Sam sounds his klaxon!

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.

A new PB.​

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:

“If you’re not going to make a proper medal then why bother?” –The bloke that makes medals (Probably).

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Amsterdam Marathon by Katie Green

For most people, going to Amsterdam for a birthday weekend away would mean drinks, food and relaxing. That doesn’t happen when your stupid enough to marry a runner. Chris thought it would be a great idea to sign me up to Amsterdam marathon for my 30th birthday present and make it really memorable, he has a lot more faith in me than I do.

Bricking it would be a complete understatement of how nervous I was on race day morning. I had Chris being his annoyingly perky race day self bouncing around and telling me I’ll be fine and a mile and a half walk from the hotel to the start of the race to carry on freaking out. Turning up at an Olympic stadium surrounded by a couple of thousand people really doesn’t help settle your nerves, thank god for all the portaloos outside the stadium. We found Cath and Pete not long after we arrived then made our way into the stadium, still petrified at this point, I got a kiss and a hug off Chris then we went to our waiting areas and waited anxiously for it to all start. I had Cath and Pete trying to chill me out a bit saying it will be fine and I was trying to remind myself that I know I’m capable of at least 18 miles so even if I have to walk after that I should be able to do it.

The starting gun went and the elites set off, followed by the other stupidly fast idiots who can somehow run this thing in 3 hours. It only took ten minutes between the starting gun going off and our coral crossing the start line and then it got very real very fast. I knew I wanted to try and aim for 4 hours hours so all I had to for was 9 minute miles but that’s a lot easier to maintain when not surrounded by daft amounts of runners from around 110 countries. The first 3 miles were spent trying to avoid being tripped up by people cutting across without warning, some serious bottle necking on corners and not breaking an ankle running over tram lines. I had some wonderful man crack his elbow into my arm so hard my Garmin paused because it thought I fell but luckily I noticed and started it again (though may as well have not bothered as it rebelled later on). I was feeling pretty comfortable for a bit from mile 5, there were fewer runners trying to take me out and my legs felt pretty happy but I was very aware of how warm it was getting and how few clouds there were. I hate running when its hot, I avoid the sun at most costs even when just out and about and I have stupid running vest shaped sunburn now to back up why I hate running in heat. I was getting to the point where your trying to spot a portaloo or a bush just so you can pee before you get desperate and run the risk of wetting yourself, because no one really wants that to happen, and resources were few and far between. Luckily around mile 8 at the refueling station I saw my chance but this is where things started to go a bit tits up.

I managed to pee during a race and keep my dignity but my Garmin decided to go screw you. Looking at the screen and there was a lovely little black square covering the centre of the face and nothing was playing. It wouldn’t reset, turn off or even beep annoyingly at me, bollocks was the overwhelming train of thought. I knew I was going to have to run blind and try and use my best judgement as to what pace I was doing. I took a risk and started the Strava on my phone just so I could have a record of my run but I knew it would drain battery so may not last the distance. I had to rely on the race markers that were laid out but I always run in miles trying to gauge things in kilometres was a bit odd. I made sure I took my blocks at regular intervals and started having the banana at the rest stops. I managed to find some English runners after spotting them laughing at me calling a french runner a knob for nearly tripping me up and they were kind enough to let me know I was still on pace for 4 hours. My brain was starting to think this could happen but then my leg had other ideas.

Just after the half way point my usual issue cropped up, the right side of my hip and backside started to go tight and I knew this was going to go downhill fast. Arguing with myself I knew this was going to turn into a walk/ run race and I really didn’t want that to happen. We were starting on the longest out and back section of the course down the canal, very little shade and hot sun sun and soooo hard. I spent the next few miles alternating between slowing my pace, stopping to stretch, having to walk and arguing with my leg that it was a git who I wasn’t happy with. I told myself if I could get to 35k without dying I could finish this and at 32k I came very close to having a bit of a break down. I was walking again as my right thigh was just cramping up and all around my knee was spasming. I tried ringing Chris figuring he would have finished but his phone was still off so I just text him to let him know I was in a bad way. Hobbling along trying my best not to cry and having complete strangers cheer you on while passing runners patted me on the back for encouragement was very surreal. I was in a beautiful city on a gorgeous day and if I wasn’t in so much pain running a stupid marathon I would have been very happy but I just wanted to lie down on the floor and have someone bring me ice cream.

I managed to tell myself off enough to start shuffling again as I passed the 33k marker but I was very aware that this was the hardest 10k I would ever run, everything in me wanted to stop but as Chris likes to point out I’m a stubborn git and I had come too far to quit. It was a shuffle/ jog/ walk race from this point but I knew I had to do it, I couldn’t sit on the floor and cry in front of this many strangers it would definitely end up being filmed. I got past the Duracell bunny cheering us on with 5k to then I found another broken runner who helped get me to the end. A lovely girl called Kaitlin was talking to a dutch guy about how she had injured her hamstring around the 28k mark and had been told not to carry on but she had trained too hard not to finish. She was asking if this guy would run with her so I turned round and said i would get her to the finish. It was odd being as broken as I was and telling this girl I would get her round the last of a marathon seeing as I had never done one before. She was so grateful and we kept chatting to distract ourselves from the pain while counting down the markers. She kept apologizing for needing to walk as we reached Vondel park but I told her she was getting me round as much as I was getting her round. We were happily calling the other runners gits that had finished and were walking eating ice cream and we were both cursing our partners who were both capable of sub 3:30 marathons. She was so perky even in agony and she made that last bit bearable. We were both saying that it doesn’t matter if were not running were moving forward and that’s all that matters. I’ve never been do happy to have someone shout out that there’s only 800m left to go. I may have squealed at the sight of the stadium and I’m pretty sure that’s going to be the only picture of me during the race where I look happy. We both hobbled into the stadium and onto the running track with a feeling of pure relief that we could stop in just a few feet. We both got our asses over that finish line! I had Chris come straight over and give me a massive hug, and I held it together and didn’t cry, then me and my running buddy gave each other a hug and thanks for getting each other through it.

