picturesque Kirkstall Abbey and then the final push down Kirkstall Road back to Millennium Square, just visualising this as I type brings a smile to my face.

Sunday will be a great barometer for me of how far I have come and how far I have yet to go, not just physically but mentally, I’ll post a race review next week, wish me luck!