Chester ½ Marathon 17th May 2015
I met up with Kelly Anne and Stuart Towns at a car park close to the Race Course in Chester that would host the start of the Chester ½ Marathon. The weather seemed perfect for running, but as we got closer to the start, we noticed that the wind was stronger than we first thought. We weren’t sure whether there were any other runners from Wigan taking part, but spotted Chris “Kentmere Round the day before a ½ marathon” Burgess and Anne Marie Craven just before the start. They both said that they were taking it easy and just out to enjoy it. Whereas the Towns’ and me were definitely on a PB hunt.
The race started and I was quickly into my running. As we set off I spotted another black and red vest in front of me as Andy Ratcliffe started his quest to beat the 78 minute mark. I didn’t even attempt to catch him up and thought that I’d see him after the race. The first mile was up hill and into the wind; a sentence that could be repeated plenty more times in this report. Coming off the back of a PB at the London Marathon, my fitness wasn’t in doubt, but I wasn’t quite sure whether my legs had fully recovered. As the miles ticked over there seemed to be at least 1 hill per mile. They weren’t big hills, but they seemed to go up higher than they ever came down and the wind was in my face all the way. I was struggling to hit my target pace of 6:05, so the thought of a turn round in the road spurred me on. I saw Andy as I was approaching the hairpin and we exchanged waves without too much fuss. He must have been at least a minute ahead of me and seemed to be running well; there was no chance of catching him.
As I turned, I was feeling good and not having the wind in your face was a big relief, although I can’t say that I could feel it on my back. My pace picked up a little and I started to subtract the seconds each mile as I managed to start running ahead of pace. I kept an eye out for Stu and I spotted him at about the same point that I’d seen Andy earlier; he was running well and we managed a few words of encouragement. The route then turned right and what do you know? The wind was in your face again. I was in a better position now though as I wasn’t as isolated and I managed to tuck in behind a small group of runners. The quiet country roads meandered round and slowly went uphill again until we came to a motorway flyover. Whoever though that this was a good idea in a so-called fast, flat course was having a laugh, because the steepness of the bridge had your legs screaming for mercy well before the road flattened out. Over on the other side the same slope down had your quads burning and your toes taking a battering as gravity brought you back down the other side at pace.
The road finally started to head downhill and 8 miles were completed. In my head, I always like to get to the 10-mile mark still feeling ok to be confident of a good race. I was full of energy and my legs were feeling fine. This was not the time to get my first ever stitch in a race. The group that I had been running with started to move away from me as I tried to somehow ease the pain in my side and still keep in touch with them. However, slowing down was the only thing that was helping, so I had to let them go. I don’t know what causes a stitch, but it went almost as quickly as it had arrived and the gap to my running mates wasn’t that big. As we passed 10 miles we turned back on to the road we had ran out on and we were still heading slightly downhill, however the wind seemed to have done a complete 360 and was still in our face, if not quite as strong as earlier. The stitch had completely gone by now, I was running strong and I was trying to calculate if I was going to break the 80 minute target I had set myself. I was just about on track and then I saw something up ahead that caught my attention. I couldn’t quite work out what it was. Was it a bird was it a plane? No, it was a RAT. It was definitely the black and red vest of Andy Ratcliffe. Now Andy isn’t the biggest bloke I know, so I wasn’t quite sure how far away he was (joke), but how ever far it was I was going to try to catch him.
When you get a chase like that, it’s always easier chasing especially if the other person is completely unaware that he is being chased. That said it soon became obvious that Andy was struggling and this spurred me on all the more. With just over a mile to go the road headed uphill again and once again the race organiser’s promise of a pb friendly course seemed a little farfetched, but I was on a mission and I was reeling him in. The race finish was fantastic. The 13-mile marker was the start of the long finishing straight and the crowds were 5 or 6 deep all the way along. There was a race commentator shouting out names as he spotted you and I was just about to complete my mission; Andy was right in front of me. I didn’t have the heart to just run straight past him, although I did think about it, so I gave him a shout. With the noise of the crowd, he didn’t hear me, so I gave him a little pat on the back as I pulled up alongside him. “Dig deep Andy” as I eased past him. He didn’t pay me much attention at first. He looked at me as if to say, “go away” or something much less printable. Finally he realised it was me and he started to sprint. He quickly took the lead as it took me a second to register that he wasn’t completely beaten after all. I hit the gas and I ran flat out hoping that I hadn’t made a mistake in letting him know that I was there. It took me a few yards to get up to full speed, but I was soon running head to head or rather head (Andy’s) to shoulder (mine), (sorry Andy another height related joke) and winning was the only option for both of us.
The commentator noticed that we were teammates in a sprint finish and got the crowd screaming even louder. I was beginning to think he had me, but his pace in the early miles had taken their toll and he had nothing left. It was amazing really how he could even muster a sprint, but he’s a multiple Ironman that doesn’t like to lose and he made me earn the win.
I’d managed to smash my pb and cross the line in 79:22. It’s a measure of the man (no pun intended this time), that Andy was not only gutted to lose, but was disappointed with his time of 79:25 a time that most would be ecstatic with. Andy was as always very sporting and he congratulated me after the race.
We stayed at the finish to wait for the others and Stu crossed the line in a new pb of 1 hour 34 minutes, very happy to knock over 4 minutes off his previous best. Kelly Anne finished in 1 hour 43, missing out on a pb by a few seconds even though the conditions were definitely not pb friendly.
Chris Burgess and Anne Marie Craven crossed the line together in 1 hour 54 minutes.
It was a well-organised race and the course obviously suited me, so I’m thinking of going back in October to try the full marathon, if anyone wants to join me. How do you fancy round 2 Andy?