Everything from my hips down was in agony. I could barely walk and just wanted to lie down but I did it. Chris and Cath were telling me how proud they were and all I could do was be angry with myself. I knew I was capable of better and was just going over all the what if’s in my head. I’m still doing it now. I know when I stop feeling annoyed with myself I will probably be proud of myself but I think the leg pain and sunburn will have gone before that happens. The main positive I’m taking from this run is that I managed to cover the distance even though I wanted to give up and I managed to help another runner finish something she trained so hard for.

Well done Katie – apologies it took a couple of weeks to publish!

Wigan 10k by Chris Green

Wigan 10k…PB hunting.

I think I have finally learned. This was probably my best race ever. Pre race warm up with Warren and Karen then into the start pen after all the pics and the use of Sam’s bucket.

A long countdown from Jack and we were away I sat on Gaz Wane’s shoulder as watched some of the red and black army go of into the distance. Every race I set off too fast and every race I die. I should have learned this, really I should. Mile 1 was a little fast but it’s down hill so free speed, the 40 min pacers were running on effort I think and not on time. Mile 2 bang on what I wanted pace wise as I was going for sub 40 turning into stadium way still with Gary Jonathan and Kyle not far behind us slowly catching up to Paul Platt. Banter between me and jonathan and Kyle, basically me shouting at them we were on home turf, this is our training ground, come on pick it up.

Jonathan was on my shoulder as we left Gary heading down past the stadium past the water station, no gin needed for me Mark but kind offer. I caught Paul as we left the barriers and went past him I had Warren in my sights. We were right with the 40 min pacers from exiting the stadium this is my favourite part of the course getting shouts and shouting to the other runners coming the other way. As we exited the industrial estate a shout to Mel and Leanne.

Both me and Warren overtook Paul Bryers I was feeling good all the way up the hill to the park so I kicked on. I saw Jordan on the right turn he seemed to be struggling as I passed him more banter getting him tuck in behind me before Andy Mac sang me a song teenage kicks I was singing all through the park while looking over my shoulder and encouraging Jordan.

Round the corner of youth zone Stuart Fairclough next in line for abuse ” I’m catching you Stu I’m going to beat you”. That’s when I started to kick beat Stuart over the line by 1 second gun time 39:24 chip time 2 seconds quicker a 2 minute pb finally sub 40. Really happy Jordan and Jonathon also got under it as well. I managed to see the wife cross the line also with a PB too.

Mersey Tunnel 10k by Alex Roberts

The Mersey Tunnel 10k is a unique event as far as 10k races are concerned. Not only is it point-to-point race where you start in Liverpool and finish in New Brighton, but you run through the Kingsway Tunnel where one of the 2 tunnels is closed off to traffic which is the race’s major selling point. I did this race for the first time last year and really enjoyed it. After hesitating over whether to enter again due to a holiday not long prior to the event, I decided it was too good of a race to miss, so duly signed up for it once again.

I made my way to Blackstock Street on the outskirts of Liverpool City Centre where the race would start and dropped off my bag into one of the baggage buses that would drive ahead of us to New Brighton. In the days leading up to the race it was forecasted heavy rain, so although not ideal I figured I’d be dry for the first few miles at least whilst running through the tunnel. Alas, it turned out to be dry, so it’ll be interesting to see how long it stays that way.

Before I knew it, 9.30am came about and the race began. We snaked our way down the emergency access road, did a 180 degree turn at the bottom and into the Kingsway Tunnel. As we descended the tunnel, there was nothing more surreal than hearing the sounds of hundreds of runners pounding their feet on the ground instead of the roar of cars. The pounding was occasionally broken up by someone shouting “OGGY, OGGY, OGGY!” and everyone shouting “OI, OI, OI!” back.

At about 2km the tunnel flattened out as we reached the bottom. It was only flat for a short while before the uphill incline to the Wirral side began – all 1 mile of it! For those who know me from training will no doubt affirm, I actually enjoy some of the hill sessions we have at Haigh Hall in the summer months and Coppull Lane when the nights draw in, so it was time to put my enthusiasm and training into practice! Although the incline isn’t that steep, because it’s constant it can be tough to maintain the pace, as I found. What perhaps didn’t help was that it was warmer down in the tunnel than I remembered from last year. Nonetheless, I past the 3km mark, went round the bend and before I knew it I saw broad daylight in the distance. I pushed on and made it outside; however the hill running wasn’t done yet. I had to carry on up to the top and then another 180 degree turn before the toll booths up another emergency access ramp, onto Oakdale Road and flat land. Hooray!

After turning onto Oakdale Road, there was the most welcome sight of a water station. I grabbed the bottle and ran for a few hundred yards attempting to drink as much as possible before dropping it. I carried on past the 4km mark and onto Dock Road towards Seacombe. I was already drained after the tunnel section and the forecasted rain had failed to materialise which I had been banking on to cool me down. I ploughed on towards the 5km mark and turned onto the Promenade alongside the River Mersey by Seacombe Ferry Terminal which I would run along all the way to New Brighton.

I was half-expecting some sort of breeze to cool me down a bit in the absence of rain, but annoyingly this was behind me, so I ploughed on and reached The Ferry pub in Egremont where the second of 2 water stations was situated. I grabbed a bottle and raced past the 7km mark. The beauty of this race is that the route along the Promenade is that it’s mostly flat, but alas I was lacking in energy to take full advantage having used most of it in the Tunnel. The benches may have looked an appealing proposition, but I gave my head a wobble and reminded myself the “tough” bit was already out of the way, I had done these distances before and there wasn’t that much of the course left to run, so I ploughed on and past the 8km mark.

