Wrexham is a course long renowned for its flat, fast PB potential and the 500 places available this year once again sold out long before race day. Of those 500 runners, an impressive contingent of 16 Wigan Harriers made the trip down the M56 to tackle the 13.1 miles. The fact that they found the venue assuages some fears about the sense of direction or navigational skills of our Harriers that were to arise later in the day.
Despite the perfect running conditions, there was a palpable air of pre race tension as Harriers underwent their various warm up rituals. This was one of the first road races of the year and all assembled faced an unknown test of their fitness away from cross country. PB hopes were kept quiet as laces were tied, and then re-tied – or maybe not in the case of Kevin Edwards who ran 10 miles of his race with them flapping loose and threatening to de-rail his day!
The start line at Wrexham is a good mile further down the road from the race HQ and car park, and a couple of trips up and down it served as adequate warm up before the masses gathered for the off. It is quite counter-intuitive that the start actually faces away from the general direction of the race itself, involving a short detour around the industrial estate before looping back on itself and heading towards race HQ for the first mile. This can cause some confusion for runners new to the event, but the majority of Harriers have attended this event before… some of them are in training for self navigating Ultra events later this year so pointing the right way at the start of a half marathon its childs play…
Chris Smullen and Neil Prescott made their way to the front end of the waiting pack, Graham Millington settled a little further back and bade Darren Middleton good luck whilst waiting for the rest of the club to shuffle past to find their place in the line up. That wait took longer than expected. Putting past experience to no use at all, the rest of the Harriers were still milling about at the rear of the race having a relaxed natter when without warning the rest of the race headed off in a different direction. Realization that they were at the wrong end of the pack dawned at the same time as it became obvious that the race had started a good 45 seconds ago!
To be fair to Harriers, the start arrangements at Wrexham are odd to say the least. No siren, starting pistol or even hearty shout heralds the start of the race. Most runners only realize things are underway as the pack begins to shuffle, jog and break into a gentle run with no apparent word from the organisers. For the next mile and a half desperate Wigan runners weaved their way through the pack of back markers trying to make up lost time. Graham Millington, located mid-pack, was entertained by the spectacle of club mates slowly passing him one by one muttering their complaints about the stat as they passed.
“Cock up at the start Graham”.
“Ah well have a good race”, followed a minute or so later by the next Harrier:
“Right cock up at the start”
“So I hear”
“Start was a right…”
“YES! So I gather!”
The staggered start meant that for the first couple of miles the Harriers were less spread out than they may otherwise have been. For a pair of cyclists going the other way it must have been a striking sight as they were heard to comment ,”who are all these lot in the red and black vests?” as runner after runner flew past in Wigan colours.
At the front end Chris Smullen and Neil Prescott were amongst the few who didn’t mess up the start and were both making good time over the first few miles. Chris had already completed a few miles to loosen up before travelling down and getting in a few more miles towards his London Marathon with the warm up. It seemed to be paying off as he ate up the miles ahead of target time and looking good for the first PB of the day. That PB ended up being a massive 5 minutes off an already super fast 1:26 time to see him cross the line in 40th place overall in 1:21:34. (6th M35)
Neil Prescott kept up the theme by shaving 20 seconds off his own PB time to set a new standard of 1:24:29. The front two were to provide an example for those who followed with another 5 PB to be recorded on the day
As the race settled down, Dave Collins and Kev Edwards found themselves running as a pair with Capt. Awesome settled on Kevins shoulder. Dave spent most of the race distracted by Kevins flapping shoelace wondering when he was going to fall. Their battle went on until the final few hundred yards when Collins pulled out a Reaping move to be proud of to finish 8 seconds ahead of his team mate in 85:06
Darren Middleton is arguably in the form of his life at the moment and well into his marathon build up. Even so, he shared the pre race uncertainty as to how those marathon miles and cross country races would convert to road race fitness. It was evident early on that he is on top form as he found it necessary to rein in the pace slightly as his speed naturally picked up en route. Darren shattered his PB and finished feeling he had more in the tank which bodes well for his Spring Marathon attempt. His time of 86:56 represents a fine result for Richie Noone too – until such time as Darren can sort the mix up over numbers and reclaim his PB!
