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You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows. Nor to know that it was blooming cold in the Cheshire village of Helsby at 10am this morning. Despite … Continue reading The race that wasn’t: Helsby Half 2015
To those not familiar with the English Half Marathon, it is in Warrington. In fact, I’d say that the Warrington Half might be a better name for it.
Even at my most grumpy, however, that’s the only bad thing I can say about this run.
This year was the third time I’ve run ‘Warrington’, having missed it in 2012 due to that pesky Achilles of mine.
At my first Warrington, in 2010, I was soaked to the skin and had puddles in my shoes before I even crossed the start line. But even that couldn’t dampen my enthusiasm for a race which is largely flat, definitely well organised, is close to home, and until this year, finished on a running track inside Victoria Park.
I’m told the track is currently being relaid, so this year’s finish was relocated to the path, but all the rest still rings true. If anything, the organisation appeared slightly better this year with the runners lining up at the start being treated to an RAF parachute display for the first time (left).
To add to that, this year was my first as a Gold Runner. That basically means I’ve paid up front to enter every staging of the race until I die, but as well as choosing my own number it also entitled me to free parking, together with a massage and hog roast from the good people at QHotels’ Crewe Hall at the end.
And unlike 2010, the weather this year was also perfect – still, sunny but not too warm and, most importantly, dry.
So no excuses if anything goes wrong.
Thankfully, nothing did. My main targets this autumn are the High Peak 40 later in September and Chester Marathon on October 6. As a result, I had been running 20 miles or more for each of my long runs for the last month, so the distance was never going to be a problem.
Without having done enough speed endurance runs, however, I had little idea what pace I could sustain for 13.1 miles. Based on one run on holiday and a couple of ‘sprints’ home from work, I hoped I might be able to muster the 7:38/mile needed to break 1hr 40mins. If I couldn’t, then at least I’d have fun trying.
Travelling there with my next door neighbour (who ran 1:40 at Chester in May but seemed less confident this time around), we met up with fellow Twitterati, @HaggisAdele (who I ran Sheffield with) and @TraceyJ81 before the start. While for Adele, this was a training run for New York in November, Tracey clearly fancied a stab at her 1:41 PB. With that agreed, she, Richard and I set off together in search of 1:40.
I said the route was largely flat, but what climbing there is all falls in the first half. With that in mind, I was pretty pleased to reach half way slightly ahead of schedule due to a fast first mile and running bang on target even up the hills.
I remembered from 2011 that, after about 7.5 miles, there are some reasonably gentle but long downhills as we wound through park footpaths towards Dudlow’s Green.
While I knew that we still had to cross the bridge over the Manchester Ship Canal at mile 12, I was still feeling fresh so decided to let my legs go, lean into the hills and find out how much time we could make up before hitting the flats.
Running for the first time with Richard and Tracey slightly behind me, we tore down the hills, clocking 7:21, 7:34, 7:03 and 6:45 for miles eight to 11.
The last two miles saw our trio split, with Richard gently stretching half a minute into the distance, with Tracey around the same distance behind. But that didn’t matter. It still meant that when we crossed the line back in Victoria Park, Richard and Tracey had both obliterated their PBs, while stopping the watch at 1:37:23 meant I’d run my fastest half since Wilmslow 2003.
As well as elation and relief, the only other feeling that rushed back at the finish was the slight pain in my hamstring that had come on around four miles in. A quick prayer and quarter of a mile of slightly longer strides (as advised by Tracey) had taken the pain away sufficiently for me to forget all about it, but it was there at the finish and was enough to persuade me to get that free massage my gold number entitled me to.
So what had helped me notch up my best run in a decade when I had started thinking that getting within 90 seconds of the 1:38:53 I managed in 2011 would have been a great achievement?
The biggest factor is doubtlessly the fact I’ve had four injury-free months since Sheffield. There’s also no questioning that I’d had a couple of good weeks’ training on holiday in France.
But two other things have changed the way I’ve been training since Manchester Marathon. The first is that, three days after Manchester, I decided to see if I could put a #runstreak together. At first, my aim was to beat my previous best of 10 consecutive days. Then, it was to run Every Day in May (I’m a sucker for rhyming headlines). Quite coincidentally, the 13.1 at Warrington arrived on Day 131 (and even matched the number I’d chosen – 131 – when signing up as a Gold runner more than a year ago).
Getting into the habit of running every day has helped me increase my mileage steadily and fit in a greater variety of runs each week. But most of all, it has helped me catch my running mojo again.
I can’t say that I enjoyed every run working up to Manchester – in fact, quite a few of the runs leading up to it were among the most miserable I can remember. But since then, I can’t recall a run that I haven’t enjoyed – on some level at least.
I also need to give credit to The Art of Running Faster by Julian Goater and Don Melvin. I’ll post a proper review another day, but the past few months have seen me seriously working on my running form for the first time ever, as well as adapt some of my training sessions as well.
Although still a work in progress, I’m really pleased with the results so far. Not least because I still maintain that I’m not as fit as I was in 2012, just running better. If that’s true, there could be some even better times around the corner – which would be amazing.
In the meantime, however, I’ve got my first ultra-marathon to get through in a few weeks and hope to break four hours at Chester a few weeks after that.
Only two weeks since Manchester Marathon, and I’m back on the start line again.
The two weeks have been good. Instead of dragging myself out for training runs that I didn’t enjoy and when my running didn’t seem to be getting better, at Manchester, I refound my mojo. Apart from one day when the marathon left me barely able to walk (Tuesday Legs!), I’ve run every day since and am now looking forward not only to races, but to just getting out of the door and running again. Happy days.
It all feels very apt to be back where my running all began. In 1998, I was a student in Sheffield, every run was a hill session and I was setting PBs that I’ve only rarely come close to breaking. For most of the 20+ halves I’ve done since first lining up on the Don Valley track, I’ve not come close and I won’t be coming close again today.
Back then, I was in such good shape that, as I sprinted down the home straight to clock 1:34:14, I was slightly disappointed. A few months later, I’d be in the stands at the same stadium to cheer on Roger Black as he flew down that same straight in his last ever professional race in the UK.
Fast forward to 2013 and, once again, I’m sprinting down the straight. Once again, Don Valley is home to a legendary British athlete – Olympic champion Jess Ennis trains here – but that’s where the similarities end. Later this summer, Don Valley will be demolished. Neither Jess’s training nor my 1:34 triumph were enough to save it.
Unlike 1998, there was no disappointment for me today. Today’s run was never going to be a record-breaker, but was always going to be a great social event. As well as being a chance to meet (at long last) @martinbown, @steve_run, @rustyw5 and @traceyj81, I renewed acquaintances with @mazymixer, @mikew30, @philipjkelly, @gos75 and @TeamB_O_B, and I got to run every step with @haggisadele. And great fun it was too.
I’m not sure when my next race will be. Whenever it is, I doubt I’ll be setting any PBs like that first Sheffield Half back in 1998. I probably won’t meet as many friends as I did today. But if I can enjoy the training as much as I have in the past two weeks, I’ll be doing OK.