York Marathon – Race Review

I’ve been looking forward to writing this blog almost as much as I’ve been looking forward to running the marathon itself, forgive me if I go on a bit in this post but for a near 40 year old running your first marathon is a bit of a big deal.

Having stayed over with friends near Malton the night before I woke bright and early as expected on Sunday morning, sleeping in a child’s bunk bed wasn’t as bad as I expected and I did actually manage what felt like some decent sleep. I got myself ready, checked I hadn’t left anything, at least twice, then pulled over after I’d set off just to check again. The drive to the park and ride was simple and I was soon on one of the fleet of coaches taking many slightly anxious looking runners and some clearly more relaxed spectators to the start of race at York University. Before the coach had left Elvington Airfield though panic set in, fortunately not for me but for the chap who realised he had left his running shoes in the boot of his car! Cue everyone else on the bus looking down and checking they hadn’t made the same mistake!

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I had arranged to meet various running friends at the bag drop and I soon found some familiar faces which helped to calm the nerves, a couple were with me in the marathon but the majority were doing the popular 10 miler which started slightly later. Group photos and selfies followed and then it was time to head down to the start. If I’m honest the organisation here was disappointing. Signs were limited and despite following the only sign I did see for the zone 2 start area I ended up at zone 5 and had to scramble over a wall and through some undergrowth to get back to where I needed to be.

I reached the zone 2 start area eventually and there was just time for a quick stretch. Then we were almost ready for the off, after a few words of encouragement from starter and legendary Yorkshireman Dickie Bird the field moved forward and it was too late to turn back, I was doing this, it was now or never.

The first couple of miles led us down to and through York city centre. Some of the roads here were narrow and the field almost came to a halt at one point, one runner pulled over to the side and I noticed that his flip flop had come off, yes flip flop!! It wasn’t long before we reached the key photo opportunity at York Minister and still feeling fresh I made sure I smiled for the various cameras, hopefully one will have come out well. The route then took us out of York passing large crowds and into the small villages and country lanes that characterise most of this course.

I was looking forward to the 6 mile point as we reached the village of Stockton on the Forest simply for the fact that this is the home of the high fiving vicar. I remembered that on the videos I’d seen he was on the right hand side of the road and so I made sure I was in position early to get some skin! Beyond the village the route took on a very rural feel and I don’t recall coming across anyone apart from the odd marshal until we arrived at mile 11 where the Macmillan cheering point was based. I received fantastic support from them and the other Macmillan volunteers en route and want to take this opportunity to thank them all for their encouragement, a group of other runners commented to me that it was like I had my own cheer squad. Having passed through half way it wasn’t far before my actual cheer squad of my wife and two children came in to view in Stamford Bridge. It was such a boost to see them and the crowd at this point felt huge and the noise was amazing with so many people cheering, family, friends and strangers.

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Stamford Bridge was just before mile 14 and from then on there was what felt like a very long stretch through the back of beyond up to Dunnington. The course is known for being pretty flat and it was but this section was a long, slow drag and really started to mess with my head. Just after mile 16 I started to see runners coming the other way but knew I still had over 2 miles to go until I hit the top of the road where the loop was. I looked some of these people in the eye and they were flagging, it did make me feel slightly better that one of the runners I saw was former Leeds Rhino and England rugby league star Kevin Sinfield so I tried not to feel too bad about myself.

I was keeping decent time and hitting miles in around 8 mins 30 secs which was in line with my plan, the battle at this point was mental and I was drawing on all my strategies to keep it together. I had been due to see my family again at Dunnington which was miles 17 and 19 on the out and back but the spectator bus hadn’t got them there on time so I made do with another high five this time from the Archbishop of York, small guy, strong arm! Not long after seeing him I glimpsed a vision in pink heading towards me, it was Caterina who I’d met at the start, I made sure I shouted over and high fived her too.

By mile 20 the out and back had ended and I had turned for home but I was struggling, the sun was in my face and cramp was setting in in both my calf muscles and my left foot. I carried on for a mile or so with all sorts of things running through my head. I had been determined to run the whole 26.2 miles but eventually sense prevailed and I joined many others at this point who had decided that alternating running with walking was the best strategy, I knew that if I stopped dead my legs were likely to seize up and I walk pretty fast anyway so decided this was the best course of action to get me to the finish. Caterina came by me not long after I’d started walking and she turned to make sure I was ok, the supportive spirit of the running community summed up in an instant.

