Sunday February 18th, 2018
Three years ago, I pulled out what I personally regard as the finest run I’ve ever put together at the Liversedge Half Marathon, a tough, hilly road race situated in West Yorkshire, when I ran to a tenth place finish and a personal best time of 1:22:41, the latest in a line of personal best times from September 2013 that had dropped by minutes, not just seconds. I couldn’t get enough of half marathon then, but I had eyes on stepping up to marathons, which I achieved, and then went one step further, moving onto ultra distance racing. Coupled with an injury in later 2015 and a reduced racing schedule in 2016, I’ve only run 13.1 miles in a race once since that February morning. I didn’t get near my PB in that race, and I was starting to believe that perhaps I had already surpassed the peak of my fast running abilities when I left the half marathon behind in my late twenties. Which, as it turns out, was a completely absurd notion.
I raced Liversedge in both 2014 and 2015 as an unattached runner. Almost every training session undertaken was on my own. I was my own coach, and I rarely ran in a group or undertook regular speed specific workouts. Now, I run for the Halifax Harriers, and have improved my times at 5K and 10K. Having resolved to try and run a sub-3 marathon in London this year, a lot of my training has been dedicated to running quick. And having had a largely positive experience in training so far, I woke up on this particular morning actually feeling I had a good chance of having a crack at my three year PB and succeeding. Any doubts I’d begun to have after months of plodding and picnicking on canal towpaths and rural surrounds had shifted. I truly felt like I had the groove to get back to what I previously loved doing. Plus, I remember the drag I got from chasing the leading pack in 2015 on that wonderful day. Smashing the half marathon was indeed something I was looking forward to see if I was still capable.
Yet, as I stood waiting for my club mate to pick me up en route to the race, I realised my wrist was feeling rather bare. That’s right…
I’VE FORGOTTEN MY GARMIN!
I couldn’t leave my spot, so I quickly resigned myself to doing something I hadn’t done at all, well, not since my earliest races – race without a watch. I’ve run without a watch before, but with a phone app like MapMyRun to announce my mile splits to the whole street from the back pocket of my shorts. I agreed to myself to record the race on MapMyRun but to turn off the voice feedback – how embarrassing would that be at the front end of a race?! So I just forgot about mile splits, and decided to treat the race as an experiment of sorts. My training has been going great, so I felt confident in my pace and pacing strategy. Getting a PB wasn’t the be all and end all, it was now just about finding my level and having a great time regardless.
Reaching the race HQ, it was no different to how I remembered it. The registration room was full of runners, all gathering their race numbers, pinning them to their vests, shirts, shorts and tights, and chatting away with one another. I got my pre-race ‘pit stop’ quickly out of the way and eventually, after bag drop and talking with my fellow attending club mates, it was time to head outside into the cold morning air. By all accounts the last couple of years had brought terrible weather to the race, so today was comparatively exotic by comparison. Just right, in fact, for running.
The masses (about five or six hundred) were called to the start line, a quick briefing delivered and then the countdown. Setting off on the most familiar race to myself, I managed to get through the crowds and into a position around the top ten heading out of Roberttown, taking the descent down towards Headlands Road at speed and briefly established myself in third, before being overtaken again. The leader, a very, very good Spenborough AC athlete, was establishing a healthy lead already by this point and knowing of his quality, I didn’t expect him to be caught. Nonetheless, I continued to focus on the race around me. Heading up towards Hightown, I was rushing along in about sixth, and then seventh, as the race progressed onwards along the aptly named Windy Bank Lane (surprisingly calm on this day), and out into Hartshead Moorside. At this point, I was finding myself beginning to lose another place, but the downhill section of Birkby Lane, leading into Bailiff Bridge, was soon upon me and I was able to do what I usually do at this section of the race – throw myself down it with reckless abandon. Knowing full well I could get the momentum if I wanted it, I made sure I got to the bottom of the 14% drop ahead of the runner behind for maximum purchase out of the corner onto Bradford Road.
Bradford Road appears about 5.5 miles into the race, roughly, and just down the road is a tool shop with a big clock/temperature display that announced the time (at this point) to be 11:30am. This must have meant I was going at some great lick, but it was a bit too soon to be getting carried away with wondering if I was on for a personal best. Beyond six miles, and knowing the hilly section was coming up, I reached for my isogel and tried to rip the top of it off with my teeth while maintaining somewhere around six minute mile pace. The manoeuvre malfunctioned, as some of the gel splurged out onto my arm and slightly onto my glasses (though I never realised the latter during the race). Eventually consuming the gel, I reached the corner of Thornhill Bank Road, where I knew my family would be waiting. And sure enough, there they were, my wife poised with her camera phone and my kids raucously cheering me on. I veered off to the right, completely disregarding the runner behind me was right on my heels, and gave my kids a huge high five apiece as I went passed, which they found hilarious!
