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.

Championship Vinyl – Part 2

Thanks to everyone who replied to last week’s post either on here or via Twitter, it was great to read all your thoughts on the songs which motivate you the most whilst putting the miles in.

For most of the last week my top 5 has actually been a top 6. On my runs last Thursday and yesterday (Monday) I managed to listen to all six songs which helped to chrystalise my thoughts and finally firm up the top 5, so here we go.

5.01 Knock You Out – Bingo Players. Firstly though a nod to a song that I have never even heard before this week and certainly don’t have on my MP3 player. I asked my wife, Catherine, for her number one motivational song as she enjoys various classes at the gym which are accompanied by pounding baselines. It’s not really my thing but she gives me unbelievable support and so this one is for her, thank you x

5. Take Me Home Midland Road – The Good Citizens. What? Who? Yes that’s right I’m starting with a curve ball, stick with me you will know the rest! Unless you’ve ever had the pleasure of venturing to Valley Parade this will be a new one on you. As well as running I love football and if you have read my sponsorship page you will know that I have a deep affinity with my club, Bradford City, which goes way beyond that experienced by most fans. This song, to the tune of the John Denver classic, is the song the team walks out to, it gets everyone going and when it comes on during a run my mind immediately jumps from the tiredness and the pain to a place where I am happy and I belong.

4. Yes – McAlmont & Butler. Again not a particularly well known song but one you may have heard from time to time on the radio. It’s a beautiful piece of music and from the very first note it lifts my mood. The fact that the title is the most positive word in the English vocabulary tops it off and when the doubts creep into my mind I just need to remind myself, “Yes”, I can do this!.

3. St Elmo’s Fire (Man In Motion) – John Parr. This film, and its title song, scream 1980’s at you, Demi Moore, Rob Lowe and Emilio Estevez star as friends struggling with adulthood. In the video John Parr sports a tremendous mullet as he sings away in what appears to be a disused warehouse. I find the song really uplifting and many of the lyrics strike a chord with me, give it a listen, a real listen and I’m sure there’ll be something in there you identify with.

2. Not Giving In – Rudimental. This choice is unusual for me in that it’s a pretty new song. I don’t really think I need to explain why I chose this or why it motivates me, the clue is in the title!

And at number one, in with a bullet, drum roll please.

1. Imagine – Emeli Sandé. The original song itself has been a long standing favourite of mine but not one necessarily that provides me with particular motivation. This version though for me and many others will forever be linked with the London 2012 Olympics. Not much beats a good sporting montage and the BBC chose the song to play over their closing take on the games. Wow! It’s basically three minutes of pure motivation from the great household names that brought the games to life, to lesser known athletes who in their own way made those few glorious weeks special. I can’t watch this video without filling up though, at 1:20 in Gemma Gibbons looks up to the heavens after her judo semi-final win and whispers, “I love you mum”, having lost her mum to leukaemia as a teenager, her motivation is laid bare right there in front of millions. So whenever I hear this song now I see this video, I share the motivation and I am inspired to be the best that I can be and make my loved ones proud.

And there you have it, everyone will have their own top 5, everyone will have their own motivators but what matters is that we all have something we are aiming for that for us will represent a genuine achievement. Good luck with whatever that is for you, keep going when times get hard and remember you are amazing and you can do this!

Championship Vinyl – Part 1

Musical motivation, my top 5, part 1.

In Nick Hornby’s fantastic book, High Fidelity, the lead character Rob Gordon and his friends spend a large proportion of their time coming up with their all time top five favourite lists on a variety of topics. There’s the usual top five filmshf, top five books, top five dream jobs and then there’s some with a slightly more unique take, top
five most memorable break-ups and top five songs about death! If you haven’t read it I’d highly recommend it, if you’re not a reader at least give the film starring John Cusack and Jack Black a watch, it stays pretty faithful to the book aside from being set in Chicago rather than London.

If you have read any of my previous blogs you’ll know I love listening to music while I’m out running*. I come from quite a musical family, in particular on my dad’s side, but that gene seemed to skip me. Music was a big part of my childhood though and I always remember mum having the radio on singing away whilst in the kitchen.

I’d go as far as saying that I’m open to pretty much any kind of music but my halcyon days were in the mid to late 90s through the tail end of school and into my undergraduate career. They were the heady days of indie and Britpop as well as the emergence of dance  and house music into the mainstream.

In terms of running I exploit music in a number of ways. It provides a distraction and helps to give me some headspace. I use it to pace myself and break my runs down, for example trying to get to the next checkpoint in my mind within two or three songs and some songs provide motivation to push me on with the rhythm and beat used to help maintain a good pace and stride pattern.

Putting myself in the shoes of Rob Gordon I thought I’d try and produce a #marathonbore top five all time motivational running songs list. Easier said than done! I’ve been contemplating writing this blog for a couple of weeks but as soon as I started to note down songs it quickly spawned a list of nearly 30 which I then added to in my head during the day as I listened to the brilliant Absolute Radio 90s.

I’ve had to be very strict and stick purely to songs that motivate me and not just songs that are on my all time favourite playlist. That means nothing from The Stereophonics, The Bluetones, Oasis, Blur, Embrace, REM, Bruce Springsteen, Stephen Fretwell, I Am Kloot, never mind PJ & Duncan, B*Witched or Daphné & Celeste (Ooh stick you!!).

I haven’t yet fully firmed up the top five but a couple of noteworthy tunes which didn’t make the cut are below:

Smells Like Teen Spiri– Nirvana. The song that signaled the arrival of grunge in the mainstream and one that no doubt gets the blood pumping, it just doesn’t tick the inspiring box for me.

Space Cowboy (Classic Radio mix) Remix – David Morales – Jamiroquai. This one really takes me back to my student days and queuing up outside the Music Factory and other venues in Sheffield. I love the beat but it doesn’t quite hit the motivational spot.

Sproston Green – The Charlatans. This would definitely make my all time top five and the eight minute plus live version I listen to normally sees me through a mile, the way the layers of music build up is ace but with so many songs to choose from I had to make some tough calls, sorry Tim.

Wake Me Up – Avicci. Far more recent than my other selections but this song reminds me of a great family holiday in Ibiza a couple of years ago and part of my reason to run is to set a positive example for my children. As well as being a great tune there are also some really pertinent lyrics for me but I’d have to crowbar it into my list.

And there you have it, for now, I could add plenty more YouTube links but you’d no doubt get bored of my self indulgence at some point. The top five will be revealed next week. If you’d like to let me know your top five or even just your number one motivational running song I’d love to hear from you, although that may just add to the confusion!

Quick running update, I’ve tried to push beyond my comfort zone and did a five lap hill circuit which included some fartleks on Friday, a total of just over 10 miles. On Monday I went out and about, up and down some local country lanes with beautiful views, the undulations and largely unknown route were testing but I managed 9.25 miles in 1hr 14 mins. Just a month now until the Leeds half marathon and under six months until the York marathon, exciting!

*NB. Whilst I train wearing earphones I’m aware of the UKA regulation about the use of them during races, you can find out more here, if you are new to running and train in earphones it’s worth checking when you sign up for a race if they are permitted or not.

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”.