Soon enough I was entering New Brighton and I past the 9km mark – not far to go! I headed towards Fort Perch Rock, turned left to skirt the lake and saw a long straight stretch with the finish line just about visible in the background. I pushed myself a bit with the cheering crowds encouraging us for the final few hundred meters and before I knew it, I was crossing the finish line!

It was a tough race because of the mile long ascent up the Kingsway Tunnel and, in my case, it hadn’t helped that I had done no running for 2 weeks during September as I was on holiday in Spain. Nonetheless, I was satisfied with my time of 48:16 which was around 2 minutes quicker than my time from last year.

The Mersey Tunnel 10k is a unique race and it’s a good test of your abilities to maintain your pace up a constant incline and a flat route. I fully recommend it to anyone, particularly if you’re looking for a challenge or want to do something that’s a bit different from other 10k’s. It’s one of my favourite races on the calendar and I look forward to hopefully taking part again next year.

Wigan 10k by Alex Roberts

The next report on Wigan 10k comes from one of our newer members, Alex Roberts.

Having done various runs this year since joining the Wigan Harriers, it would have been rude not to enter the Wigan 10k given it was my home town race. Having acquired new PB’s earlier in the year, firstly at the Liverpool Spring 10k at Sefton Park in May and again 2 months later at the Southport 10k, I was sceptical about my chances of smashing it here considering the slightly hilly nature of the course, but in any case I was determined to do better than my time last year.

I watched the weather forecast which hinted it might be cloudy for the race with the threat of rain, so wondered whether we would get away with it. I arrived in Wigan over an hour before the race and made my way down towards the college for the team photo. Although I had done various runs since joining the Harriers and a regular at the training sessions, this was the first race as a newbie in 2017 that I felt part of the group and part of a team. Everyone was pumped up for the race and I felt the vibes that everyone was confident of a good race.

Shortly after the team photo was taken, it started to rain. It wasn’t torrential rain, but I was guaranteed a soaking as it was the fine stuff. Getting slowly drenched and having wished my friends and other Harriers well for the race, I made my way to the start area focused on the race ahead getting slowly cool and slowly wet, thinking “can we just get on with this please?”

Before I knew it, it turned 10am and the race began. The atmosphere at the start line and along the course from all the spectators and fellow runners was amazing and it certainly gave me a boost for the first couple of km’s as I ran into the rain along Park Road and Woodhouse Lane. As I turned onto Scot Lane, I really started to feel the rain now but ploughed on along Stadium Way and towards the DW Stadium where we had to do a loop via the back of the car park and Robin Park Arena. I’m not sure if it was the rain or running behind the East Stand car park having an air of familiarity to it given this was the venue of many of the training sessions I attended since joining the Harriers earlier this year or the fantastic steel drum band performing near the stadium, but at this point I was motoring and ploughed on towards the water station at the Arena and past the halfway point running back on to Stadium Way.

As I made my way through Martland Mill Industrial Estate, it started to speculate whether I could actually beat my PB after all as I had good pace and the rain was not deterring me, but instead of dwelling on what my Garmin was telling me and being distracted by doing the arithmetic in my head, I put those thoughts to the back of my mind and ploughed on through the rain. I made my way back onto Woodhouse Lane and powered through Beech Hill. As I approached Springfield and the 8km mark, I took another glance at the Garmin and I started to believe I was on course to beat my PB…providing of course I didn’t lose too much time on the hilly sections during the final 2km’s.

I carried on putting one foot in front of the other and ploughed up the hill past the Pagefield, underneath the railway and into Mesnes Park past the 9km mark. I’m not sure if it was intentional to route the final km up the hill through Mesnes Park, but I’m not complaining, so I rose to the challenge and tackled the hill where the crowds at the top were cheering us on despite the wet weather. Only ½ km to go with a nice downhill and flat section to go!

Now out of Mesnes Park and onto Mesnes Park Terrace, I went for it, turned onto Parson’s Walk and legged it towards the finish line that was now in sight. I crossed the line and leapt for joy with a fist pump when I stopped the Garmin and it flashed a time of 46:39 which was a new PB – BOOM! Although I was knackered, I couldn’t contain my delight at smashing my PB by over a minute despite talking myself down before the race. It also meant I had improved on my time from last year by almost 3 minutes. Maybe there is such a thing as home advantage!

All in all, despite getting drenched by the fine rain, I was very satisfied with my effort at this year’s Wigan 10k. When I first got into running 10k distances, I remember saying to myself over 2 years ago I’d be satisfied with completing my first race in just under 60mins. Having come a long way since then and seen the progress made this year, I’m now determined to kick on and have set myself a target of getting a sub-45min time soon.

Wigan 10k by Mel Wane

The next one in a series of Wigan 10k articles, thanks Mel for this.

At some point during my pregnancy I decided that I would need some motivation to get myself fit again once the baby arrived and entered the Wigan 10k; which is how I found myself in Wigan at 9am on a rainy Sunday morning in full Harriers kit with a 3 month old in a pram.

With only 12 weeks of training in the bag, I knew this year wasn’t going to be a PB year but I still had a very clear game plan. Team photo – feed the baby – last minute toilet stop – run and hope that the baby doesn’t poo / scream / be sick on herself – try to keep this going for 10k – shower and change – after party!

The early stages of the plan went well; Scarlet was fed and filled her nappy early, giving me plenty of time to sort her out before heading to the start line. With a few minutes to go, Scarlet fell asleep and we lined up at the back with fellow mummy/baby team Leanne and Lottie. I felt strangely nervous as we inched slowly towards the start line but once we were out on the course I forgot it all and just ran.

Leanne and I made the most of the early downhill section of the course weaving in and out of runners and catching the 75 minute marker about 20 minutes in. We (mainly the babies to be fair) were getting lots of support out on the course and I was enjoying the pace that we had settled into – not too slow but not so fast that it was a struggle. It was nice to be able to enjoy the atmosphere of the race for once!

As we made our way into the DW, the rest of the Hillam-Morgan Clan were waiting to give us a big cheer. I had a quick drink but soon realised that I just don’t have the co-ordination to drink, run and push a pram so decided to push on.

It wasn’t long before we got to the Martland Mill estate and what I knew was going to be the hardest part of the race – the long trek up to the park. The next couple of miles were tough but I was still running and, with every runner I passed on the way, I felt more and more confident.

I was feeling good when Mr W found me about 55 minutes in (he had run, collected his medal and been to say hello to Imogen before setting off backwards around the course to check that we were both ok). As we entered the park I was glad I had him with me, the path was narrower making it tricky to steer the pram around people without clipping their heels and, having a bit more puff left than me, he let people know when I was coming through.

Feeling bolstered by both the music and the crowds as we reached the pavilion in the park, I started to push towards the finish. Unfortunately, I forgot about the downhill to the fountain and, as gravity took over, it was all I could do to keep hold of the pram! Luckily the runners just ahead of me were able to clear a path for us and we made it safely towards the exit.

Once we were out of the park I knew it wasn’t far and just tried to hold on to the pace that I had built up. As I rounded the corner I put on a last burst speed and crossed the line in a time of 1:10:54. Scarlet woke up just in time to beat me across the line, but I can live with that!

 

Wigan 10k by Kevin Rex

The first of a series of articles on this year’s very popular Wigan 10k.

I left entering this years Wigan 10k race till quite late this year as since April I had been struggling with back and hip injuries.

Thankfully the nightmare of being unable to run came to an end in early July and I slowly and steadily started to find my running legs and confidence over the next 6-8 weeks. It wasn’t until early August that I actually decided I was going to enter Wigan 10k and give it a go.

My initial thought was it would be just for fun, and to support my local event, as the idea of a PB was out of the question. However in late July I started back regularly attending Tuesday and Thursday Wigan Harriers training sessions.

Slowly and gradually I noticed my pace and stamina improve. Come the week before Wigan 10k I felt I was as close to full fitness as I could possibly be. So I said to myself go and give it your all and what will be, will be…

 

The morning of the race started really early with a 5am rise and out to walk Dexter my Labrador and his brother Jack as I was dog sitting him that weekend. After a brisk walk with the boys my legs felt warmed up and ready for the bashing I was about to put them through.

Whilst having my routine pre-race breakfast of TrueStart Coffee and porridge, I felt the nerves and excitement start to set in. This was my first proper race since my injury, and lots of thoughts went through my mind. Would I be able to keep my pace up? Could I get over that line in one piece? etc etc…

I eventually told myself to stop being silly and just go for it. I had trained well, probably better than I did for last years race.. with that I polished of my Truestart and porridge, got my race gear on and jumped in the car to drive myself to Wigan.

Like everyone I made my way to Sam Blakeman’s shop to drop my bag off. Then it was onto the new meeting point outside Wigan & Leigh College for the traditional Harriers team photo, which brilliantly this year was underneath the Wigan 10k start line.

After the photo those familiar feelings of excitement and nerves before a race were there. Those feeling quickly faded away as I followed the sea of black and red shirts to invaded the start line. Looking around at all my fellow Harrier’s I felt proud to be part of such a great team, and I felt that it was good to be back and competing for the team once again.

Then it was time to put my game face on. I started to focus on what was hopefully going to be just under 50mins of gruelling but rewarding hard work and effort. The countdown began and there were a few shouts of encouragement from fellow team mates. Then the buzzer sounded and I was off.

As I was literally on the start line before the buzzer, I got carried away with the sea of people and went out fast and hard after about 5 minutes I felt I was going to fast and looked at my watch. Indeed I was going to fast and I started to slow myself down, as I didn’t want to blow up in the first mile.

Approaching the end of the first mile I felt I was definitely going too fast so I looked at my watch and the first mile split came up on the screen as 7 minutes 29 seconds. With that I put the brakes on. As I did a mix of fellow harriers and other competitors flew past me. This was hard to take, but I knew I was doing the right thing.

The next couple of miles was about finding my comfort zone which  I gladly did. As I approached the DW stadium a few fellow harriers that I felt were similar to me in speed and potential finishing times passed me.

With that Competitive Kev reared his ugly head and I tried to chase them down. Bad idea, clearly during the months I had been out injury these guys had trained very hard and improved themselves a lot. After about 3 minutes of punishing myself trying to keep them in my sights, I gave up and began to run my own race again, instead of someone else’s.

As I went through, and out of the stadium I felt like I had found my stride again. So decided to not push myself too much in mile 4 and 5, so to have something left for the end of the race. I don’t really remember much of the next two miles as I was so focussed on keeping my composure and trying not to blow up.

I eventually came to my senses as I ran up Woodhouse Lane. I then began to think about last years race and how difficult going through Mesnes Park was for me. I think I spent the rest of the approach to Mesnes Park saying to myself, Mesnes Park is coming up, Mesnes Park is coming up, Mesnes Park is here.. arghhh..

With that I put my head down and gritted my teeth to get myself through the park and on to that finishing straight. In the end going through Mesnes Park wasn’t as tough as I thought it was going to be.

However after Mesnes Park I felt like my heart, lungs and leg muscles where burning. As turned the corner I readied myself for the sprint finish, but felt like I had nothing left. In the distance I could see the clock and it read 48 minutes something.. I thought to myself, come on your on for a sub 50 minute 10k again.

With that I shut my brain off and just tried as hard as I could to raise my arms and legs and get through the sprint finish.. As I crossed the line the clock just hit 49 minutes dead. I literally took a couple of footsteps over the finish line and grabbed on to a metal fence on the righthand side as I tried to get the air back into my lungs.

