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 bound 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.

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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.