Saturday 28th January, 2017

It had been one week since the fall. The week before, I fell on my knee on a boozy night out with my family. I don’t remember the taxi ride home or entering my house. All I know is that I woke up on my sofa the morning after, still in my clothes, with a sore knee, a bruised foot, bruised rib and grazed elbow. That night, I ran 15 miles. I continued my running on Tuesday and Thursday and it seemed I was relying a little on paracetamol to not encounter any problems. Waking up on Saturday, race day, and feeling there had been no improvement in the situation, I wondered if I was denying myself the possible predicament I was either in, or getting myself into. It felt a bit like I was hurrying myself into a bit of a quandary.

I’d already decided I was going to take part in this race, the Sir Titus Trot (half marathon), come hell or high water, and I’d gone from a position of wondering if I could push for my PB on a relatively flat course to just seeing how it goes and to enjoy the experience. It’d been a long couple of years since I pretty much smashed my sub-1:25 target, and my focus had been less on speed and more on pacing, and setting tougher challenges for myself. The only speedwork I’ve done lately is hill sprints, so in hindsight, I felt I was asking too much of myself to tear things up on this occasion. Not withstanding the fact I was feeling pretty rough the morning of the race, prior to bathing, eating breakfast and getting my clobber together. 

As for the race itself…I’d never been to Saltaire before. I once went to its larger, neighbouring town Shipley many moons ago, but the village itself? Not until now. It was created in 1851 by Sir Titus Salt, an industrialist who wanted to concentrate his textile manufacture in one place, using land purchased three miles west of Shipley, next to the River Aire and the Leeds Liverpool Canal. The village’s name is a play on Sir Titus’ name and that of the river. (Cheers Wikipedia).

Stepping off the bus, I headed down to Victoria Hall to get registered for the race. Registration was in a small, square room, queued left to right for the 5K, 10K, half and full marathons respectively. After pinning my race number to my shorts, and changing my shirt – I dropped toothpaste on my original choice – I decided to nip out to a nearby sandwich shop to end my caffeine abstinence. I’d only spent five days off the stuff though, so the black tea I had today was nowhere near the wide-eyed effect it had back in Llanberis a few months earlier. Nonetheless, I went back to the Victoria Hall to get a gel out of my bag, put it into my jacket, drop my cash back in there and then to head down to the race start/finish area, where I warmed up, carried out a brief out and back one way and met Shaun, another runner I’d briefly conversed with about the race online.

I realised at the start line that everyone had brought their bags down to the shelter under the bridge by the start/finish line. Realising I’d left my bag back in the hall roughly five minutes before the start wasn’t ideal, but I did get a marshal’s attention and he kindly called to one of the organisers to bring it down on their way to the canal. Minor panic over.

The race briefing took place around the shelter as runners and marshals huddled around the canal as the odd non-entrant runner, dog walker, etc. tried to squeeze past the throng, and though the race starter gave the instructions, they seemed largely inaudible by the end as the group, aided by the echo of the underpass, gave the effect of a group of schoolchildren grinning to the point where the briefing might as well have been nonsense. Well, what we did know is that there would be 3.5 miles towards Leeds, back to the start and onwards in the direction of Skipton for another 3 miles or so, and then back again. That was for the half marathoners. The 5K and 10K entrants would have turned around and finished before that point, and the marathoners were headed roughly 10 miles beyond the start/finish towards Skipton before turning back. And marshals/water stations were only at the turnaround points, such was the nature of the course – a towpath on which it would be impossible (even for myself) to get lost on.

The countdown commenced, and we were on our way, amidst the bleeps and bloops of watches starting. This quickly turned to the squelching of mud and the splash of feet entering puddles. As everyone started at the same time, in the same direction, it was hard to tell who exactly was running which distance. One or two had set off at a rapid pace, so they surely must have been doing one of the shorter distances. Meanwhile, I noticed my watch was giving me a reading of 6:20 mile pace. At this point, it seemed effortless, but more to the point, my right knee, the source of so much consternation, wasn’t grumbling, tweaking or complaining at all. It actually felt OK. So after a first mile of 6:18, even in completely the wrong shoes for the terrain, I decided I’d keep it up.

The race had begun to string out by the second turnaround point (the first being 1.5 miles in for the 5K), and I’d kept to roughly 6:15-6:30 mile pace. I’d caught up, almost, with a male runner in a navy vest (whom I now know was a Baildon Runner). He was running with a long, purposeful stride, as opposed to my quicker, but shorter cadence. At the turnaround, he seemed to hesitate at the water station. This is where I actually tried tactics. He was only a few seconds ahead, and knowing I was well hydrated, I didn’t give it a glance and began to push on. I got onto the man’s shoulder as other runners continued to come past, a mix of 10K, half and marathon entrants. This continued for the best part of a mile and finally I put in a surge to go past him, and now it was my turn to put in a bit if work. Just as I had in Liversedge two years ago, I wanted to time my gel consumption for just after the 5th mile. I had felt it gave me a slight boost in that PB effort to keep up my pace levels right to the end. Whether it would work here, on an overall flatter course, would remain to be seen. So I ceded the place back, took the gel, but remained in contact.

