Central Lancs Half Marathon: 07/01/2018
“If you’re not going to race it properly then why bother? “: Chris Green – Wigan Harrier and Ironman.
Three weeks into the Don Fink Ironman training plan I found myself looking at a Sunday entry for a 1.5 hours run in Zone 2. I had tried to stick to the plan 100% however earlier last year a notification flashed up on my phone from the local “Don’t be Shit” Ironman WhatsApp group:
“Anybody up for the Central Lancs New Year Half Marathon Sunday 7th Jan? Good way to burn the puddings off. Cheap friendly race”.
Being that it was 10pm on a Saturday night, my decision was lubricated by a particularly fine bottle of Rioja and I responded immediately to say I had signed up.
Flash forward to Saturday the 6th of January and I found myself cursing that bottle of Rioja. Training had been going to plan and despite the sudden increase in activities I was feeling in good shape, aching shoulder from swimming notwithstanding. Did I really want to go and run a Half when I had recently been shackled to a conservative 60 mins at a steady plod? Having agreed to enter with my fellow Talk Shit members, and paid my fee, pulling out wasn’t really an option. Well it was an option, but so is dropping your pants in Market Place at 8am while drinking a can of Special Brew and neither would do my reputation any good. With this in mind I planned to tackle it as a training run all be it around 2 hours in length rather than the prescribed 1.5 hours from Dr Fink. Later that evening as I yet again cursed another bottle of Rioja, (this time as I couldn’t drink it due to the following morning’s race) I consulted Twitter of its opinion in regards to pushing for a PB on a race or taking it steady for training purposes. The overwhelming consensus was to go for it: “If you’re not going to race, then why pay, idiot”, “I’d go for it if I was you”, and “FAKE NEWS, stop talking Brexit down” were the general responses. With my mind set straight by the Twitterati I made off for bed.
I awoke on Sunday morning feeling refreshed after a good night’s sleep (It’s not you it’s me Rioja….), got myself dressed and was promptly picked up by my fellow Musketeers as we fired off toward Central Lancashire. The journey was straight forward enough although coming off the motorway and heading into Preston it was evident that the roads were still pretty icy. We arrived at the car park and trotted towards the Race registration desk at the small village hall. Picking up our numbers there was a noticeably smaller field and it was later announced by the organisers that about 25% of the entrants had failed to turn up. It was humbling not to be part of that statistic. Paul Fisher (one of the Talk Shit members) and I joined the short queue for the Porta Loos while the other two lads Andy and Buckley headed back to the car. I took the opportunity to pick Paul’s brains about his successful Ironman in 2017 and most of the conversation revolved around toilets. How many times did you stop to go during the event? Did you need a poo? What happens to your bike when you use the facilities? Did you see anyone just “Let it go?” (peeing while cycling). The toilet queue moved pretty quickly possibly helped by a few folk leaving the line in disgust at my questions, and Paul and I were soon heading back to the car to meet up with the others and get ready for the start.
After negotiating the frozen puddles in the car park we stripped off our warm layers and exposed ourselves to the cold. As the only one wearing tights, I was the wimpy D’Artagnan to my three short wearing Musketeers although we all opted for long sleeve tops, me with my vest on top as it wasn’t a cross country so I guessed that would be acceptable. We set off for a brief warm up and ran just under a mile along the course till we reached a natural rise with a hedge along the side. Here we decided to take a quick toilet stop behind the sparse hedge before lining up to start. I wasn’t concerned that any of the passing cars would spot me at the side of the road. It’s not like I had a big sign with my name on pinned to the front of my clothes.
Taking our place on the start line we received a short safety briefing and I moved myself further down the line leaving the other guys up front ready to chase down the leaders. The race director radioed in for the final approval and we were off.
I’d set my watch to a Distance and Time target, 13.1 miles and 1 hour fifty minutes. My PB at the half was 1 hour and 51 mins however I thought if I set it to under then at least I had a buffer if I started to flag. A chorus of Garmin beeps indicated the first mile was up but the mile marker was notable in its absence. As we headed out of Lea Town and along station road we powered up the slight incline over the Railway Station bridge:
“The Runner now arriving at Mile one is the Central Lancs New Year Half Marathon entrant. Calling at miles 1 to 13.1. Athletes are advised the mile marker is currently running approximately 0.1 of a mile over schedule. ”A quick chat with a couple of runners from Knowsley Harriers confirmed it wasn’t just me and we were all showing the course as long. As we approached the next mile marker we nodded in acknowledgment as again the Garmins chimed their collective song a good way before marker number 2.
