Great North-West Half Marathon, Blackpool, Sunday February 23 2014
Report by Sue Davies.
Last October I completed the Birmingham Half Marathon for the second time, annoyingly I wasn't much faster second time than I had been first time and I decided that my target for 2014 was to get as close to two hours for a half marathon as I could. Having set myself the target I decided that the earlier I did a half marathon in 2014 the more chance I would have of accomplishing this, as if I failed at the first attempt there would be more time to get in more races, increasing my chances of success. So sitting in my nice warm house one evening last year I found what I thought would be the perfect start to the year - the Great North West Half Marathon in Blackpool in February.
Those amongst you with more common sense and slightly more forethought will have already seen an error in my thinking - Blackpool and February are not words that should be in the same sentence. However, determined to start my challenge for this year I booked and it was only when I started to tell people that I was doing a half marathon, in Blackpool, in February, that I realised it probably wasn't the best idea I'd ever had. Cold, wet and breezy were some of the common words that I heard. I hadn't considered the weather I'd just read the word FLAT. My £20 paid it was too late to change my mind, so I booked a B&B and told myself it would be fine, there were always nice days in February and I'd get one of them.
It's fair to say that I avoided looking at the weather forecast for the week before the race, not that I needed to, friends and family seemed to delight in giving me daily, if not hourly updates, on what the forecast was likely to be for Sunday - those words again cold, wet and breezy.
I arrived in Blackpool on Saturday evening and found my B&B. I decided that it might be a good idea to find out where the Hilton Hotel was as this the location for the start of the race. I did eventually find the hotel, not that it is that difficult as it's big and has a Hilton sign outside, it was just that I had turned the wrong way out of my hotel; not the best start. As I woke on Sunday morning I looked out of the window to see a very grey sky. On the way down to breakfast I stepped out of the hotel to test the temperature, and the wind speed, and it didn't actually seem that bad. After breakfast I changed and made my way to the Hilton. It was on the way to the hotel that I realised actually it was quite windy and it was beginning to rain.
The very precise and accurate instructions that had been posted on the Fylde Coast Running (FCR) website stated that numbers and chips could be collected from 08.30am and by the time I arrived at just after 9 there were already quite a lot of people in the Hotel. The checking in was very well organised and armed with my number and chip I was ready. Due to the weather (did I mention it was windy and raining) most people were trying to stay in the dry and warm, although of the race organisers did helpfully keep pointing out, in a loud voice, that we would have to go outside eventually as that was where the race was and we might as well get acclimatized. As I headed outside I saw a couple of other ARC runner's, Gill and Terry Hastings, who had obviously also decided that a Half Marathon, in February, in Blackpool was a good idea, although as they told me they had done it before and the weather had been the same, they should have known better.
The race started at 11.00am by which time it was windier although it had stopped raining. A couple of safety announcements and we were off up the coast with the wind behind us. The first half mile was a bit tricky as there were a lot of runners trying to get going and there were a few seconds where I stopped altogether as the runners in front of me jostled for space, but it was soon clear and I was running. The first three and a half miles were OK, there were a few people out on the sides clapping and cheering and the marshalls were smiling and waving and then we turned the corner and started to run into the wind. When I say run, that's a bit of an exaggeration, at some points I felt like I was running on the spot and not going anywhere and at others I felt like I was taking one step forward only to be blown back two. Breezy is not the word. Three miles of running into winds that I later found out were about 40mph, turned my legs to jelly and any idea I had of a PB disappeared, I just wanted to finish. Turning the corner at about mile six and the wind was behind us again which was good, the only thing that wasn't good so good is that the Great North West Half Marathon is two laps, meaning that I had to do the three miles into the wind all over again. Turning the corner back into the wind it was quite clear that it hadn't eased up at all and in fact if anything it was worse. By the time I reached the end of run along the seafront ready to turn back to the finish I was almost ready too give up, my legs were like jelly, I felt like I'd been punched all over and my eyes were watering so much I couldn't really see where I was going although I could just about make out the small crowd of people at the finish and with a last push managed to run the last bit over the finish line to claim my medal and my goody bag.
Despite the weather (did I mention it was very windy) it was a good race. The runners kept each other going and the marshalls smiled and shouted encouragement, at least I think that's what they were shouting, couldn't really hear them over the wind - did I mention it was windy? The goody bag contained some men's socks (?), a wagon wheel (quickly demolished back at the B&B), biscuits, a water bottle and a bar of chocolate which was especially for the ladies as an apology for the men's socks! Would I do it again? it was a very well organised, friendly race, I didn't get my PB (2:13:39) even though it was flat, but there is always next year and it was a bit breezy.
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Stratford Not the Roman IX Sunday January 19th 2014
Not the Roman IX (actually around 7.45 m but 7.78m flat equivalent)
Arriving at the NFU’s Sports and Social Club (Paul Butler, Jo Butler, Helen Phillips and driver for the day Jason ‘Sprinter’ Vigrass) in bright sunshine but only 5˚C we were welcomed by the first of many friendly marshalls and directed to the car park. A short walk to the registration desk enabled us to pick up race numbers and the now ubiquitous disposable timing chips.
With a 1k walk up to the start and with no toilets there we decided to go and join the lengthy queues for the portaloos ensuring we were all at our racing weights by 1100!
Having completed a thorough warm up on the way to the start (well a slow walk and chat for some) collecting another ARC comrade on the way, Sue Davies, we all waited with baited breath for the countdown to the off…… 10,9,8,…….3,2,1 and they are off! Well not quite as the road was very narrow and the sensible runners who had made their way to the front (including ARC’s Paul Jones) made a dash for it, the rest of us were reminded of the London Marathon snaking/shuffling/penguin walk for the first 20 seconds until we were at last stepping over the timing mat and on our way (the beauty of the timing chip is of course that this delayed start does not matter in the end).
The race is a loop all on quiet roads although not fully closed to traffic and on some of the less minor sections (only short) you had to be careful when overtaking but this did not distract from the enjoyment at all (well not unless you were being mown down by a caravan towing 4x4!). The marshalling and people supporting the runners were excellent, cheering on and calling out club names as you ran past. This certainly made the distance pass quickly (not so much the hills though!)
Although initially slightly downhill, the first 5.5K/3.5m of the run seemed to be all uphill (a climb of around 89m) culminating in a very steep climb up to the midway point, great scenery though or as Lynda put it “at least I enjoyed the views of fields, hills and sheep”, and then the knowledge that it was all downhill from there to the finish, well except for the hill which caught everyone out at around 6m mark! The finish is extremely fast and with a countdown at 800m and 400m it really let you stretch out for the final sprint along the grass to the finish again with cheering crowds (well a 100 or so) cheering you on right to the end. A quick lunge over the line and over the timing mat and it was over, time to collect your tech tee-shirt (only Large and Medium-sorry ladies!) and to go and cheer the rest of the finishers, 10 ARC members in all.
Overall rating: great day out, great race, great marshalls and great company. Well done ARC!