The halfway point in the race seemed to take forever to arrive. We passed 6.5 miles, according to the watch, and the gazebo still wasn’t in sight. It was much closer to 7 miles by the time we passed it. At this point, I seem to remember going by the Baildon man again, as I was starting to gain on another man, this one wearing a Bingley Harriers shirt. I was tailing this runner for a while, then as we went under another bridge, I heard footsteps rapidly gaining. The Baildon Runner had put in a bit of a surge to catch up and the three of us were now switching places. This was exciting stuff, but I’d no idea whether I was jockeying for the lead, or if this was for one of the other ‘podium’ places. We’d soon be broken up. The Bingley runner had to stop momentarily to re-tie a shoelace. Then the race’s two steep hills, the Three Rise Locks, and a bit further on, the more demanding Five Rise Locks. The latter in particular is absolutely magnificent to look at, an amazing work of human industry, but the hill, though short, seemed very steep. My recent hill sprint training steadied me well, but I lost a bit of pace, and the navy runner was starting to get away. I recorded a 7:03 mile for that lap – the only time I recorded a single mile over 7 minutes the whole race.

As I started to approach the final turnaround, near Crossflatts, a man in a Horsforth Harriers vest ran past in the opposite direction. Clearly he was the leader, so there was no pressure there. I could live with that. A couple of minutes later, the Baildon Runner I had duelled with earlier also came past, his stride pattern clearly paying dividends by now. I was next up. I now knew I was third. A position I’m familiar with on a local level, but could I keep hold of it? I took a jelly baby and a cup of water, and tried my best to take sips of it. The Bingley runner was around 20-30 seconds behind. Knowing this, I tried to lift my pace, the demands of the effort now starting to ask questions of me. My knee, incredibly, was still feeling good. Clearly the combination of the paracetamol on the bus ride and the black tea had done wonders there, along with a proper warm up of course.

The last three miles were a heavy mix of pleasure, grit and ‘when will it end?’ The runners still coming the other way were giving plenty of encouragement and I was more than happy to return it. I nearly stumbled at the bottom of Five Rise Locks but kept my footing and used the brief descents to inject a bit of pace. I recorded 6:41 and 6:33 for mile 11 and 12, but I was definitely finding it harder to keep up to my earlier levels. Add to that being told I still had a couple of miles to go at around 11.75 miles in, I was getting desperate to see the finish. I refused to look back, apart from the solitary bridge crossing, which was more a cursory glance. I didn’t spot the blue of the Bingley Harrier, so I just knuckled down, really hoping to see the finish soon in the misty conditions.

Mile 13 came up at 6:52, according to my watch. I finally switched from pace/distance to time/distance, and remember seeing 1:25:something. Nowhere near my PB, but then I had lowered my expectations, and all I had to do now was keep going. The Baildon Runner only vaguely visible in the distance, a very much distant and impossible target. But then I saw the finish. I lifted the knees one more time, and the noise grew louder as the finish neared. Finally I was home. I turned around, and sure enough, I was third. To my complete surprise, I even got a trophy for 3rd male! And a fetching medal of Sir Titus himself too. There was cake at the finish as well, which I was tucking into as the Bingley Harrier arrived home. We got talking to one another at the end, along with the Baildon runner, looking back on what had been a quite incredible race experience.

I was hugely proud of my result – I had hoped to go a little faster, but I can say a lesser focus on speedwork recently has perhaps dulled my edge a little, plus the course didn’t have quite as many steep drops as the Liversedge Half Marathon, where I set my PB of 1:22:41.

I hung around a bit at the finish, and checked out my goodie bag, which contained a bottle of beer and a Terry’s Chocolate Orange! I elected not to risk my knee further with a recovery run into Bradford, even though I still wasn’t feeling any issues with it at the time. I deemed it better to go and change my socks, and get myself on the two bus journeys towards home. I forgot a pair of jeans, so I went home, as one does, still with my race number attached to my shorts, and lurid green compression socks!

This was my first time running the Sir Titus Trot, which was only established by It’s Grim Up North Running last year, and I must say its a cracking little race. The rather dank weather made the race that little more exciting in the end, and being able to run near the front end of the race, especially the tactical mini battles during the middle of the race. The extra distance was only a minor issue, and was explained by the decision to move the start under a bridge to shelter from the rain, meaning the start/finish line was moved. The route itself is beautiful. Granted, this particular day wasn’t the best one for it, but its a well maintained canal and the Five Rise Locks are a stunning feature of the course. There’s not a great barrier to entry, apart from the small field size – the course is mostly flat, bar a couple of sizable climbs which you have to come down again (if doing the marathon or the half). And the weather on the day made it even more exciting! Do go check out It’s Grim Up North Running online, they have many great races across Yorkshire and parts of north England, and all competitively priced, and not oversubscribed either – only 140 runners took part in this race overall. A great addition to the local running scene, and superbly organised too..

And now as I recover from the combination of those injuries, and a chest infection to boot, I can proudly look back upon my best race result for nearly three years! A cracking way to begin the year.

Full race results

Its Grim Up North Running

I’d like to finish that my run this past weekend was dedicated to Sue Brabbins. Sue was a runner and a popular member of the Facebook group ‘Running the World’, and raised thousands for charity through running. Sue was diagnosed with a terminal Glioblastoma Multiforme Grade 4 brain tumour. She had previously defeated two separate tumours and had continued to run and fundraise prior to her diagnosis with the fatal tumour in 2015. Her defiant positivity in the face of her illnesses endeared her more to the group, which currently encompasses 19,000 members. Sue died in 2016, but she left a lasting impression on many people and this weekend was the group’s ‘Sue Brabbins Race Weekend’ in her memory. Her husband Paul is now trying to raise £2,000 for Brain Tumour Research to help fund future research into these illnesses.

If you’d like to leave a donation or read more about Paul’s cause, please visit the JustGiving page here.

It was a privilege to be part of such an occasion among the running community, and I’m proud I delivered a cracking result. Thank you to Paul, and Tony & Anne Bennett for putting all this together and making this a weekend where we, as individuals and as a community, could all celebrate Sue’s life and legacy in our own way.