Regsitered as a Horwich RMI runner for the event, but running for the first time since signing for Harriers was Bobby Kasabov. Bobby was hot on the heels of Mr Middleton and finished just one second down in 86:57 for the 4th PB of the day for the Wigan contingent.
Enjoying his solo run a few minutes further back was the “Silver Fox” himself Dave Waddington. Wigan Harriers answer to George Clooney, (copyright: D.Jackson) had a lonely race as he attempted to beat his time from last year. Unfortunately last year he managed to notice the start and so wasn’t left playing catch up over the next 13.1 miles. Dave finished agonizingly close in 87:42
Andy Ratcliffe was taking part in his own one man duathalon, involving a cycle to Wrexham followed by an attempt on the Half Marathon straight after. It is fortunate he has a better developed sense of direction that his club mates or he would still be pedalling his way to Edinburgh… Unfortunately his inaugural Wigan/Wrexham Iron Man event ended in a DNF as cramp forced him out at 4 miles.
Next up were Julie Platt and Barry Abrams continuing the theme of Harriers running in pairs. Barry looked his usual unflustered self as he relentlessly powered his way to an 89:42 finish. Julie stormed through the field after the self imposed handicap start but still managed to smash her PB and dip under the 90 minute mark for the first time. Her time of 89:42 is impressive enough, but had she got off to a better start there would have been an even bigger chunk off that figure.
Just missing out on a sub 1:30 were our 3rd pairing of the race as Martin Andrews and Andy Eccles came home in 90:15 and 90:16 respectively. Martin seems to be finding form again after a prolonged lay off due to a persistent chest infection. A valiant attempt to hang with Barry and Julie tailed off as the lactic won the day, but Martin can be very encouraged by his returning pace and endurance.
Andy Eccles gave us all a lesson in sandbagging, still insisting with moments to go that he was only in attendance in order to shout a bit of coaching advice to his various protégés en route. Dark Horse that he is, Mr Eccles was then seen tearing his way up the field in full Harriers kit and sporting a race number in perhaps the most hands on act of coaching possible – running the actual race.
Andy was followed over the line by Ash in 90:19 who collected the most impressive looking injury of the day with what initially appeared to be a fractured foot. Fortunately an intensive session of icing seems to have seen off the worst of it and fears of a stress fracture are hopefully unfounded.
Jayne Taylor was the second Wigan lady home in 91:04. Jayne picked up 2nd Lady in her age group despite having to overcome the comedy start and fight her way through the field in the early stages.
Following up were the final pair of Graham Millington and Darren Jackson. Graham credits Darren for keeping him to a demanding pace over the middle miles of the race as they passed 10k 40 seconds under Grahams previous PB. Darren has quickly regained a lot of his speed following a knee operation earlier this year and is now building back the endurance platform that saw him close to breaking 91 minutes here last year. This time he kept up the pace until dropping off at around 9 miles and leaving Graham to run alone to a significant 5 minute PB in 1:35:41. For the 4th road race in succession Andy Kaufmans out of date PB juice seems to have done its trick for Graham! Darren was pleased to come home shortly after in 1:40:30
At the post race awards the Harriers waited patiently as it seemed most of North Wales was given a special medal for taking part. Mr Millington is apparently considering falsely registering an address in Wrexham next year in order to qualify for one of the rather attractive medals given out for local Grand Prix runners! Jayne Taylor collected her crisp £20 note with rather more glee than did Julie Platt who also came second in her age group. Julies delight was tempered by the fact that her huge race effort had actually aged her a few years and placed her in the V45 category! She swallowed her upset and made straight for Cheshire Oaks on the way home were the £20 quickly vanished!
Photos by: http://www.racephotos.org.uk/index.htm