Halifax Half Marathon 2014 (aka: Surely not again?!)

It had been just over four months earlier when I ran the inaugural Huddersfield Marathon, newly relaunched under the gaze of organisers Team OA, who organise all sorts of weird and wonderful running and multisport events from that race to the White Rose Ultra and even the Great Yorkshire Pieathlon, among many other delights. If you know me well or would care to read back at this earlier race report, you will know how my race went down the crapper a few hundred metres in when I took a wrong turn caused by a lack of marshal, signpost or lead bike at the opening junction. I came back to finish fourth that day but I was seriously unhappy for a time with how it went, and but for a quite excellent turnaround in Blackpool two weeks after that, I dare not think about if that malaise had lasted.

I do look upon that result positively now. I didn’t enter the second of this series of marathon events, the Wakefield Marathon, which I didn’t fancy and in any event I was just recovering from injury when that race happened. But the Halifax Marathon and Half Marathon was one that I definitely had an eye on. It runs from the Shay Stadium in Halifax and through my hometown of Brighouse, circling back up the Calder Hebble Navigation towards the finish. I could not resist. As with the Huddersfield race, entry was gifted to me by a very kind friend of mine, and I trained in earnest for a crack at the PB I set at Liversedge – 1:26:45 – as well as maybe, just maybe, a crack at going under 1:25:00.

Surely the same problems as last time couldn’t beset me. Surely?

Sunday August 31st, 2014: 7:01am

Having already got up at 6:40am, I fell asleep on the landing at the top of my staircase for 20 minutes extra. Twenty minutes too long if you ask me. But in the end I hauled myself up and got myself into my usual porridge-banana-tea routine. Only I wound up forgetting to drink a pint of water. Never mind, I had my hydration drink in the fridge, I’d be right. I got into part of my kit, packed the rest, and got out of the house about 8:28am. A few minutes down the road, I went to put my door keys in my bag. No sign of my drink. Damn, I’d left it on the table. I looked at the time now and it was 8:31am. I had six minutes to get my bus. No chance. So I went sans energy drink, but at least I had an SIS energy bar and a High 5 Gel to propel me through the tough course. I got the bus anyway, and took a phone call from my wife on the way, with the kids in the background shouting ‘run fast Daddy!’ That in itself was great to hear – hopefully before long they too can see me in action.

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The bus arrived at my required stop on time and it was a short walk to the Shay, home of FC Halifax Town and the Halifax Blue Sox Rugby League Club. The atmosphere was brilliant. Straight away you got the buzz of the Pulse of West Yorkshire blasting out tunes, bacon, sausage and egg butties all tempting the masses of runners to stodge their arteries pre-race. The sun was positively beaming. Sky Sports News was on in the bar, and registration was quickly processing runner after runner. I was number 021. I got my stuff together and for the first time wore shades for the event. It was going to be a bit of a scorcher – an estimated 19C, with not much in the way of cloud cover.
The presence of the bar meant I had time to get enough water down and I was feeling pretty relaxed. I had a drink –  a half pint – at 9:15am and another 10 minutes before the start. I’d eaten the energy bar and the gel was stuffed into my shorts.

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This is why I need a sports watch.

I gathered among the runners a few rows from the front, where we all received race instructions, including a reminder from the Canal & River Trust not to drink the canal water (yes, really), and watched the race director do his ice bucket challenge just before the race countdown began. Off we went. We began to make the exit from the Shay and it wasn’t long before I was in that familiar position I found myself in at Huddersfield. That’s right, at the front. For the second time ever in a race I was leading, and initially I felt slightly fluttery at being in front. The first descent down Water Lane was a chance to stretch my legs to try and get some early pace in, and I continued down Siddal New Road with a reasonably healthy lead. Either I’d gone off too hard, or the rest of the field went off a bit slow. I certainly didn’t feel I was pushing myself too hard at this point.

Soon it was on to the first of two major hills, Whitegate. This was  a steep cobbled road which I got up reasonably well, and later the end of Siddal Top Lane, a trail path that leads into Southowram. I’d passed the first mile marker by now and I’d settled down a bit. I was in front, relaxed, and just running my own race. I wasn’t aiming to win and so I was in the best place mentally. This felt rather good, in control and up to 2.5 miles, I will still leading! However, I could hear someone catching up behind me and it wasn’t long before the man in question, from Todmorden Harriers & AC, overtook me. Still in second, we headed down a road called Long Lane, which was the start of the next trail section of the race. We hadn’t seen a marker since the start of Long Lane, and upon reaching the end the leader appeared to ask a couple with a dog – not marshals – which way to go. They appeared to indicate right. Off he went to the right, and off I followed. We continued round the trails and rural roads. Before too long though, we had the horrible sinking feeling.

Not AGAIN!

Yes, just as I had at Huddersfield, I’d gone down a wrong turn, and by now me and the Todmorden runner were almost a mile off course. A van had caught us up and they pointed us back in the direction of the runners. We set back off, exactly in the formation we were in before, but no longer number one & two. We weren’t very happy. I was chuntering about the same happening at Huddersfield and at that moment it all seemed a bit of a shambles. I can honestly say at this point I was considering jacking it in. My aim for a personal best, maybe even a sub-1:25:00, crushed into dust. For now.

Just as it was in Huddersfield, this became a game just seeing how much ground I could make up. Overtaking runners on the narrow downhill descent through Cunnery Wood, surging past more runners as I hurtled down Shibden Hall Road, and slugging it down and then up Sutcliffe Wood Lane, onward through Wood Bottom and emerging at the top of Mill Hill Lane, having now run 8.3 miles as opposed to 6.4 like nearly everyone else. My family were there to see me running, my dad telling me to pick up the pace! If only he knew. Well he found out later on. But I digress. I was still on the coattails of this Todmorden runner, and it seemed at that point it could well be a case of trying to stick with him to see where I could finish.

That ultimately didn’t happen. Much of my hope for this race was based on getting through the hills quick enough and bursting along the Calder Hebble Navigation. I came through Brighouse town centre, where my wife was positioned along with the aforementioned friend, who was marshalling. It quickly transited to the Calder Hebble Navigation, for five miles of hard running to the finish along my favourite patch of concrete, with the beautiful canalside as the backdrop. There was to be no glory in this. The Todmorden runner was getting further and further away, and I was starting to feel the burn of the effort. I continued to overtake people but I didn’t feel to be moving any quicker than around 6:30 pace. I continued to press on and still I kept overtaking. Then the rot began to set in. At mile 13 – that’s mile 11 for everyone else – the legs just went. A terrible concoction of the extra miles, the heat, and the hilly first half of the race, took everything out of me and it honestly felt a bit like no man’s land from there. I wasn’t getting caught, but I was tiring horribly. Never before had this happened – not even at Huddersfield. But it was happening, and I just had to carry myself through to the end.

Finally, 0.1 miles from the end. One of the marshals said ‘come on, sprint finish!’. I love a sprint finish, I really do. I just didn’t have it on this day. I trudged over the line for a time of 1:41:06, across 15 miles of course, for an 11th place finish.

I’d barely time to catch my breath when I looked up and the runner from Todmorden pointed at me. He was talking to the organisers. We reported what had happened and were told that although the area wasn’t marshalled, there was a marker that was last checked at 8am that morning, and it appeared someone, possibly a farmer, had removed it. I’ve honestly never encountered this before – lack of marshals, yes, but the sabotage of a crucial signpost? That’s a bit below the belt, that really is. That killjoy basically took away my own culpability to fail at achieving my personal target, for which I’d trained hard for the last two months, coming back from injury to do so. But more to the point, there was no anger directed towards the organiser about what had happened. I didn’t enter this race to win – I simply wanted to run a fast time – and to there and then receive an explanation was more than what I received at Huddersfield, when I ultimately limped off for my bus unaware I’d just finished fourth. Today, I could at least leave proud of my comeback, my time over the total distance and a happiness at being an established leader for the first time in a race.

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Leading the Halifax Half Marathon on Siddal Top Lane

Because beyond that one critical point, I had no other issues on the course whatsoever. I regularly kept myself informed with the route and being so local I had the chance to train on nearly all of it, bar the one alteration to the race I hadn’t quite been aware of that led to that fateful turn of events. Indeed, having to make up the ground when you’re blessed with the speed to overtake a lot of runners opens up another dimension in a situation such as this, but I’d rather this sort of thing didn’t happen to me all the time! But it was a great feeling to race around this area as opposed to train on it. To race through your home town, to race in front of family and friends, and indeed in an area as beautiful of this. Of course, this is Yorkshire, of course its bloomin’ marvellous!

After the race, I took time to chat with other runners, including the man I was following for much of the race, the race winner, and a friend and work colleague who also ran, as well as other individuals including one or two who had noticed me from previous events. That to me felt brilliant – that my face or my name is becoming one associated with these local events and if that leads me to having a stronger connection with the local running community, that would be terrific. I do so much of my training alone that race events tend to be the only face to face interaction I get with other runners, which is a choice I’m happy to live with, but I can’t deny enjoying talking about my race, my strategies, my story, and in general just interacting with them and listening to their experiences. I was also due to take the ice bucket challenge here which the race organisers were going to assist me with. However the race took its toll on me – I’ve never raced in this heat before. OK, it was ‘only’ 19C, but the sunshine was relentless and I just felt a bit unsteady and in need of a bacon and sausage butty and more water. So I said my byes and made my way towards the train station.

I must say that it was a tad disappointing that I saw zero local press coverage before or after the race. Sure, publicity is a two way street, but when the local paper would rather run a news story on the sunny weather in store for Calderdale than send someone to cover an event with the potential to become a big one in the town’s calendar, you really do despair a little. The race could certainly do with a few more marshals, and I implore anyone local reading this to get involved next year if you’re not running, and to make this race an important one for Halifax. It’s a cracking, challenging course and they picked the perfect surround to hold it at The Shay – the atmosphere was brilliant all day and the weather was near perfect too. I believe prices are to be reduced for 2015 entry, which will be open in a few days time, so hopefully numbers will be up all round.

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On reflection I’m proud of my result despite lightning striking twice as regards going off course, although I really hope this doesn’t keep happening to me! There’s not much time now to prepare for the Stainland Trail, which as of writing is just over two weeks away. I’m not a complete novice to trail running, but I’ll certainly be giving away some experience there and it’s certainly a challenge to look forward to. And beyond that, the Great Birmingham Run – where maybe I’ll get that sub 1:25:00 time I’m aiming for.

Full race results
Race photos by Summit Fever Media – view here
Start line photos taken from The Pulse of West Yorkshire – full set here

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