Miles 2 to 4 wound their way around some lovely quiet country roads which despite not being closed to vehicles remained pretty much traffic free. I tried my best to find a line that was clear of ice but found the only option was to shorten my stride and take it easy. The frost bitten hedges of Lancashire cast a long winter shadow on the icy tarmac roads and hindered the suns ability to melt their glistening surfaces.
Heading through Catforth I came to the first water station where bottled water with the caps removed provided welcome relief. Despite the cold weather, I was heating up fast and had to remove my gloves and roll up my sleeves. I began to curse my wimpy constitution and the amount of clothing I had donned at the start. The field of runners had started to spread out by this point and there was moment of blissful solitude in the early January sun. Around mile six I checked my watch to find I was still holding a steady 8 min mile. Feeling strong I caught up with Buckley and we chatted for a while as we ran. Buckley told me to push on if I felt up to it so I stretched out and headed off down the long and perfectly straight Inskip Road. Taking a couple of runners I heard a bike behind me making a strange buzzing noise like it was struggling to break. I turned round to find no sign of said bike. In fact there was nothing behind me at all? The next runner was about 20 meters behind and there was nothing else on the road. Half a mile later the sound returned. This time I turned to find a drone flying about 2 meters behind me. Like a startled bird it twitched, shot off vertically into the sky and headed off to the east. I was brought back to the moment by my Garmin, doing it’s thing, Mile 8, now where’s the damn marker?
Crossing the motorway for the second time I was back on the right side of the M6 to finish. The bridge was quite icy at this point and navigating the downward slope required care. Large puddles had pooled at the bottom and frozen solid. Over the course of the morning the ice had been broken by passing vehicles leaving frozen fractals all around. Mile 10 approached and it was time to test my limits and break through. Quick pace check, on target, the cold had never bothered me anyway…. (Turns Disney CD off…)
Miles 10 and 11 passed uneventfully as I motored home passing a few runners who had obviously run out of steam. My fuelling strategy had been pre-emptive taking gels at 30, 60 and 120 minutes. A little too early you may think but I had tried something new and it seemed to be paying off.
Rounding the corner we closed the loop and spurred off back down Station Road towards Lea Town and the finish. Checking my watch I knew a PB was in the bag even if I walked from this point. Fatal mistake. Suddenly my mind switch from “you can do this”, to “you’ve done this, relax man, chill, take it easssyyyy” To counter I did some quick calculations. Yes I had a PB, but by how much, could I go 1:45? It seemed possible but then anything seems possible maths wise at the end of a race, blowing, hungry, struggling to calculate beyond the 2 times table.
Rounding the final corner my watch buzzed, “Goal complete: 13.1 miles 1:45:38” but the finish was nowhere to be seen. Andy and Paul who had both finished well under 1:45 cheered me on as I turned and saw the line of cones that indicated the finish. I burst into a sprint taking one, then two runners. All that remained in front of me was one guy in a bright yellow t-shirt. He seemed to be pulling away but I dropped my head, pumped my arms and chased him down. With each stride I got closer, channelling Dave Collins: “Reel him in!!” I got within a foot or two when I was grabbed by a race official, “Whoa, whoa, you’ve missed the finish mate it’s here!” as he pushed me to the right. Turns out Mr Yellow t-shirt wasn’t even in the race. He was simply out for his Sunday run! 😂
Jumping over the tape between the cones I stumbled over the finish line. Not since the Bahamas Shaunae Miller dived over the finish line to take Gold in the 400 meter final at Rio had a victory been so scrappy. I stopped my watch. 1:46:50.
To compound the hilarity of my finish I was then handed the largest medal I have even seen. This bad boy would make made an American Rapper proud (Ice Ice Baby!). Measuring in at approximately 20cm it would later be used as a plate for my post-race bacon butty, but at the end of the day: