If you remember during my report on London Marathon 2018, I briefly mentioned how two German runners approached me as I tried to sort through my bags, asking me to take a photo of them with their medal. I wasn’t so delirious at this point and for myself, this happening actually represented a nice link between the challenge I had just finished and the experience I’m about to undertake.
For many of my family, friends, colleagues, followers and fellow runners what I’m about to mention isn’t exactly news any more, because I’ve splurged it to quite a few people. Alas, it’s coming around real fast and so I can’t contain it from the rest of you any longer.
I’m going to Germany!
I’m at limits as to how much I can divulge about how I qualified so here it is. I’ve been selected to represent Team GB at an event called Allianz Sports 2018. This is a corporate, Olympic style event, which gathers up Allianz (or Allianz-affiliated) employees to partake in events such as swimming, golf, chess, track and field, and half marathon, with nations represented by employees from the nations who send their employees or affiliates out to these events. They take place once every four years, and this year it takes place in Munich, Germany. The action takes place over the weekend of July 20-21.
I was one of the lucky applicants to the process, which required myself to have run a qualifying time inside 1:55:00. I ran Liversedge the weekend before entries opened, where I managed to obliterate my PB to below 81 minutes. A few weeks later, I received an email confirming I had been selected! Furthermore, it’s an all-expenses paid trip. Accommodation, flights, subsistence, kit, insurance, etc. are all covered, and the only parts I bear responsibility for, as far as the arrangements go are getting to the airport on the way out, getting home after flying back, and of course, training for the event itself. I’ve been featured on my employer’s intranet page a couple of times and may yet get the chance to blog for them too. I was the only applicant picked from my office as well – it’s been wonderful to receive this recognition and support from my employers and my work colleagues, and I really hope to be able to repay this opportunity with an excellent performance during the race.
Initially I felt I couldn’t apply, as my wife Laura’s birthday falls on the 20th. However, Laura was absolutely understanding that this is, most likely, a once in a lifetime opportunity for myself. Never did I think I’d have such an opportunity, never mind be selected for it. All Laura asks is I get to the duty free at Munich Airport and get some gin! So I’m very grateful to Laura to have been free to apply for this, though I’ll still have to ensure the kids have specific instructions and presents for her when her birthday arrives!
I don’t have precise information yet on where the event takes place yet, but I would be hedging my bets on the Olympiapark given it looks absolutely purpose built for such an event. Nor do I know what the half marathon course will be – I suspect it will be a lap course – but I do believe (although I don’t have local knowledge of the city) it’ll be fairly flat rather than undulating. Incredibly, I haven’t yet had the privilege of running a pancake flat half marathon – of those that I’ve run, Sir Titus Trot, a canal race, had the Three Rise and Five Rise Locks; the Great North Run has a couple of inclines and that big drop at the end; Great Birmingham Run also had a hill or two and the rest range from undulating to Huddersfield (ie. brutally hilly). I’d be interested to see what I can do on a flat, or nearly flat course.
There’s not much else for me to say. This is an opportunity beyond my expectations. I never anticipated I would have been granted such a privilege to stand out for my employers in the UK, but more importantly for myself (personally), it’s been an ambition of mine to run in mainland Europe, and to be able to do it basically all-expenses paid, I still have trouble comprehending. I’m truly lucky and grateful for this opportunity, and I’m absolutely determined to perform well but more importantly, have a wonderful time, with my team mates and work colleagues, and hopefully explore a little of what Munich has to often. My trip won’t be complete without a stein and a bratwurst!
For now though, the hard work takes place at home. And that means plenty of running as I now have the incentive of trying to do what I previously might have thought as untouchable for myself – a sub 1:20 half marathon. If the last year has taught me anything, it confirms I’m not just capable once again of breaking my own records, but that right now, it is possible. The half marathon is probably my favourite and best distance out of all the traditional disciplines from 5K up to marathon – I love the challenge of running quite a reasonable distance but still being able to throw everything into it. The summer weather is likely to be a factor, but at least, unlike London, I’ll only be doing 13.1 miles, and I still ran a very good controlled first half in London (about 1:28). Of course, to get sub-1:20 I’m going to have to do some serious pace work, so the next eight or nine weeks from now are going to be very important.
I’ll keep you all up to date with how my training progresses, along with my thoughts as the trip approaches. Prost!
So this was it. The day was finally here. 18 weeks of miles and smiles, personal bests, terrific ‘Beasts’ and torrid weather, countless laps of my local park, sometimes in total darkness. Somehow, I’d evaded any potential injury issues despite a near constant 18 months of running since December 2016. It wasn’t all smooth sailing, but by and large, I could say I’d had my best ever preparation for a marathon.
I woke up just prior to my 6am alarm in a Peckham AirBnB. The kit was already arranged, the luggage 95% packed and ready to go, the clear bag stickered and loaded with everything for the luggage lorries. The sun was up, and it was beaming. The distinctive London morning air was gently breezing in through the windows of the flat. I looked myself in the mirror. Was today the day I would call myself a sub-3 marathoner?