I managed to get to the ford bridge at the bottom still ahead, but I would begin to suffer at this point for my early pace, and finally I ceded to eighth, then ninth and soon after tenth. The seventh mile was a comparative trudge minutes, and probably a good thing I didn’t have my watch to look at my mile split. Still, with the worst hill in the race out of the way, I could find my way back into my stride as the race plundered towards Clifton.
Heading up Highmoor Lane, aka the Mad Mile, as its known locally, I found myself overtaken by a Sowerby Bridge Snail who was actually quite speedy, belaying his club’s tongue-in-cheek name. But I found a bit of energy in reserve at this point as the hill began to level out and I retook my place. The next mile and a half became a bit of a tussle as both myself and the Snail exchanged back and forth. I opted for this tactically – I felt I’d thrive off having someone to keep me on my toes and at the same time use them to increase my own pace. I’d got a second wind by now and the places continued to swap until turning right off Windy Bank Lane onto Church Road. At this point I got back in front and didn’t give the place up. But it was shortly after clocking the 11 mile mark that I spotted the church clock, roughly two miles from the end of the race. The time on the clock was about 12:07pm. Suddenly, I knew the PB was on. But it felt like it was going to be tight.
As Church Road started to descend I upped the pace a little more, before reaching the Gray Ox junction, and put everything into flying down that hill. I cleared the next small uphill with ease off that and the race wound over to Fall Lane. Passing the 12 mile marker, I knew this was it. I had to keep going and I put the surge in whenever I could. The man in tenth was up ahead, and I could make inroads on what was about a twenty second gap to him, but I at least maintained the gap. I felt my lower back twinge a little bit but I knew I had to keep going. I truly believed by now I was going to make this happen, although it still remained a mystery to me as to whether I’d actually beat my time from three years ago.
I turned left into Commonside and ran up towards the finish. As the clock came into view, I could’ve sworn I read 1:26…but on closer inspection, it actually reads 1:20! I couldn’t believe it. For the third time at this race, I was going to absolutely blow my personal best to smithereens! Overjoyed I was punching the air and trying to whip the crowd into a few cheers. I crossed the line, finishing 11th, and, completely on feel, managed to finish in under 1:21.
My finishing time would be confirmed by the chip at 1:20:50. A brand new half marathon PB by 1 minute, 51 seconds, almost three years to the day I set my previous mark, also at this race.
I honestly couldn’t believe I pulled out a run like that, but I always knew if there was one course where I could potentially break my half marathon PB, it was Liversedge. I always do well when I have someone to try and keep up with. The winner this year ran 1:14 and the top 9 all ran inside 1:20. I was 20 seconds further back from the guy in tenth. I had roughly a twenty second gap to that man from about mile 8 onwards, and it more or less stayed the same to the finish. Put simply, if you want to get a fast time, Liversedge is a fantastic place to do it despite its undulating nature. I got a good drag to my previous PB in 2015, on this very course, and the same thing has happened here again. It’s fantastic trying to battle at the sharp end, though I realistically would need to be running inside 1:20 to be able to get nearer the front on a given day. Not that I’m disappointed with my 11th place! The place really didn’t matter to me on this occasion.
The only annoyance for myself personally was that I attempted to record my run after all, using MapMyRun, turning it on without voice feedback and with the auto-pause function, so I could start it and record my run quietly after setting off. Only, it didn’t unpause at all, so I actually have no record of what my mile splits were whatsoever. I know I averaged 6:10 mile pace, but I really would have loved to have known what some of those miles. I’ve only gone sub 5 minutes once in my life (4:53) and my next fastest mile after that was a 5:15. I must have got close! Alas, the race doesn’t bear too much use towards analysing my marathon prospects, well, except for right now…the sub-3 marathon is looking very good indeed.
Aside, I’d like to thank the runner and his family who paid for my post race sandwich and cup of tea when I realised I’d left my cash at home. It wasn’t much but it was a cracking gesture. I shall be more careful where I stash my cash next time!
That this race continues to sell out year upon year absolutely affirms its status, in my eyes, as one of the calendar highlights in road racing in the north of England if not beyond. A magnificent, testing race, it continues to attract runners from all the local clubs as well as drawing in the unattached, generates the support of members of the Roberttown Road Runners, the hosts of this race, and community volunteers who ensure the event goes year on year without a hitch.