Shameless

I’ll apologise up front that this week’s blog isn’t up to my usual standard and actually it is pretty much going to be a series of thank yous and shameless plugs, feel free to dip out now if you want, normal service will resume next week with a preview of a certain race that you might have heard me wittering on about.

Firstly, a massive thank you to every single one of you who has supported my fundraising efforts. At the point of writing this I have received 52 donations totaling over £600 for my two charities, Macmillan Cancer Support and the Plastic Surgery & Burns Research Unit in Bradford. Donations have been received from family, friends, colleagues, former colleagues and complete strangers. You are all wonderful and I cannot thank you enough. If you would like to donate all the details are on my Sponsorship page.

Secondly, I love writing this blog, thank you to everyone who has ever read even a single word of it. I started it as a bit of a diary for myself but it has quickly become much more than that and something I’m really proud of and hope to maintain in the future, it is a labour of love and an opportunity to express myself. If you have enjoyed anything you have read then please can I ask that you take a minute to vote for me in the 2018 Running Awards.

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Finally, there are many, many people to thank for getting me to this stage in my running journey. The York Marathon will most certainly not be the final stage, if anything it might just be the prologue. I am not going to name check everyone here, mainly because I am likely to forget and miss someone out! From simple words of encouragement, to ridiculous banter, to creating time and space for me to actually get out and run, you have all been amazing, you know who you are and you will all be with me either in person or in spirit in 13 days’ time, particularly when my mind and body are asking me what the hell I am doing!

Thank you for indulging me.

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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.

Accrington 10k – Race Review

Those who live outside of East Lancashire and particularly those who grew up in the 80s will have heard of Accrington for one reason and one reason alone.

The town is also the birthplace of former England cricketer turned Sky pundit David “Bumble” Lloyd and European Championship, Commonwealth Games and Boston marathon winner Ron Hill after whom this race is named.

img_20170301_193100_526Accrington, like most towns in this
part of the world, is far from flat and having reviewed the course video and route profile pre-race I knew I was in for a challenging middle section of the race with a pretty constant incline for around 2 miles, the weather forecast was also terrible with heavy rain expected.

 

I arrived in plenty of time and headed to race HQ to collect my number. The lady iIMG_20170305_084933.jpgn front of me got number 13, I got number 413, was someone trying to tell me something? I was also given a timing ankle strap, I’ve never worn one of them before and it made me feel slightly like a crim who’s tagged and has a 9pm curfew!!

I headed back to the car to get my things together and try and decide if I needed my running jacket or if I was going to tough it out. The sky was slate grey (nothing new) but no signs of rain so I decided to brave it and went off back to race HQ to use the facilities and keep warm until gun time.

There were around 500 starters, lots of runners sporting the colours of various local running clubs, so I decided to err on the side of caution and start dead last (apart from the man in the hi-viz 10k Sweeper jacket whose job it was to bring up the rear). I hoped to give myself a bit of a buffer on the pack and it’s always a confidence boost to pass people rather than be passed. As the race wasn’t entirely on closed roads headphones had been banned, I totally agree with that from a safety point of view, but I always train with headphones in and use the music to give me a rough guide of pace so I found the first part of the race rather strange as I tried to establish a comfortable pace.

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Pre-race snap in the car park! Ignore the quiff!

We set off down a nice wide closed road that gave everyone plenty of chance to fan out and gave me the opportunity to start moving up the field. After a mile or so we then turned onto a path along the side of the railway line and out the back end of town. A couple of twists and turns later and we picked up the start of the woodland path that marked the start of the hill section. To be honest it wasn’t as bad as I was expecting, the incline was steady but the problem was that the path wasn’t particularly wide and along both sides was a combination of mud and mulched leaves so if you wanted to pass anyone you needed to move off the racing line and into the brown stuff! It had also started to rain gently at this point and that added to the deluges of the last couple of days made the mulch somewhat slippy!!!

After seeing a 2k marker before we started on the path I realised after a while that I hadn’t seen another marker for what felt like quite a while, the absence of music didn’t help me here either as I had no idea how far I’d gone and how long I’d been running for (and it did feel like I was running rather than advanced jogging today). It wasn’t far though until I noticed 5k marked in yellow spray paint on the path which gave me a boost.

A few kilometres further and somewhat muddier we came off the track and back out into civilisation. This section was nice and flat and although the road was open the pavement was wide enough and the field spread out enough for it not to be a problem.

Finally at about 2k to go the much anticipated downhill section started. As mentioned in my post Eyes On The Prize I actually find going downhill quite difficult in terms of getting my stride pattern correct and this was the only time I remember being passed by a couple of other runners. We then hit the flat again before another sharp descent and turn into the finishing straight. I had no idea at this point what my time was but I felt I’d done a decent, consistent pace throughout. The clock was to the left of the finish line rather than above it, as I have experienced in the past, so I only actually glimpsed it as I crossed the line and I managed to pick out 47.img_20170305_102735

I was hopeful I’d done well and as I crossed the line I saw Ben from our IT team at work. Ben is someone I’d define as a “serious runner”, he finished 12th in just over 38 minutes! It was nice to see a friendly face but still no idea of time. I collected my goodie bag and set off for home.

I only live about a 15 minute drive away and so it wasn’t long until I was back and could log on and access the results section. A quick search showed me in 81st place in 46mins 28secs, a massive personal best, for context I’d done my previous 10k last June in 54 mins 49 secs!!!

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Whilst I was chuffed with the time I felt rough. I don’t usually run in the mornings and had only eaten a banana for breakfast. As this was about helping me to bag some preparation ahead of my marathon in October I think this morning provided a great learning experience, not only in terms of running in a field of other people but also in terms of fuelling and my future training schedule. I need to do more morning runs and I need to get my fuelling right or I’m going to be wrecked before I even get anywhere near half distance on the big day.

All in all a good morning’s work. Delighted with my time, challenging course overcome, well organised race, learned lots and nice to get out among a great bunch of people in this amazing running community. Now to rest up, refuel and get back on it next week.