For the last couple of days I’d been stationed in London with my wife, Laura, taking her through a bit of the marathon experience with me, and enjoying some of its rich sights and culture. First it was the Expo, of course, to collect my race number, which we whizzed around in about an hour, the best part being the treadmill challenge where you can run at course record pace for 400 metres. I succeeded at this and won a nice Abbott snood for my troubles. We had a night at the theatre that evening, bagging front row seats for The Woman in Black, and spent time in Greenwich Park the following afternoon, taking in the Royal Observatory and Planetarium. I couldn’t have asked for a more relaxing approach to the big day, and certainly from this aspect my mind was perfectly calmed, even positioned in the heart of the marathon’s red start area
The sun was shining over London from very early on and it didn’t take long for the temperature to warm up. I needed to get from Peckham to Greenwich via Lewisham DLR, and then onto Maze Hill for the green start zone. I didn’t exactly help myself that morning when, after seeing a fellow entrant get off at a stop I wasn’t expecting, I panicked and got off the bus at the next stop, thinking I’d somehow got on the wrong bus. It turned out I was on the right bus all along, and not making it any easier for Laura, who had set off with me in order to reach Embankment early. The next bus arrived two minutes later and took us to Lewisham. From thereon it was smooth sailing, saying my byes to Laura at Greenwich Station, before heading to the platform for Maze Hill.
It all seemed familiar again now. It hadn’t changed one bit from when I last saw it two years ago. The long, winding walk from Maze Hill Station, its streets signposted with large arrows to the assembly point at Maze Hill Park. The one change from London 2016 was a queue to get into the assembly area for baggage checks. There were a few grumbles in the queue but you can’t blame them for putting on an extra layer of security at a major event. It didn’t take very long to get through anyway, and before long I was organised, changed into my running shades (actually a cheap pair of Primark sunglasses), away for a quick pre-race pitstop at the urinals, and then I could relax and soak up the atmosphere. My eyes scanned for another Halifax Harriers vest, but alas mine is not the only club featuring sky blue as its main colour. I did finally meet Alan, a fellow Running the World member, himself an experienced marathoner, my bright orange visor clearly doing its job of standing me out to people I’d asked to look out for me! Having talked a few things about running and the upcoming race, Alan went to his pen while I carried out my warm up, going for a quick jog in and around the masses before finally assembling for the start.
I ended up ensconced in the front pen, using what narrow space I had to prepare breathing exercises, a few back twists and a series of squats. On the big screen to our left, the Queen, starting the race from Windsor Castle. The horns sounded, and twenty seconds later, the Garmin was activated, timing mats crossed, and into my stride. London Marathon 2018 was underway!
The first half of my race went pretty much to plan. I was running mostly inside my planned 6:40 mile pace, taking advantage of downhills for extra pace. Mile 3 was a 6:19, which opened up a nice gap on my target. I wasn’t too concerned about going too hard here – I’d pushed it along gently – and I saved a little bit on the hill climbs. A collision between two runners happened behind me, which I wasn’t caught up in. I don’t think it was anything I did – I was moving forwards in a straight line, I felt genuinely relieved to have just escaped getting clipped in the fall. That incident stood out for me as a euphemism for what was to come.
Cutty Sark was predictably mental, a wall of noise encircling the runners as they ran past the great galleon. All in all, the near miss aside, it was a reasonably uneventful I kept at or inside my pace until mile 11, where I posted two slightly slower miles (6:55 and 7:00) to manage my pace. I got a great cheer out of shouting ‘let’s hear it Rotherhithe!’, and it was great picking out the Yorkshire flags in the crowd. The showers were a great relief, none more so than the great one delivered by London Fire Brigade shortly after the first shower section. Picking up the pace again heading on to Tower Bridge, an iconic landmark that I wish every runner could experience once, I crossed halfway in 1:28:19, quicker than my 2016 first half and well on course for the sub-3 I wanted.
Over the course of that first half I’d done no end of enforcing the organisers’ ‘Drink, Douse, Drain, Drop’ policy – drink what you need to, douse yourself with it, drain the rest onto the road, and drop the empty contents at the side of the road. I was already feeling a little warm at 3 miles but the water cooled me down. but it was getting more and more uncomfortable, seemingly taking a shower every mile just to keep cool, at times removing my visor just to catch a slight breeze against my forehead.
With the heat bearing down with ever more intensity, I realised quickly I was struggling to maintain my effort. Deciding that I wasn’t coping very well any more, feeling a little more unsure on my feet, I decided to not chase after the sub-3 hour time. I was still on course at this time, but I was struggling to keep sufficiently cool and at mile 15, that was to be it. It wasn’t an easy decision to make, but I knew the priority now had to be simply to get to the finish. The big goal was slipping away. I cantered at around 8 minute mile pace up to mile 18 but then it got torrid. I suddenly I didn’t have the power to generate any real pace, similar to how I’ve occasionally felt on a long hilly run when I’ve had one hill too many. The quads just weren’t having it. I can’t explain that in any other way than my effort versus the intensity of the day.
I kept to my race nutrition plan of taking the gels at 1:35, 1:55 and 2:15, but they weren’t re-energising me at all. The sun and my previous effort had sapped my capability to run at a sufficiently fast pace and from then on it was a battle against the weather conditions. I switched to run/walking, by walking the start of every mile for about 30 seconds before continuing, counting using my fingers, and not my watch, which have going under one of the underpasses, I realised wasn’t of much use anymore. And with my time goal out of the window, and with it my best hope of ever getting into London again, I didn’t pay too much attention to the watch, other than to notice how much my pace declined, and now tried to focus instead on simply finishing the race.
By mile 20, I strongly considered pulling out. I’ve never DNF’d and I’m not one for quitting. Caffeine abstinence not included. But I was glancing more at medical staff at points on the course, I’d seen one or two stretchers being wheeled about (thankfully not with anybody on them, but still), and I didn’t feel too steady between water/shower points. I’d also nearly vomited once or twice. There’s only so much sweet stuff one can take. Malt loaf is stodgy, Chia Charge crumbly, and gels, sweets energy drinks, even oranges – what I would have given now for a sausage roll! But I knew Laura, my wife, would be further up the course at Embankment. I opted to continue, continuing with the run/walk strategy.