At this stage we were back in more residential areas and the support from the crowd who could clearly see me flagging was superb. Eventually I made it to the bottom of the hill that we had run down shortly after the start. It wasn’t long, it wasn’t steep but it felt like Everest. I managed to run half way up and then shuffled to the top and the descent to the finish. People were shouting from every angle and I managed to catch sight of local York residents and fellow runners Luke and Tristan, thanks for the cheers lads. Slightly further down the hill were more friends who’d run the 10 miler, plus injured VIP Caroline, who had all stayed on to cheer me, I bribed them with cake but what the hell you guys were immense, thanks for the support and the video.

A quick pose for the cameras and I was through the line, my wife and kids raced down off the grass bank for hugs and I broke down in tears, I also made the schoolboy error of not stopping my Garmin! I quickly checked my phone and the finish time text was already there waiting, 4 hours 1 minute 58 seconds. I was thrilled, yes sub 4 hours would have been nice but this was my first attempt at a marathon so any thoughts of disappointment were swiftly banished.

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Celebratory drinks, cake and more hugs followed. By now I was starting to flag though and in the queue for the medal engraving I felt rough. I tried to get some chocolate milkshake down me but couldn’t stomach more than a mouthful. This feeling stayed with me until I’d set off on the drive home at which point I had to pull over into a layby on the side of the A64 to puke, sorry to anyone who witnessed it. To be honest it was probably the best chunder of all time, I instantly felt better.

Writing this the day after has given me time to reflect and have a much needed massage. Did I learn much for yesterday? Absolutely. Will I run another marathon? Possibly. Am I proud of myself. Hell yeah!! The whole experience was amazing and one that will live long in the memory for many, many reasons. I have been blessed with amazing support and want to thank anyone and everyone who got behind me in any way whether with a cheer, a donation to my fundraising or a word of encouragement on social media.

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Whilst this feels like a natural end I really want it to be just the beginning, I already have plans for the rest of this year, some races and events booked for next year and some goals to achieve. I’ve started something and I don’t want it to stop.

If you have enjoyed reading any of my blog then I would love you to vote for me in the 2018 Running Awards, just click here, register and find Marathonbore in the blogs section, if you vote in 5 different categories you’ll receive a 10% discount with the top Online Running Retailer of 2017! Thank you.

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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.

Survivor

A warning to all music fans, before getting your hopes up this post isn’t about the mullet kings of 80s American soft rock who sang this beauty made famous in Rocky III, despite its links to running and the famous scene of Sly Stallone legging it up the 72 stone steps in front of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

And it isn’t about Beyoncé and her pals in Destiny’s Child strutting their stuff in camouflage gear either.

In November 2011 I was sat in a pub half watching some match or other whilst chatting away to my mate, we spotted that several players were sporting rather dubious facial hair in aid of Movember and joked that next year we should give it a go, little did I realise at the time how prophetic that off the cuff conversation would be. A couple of weeks later I found a lump and thought it best to get checked out just to be on the safe side, the doctor said it was most likely a cyst but he’d book me in for a scan to make sure.

A couple of weeks went by and no appointment came, by now it was Christmas time and without going into graphic detail things had grown and I was becoming increasingly anxious. I went back to the doctors and no scan appointment had been made, a misplaced fax was blamed (Fax!!!!!! What year were we in??? 1983???). Eventually my appointment came through and the next day I received the call nobody wants, my results were in and the doctor wanted to see me asap. Whilst fearing the worst a part of me hoped that he was calling me in so quickly to put my mind at ease, wrong, I had testicular cancer, I took in very little else that was said to me. To cut a long story short on 7th March 2012 I had the cancer removed and have been cancer free ever since, no chemo, no radiotherapy, nothing apart from regular check ups, if you can have cancer and class yourself as lucky that’s me.

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Isaac’s cheese face with his own muzzer!

In November that year the conversation of 12 months earlier became reality and I grew a very dodgy ‘tache for Movember, the support I received from friends, family and colleagues was immense.

During my check ups I saw in waiting rooms how others suffered far worse than I did and that made me determined to give something back and take the chance I have been given. For those reasons one of the charities I will be raising money for when running the Leeds half marathon and York marathon will be Macmillan Cancer Support.

My other charity is somewhat less well known but equally deserving. On 11th May 1985, 56 people lost their lives in the fire at Bradford City’s Valley Parade stadium, one of them was my cousin Adrian, aged 11. Hundreds of people were injured that day many with severe, life changing burns. Out of something so tragic came something so positive, the Plastic Surgery and Burns Research Unit (PSBRU). They used pioneering techniques to treat the injured and since that day have been working tirelessly to enhance medical knowledge and clinical technique in the treatment of burns. Everyone affected by the tragedy is, in my mind at least, a survivor.

The memory of these two events in my life pushes me on when things are tough, they give me perspective and now my running gives me the opportunity to raise money for these charities and make a difference to the lives of others.

If you would like to sponsor me you can find full details on my Sponsorship page.

“I’m a survivor, keep on surviving”.