Sunday February 9th, 2014, 7:00am.
The weather outside had not abated from the previous evening. It was windy, rainy, squallid. Just like that incredible day in the North East five months ago. But this wasn’t the North East. This was home. That familiar sight, witnessed every day. The fact that this was mid-winter and not in the last embers of summer didn’t fulfil me with great hope for decent weather – a situation confirmed when I travelled to the local car boot on foot to get a couple of trays of free range eggs a couple of hours before. The luxury of preparing with other runners seemed a distant memory as the kids arose and so the race preparations bedded in with the morning routine. I was frantically looking around for odd things I’d put down, be it a sock, or a glove, while at the same time ensuring the kids had breakfast and Ben & Holly’s Little Kingdom to entertain them for the time being.
The morning quickly passed, and my grandfather arrived at 9:50am sharp to take me up to Roberttown for the Liversedge Half Marathon. I wasn’t feeling in the zone at this point, but then a lot had been in stark contrast to my big day out in September. Liversedge was very much a personal venture for me, a challenge which I undertook having rediscovered running and in doing so, seeking to push myself further in something I truly enjoy. I never thought about stopping running once Great North Run was over; I only wanted to run more. And so after 12 weeks of training, numerous runs around sections of the race route and breaking some personal records in training, it was time to step up once again.
I had thought previously due to the hilly nature of the Liversedge course that a time of around 1:35:00 would be reasonable for my effort. Despite training to go under 1:30:00, I respected the challenge of the course and did not wish to build up my own hopes of ‘smashing it’. But having done a 7-mile run the week before with almost a negative split, taking the last mile for a PB of 5:56 along the same section of the route as around the 5-6 mile mark. It was the first sub 6-minute mile I’d ever done – I felt in confident mood. So I was going to attack this course come hell or high water – it was what I’d be training for and I wasn’t going to hold back.
Once at the Roberttown Community Centre I collected my chip and my vest number – 205 for this occasion – and found a space amongst the crowded community centre room to attach said chip to shoe and badge number to my shirt. I decided against running in my jacket as well as a long sleeve shirt as the weather looked to be improving slightly, left it with the baggage attendant and guzzled a gel before heading out into the windstorm. I made the short walk to Commonside where the runners were gathered, many using conifers and walls as wind shelters while trying to keep warm, though the weather didn’t seem to be dampening the positive spirit amongst us all.
We gathered around the start line, doing some last minute limbering up. The announcer was doing his best to make himself heard through a megaphone – I seem to remember we were off when the people at the front made their move, rather than the official starters gun or horn or whatever they were using. That’s how loud the wind was. I crossed the line a few seconds later and got into my stride. The first mile was mostly downhill – I opted to do what I planned and that was to attack the downhill sections. The mile marker came up fairly quickly. I briefly thought about how fast that actually was before continuing on. The next mile seemed longer, turning up towards Halifax Road to mark the first ascent of the course. As the leaders started to forge ahead, the long stretch here was the first burn I felt of any note. But I kept pace with the pack and soon it turned onto Hare Park Road, which was the first steep hill we encountered on the course. I navigated this no problem, but the fierce resistance from the wind seemed to be causing issues. I hadn’t run into a headwind before and thus I didn’t have any concept about what this might be doing to my performance, other than potentially slowing me down or forcing me to use more energy to keep my level up. Around mile 4, the first water station appeared, all too gratefully, although I nearly choked on the water as I sought to keep pace.
Soon we were at the section I most anticipated – the descent down Birkby Lane towards Bailiff Bridge. This was where I picked up speed to go for the 5:56 mile the previous week. I could feel the wind pushing against me as the first part of the descent began, but I was determined not to have it slow me up, so I lengthened my stride and went into proverbial freefall down the hill. I was pushing my limits as it hit the problem, and I got the optimum surge as I dashed around the corner onto Bradford Road. I tried to keep it up on the long flat section with a trio of club runners initially in my wake and then just ahead of me. It was then that I looked over to my right and saw my wife and sister cheering me on, holding placards in the air including ‘GO PETER‘ and ‘GO BRO GO!’ I gave them the thumbs up and a smile and continued on my dash.