The crowd support was simply incredible. People willing me on to keep going, not to give up, cheering me by my club name, and it kept me going. A marshal even gave me their water at one point, which was a brilliant gesture I’m very thankful for. I kept hold of that water for a good half a mile or so.
I finally found Laura up at Embankment, having spent the last two or three miles staying to and scanning the right hand side of the course. Laura was going to get a good photo of me but I ambushed her. I was so happy to see her. With no time to chase, the laser focus had gone, and I gave her a massive hug, nearly tripping over the roadside barrier in the process. Mile 24 was a 13:47, according to my watch. That could have been due to the second underpass playing havoc with my watch, but I definitely walked a few times that mile. Onwards I went, and beyond mile 25, one of my club mates, Andy, caught up with me. We’d been talking about the marathon on Tuesday night. At this point I hadn’t recognised him, not even by his voice. To be fair, he was wearing bright shades and I wasn’t in the best state. He kept me going for another half a mile with a bit more pace, until we approached 600 metres from the finish, where I couldn’t keep up and had to let him go ahead while I took one last walk.
Onwards I went, and finally the finishing straight down the Mall. I raised my arms with a shrug as if to say ‘well, that didn’t exactly go to plan’, and crossed the line, finishing London for a second time. It was over. 3:22:59
I was asked by a female volunteer if I was OK. I said ‘I can’t have any more sugar’. I was told there was water in the goody bags. I received my medal, walked straight past the Marathon Foto picture stands – I was in no mood, or state, for an expensive medal photo – staggered a bit further, got in line for my finisher t-shirt and goody bag, and went immediately for the water, gradually sipping it as I walked with Andy for a bit to find my bag from the assorted baggage lorries. I wasn’t angry, nor disappointed I finished precisely 23 minutes down on my target. Nor disenfranchised. I just didn’t feel right. Not really OK. I felt physically and mentally broken.
I contemplated seeing a physio. Or specifically, a doctor.
I contacted Laura to see where she was and it seemed she was on her way. After getting off the phone, two German runners approached me asking me to take a photo for them. I gladly obliged – there’s a nice synchronicity to this I’ll further elaborate on soon – but then decided to contact Laura again as I unsteadily proceeded towards Horseguards Parade. Unfortunately, Laura seemed unsure of her exact whereabouts, although nearby, and network traffic meant she wasn’t able to get any pictures to show me her position. She wasn’t too familiar with the landmarks either. I tried to guide her to the arches making up Admiralty Arch near Charing Cross, but in the meantime I felt more and more delirious, and leaning towards seeing a doctor. In the end, Laura confirmed she was near the Household Cavalry, so I exited onto Whitehall to find her. Eventually we reunited, but I was getting more delirious, deciding I wanted a cold can of Coca Cola. I got one, along with a chicken and bacon sandwich from Pret-A-Manger I couldn’t stomach.
We then headed for the underground to King’s Cross via Piccadilly. From Piccadilly it was a nightmare. Two other runners previously had remarked how hot I was and one said I looked pale, but none of this registered. I rode the Piccadilly to King’s Cross journey in extreme discomfort. It was like riding in an oven. I was sweating buckets, feeling less in control. Laura by this point was finding me insufferable, and I knew I was – I was finding myself insufferable. The tube doors finally opened at King’s Cross, where I headed for the nearest bench to finally drink the cola. My appetite for food went as far as one tiny bite of the sandwich. As we went upstairs, things alleviated slightly, and having arrived for our train quite early, a Calippo lolly, of all things, finally brought me back round and restored my appetite, and we had a safe journey home.
Yep. I should have seen a doctor.
Now, where were we. Oh yes. The marathon. Well, my official race photos don’t show it, but as I crossed the line I’m fairly sure I lifted my hands and shrugged my shoulders as if to say ‘well, that didn’t quite go to plan’. The weather had dealt everyone a bad hand – chances are if you were from the UK and you ran London 2018, you would have done at least a week of your training in the snow. Of course it was unlikely we would get such bad conditions in April. No, we got a slightly extreme opposite. Very little time to acclimatise to running in hot weather, all you can do is prepare, and as the organisers said, reduce your expectations of your finishing time. Basically, all that training for a sub – 3 marathon, only to be told that it probably isn’t going to happen today. It didn’t stop me trying. Had I sustained my effort from the first 5K, my predicted time was a 2:53. That would have been incredible, but everyone knows a marathon isn’t decided in the first 5K of a race. The sensible thing to do would have been to judge my pace a little better and save a bit more of my effort, but the weather played a big part in that – when I ran marathon pace up to mile 20 in training, I ought to feel confident in my ability to last the distance, and without question I did on race day. That training peak was done in much colder weather, however. The 10K race I ran in London last summer wasn’t even this warm. As a result, my race paid the price. I’ve never had to suffer for so long during a marathon. If disaster hits, it’s usually much closer to the end.
I’m not disappointed in my result because I took it into my own hands not to pursue the sub-3 beyond mile 15. I simply wanted to get to the end and accepted it wasn’t going to happen. I did accept I was going to try despite the organisers’ advice, and I did keep a little something in reserve near Tower Bridge, but ultimately it was either my brain or my body that would influence the outcome, and I let my brain choose first. I did have one ‘head-in-hands’ moment some time after crossing the finish, but this was probably the delirium and confusion at trying to locate Laura, and not genuine disappointment.