As I got my breath back and walked up to get my goodie bag and medal I punched the air as I realised I had achieved a course PB, knocking 17 seconds off last years time.. later on in the day the chip time came through and confirmed I had actually finished the race 1 second under 49 minutes, in 48:59 giving me a sub 49 minute finishing time and an improvement of 18 seconds off last years time.

I was absolutely over the moon with what I had achieved, especially after the injury problems I had, had in the months leading up to the race. It was then time for the fun and best bit of the day… It was time to celebrate with my running family and that I did all day and all night..

 

 

Chris IRONMAN Green 2017

Ironman 2017 redemption

Finally the day has come! 3:30 am up and quick shower, more to wake my self up than anything, breakfast and as much coffee as I could get into my system before we had to leave. We got to the flash just after 4:30. I headed to my bike, put my food and water bottles on, a quick check and then back to meet Katie. Wetsuit on and ready met up with a few of the Invictus tri group I kept my self really quiet. This is where Katie left me and my nerves really began to kick in and also show. I walked to the back of the line for the swim not really listening to the music, more in my own little bubble. I decided that I wanted to get in the 1:50 mark so lined up there and chatted with a few people, then people were getting in the water and we were moving slowly forward. I was stopped before getting into the water so the pro’s could complete their first lap it took me about 20 mins to get into the water, I had learned from last year keep right its less crowded, a few stokes of breast stroke to get used to the water and calm my nerves but it wasn’t working. I swam slowly to the first buoy in breast stroke, I was in a mental battle and losing. I had a word with myself. I knew I had to do front crawl to get round so I stuck my head in the greeny brown water and started just taking it easy. I had Kellyanne’s voice in my head telling me off about my stroke and to use full strokes, I got into the breathing and my stroke and was soon near the top buoy, breast stroke round it easier to sight the next one then back into crawl towards the sailing club it breast stroke again at the turn then I could see the exit. This is the hardest part of the swim towards the car park fighting against the current remembering to kick more so legs work when get out the water. I got to the exit and I was dragged/ helped out, looked at my watch 51 mins, relief! I still had 1:30 ish to do the next lap, a quick jog round and back in heading out to the top buoy with the current taking me felt so much easier I was actually catching people. I had someone’s feet in front of me to just follow and I was actually enjoying myself. I was overtaking people all the way to getting out of the water. That was it, I knew in my own mind I had done it. I had massive shout from Katie and Cath, further along the exit Kellyanne was shouting and swearing at me, ‘piece of piss now Chris you’ve done it!’

Running into transition I took my time and made sure I had everything, still smiling I must have been the happiest man in there 138.2 miles to go and I knew I had done it, that may sound cocky but my worst bit was over and demons banished. There’s slight drizzle, ‘I won’t need the sun cream’, how wrong could I be.

Walking from transition to the mount line, making sure I was well past it before getting on the bike, more words of encouragement from Katie I and could see the relief on her face.

Nice and steady out of the park and onto the roads into higher gears, over taking lots of people all the way up to the loop my legs felt ok, nice and steady feeling comfortable tucking in and trying to get as much speed as possible down towards Lostock train station. I knew there was a diversion on the route but wasn’t expecting the hill as we turned right! I was in all the wrong gears but powered up it, no time to get out of the big ring onto Chorley New Road and up to Babylon lane. This little street from the lights all the way to the top of the hill near the pub is amazing, people shouting and cheering and hi 5’s it’s like on the tour de france from the pub. The first time over Sheephouse doing ok to that bastard tree that never gets any closer, me and a guy (Liam) were laughing and telling jokes all the way up it and getting funny looks as we passed struggling riders. Round the tree to the Sheephouse fancy dress party, flew down the back to Belmont round the corner up the hill in the big ring I knew I could carry the speed at the top of the hill and into the wind, I would beat Liam up the hills but he was better on the flat and so for the next lap and a half we played leap frog. It was great getting to just before Hunter Hill, that’s where I saw Pauline and a few others, I think it was Paul Brierton who shouted Greeny you can swim!

I was eating malt loaf and powerbars while on the bike and stopped for banana a couple of times but I think I should have taken on more fuel, I struggled on the second lap. The crowds were amazing again on Babylon Lane and Hunters and near the Rigby Arms with the Invictus triathlon club there. I caught Liam again after Pepper Lane on the second lap, the first lap I saw Mike Harris with the Harriers flag but I couldn’t carry it on my bike. I followed the course round the third time up Babylon Lane round towards the split, it was great to finally able to take the split towards T2, me and Liam were a steady distance overtaking each other and just laughing at each other as one would look as we overtook. I slowed right down as we came down the hill and managed to get off the bike before the dismount line he nearly threw himself over the bars trying to stop in time. We walked and racked the bikes.

Full on change for me into the club vest, SIS caffeine shot and a power bar and we were soon away. I was struggling the up the hill and the first two miles felt like I had a stitch, I just couldn’t shift it. Burping a few times helped but it wouldn’t go. Liam was shouting at me dragging me along. The first 3 miles were awful, we made it to the loop and all of a sudden I felt great. The first half of the loop just get your bearings, down to the timing mat at the bottom turn back on your self and head back into town. After the turn is where the Harriers were gathered and I had great cheers and support (you really don’t know how much it means when you’re struggling and being at it for about 10 hours to see friendly faces) head down the hill me and Liam chatting all the way he was starting to struggle. We were breaking it down. Get to mile 10 then half then to 15 then 18, small chunks to get through it, run it all walk the feed stations. Coming into Bolton center massive noise from Team Wane and the Morgan-Hillams back out of town big cheer from Coach Kellyanne.