Eventually it was around the corner onto Thornhill Bank Lane – over the ford and up the hill. It was here I felt like I hit the proverbial wall. This hill was one I’d run up several times in preparation, but never on the 6th or 7th mile of a run – now it was extra punishing. I contemplated whether to stop for a second but quickly decided I was going to push on. It felt like my chance of going under 1:30:00 was slipping, regardless of the quick pace beforehand. I didn’t consider that I’d gone off too quickly – I felt ready for this race and wouldn’t have gone out so hard if I lacked belief. Eventually I reached the turn and arrived at a slightly flatter section as the race headed for Clifton. A quick out and back before turning right at The Armytage Arms, it was onto Highmoor Lane, aka the ‘Mad Mile’, a nickname given due the numerous motorists who speed along it. Although I did manage a surge as the road dipped, once it began ascending I felt drained again. I had to push on. I was tempted to look at my phone to see where I was against my target, but I resisted the urge. I just had to focus.
I got back on Halifax Road, gratefully taking two jellied sweets off a solitary and incredibly hardy marshal above the M62, and onwards towards Windy Bank Lane for the last couple of miles. The wind battered at me again. This road had a name like that for a reason, and the hat was soon back in the side of my lycra pants. It was beginning to get really testing. I was gritting my teeth, urging myself on, even tapping myself in the head like Wawrinka at the Australian Open. Eventually the 12th mile appeared and it was onto Roberttown village. This was it now. The lactic acid was ominously approaching, and I sought to keep going up the gradual climb. Around the corner I went, back onto Commonside. And as I approached the finish, I noticed the clock. It was reading 1…26…something. ‘No way<' was the first thing I said. I kept going for the line and pumped my fist as I crossed. I dropped to my knees, leant back and looked to the sky in sheer exhaustion. I looked to my left and a fellow runner offered his hand and his congrats, which I exchanged. I was ushered on to get my chip removed, I got my finishers t-shirt, and decided to head back to the community centre.
It was relatively empty compared to before the race, and I cashed in on a Cornish pasty and a slab of chocolate cake, washed down with a brew, for a reasonably sum of £3. I got that down my neck, did my stretches, and got on my way. It wasn't me being aloof, but I didn't know anyone else doing the race and I just wanted to go home and see my family again. My grandparents picked me up and we had a nice journey back home.
I posted my result over on Running The World over on Facebook and it went mental, with over a hundred likes and several comments. There were some genuinely kind words coming – I'd been quite open about targeting 1:30:00 and never did I expect to make such a dent in my PB. The training plan I found on the group really paid off for me – it had pushed me harder than before and this really was the reward I'd sought for it. It was my chief aim of the year and I'd not just done it, I blew it out of the water.
My official time appeared later that evening. I finished 35th and timed at 1:26:45. 4:44 off my personal best, set back at the Great North Run, and confirming I had gone well under my goal.
Through the race, I had various thoughts running through my mind, be it the urge to fight on for my target, even to ‘why am I doing this?’ Seriously, this was just a personal venture, putting myself out on a cold February morning in rubbish weather. I’m sure other runners think the same thing sometimes. But reaching the finish was something else. It was complete disbelief that despite feeling like I struggled over the last six miles, I actually managed to maintain race pace and deliver for myself what was a stunning time. It makes me immeasurably proud to have gone that quick and to have actually set out what I wanted to do at the start of the year. But with such great strides made, there’s only one thing left to do now – and that’s to try and go even quicker!
I must thank everyone involved with the Roberttown Road Runners and the Liversedge Half Marathon, be it the runners themselves, the members, the volunteers, the marshals, the people who took the race photos, pretty much anyone who lent a helping hand that day. It’s a supremely well organised event and deserving of its reputation as one of the toughest half marathons out there. On the day everyone was magnificent and the pasty and cake at the end was simply awesome. It’s a race I recommend to anyone, even beginners, though be aware that you’re in for an almighty challenge. These aren’t the highest peaks you’ll ever hit, but they will take it out of you. It was by far the toughest race I’ve competed in yet, a challenge I’d love to revisit, and hence all the more astonishing that I’ve recorded my PB here. A great day all around.