Post- race, I should have sought assistance sooner, or indeed just actually sought assistance. My goody bag contained stuff that would have brought me round, like salty protein bars, and energy drink with electrolytes. I paid a bit of a price for not bringing or purchasing hydration tablets – they’ve got me out of a haze many a time. Next time, I need to take better care of myself post race, and maybe someone to stop me if they can see I’m not right or myself at all. Yet I know I’m not the only one who suffered out there – so many struggled with the conditions, and tragically one person, Matt Campbell, a talented chef, raising money for The Brathay Trust, a charity that works with vulnerable young people, died out on the course. It really does put things into context. Safety and wellbeing is paramount in an event as gruelling and indeed brutal as it was today. I had a horrible feeling it would claim somebody, but to hear it actually confirmed is dreadful news. That the running community and general public have responded with such generosity and togetherness, boosting Matt’s JustGiving page to well over £300,000 (and rising further), and running 3.7 miles to ‘complete’ Matt’s marathon, embodies the ‘Spirit of London’ way beyond the M25.
A great number of family, friends and colleagues have congratulated me on a great time and for completing the race. While I will differ personally on what I will regard as ‘a great time’, I still got around the course respectfully, even if I did take nearly two hours to complete the second half of the race. Its wonderful to receive such support, particularly from those who don’t run – it’s positive to have such an effect just from my efforts alone, and on this occasion the time doesn’t really mean much at all. The actual completion of the marathon does. And it makes it all the more worthwhile for not giving up and finishing the race.
London is behind me now. With no Good For Age time, I’m left with the general ballot, my running club’s mini ballot, or the charity route. I’m not likely to apply at all. I’ve run London twice and I feel incredibly privileged to have been in a position to guarantee my entry twice in a three year period. Its time somebody who hasn’t run before – and by that I mean the runners who apply time and time again just to get a ‘sorry’ magazine, or sometimes a rejection email. They should have the chance to run London at least once. It remains pretty much one of the best marathons in this country for organisation and atmosphere. Its why 350,000 people per year apply. I will chase my targets at other marathons, and will consider carefully where I will next attempt a sub-3 time. Because that part of me hasn’t gone away, and it would be churlish to give up on that goal through one rough day in the office, so to speak.
For now it’s a period of recovery, easing back into running and then preparing for my next big challenge. Which will be a half marathon. In Munich, Germany. In the height of the European summer. Crikey…
The ballot for the 2019 London Marathon is now open (until Friday May 4th, 5:00pm)
They say marathon training is often about the journey, not the destination. Rarely did it feel truer than this particular morning.
Tuesday March 27, 2018. I ran my weekly track session with the Halifax Harriers, running two lots of 1000m, then 800, then 600, and finally 400m, with rest intervals in between. I never used to consider myself good at 400m – I once ran 85 seconds for 400m, yet I could smash out quick 10K and half marathon times. That changed once I got regular use of an athletics track and discovered what it was like to run an accurately measured loop, on a surface which gives you that extra zip. In the months since I’ve joined the Harriers, I’ve got my lap times on the track down to just over 70 seconds, with the ability to absolutely sprint from a standing start and hold my pace generally well to the end. Often, the bit lacking is the home straight, where my early effort has me hanging on for dear life. I usually save such a lap for the end of the session, when I’m most tired but when I’m likely to have kept something in reserve.
This particular night, I felt determined. Having just been picked to run for the Harriers in a team relay event later this week, I sensed a chance to work on my speed and prove I could go under 70 seconds. For months, that marker has been elusive. But this night, I was absolutely on it. I kept to the tightest inside line for the most part, hugging the bends if I could and only briefly stepping out to overtake. As I got down the home straight, I felt like I was going to hit for strides again, when I heard fast steps behind me to my right. My competitive urge kicked in. But this wasn’t one of my fellow runners this session – this was a junior member practicing 100 metres. I went into overdrive and found another gear. I gathered another sprint, held it and stopped the watch as I crossed the line. I’d clocked 422 metres overall, and quickly went back into my watch history, checked the last two lap times – and it confirmed it. I’d finally done it! 68.96 seconds. Imagine if I just ran a flat 400 metres with no weaving!
Yet in the days that passed, my knee just wasn’t improving. I’d gone back to exercises from my earlier days as a runner. I was on paracetamol and ibuprofen to alleviate the discomfort, and I was using hot and cold therapy. But this dull ache wasn’t shifting.
I woke at 4:10am that Sunday morning, the day of my final 20 mile long run for London Marathon training, and as I busily prepared myself, I realised I wasn’t feeling anything from my knee. As in, no discomfort, no pain, nothing. As in, everything OK. I couldn’t understand it. I still applied ibuprofen gel as a precaution, but otherwise I felt good to go and well, what a timely boost.
My route this day took me into Huddersfield town centre, which at just after 5am on a Sunday morning is still rife with revellers from one of its most popular nightclubs, The Camel Club, from whatever night they’ve hosted beforehand. This clash of two cultures – the early morning runner to the early hours drinker – came to a head when one lass shouted across the road ‘run Forrest run’! I merely gave a wry smile, as banter is probably the best thing for that situation depending on how you look back upon those enjoying the lifestyle you once enjoyed (now and again). Seeing an ambulance outside the nightclub and quite the crowd up ahead, I detoured past the railway station instead and rejoined my route by the somewhat dilapidated New Street, before heading down into Lockwood and onwards.
Huddersfield is a place I was long overdue a run through, in the sense that I spend much of my training days in Calderdale and occasionally Leeds at lunchtimes. Huddersfield holds many great memories for me. I studied at the university (I hold a dust ridden 2:1 BSc in psychology), I found my favourite watering hole (The Parish pub, a historic pub and now a cracking pub/live music venue), met loads of great people, formed a doom metal band which lasted up until parenthood, had a somewhat hedonistic eight months getting smashed every Saturday (all by mid-2011) in the town’s bars. I also enjoyed four brilliant years of employment in the town and in more recent years, have discovered the Wessenden, Holme and Colne Valleys for myself,, run some brilliant, occasionally challenging , but brilliant, races in more recent years too, and some of my favourite routes take in the area. Particularly the occasional jaunt up Castle Hill.