Keep moving forward, salty snacks, flat coke, water, orange drinks as well as my gels shove it all down keep moving. First band on only 2 laps to go, past the A&T food station cheers from Em Owen and, ‘well done’, from one of the guys I saw at RNR liverpool you’ve done it this time he shouts. Lap 2 Katies there with the kids, a quick kiss for all of them and I’m an emotional wreck haha running trying not to cry, get it together, keep running slow and steady helping Liam shouting at him dragging him round we’ve done 130 miles nearly together only 10 more. We picked up second band back round to Katie I shout to her only 10k left. Keep going, stop and help Liam stretch, walk to the feed station and from there on up to the band stop. The magical red band! I’m sure it has power to it because I felt great when I got it. Last time past the feed station, hi 5 them all, thank them and all the volunteers are amazing, not just for giving me stuff but the encouragement they give. Head down the hill past the random house with music blasting, fittingly its Queen “Don’t stop me now”, 5k left we run through the feed station keep going round the corner near maccies, round towards the finish. Me and Liam stop and have a massive hug, he says, ‘go take your glory you dragged me round!’ I went first up the red carpet the announcer on the tannoy, ‘CHRIS GREEN YOU ARE AN IRONMAN.’ Finished. Relief, Liam comes and a hug again and into the tent, someone takes the tag from my leg and I get some food and a t shirt. Left the tent and walk out to Mark who’s been with Katie the whole time, to my family. Big hugs all round before off to Macron to get my stuff and home. The wife brought me cold cider in the car but I just couldn’t face it but demolished the maccies once we got home. When can I do it again?

 

 

West Lancashire Triathlon

Harriers don’t just run!…West Lancashire Triathlon by Darren Horrocks.

What can make a day that starts at 5am on a Sunday less terrible? Picking up a PB by 13 and a half minutes…

The morning started with an alarm that went off at 5am, which I ignored, and a second alarm that went off at 5:30am, which I could not ignore. Because of the “late” getting up, I forwent the bacon I prepared the night before.

By the time I had driven to Edge Hill Uni, the sun had come up and the car park was already getting busy, so I quickly unloaded my bike and walked it into transition while double checking my bag for the 9th time to make sure I had my running shoes, my cycling shoes, my goggles and my race number, they were all there. After dropping off my bike, I made my way round to the pool area and was suspiciously not nervous, when I was expecting to be terrified. It turns out, having a race plan settles race day nerves before they even start.

I’m a bad swimmer, and when I say bad you think “I’m a bad swimmer”, no, you are not, you can swim, you learned to swim in school and have done it on and off ever since. I always found an excuse to not swim at school, I never attempted to try then or at any time in the 31 years up to last year. I am also terrible at pacing, I can only go quickly, and burn out quickly because of it, so there was that to deal with too.

My Plan
For the swim, set off at the top of each minute. I can swim a 30 – 32 second length, but can do no more than 1 or 2 at once, so I decided to take the unneeded rest at the beginning to serve me when the rest gets/feels shorter later on.
For the bike, the whole plan for the bike was “the inclines are slight, the declines are slight, the rest is flat, so…. smash the bike as hard as you can, no holding back”.
For the run, I knew from last time, my legs would feel like I was a kangaroo for the first 1km or so, and I also knew that the last 1km is more or less downhill, then on the running track, so I decided to start quickly to stretch my legs from the bike, roll it back for the next 3km, then give the last 1km everything I had.

The Swim
For the most part, the plan worked. The event started late, so I ended up getting rushed into the water, started my watch and was told to go, first four lengths felt great, 30 seconds each, 30 second rest, which felt far too long, but, I had my plan, that extra rest was to compensate for later, the next 4 lengths started to slow down, as two more people got into the lane with me and I had to negotiate them as well as the swim. Once I got half way, I could feel the fatigue setting in, but knew I was half way done. The next 6 lengths, I don’t really remember, other than they were getting slower, and then suddenly, I spot the kickboard at the end of the 14th, the lane marshal telling me it was my last 2 lengths. That gave me boost I needed, all I could think was “there and back, that is it” and went all out for 2 lengths, weaving in and out of 3 other swimmers while doing so. Suddenly, I was out of the pool and running into T1.

T1
As I ran into T1, I knew I was home free. Threw myself down at the floor in front of my bike, yanked my compression socks on, and pulled my cycling shoes on, helmet on, number on, grabbed my bike and ran. There was no hanging around, I wasn’t losing my target time in transition this year. It was then I noticed that other than me, there wasn’t a single bike left in the first 20 numbers on the bike rack, which means everyone around me had a faster swim, but coming up, was where I knew I would pull it back. Ran out with the bike and got myself across the bike mount line, jumped on the bike, clipped in and shot off.

The Bike
Almost as soon as I set off, I had picked out who I was overtaking first, I could see 5 people ahead of me who I had seen leaving T1 as I was coming in, set my sights on all of them and they were the first to go, 4 of the 5 of them were before the first corner. After that, I had clear road in front of me, the next racer was way off in the distance in front of me, so I decided to get down, and power down the first “hill” to start the first proper lap. As I was going round, the legs were feeling good, even when I was on my way back up the “hills”, towards the end of the first lap, I glanced down at my watch for the first time, was averaging 3kph faster than I usually do, decided I was going to keep it, or beat it. Second and third lap were much the same, apart from a few other racers had joined the course behind me, so I had no idea if I was overtaking for position, or if I was overtaking racers I was not in a race with. Suddenly, the end of lap 3 turns up, and I make my way back to transition for T2 having felt like I had done quite well on the bike and started planning the run. I got myself to the dismount line, unclipped, jumped off and set off into T2.

T2
As I jumped off the bike, I thought to myself “no, not going to waste time, run, fast”, and I tried, forgetting I had just pushed the bike as hard as I could, my legs didn’t work. Walked for a few seconds, and then my legs came back, letting me run my bike back to my rack. There was something I should have noticed, but didn’t, which I will get to later. Once more, I threw myself to the ground, I threw off my bike shoes, put my running shoes on, and threw my helmet to the ground, and I was on my way out of T2.

