Sunday February 15th, 2015
It was a little over a year ago when I took part in the 2014 Liversedge Half Marathon, a race in which I blew away all my own expectations when I ran in 1:26:45, finishing 35th. I since beat that time at the Great Birmingham Run, lowering it to 1:25:37, but I was sure that I could go under 1:25:00 for the half, and as such despite my aims for my first marathon this year, I still had unfinished business with this target. Yet unlike 2014, I was intent on treating this year’s event as an experiment in trying to work out a strategy for the marathon. And so I’d been telling everyone that I wasn’t planning on chasing down a time unnecessarily and that I’d be satisfied just with getting around in a reasonably quick, but efficient time.
As detailed in my last Marathon Training series, I’d had far from an ideal run up to this event, with a disappearing sandwich – seriously – and a sickness bug running through my kids that was proving to be a barrier to getting my training in as planned. I must confess, such was the situation there was even a consideration to withdraw, on the basis of prioritising my family and home over the race – though in the end the kids started to get a little better and so I could relax a little on the morning of the race, going through the usual breakfast ritual of a banana, water and some porridge – which this time had Nutella in it, a recent discovery which I’ve become keen on. My grandfather picked me up and we made the short drive up to Roberttown village for the race.
The remaining hour before the race flew by. The local community centre, acting as Race HQ, was packed. The race was a sell-out again this year at maximum 600 capacity. I got my chip attached, energy drink taken, Nakd bar scoffed, baggage labelled and soon I was back outside to make my way to the start line. The Fit 4 Force team were carrying out a warm-up for some of the runners on the grassy area next to the start line. The weather was overcast, a bit chilly, but otherwise good for running. All the local club runners were in force – Spen AC, Stadium Runners (Huddersfield), Dewsbury, Stainland, Todmorden, Roberttown – they were all here.
I could barely hear the PA – it was a sellout race again and all 600 were gathered on the start line. There was a barely audible version of ‘Happy Birthday’- this was the 20th year of the race – and soon enough, the countdown began and the race was on, bang on 11am. I set my Garmin off from the gun, for a change (so my splits would be slightly off from the chip). I started a few rows back from the front and so initially I wouldn’t be able to get into my full stride. But space soon began to open up and the race began it’s slight descent towards Liversedge. I got onto Headlands Road and seemed to be in a good position. First mile time – 5:23, just as it was the previous year. I’d gone out hard again. But I felt I knew what I was doing and so when the race began to ascend back towards Hightown, I felt as though I wasn’t pushing it to a maximum and I felt I was in good nick. In the distance was the lead vehicle – wow, I must have been in a good place. I counted back among the lead runners and guessed I was in about 12th. As the race moved on through Windy Bank Lane, I was up into 7th and holding my position. I was soon to be overtaken by a pack of four, and it would turn out I would spend my time in and around this pack as the race unfolded.
My splits hadn’t dropped significantly – from mile 2 onward it went 6:22, 6:14, 6:14 – and we were heading to the 14% gradient descent that is Birkby Lane. I knew right now I was on sub-1:25:00 pace. Was I going to hold back?
Of course not! I flung myself down that hill and gained a position or two. We carried on along Bradford Road as the race went through my hometown of Brighouse. Around this point I had a gel – I’d read in a running mag about taking on the extra carbs early during a marathon to ensure you kept going. I felt it was a strategy worth trying and so I guzzled it and continued onward. There was a left at Thornhill Bank Lane which I had well scouted, as this led to a testing uphill as the race moved on towards Clifton. I kept a disciplined stance as I went up the hill, trying to be mindful not to quicken up too much. I deliberately avoided checking my mile 7 split, because I didn’t want the sub-1:25 prospect to take over. Nonetheless, I was maximising the downhills and maintaining what I felt was hard, but not quite race pace, as the proceeded up Highmoor Lane.