This particular day, I ran towards Honley village, eventually reaching the smaller and rural Oldfield, running through the main road from end to end before turning back downhill towards Honley. This part of the run was probably the most enjoyable aspect, the quiet surrounding countryside and eventually, the run down Bradshaw Road with Victoria Tower, Castle Hill, standing atop in the distance. I would wind up going past Honley Woods on my left, where I ran the Trail 10K last year, down the road to Netherton, which I once ran in reverse and is absolutely beautiful to run through. I ended up with a jaunt through Beaumont Park before heading home through town for the last five miles. I didn’t half cherry pick my route that day!
Places like this make me want to run. They also make me want to stop and breathe it in. The clean countryside air. The last throes of the night as it turns into day. Barely anybody around, hardly any traffic on the roads, the only sound being my footsteps and my lungs, and the sounds of nature. The discovery and rediscovery of what your local area offers, scenically, and how your two feet took you that far from home. They say marathon training is often about the journey, not the destination. Rarely did it feel truer than this particular morning.
The days have passed by. And now it is almost here. From the day I first ran a marathon, to now, the sub-3 hour marathon remains the one true time target that bears particular significance for myself. Its not strictly about another Good for Age time for London, even if my PB is now no longer GFA standard. The training for this race has run for 18 weeks, but the mental side of training has been there for about 3 years. I fell just short at London in 2016, but having gone in slightly ill prepared I couldn’t possibly complain, only learn. Even as I hoiked myself around Snowdonia and ran two ultra marathons at relatively sedate pace, I knew one day, I would be banking my GFA time from 2016 to head back for London to try and finish the job. I realise if I fail, it’s not the end and there will be other marathons out there to attempt a PB on.
I honestly feel ready for this. My training has gone well about 95% of the time, I cracked my marathon pace runs, my marathon pace intervals during long runs, even as the weather turned really cold and nasty, and my personal best pace over shorter distances became even better. I’ve taken in inspiration wherever I can find it, from my fellow runners and fellow chasers of the sub-3 hour marathon. Of course, there are doubts. The weather forecast has given for record highs on race day – allegedly up to 23C. I don’t feel I cope too well in the heat the longer a race goes on, but what can we all do about the weather? Not much but adapt – slap on the P20, light clothing (Harriers vest and shorts for myself), take advantage of the shower points on course, hydrate well (but not too well, or you might not feel too well), fuel well, and judge my effort carefully. I absolutely believe I’m ready for this, and it will all come down to how I execute my race strategy on the day.
To any of you reading this, and indeed running the marathon, enjoy it. However you made it to London, you earned it, whether through ballot, club, Good for Age, charity or however. Take as much free stuff from the Expo as you can (gratefully). Don’t forget your registration email though. Sleep well. Wake up and get ready to go. Wear your club or charity colours with pride. Take in the feverish atmosphere at the start, the fervent crowds at Cutty Sark, Tower Bridge, lining Embankment and Westminster. Behold the finish line as it awaits you. Pass the Tube queues as you proudly show off your race number/medal to access the underground. If there’s ever a time to feel like royalty, it’s here!
Oh, and try to enjoy the run itself. It’s bloody hard, not least without the potential of the burning hot mass in the sky, but it’s within all of us. Be awesome at what you do. Basically…
The Beast From The East. A band of weather so severe it was going to bring the entire country to its knees. Visions of being knee deep in snow were projected by the mass media conglomerates. Social media getting into a tizz. People panic buying.
Spare a thought for those of us who have to actually train in this. I know, I know. First world problems. But coming from a country that doesn’t always (these days) get such (relatively) harsh winters, the last time I remember it getting this cold was back many years ago. We had a Siberian weather pattern come over, oooh, I don’t know… around 20 years ago. The wind chill made the weather feel like roughly – 14C. In the UK. There wasn’t much in the way of snow, as I remember, but it was bitingly cold. Not that this didn’t stop our P.E. teacher sending us out for a game of football on a bone dry pitch in our shorts and long sleeve jumpers, which weren’t thermal in the slightest. Unsurprisingly, the game ended 0-0. I played right back and the rest of my defence stood there, rooted to the spot, arms clasped around themselves, absolutely shivering. It was a bracing experience. One I fondly (is that the right word?) remember. I didn’t have the commute or our rubbish public transport system to worry about back then!
Now true, there’s been the odd moment the last few years when I’ve got up to go out for a run in icy weather, found nothing but ice until I’ve got into the hills of Halifax or the Upper Valley of Calderdale, which for myself I have a good few miles to run before I reach them, some too far away to be worth considering. But by and large all I had to contend with was cold air and black ice. The latter not conducive to running safely outside, but there’s always the local park at least to get off road, or the treadmill at the nearby gym & pool. Quite possibly, thanks to global warming (perhaps?), the temperatures more often than not sit comfortably in the low single figures, but just enough that within half a mile that you realise a jacket wasn’t necessary and you end up wearing it around your waste for the vast majority of 19 miles – as I did the weekend before the Beast landed. Acclimatisation can be a millstone, sometimes.