The Run
My legs were like bricks, every step was agony, I was screaming at myself inside, I had overcooked it on the bike, but, I had a plan, I decided to try and stick to it, just gave what I had in me, no holding back. After I hit the 1km sign, I started rolling it back, I don’t know what I rolled it back to, but it was no more comfortable. Made my way around the university campus until I got to the running trail at the back of the university grounds, then suddenly a marshal said to me “well done, you are my first customer of the day”… I couldn’t believe it, I was in 1st position (yes, I started 12th, and its time based not past-the-post based). Gave me a bit of a boost, which let me find something that I’m still sure now, was not there.

Dragged myself kicking and screaming (on the inside) to the 4km sign, where I could see the finish line to my right, I could see the trail track in front of me, and the running track after that. Picked up the pace, and kept going with everything, then got overtook, was no longer first on the road, and even though knew I was never in contention for a win, my time was never going to win, and being first on the road means absolutely nothing, it felt like I had been kicked in the nuts. However, I hit the running track and knew I had 400m left, so gave it everything I had, and everything I didn’t have, I could not breath, I couldn’t see, I was just moving as hard as I could.
The finish was glorious, threw myself through the finish line and quickly stopped my watch, which looked suspiciously like I had beaten my 1hr 30 target, but I couldn’t tell.

Later
An agonising number of hours later, with me thinking I had hit 1hr 29, I get an email confirming I hit 1hr 28. Not only did I beat my target by 2 minutes, I beat my previous time on the same course by over 13 minutes.
Official Time: 1:28:15

Overall, it was an enjoyable morning, and given that I’m not in a position to race for a win, I look to learn something from each race and this race taught me the lesson that a race plan works.

 

UGB 2017 200 miles

Editor’s notes…anyone reading this please bear in mind it is not mandatory to run 200 mile races to be a member of Wigan Harriers, please don’t let this put you off joining us! 😀

This years Ultra Great Britain took place on Saturday 19th August starting at 6am on Southport Promenade and after spending what seemed like a lifetime beforehand packing, re-packing, checking and re-checking my kit and dropbags, I was ready to line up with 75 other runners and set off on my way to Hull.

We had registered the previous evening to collect our race numbers and as is tradition with GB Ultras events, I was given my original UGB number 15 and this years new t-shirt before having our pre-race photos taken by Mick Hall’s team (all photos are pre-paid and free at this companies events).

This year’s registration was held in the Southport Theatre and Convention Centre and included guest presentations by Lim Nghee Huat (64 year old ultramarathon runner from Singapore who’s raised over $350,000 in the last 2 years), Brendan Rendall (ultra runner who ran the full length of Malawi to raise funds to build a school there), Neil Rutherford (UGB 2016 winner and experienced ultrarunner) and Tony Brammer (UK organiser of the 4deserts ultramarathon series which take place in the Sahara Desert, Atacama Desert, Gobi Desert and Antarctica).

Heading home after registration and having a late bite to eat, it was time to get as much sleep as possible before the 03:30 alarm to set off back to Southport again. As expected, sleep wasn’t great with everything running through my head ranging from how the race would progress, had I packed enough changes of clothes, would the weather be as bad as last year, how bad would my body be destroyed this time and would my hallucinations be as good as last year!

Arriving at Southport at 5am, I stood with Laura who’d kindly got up at 3:30 to bring me to the startline on a very windy Southport promenade. As I met some of my running friends from previous races and we talked about what was about to happen, I felt some arms around me. It was Mark Morgan-Hillam in his coat and bobble hat – he’d driven all the way from home to start to say hello and see everyone set off from the start. We were then issued with our race trackers which would be broadcasting our position live throughout the duration of the race. That was done quite efficiently and after the race briefing and official start line photos, the countdown began.

As the race horn sounded, the pack headed south down towards Liverpool directly into a strong headwind. While it was a dry start, this really affected the running and it was clear we were going to be looking at the prospect of playing ‘beat the hurricane’ during the race as the remnants of Hurricane Gert were due to hit the UK over the remainder of the weekend.

Checkpoint 1 was reached at 3.5 miles to quickly check things and top up on water and after a brief adjustment of my rucksack I was off again, now accompanied by other runners. Rachel Grant who I’d previously met at Hardcastle 24 in 2016 asked if she could stay with me and follow my plan for as long as possible. Happy to help out and support we headed onto the trail towards Liverpool meant the wind was now no longer directly in our faces and was a nice side/tailwind and whilst it was very cloudy, the rain had stayed in the distance.

To motivate us a little more, I put my mp3 player on and we were soon singing Christmas songs mixed with TV theme tunes, a bit of Ed Sheeran and even a remix of Whigfield and Kylie – anything that would be a distraction from what we were actually doing.
The rain (and very heavy it was too) finally hit around mile 17 but we were under the shelter of trees along ‘The Ralla’ near Aintree at this point so, with a tactical slowdown to a jog, we remained under the trees until it passed and thankfully missed it. By this point, we had passed checkpoint 2 manned by Tracey Dutton and Kerry Walmsley and taken on a couple of jaffa cakes, banana and fluid before cracking on again. A quick check of my race plan showed that everything was on track so far.

Having been dropped off in Southport by Laura earlier that morning, she had then gone home to get some sleep before heading out again to pick her friend up from Liverpool Airport and about 09:20, I got a message saying she was trying to follow my ‘blob’ on the tracker and come and find me. Luckily at this point, I’d reached Sainsbury’s in Broadgreen so a quick diversion inside for a toilet break meant that when we came out, Laura had finally found us. It was nice to see a friendly couple of faces for real as well as the mass support online via facebook and messages I’d had during the morning already.

