I intended to publish the following article in early January 2015 but a number of things prohibited that from happening, but I feel the need to publish it nonetheless. The start of 2014 was special because it signified a time in my life where I completed a challenge I’d set myself some months previously after many miles of training – hopefully a sign of things to come!
Happy to report that my New Years Resolution 2014 is resolved. It has been for quite some time really but will remain one of the happiest days of my year, if not my life. I’ll go as far as to say that I’m proud of it!
The resolution: To run the Fylde Coast Running Blackpool Half Marathon on April 6th 2014.
I set out on my journey to run the half with a target time in mind of 2:15:00 or under; it turns out that what I thought were high hopes were actually a huge underestimation of my potential. A number of interesting occurrences happened during one of my training runs which I’ve documented before on this blog. I honestly believe that the training run which went wrong was the training run that made me mentally strong enough to make race day go right.
Race day was a really good experience. I started the day at my relatives’ house; they’d offered to take me down to Blackpool on race day and were happy to stay by the finish line for however long I might take. I’d briefed them on all the eventualities, the best and worse case scenario (as I saw it) and that, no matter how bad I looked during the last quarter of the race, when I passed them for the final time before finishing, they were to look optimistic and not show concern!
I had scrambled eggs on toast for breakfast as per long-run tradition. Well, I did after a slight hiccup where I couldn’t light the grill, nor find any tupperware to make my scrambled eggs in – luckily my uncle heard me scrambling around (rather noisily for 6am on a Sunday morning) and sorted me out. I don’t buy into having porridge or anything more substantial as it doesn’t sit well on my stomach. Trial and error is my preferred method with most things in life and lightly peppered scrambled eggs with toast works well for me.
I arrived at the venue in absolutely plenty of time, registering and collecting my race day essentials was a cinch; a credit to the organisation of Fylde Coast Running and their race day stewards and helpers. It was chilly enough for gloves, but not cold; my tracksuit bottoms and my thermal top stayed in the car. I had planned a cold and not-so-cold running kit to cover all bases should the weather change on race day morning but was glad in the end to wear my short sleeve running top + shorts. I spent the rest of my time trying to relax, ringing my Granddad – a keen runner who had also competed in the Blackpool Half Marathon many years before and warming up.
The start of the race is always the worst bit; it’s hard to get into stride, especially when runners bunch around the start line as they did in Blackpool. Less than a minute after the official start, I crossed the start line.
In a way I was glad I wasn’t running in Manchester that day. Although Manchester is famed for its flat courses, tarmac routes and dense crowds, it’s also a much busier place meaning that it’s hard to find space to run your own race as I’d seen as a spectator there in 2012.
It was easy to get into rhythm as Blackpool Promenade is reasonably wide and it was straight forward to pick my way through the field. Unfortunately, about a quarter of a mile in as we descended the hill, I heard a cry of anguish as a tall male runner fell and was in obvious discomfort. I didn’t see him again for the rest of the race and can only assume he was in too much pain to go on. To go through all the training required for a half marathon, then fall shortly after the start must have been horrible.
After just 20 minutes of running on the flat of the promenade, I had a mini crisis. I had watched my fluid intake all morning, but I found myself desperately needing the toilet. I logged my opening mile at a spritely 08:56.9 and my second at an even more impressive 08.56.5. I was running well enough for a sub-2 hour time but I didn’t have any time for delay. Considering that my speed always tailed off at the end of my training runs, a sub-2 hour time now seemed out of reach. I peeled off to the left of the promenade and dived into a McDonalds. The toilets were upstairs; the break added over a minute to my time and by the time I rejoined the road, the flow of runners had thinned significantly. Most of those who started the race were ahead, I had some catching up to do.
Blackpool is flat. It’s flatness was one of the reasons I chose it as the location for my first half. That also meant that it became fairly predictable, no unexpected hills could jump out of the terrain to deplete my energy stores.
At some point in the next couple of miles I found myself behind a local club runner whom I’d stay behind until about the 10 mile mark, after which I broke away towards the finish. Two men, who I’d never met before and haven’t been able to get in contact with since, gladly paced me through the middle section of the race as we passed through the starting area again after turning at the south end of Blackpool’s promenade.
Heading back north, the route passes the starting point once again before carrying on through to Bispham. In some ways it’s a bit demoralising to pass the finish point half way through the race knowing that you have another 6.5 or so miles to the finish but it did give me a boost to see my family again and be roared on by the crowds, which were noticeably larger in number towards the centre point of the route. That makes up for the rather drab scenery though; running in a straight line does have it’s downsides.
The turning point near Thornton-Cleveleys is deceptive. Running towards it, you are under the impression that you have reached it at least three times before going over another slight bump in the road. Add to that the fact that you can see people passing underneath you as the route takes you down to almost beach level for the final 5 kilometres along the promenade.
It was at this point that I decided to make my move. I say, make my move, but perhaps ‘increase my efforts’ is more accurate as although I completed the 10th mile in 8.47, the following mile was a comparatively slow but incredibly draining 9.25. I had just short of 20 minutes to get in under the 2 hour mark at this point as my watch showed me a time of 1.40.34 but the signs weren’t good. Other runners started to pull up with cramp, some even vomited over the promenade wall. I ploughed on.
At around the 12 mile mark, I found my aunties, uncles and cousins cheering me on again – a welcome sight as I didn’t expect to see them until the finish. I was beginning to fade and could feel the energy sapping out of me with every stride. Undeterred, I picked up the pace for the final time clocking that mile in 9.02. Then came the twist. The course turns sharply back on itself and ascends back to road level. Between the promenade and road level is a steep cobbled path. The climb, according to my Garmin, was only 36ft but after 13 miles it felt like a lot more.
I could see the finish as I reached the top of the path and began a final sprint towards the line. I don’t know how I looked at this point, and I don’t really want to know either. I can’t imagine that I was a pretty sight because I never am when I’m sprinting. Nor was I that fast really but with a matter of seconds between finishing the half in under 2 hours and finishing it in over 2 hours I didn’t have any other choice. The few seconds between me and the 2 hour mark were symbolic, it really mattered.
I crossed the finish line and remembered to hit my Garmin as I did so. 1:59:52. Resolution resolved and in a very respectable time considering the effort that it had taken me to get there. As efficiently as we’d set off, we were guided through the finish by the helpful Fylde Coast stewards, I took the opportunity to go for a shower. The shower’s in the Hilton weren’t luxurious but it was nice to be clean and free from sweat. An hour after finishing I returned to the finish line to cheer home those doing the marathon. It was fulfilling to go back and see others finishing their day – plenty of smiles, tears and celebrations as other runners achieved their goals.
I’ll undoubtedly do another half marathon in the future but probably not until at least Summer 2015. Since completing Blackpool Half Marathon I’ve been asked whether I’m thinking of doing a marathon. The answer: Not any time soon but maybe at some point in the future.
This year, my resolution is of a different kind. I’ve always had a fear of heights. Walking through Manchester this week I passed the Big Wheel as often I do. I stopped and thought; it’d be nice to see the city from up there.
That’s my goal for 2015.
Do you have a New Years Resolution this year? Leave a comment on how you hope to achieve your goals!