Nonetheless, after having its merry time with the rest of the UK, my part of Yorkshire finally got a decent snowfall on the Wednesday (February 28), which meant I could go out for a run in it. I didn’t manage more than about 4 miles, but that was all my training called for, and in the end I did a decent job going up towards Lower Wyke and back down again. It was a frosty – 6C that morning too. I quite enjoyed it! However, we got the absolute motherload arrive the day after, as all my routes to work got leathered by the white stuff that day, meaning I had to work off site and hope for some abatement in the weather to actually be able to stick to some sort of program that same night. Thankfully, by mid afternoon the monster had gone for a snooze, and I squeezed in another 4 miles that night.
The litmus test to come was in the form my Saturday and Sunday runs. I decided against going out too far from home, as much as I enjoy adventure, and decided to keep to either my local park, or the main road above it. Ten miles of marathon pace training in the snow seemed extra challenging, but it was firm enough without being too icy in the park that morning, and I completed the run successfully. Despite placing what seemed a greater load on my joints than the norm, I ran every mile inside 6:45 mile pace and set myself up for a potential banana skin. A workout I’d picked up from the LetsRun.com forums suggested a 20 mile workout consisting of 10 miles easy (7:40 mile pace), the latter 10 miles at (6:40 mile pace), the aim being to average 7:10 pace, as well as hit your mile targets. That’s one thing in theory, but to potentially run it on disappearing snow, and possibly ice?
Thankfully, Sunday morning is a quiet time on the main road linking Bailiff Bridge with Brighouse Town centre, and the snow was fairly fresh from new snowfall overnight. Back and forth I went, initially at the slower pace, as my Salomon Speedcross, my trail shoes for quite a while now, squeaked awkwardly as they made tracks. I’d sometimes chuck in the local park for good measure, and as an added bonus, got to practice picking up water – such an oft-forgotten art of race day preparation – by leaving it on a wall near a turnaround point while I took a gel, or those awesome Sports Beans. My trail shoes later gave up at mile 13, the lace snapping on one side, meaning I had to nip home and change into my road shoes for the remainder. It was safe enough to run on the road at this hour, and I ran marathon pace for as long as I could thereon. I finished up with an average 7:10 mile pace. Somehow, I’d hit my target, despite what the weather could throw at me. Every damn target I set, it keeps falling, even throughout this weather.
But there’s only so much out and back running I can take. The weather had pinned me into training pretty much in my hometown only, aside from club training on Tuesdays, by which time the Beast had subsided at last. A mere two weeks later (March 17/18), as I planned a great big 20 mile loop of Huddersfield and the surrounding area, we got more heavy snowfall, so much so that when I woke up for my run, the snow on my street was ankle deep. Having only just obtained my new trail shoes at this point, a 20 mile run wasn’t the time to break them in. And so I had to slip and slide down to the main road again, which thankfully the local authorities had done a great job of gritting and clearing overnight, meaning I only got my feet wet in slush after 2 miles and ran with all the joy of a bulldog chewing a wasp. It was attritional alright. Shorn of my free roaming plans, I cut my run down to 16 miles to ensure I got back in time for the kids getting up, this allowing my wife a bit of a lie in, and entirely without nutrition too, save for water. The snow had almost gone the next day too. The bloody cheek of it!
The point I’m making, I guess, is that this winter, more so than recent years, has been quite a testing one for those of us training for our spring marathons. Sometimes, running in the snow can be a thrilling experience, a phenomenal workout, a rarity to behold. In the UK at least. Weeks of bitter cold and disruptive cold weather is enough to drive a runner crazy, the mere thought of potentially falling over on ice or getting stuck in some great big snow drift to force us into the gym or onto main roads only. In my case, the death of my Speedcross came at an absolutely terrible time!
So here’s to all of us. The early risers, the lunchtime runners, the club mates and those who run at all hours. Marathon training isn’t easy at the best of times without having such conundrums as how many layers to wear, are my gloves sufficient, wearing the right shoes depending on the type of snow, and so on and so on. And that’s before worrying about staying on your feet or how long you can last before the terrific wind chill factor absolutely bites down on any supposed enjoyment you’re to obtain from these rare experiences of subzero running.
It’s less than four weeks to London from here. My last 20 mile run is Easter Sunday. Surely the cold weather is behind us now. Surely…
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.
Looking back on a year of results, records and further self-discovery
Three weeks into 2017, I woke up from whatever catatonic stupor I was in from the crazy night out in Leeds. I had fallen over in some giddy chase after my brother and my sister’s fiancé piggybacked one another across a zebra crossing, some five pints down. I had bruised my knee, my ribs, my elbow, my hand and the top of my left foot. I despaired at my situation, the inbetween of which I had completely forgotten, thinking I’d ruined the running high I’d carried over from Snowdonia and the Great Yorkshire Pieathlon. Six days from my first half marathon in nearly two years, I’d have laughed in your face and uncontrollably floundered if what happened over the next 49 weeks, had been foretold.
At the end of 2017, I can look back on a year in which I’ve managed to surpass myself in a number of ways. OK, so fell running was an experience that left me in a heap in Roberts Park in Hebden Bridge, having felt sluggish, tired and truly beaten up by the beast of Stoodley Pike, and opting to leave it as an experience to return to in future. But it refocused my energy drawn from the brilliant start to the year, where I recovered from that incident in Leeds to record 3rd in the Sir Titus Trot Half Marathon, and 2nd in my first ever ultra marathon, the 32 mile Leeds Liverpool Canal Canter, a race I could scarcely believe how well I executed my race plan from start to finish off, to achieve the then-best result of my running career.