We were well past 9 miles and the watch still hadn’t passed the hour mark. I couldn’t deny it any longer – it was on. I just had to keep disciplined and keep posting reasonable splits. Miles 7 to 10 weren’t my fastest but none of the mile splits were far from the average 6:29 pace or whatever it was to get 1:25:00. So has the race proceeded through miles 11 and 12, I picked up the pace. I still had reserves in the tank. I seemed to be finishing well and those two miles went for 6:21 and 6:19. I was loving this. The race turned onto Roberttown Lane for the final mile, which finishes on a slight ascent. I turned left and in the distance was the race clock. I put in some strides and I blurrily remember overtaking someone – I say so because I headed towards the line, my name announced and my arms raised high in the air. I shook hands with some of the other runners and I got water and the long sleeved shirt at the end. A lady then informed me I could print off a receipt of my time from a nearby vehicle. So I walked over to it and entered my bib number, and it was every bit as astounding as when I first saw the clock:
1:22:41 – a massive personal best by 2:56 over my time in Birmingham, and good enough for 10th place! But more importantly, I had finally done it. I had finally achieved it. I was finally a sub-1:25:00 half marathoner!
I got back to the community centre and checked my phone for messages. The sickness was now beginning to afflict my wife. Crumbs. I informed her of my time and then I got on with calling my Grandad to say I was ready to go. I spent a little time chatting to some of the people at the community centre after purchasing a cake – wow, so much cake – and was discussing my time, the race, and the virtues of being a club runner. I’m not one yet – but with every ‘local’ race like this one, I’m getting drawn more and more to the notion of signing up to one.
I uploaded that receipt pic to the Running the World group on Facebook, where it got 482 likes – a record for anything I’d posted on there, drawing such comments of praise including ‘smashed it’, ‘such pretty numbers’ and ‘your marathon debut is going to be awesome!’
Sure enough, I too was to be afflicted with the sickness bug going around the house, though I don’t think running contributed to any of that. The only person I got to talk about my run in person with was my wife, and she has been fantastic in my achievement, how I’ve got there and yes, we have discussed already whether or not I can reach the hallowed turf of sub-1:20:00. Crikey!
Looking back at this performance, it was intended as an experiment for the marathon, in terms of pacing, in terms of nutritional strategy. Well, I feel the gel may have helped me keep up that pace, yet at the same time my recent endurance levels in training suggest this may just come naturally to me. I feel I may yet go with the gel strategy in the marathon, although a more natural substitute wouldn’t go amiss. And I’m not sure that clocking 6:19/mile pace is marathon pace. At least not yet! But I know all ends up this was an experiment that largely worked – not least of all the fact that I feel I finally got my pacing right in a race. Sure I set off quick, but I kept my pace largely to a level which was comfortable, along with something else I suspected – that I have got generally quicker. I ran three sub-6:00 miles in this race and eight at sub-6:30 pace, and none of those miles felt uncomfortable or like I was being excessive. If that’s the case, I’m extremely happy – I’ve worked so hard for this target, though I didn’t anticipate it this race, and to find the strategy that seems to have worked for me and indeed to perform the way I did is a huge confidence booster ahead of Manchester in under 9 weeks time.
As for the race itself, it was a fantastic 20th year for the event and I’m sure the Roberttown Road Runners are very happy with how the race went. The marshals, helpers and organisers were all superb and always friendly. It was extremely well organised from start to finish, and there is a real community atmosphere about the whole event, which is what makes it so special. Sure the course is a bit challenging, but should any newcomer wish to take it on, they won’t find many more welcoming as this race. Such is how highly I rate it, it is now surely a calendar highlight for me, and I can’t anticipate anything other than being back at this event next year, whether a club runner or not, or a bona fide marathon junkie. Certainly, if you’re reading this from afar, and you fancy a challenge, get on over to this corner of West Yorkshire and have a crack!
Cheers to Graham Fisher, Debbie Fisher and Kevin Ogden for the action shots (on Yorkshire Runner Photos on Facebook)