In May I finally joined a running club, the Halifax Harriers, off the back of two parkrun first places as well. Now a fully fledged member of a club, with club colours to wear proudly, I set about my chief task of the summer – a shot at my 10K time from 3 years before – a 37:15 from the Epilepsy Action Bradford 10K in 2014. Inspired by the track sessions, time trials and handicap races put on by my club, I injected speedwork back into my training and ran fastest in a 11th place finish in the club’s Summer Handicap 10K, making up a 21 minute deficit on the first runners to run 37:21, narrowly outside my time. Without question, getting myself in PB shape again, over two years since my last PB proper, was a difficult endeavour, with a couple of extra years of wear, as well as experience, to draw upon. My chosen race, the Race Organiser’s Regent’s Park 10K Summer Series, seemed an ideal place, and an opportune one at that, to go for the time, as well as squeeze in a race on my summer holiday. The race itself punished me for my early eager pace, and it was a bumpy ride midway through as I contemplated giving up on the attempt – but instead, I did the maths, figured I still had a chance and absolutely gritted my teeth on the final lap of the race. I recorded 37:08, finishing 5th overall and recording a 7 second PB which felt immensely harder than when I coasted home during the end of my Bradford race those years ago. Still, absolutely worth it.
Away from recording PB’s, there were more good results to be had too. I ran a competitive Honley Trail 10K to finish 5th overall, and I topped off my year with a first ever 5K race proper – and won! Leeds Liverpool Canal Christmas Cracker 5K Male Champion. Yep, that’s quite a mouthful, but to finally win a race was a tremendous feeling.
Without question though, my biggest successes came when I absolutely challenged myself. There was the Ilkley Aquathlon, a first ever competitive multisport event, in which my body pretty much gave me a big ‘nope’ mid swim and nearly ruined my race – due to a low turnout, however, I ended up making up time on the run and finishing 3rd male, 4th overall. The achievement there wasn’t where I finished, but more that I overcame my brain’s urge to quit during the swim and to see my first competitive swim – and aquathlon – to a conclusion. I didn’t spend 2.5 years relearning to swim just to give up when it mattered.
The step to ultra marathon, however, was perhaps my biggest all around achievement and maybe a steeper learning curve than anything the aquathlon (at the time) and fell running had thrown at me. There was the step of taking time to walk during my long distance runs to take on food, thus suppressing my competitive want to carry on running non stop. Getting this nailed was one thing I quickly got the hang of. Running slower than usual was another. Actually running marathon distance in training seemed plain ridiculous. Though I didn’t enter any traditional marathons in 2017, I ran the 26.2 twice – once entirely on the Calder-Hebble Navigation and Rochdale Canal, heading out and back in around 3:48 in early February; and a much hillier 3:54 around Upper Calder Valley. I truly enjoyed both experiences, running at a saner pace than any race attempt, a truly immersive experience and a highly rewarding one at that.
The results I gathered in my two ultras were something too. Second place in the Leeds Liverpool Canal Canter (32 miles), running for the most part about a mile per minute quicker than in training, and only finishing around 4.5 minutes behind the eventual winner. At the time, that was my best ever race result, but more impressive, my race plan went pretty much to perfection. The same can’t quite be said for the much hillier White Rose Ultra, which punished me for attempting to implement that same race plan and running inside course record pace in the first half of the event. I ran the last nine or ten miles with a good few walk breaks and pretty much all alone. But I found enough in reserve to eventually find a last injection of pace to finish strong and come home in 10th place, feeling proud to have finished well but knowing I’d truly been found out by a hideously difficult course, one that I’d actually reccied as well.
All this extra distance meant I finally achieved the one arbitrary goal that had eluded me for the best part of four years – a year end total of 1,000 miles – albeit one I’d only seriously chased since 2015, ironically the year I spent most of my days on the sidelines. My best effort of any year saw me scrape just inside 900 miles for the year, still a very good total for any year, but in reality a sign of being hampered by injury at some point or another. This year, having overcome that early fall, and boosted the extra mileage I’ve run for the ultra marathons, I’ve managed a total of 1,160 miles for 2017, aided by an 8.5 mile run this morning. I surpassed my target in Mid-October and have ended up smashing my old record by a good 250+ miles. It’s never been a mark I’ve obsessed over, but to finally say I ran a thousand miles plus in a year, says a lot about my dedication and also how lucky I am to have got through the year pretty much injury free. A full year of consistent running, pretty much, from start to finish, the first time really since 2014.
I’m now getting into the swing of 2018 already, with entries to the Liversedge Half Marathon and the London Marathon now confirmed, I’m going to be almost singularly focused for the time being on getting the one time goal that truly matters to me more than any other – the sub-3 hour marathon. But I’m embellish more on that in future posts. Tonight will be a good time to reflect on everything I’ve done this year, a year I can be absolutely satisfied with everything I threw myself into.
With that, I’d like to thank all my readers for all your support, interest, your kind words and encouragement. For the active among you, I hope you also found success this year and wish you all the very best heading into 2018.
My year in numbers:
1,160 miles run in 2017
Longest run: 32.48 miles (Leeds Liverpool Canal Canter)
7 top 10 finishes
1 race victory
1 2nd place finish
1 3rd place finish (and a 3rd male finish in the Ilkley Aquathlon)
2 parkrun 1st place finishes
37:08 – New 10K PB time (at the Royal Parks Summer Series Regent’s Park 10K)
At this time of year, in the last two years I’ve run the Great Yorkshire Pieathlon, a hilly trail race involving pie-eating and all manner of silly costumes. I enjoyed shoving mince pies down my face as I run, but this year I wanted a different challenge while still running a shorter distance than I traditionally race. The Canal Christmas Cracker 5K fit the bill perfectly, completely sans pies (until the end, at least), and somewhat less hilly – a decision which, Post-White Rose Ultra, seemed like a masterstroke. Indeed, you can’t get much flatter than a canal most of the time, save for, in this case, a couple of up and down footbridges that required navigation.
The last few days building up to the race, however, seemed ominous to say the least. Britain was about to get a blast from Storm Caroline – which, in my part of the country, seemed more like a bit of a shower and little else – followed by an icy currant of weather that would send temperatures subzero. Queue a nervous few days as reports of heavy snow came in from down south and races around the country were either cancelled or subject to review.
Meanwhile, in Brighouse, the little town that could, it really tried hard to snow. And yet every flurry, every downfall failed to come to fruition. This was the scene on Friday afternoon…
Effusing positivity, it seemed, were the team at It’s Grim Up North Running, who via Facebook were doing everything to assure runners that the race would be going ahead, between posting pictures of delicious looking cake, something of a trademark that has become synonymous with this wonderful Leeds based events company. Having done two events earlier in the year (the Sir Titus Trot in January, the Leeds-Liverpool Canal Canter in March), it seemed right to close off my year of running with a crack at one of their shorter events, although there was still a marathon here to be ran if you really fancied upwards of 3 or 4 hours, maybe more, running in absolutely freezing cold conditions. And in typically northern fashion, we would not be deterred.
I was very glad, however, to reach the registration venue in Kirkstall. The chill I felt after leaving the bus was immense. Thankfully the heating was on and the main function room seemed to be packed. I wandered over to the 5K and 10K registration desk and didn’t even need to introduce myself. I was actually recognised? Apparently I was the really fast runner who was going to run the 5K in 18 minutes! I played down my expectations, modest as I ever am, because as fun as this was going to be (if running in subzero is your idea of fun), it was still a race to be run, not necessarily to be won.
I went back after completing my warm up exercises and introduced myself to James, a fellow runner from the online running community, Running the World. He had been helping with registration and was also running the 10K. After exchanging a few stories about running and, indeed, the weather, it was time to head back out to go to the start/finish at Kirkstall Bridge. Not without wishing one another luck, of course.
The race start was a little chaotic, and partly through my own doing. I decided to go on a warm up jog down the canal, just to check the towpath for ice, and obviously to get my running legs going before the off. Except, in doing so, I missed the majority of the race briefing. How despicable of me. I understood at least there was going to be a staggered start, with the half, 20 mile and marathon racers going first travelling west under Kirkstall Bridge, with the 5K and 10K runners starting a bit further back on the other side, heading out east towards Leeds. I complicated matters when another runner said he thought the 5K runners were starting back the other side of the bridge, so I listened and found nearly everyone had come towards where I’d come from. So I went back, and just stood with the 10K runners as the longer distance runners hurriedly started their race. So much so that a few runners also turned up late for their start, so the group didn’t go through in one go. With nearly everyone, it seemed, through, the countdown to the 5 and 10K began. And yes, I asked if this was the 5K start. James said ‘just run Peter!’ The horn was sounded, my brief embarrassment and self-shame put to one side as I sprinted off the line. Incredibly, more of the half and full runners came under Kirkstall Bridge after the 5 and 10K races began, which meant I had to manoeuver around them tightly cornering the outside of the towpath.
After all that, I finally had clear towpath ahead of me. And so I just ran my natural race, ie. to go as hard and fast as possible. Resulting in a 3:25 first km, according to watch. That would be as quick as it got, with the aforementioned hills up ahead to contend with, brief as they were, and the biting cold perhaps just slowing me by a few seconds here and there. Nonetheless, at the turn, I was well clear, and eventually past the leading 10K runners, which included James, offering a sort of high five as we crossed paths. I had quite a gap back to second and really could enjoy the thrill of ideal conditions as far as this day could be expected – about 98% ice free throughout, save for a few icy muddy puddles which were navigated without too much difficulty.
The race distance exceeded 5km as it happened, so I knew I couldn’t count on my time here as a PB – I went through 5km in 18:15, a good few seconds off my parkrun PB – but ended up running another. 35km according to watch, finishing in 19:40. Nonetheless, I was able to enjoy something I’d never experienced before as a runner in an actual race – victory!
I slowed up at the line and gratefully received a finisher’s medal, along with the winner’s trophy for 1st Placed Male. I even got my photo taken in front of Kirkstall Bridge. And unlike the Canal Canter Ultra earlier in the year, I was able to stomach one of the masses of cake and pastries so lovely served up for the runners at the finish. The cranberry tart I had was incredible!
It turned out I finished, in 5K distance terms, a long way ahead of the second place male, and it turned out only 5 people ran the 5K, myself included. IGUNR are still an up and coming events company, and for my money one of the best around – it seems, however, their more popular events are 10K upwards to half and full marathon distances, and most of their race entry allocation goes on these events. The only nitpicking I could stage on this occasion is the slightly chaotic staggered start (of which I played my own small part), but this is a minor quibble because it didn’t actually delay the start, and at the end of the day, its a Christmas race, a chance for a bit of fun.
I’ll never let anything take away from what I achieved – I was best on the day and that’s about as much as anyone can say. It caps an absolutely amazing 12 months, which started with 5th at last year’s Pieathlon – two thirds, a second, a couple more top 10 finishes, and now a first place finish at last. I can honestly say I never expected to win a race, and would have been happy just to excel myself, yet at the same time, it felt like such a long time coming and ultimately I’m very happy I’ve actually achieved it.
Many thanks to Diane, Cath and the It’s Grim Up North Running team for putting on this event and working tirelessly to ensure it went ahead, despite the harsh weather conditions preceding the race, and their incredible positivity and enthusiasm for ensuring another successful race event. A massive thank you to the marshals who stood for hours in the cold conditions, and well done to all who competed on this, well, grim day up north.