With lessons learned from last years race, I checked my feet at this point and decided they needed to be cooled down. Sitting on the floor in a supermarket carpark in deepest Liverpool with two bags of talc didn’t look suspicious at all but as I dipped my feet into each bag, the cooling sensation I felt was just what was needed after 21 miles.

Having said our goodbyes, we carried on down towards the next checkpoint at Halewood and spending a short amount of time there, ran on to Checkpoint 4 at Hale Village Hall. Here, the checkpoint was filled with a huge range of treats supplied by Jemma Coleman who’d even labelled up special bags for individual runners. Eamonn Brady made me a coffee and I talced up again while eating some Kola Kubes. Ahead of schedule, we left the checkpoint and trekked on down to the next checkpoint at Spike Island in Widnes, just after the Runcorn Widnes bridge. This part of the course remained almost pancake flat with the exception of a set of steps which led to alongside some sort of chemical factory and as we slowed to a jog up the steep steps, it gave us chance to savour some wild blackberries growing alongside – such a nice taste to hit the mouth after 30 or so miles!

With us just about to leave Spike Island, fellow club runners June White and Lisa Heyes appeared with some home made flapjacks and a flask of coffee. A quick drink and wth a couple of pieces of flapjack stowed safely in my rucksack and we were off down the St Helens canal which runs alongside Fiddlers Ferry. Anyone who’s ever run this section knows how monotonous this can be with a heavily clogged-up canal of weeds on one side and a never ending flaky gas pipe on the other – hardly something to stimulate the mind!
Lisa and June turned back after 5 miles and from this point on, progressing through the next 3 checkpoints was relatively uneventful – regular pauses to check feet and apply talc, take on little bites of food at checkpoints and spending no more than 10 minutes at each one before setting off again.

As we approached Checkpoint 8, Rachel was starting to feel the effects of foot pain and blisters but with the encouragement of the prospect of hot pasta ahead (the first hot meal since the night before), we pushed on along the banks of the River Mersey and reached Didsbury around 9:30 pm.

Ian Stewart and Kevin Rex were waiting for us here and as I changed my footwear to trail shoes, talced my feet, changed t-shirt and wolfed down some food and TrueStart coffee, Rachel realised that her feet had taken a battering and started to apply tape and compeed. Surprisingly my feet at this point were in amazing condition to last year with only one small blister which I’d dealt with earlier in the day.

Accompanied by Kevin and Ian, we set off in darkness with the prospect of 18 miles of trail and hill climbing to reach the next checkpoint at mile 81 in Broadbottom. My plan was to arrive there at around 0330 on Sunday morning but as we climbed steadily through Stockport and Reddish Vale, it was clear that a combination of fatigue, pain, Rachel’s injuries and the battle to convince our heads we needed to stay awake instead of sleep meant the game plan got scrapped. Rachel was struggling and I changed my aim to get her to her furthest ever distance run and convince her that this point was not the point to be DNF’ing. I knew it would mean that my finishing position and time wasn’t going to be what I had aspired to but knowing that I felt in good condition still, had no injuries and knew what was coming ahead, decided that helping getting someone else to the finish and achieve.

Super-support crew Laura turned up at Stockport just by the pyramid having earlier been to a concert with her friend and surprised us by parking up by a billboard next to a disused pub (the same pub where last year in torrential rain, Kev had almost got beaten up by just asking to use the toilet – a scouser in Manchester isn’t a great combination at 1am in the morning!). A brief top-up of water and a short motivational chat and we were off again.

By the final couple of miles approaching the checkpoint, it was a battle to keep spirits up and Rachel was determined to pull out at mile 81. She’d gone further than she’d ever done before but the pain she was in was getting worse. Having worked out a new plan in my head, I convinced her to tape and treat her feet up at the checkpoint, get some food, try and sleep for an hour or so and then decide how she felt.

Ian and Kevin were the same absolute stars as last year and thankfully there were no 3am meltdowns from me this year through not being able to see the road in front of me in heavy rain but these were instead replaced by literally falling asleep running on regular occasions. On one occasion, I woke up on the other side of a two-lane road near a barbed wire fence. Kev was oblivious to this as his head was buried deep in his phone (either updating facebook or tracking other runners blobs!)

After Ian and Kevin had headed home, a couple of pieces of toast were downed along with a sweet tea and sleep was attempted. It’s not the greatest quality sleep either lying on two plastic school chairs or on a gym mat but it was a power nap regardless. At around 7 am, Rachel was feeling a little more positive and we decided to head out and set ourselves a short target of 22 miles and aim to reach Penistone (mile 103) by a target of 4pm before having a proper rest.

Sunday was a hot day compared to the previous day and even by early morning, the heat and humidity had sapped our recently re-stocked energy levels. As we reached the top of the Pennines at Woodhead Pass, we took advantage of the fully closed road to once again check our feet, apply talc and let them cool down. What wasn’t expected was the ‘falling asleep on a rock’ part of this routine – I had just closed my eyes while letting my feet cool down and woke as another couple of runners came and joined us.

Two had now become 4, and we took on some water before heading down through Dunford Bridge and along the tarmac trail into Penistone. At this point, all my energy had gone and it was a case of staying awake between each 1km positioned bench before stopping, regrouping and moving on again. About 3 miles away from the checkpoint, Rachel needed an impromptu toilet stop and as she went to find a bush, I sat on a piece of concrete on a bridge. This became the most comfiest piece of concrete so far and I once again fell asleep – sat upright!

Rachel returned after an unsuccessful expedition and woke me. We trudged along now with the sun beating down and our bodies feeling like that point when you’re driving in your car playing petrol roulette – with your petrol light having been on forever, wondering at which point you’re going to stall. Looking ahead there were some small fat, long-necked birds which in my dubious mental state looked very much like Velociraptors! As we got closer and they moved out the way it was clear that we hadn’t been transported into Yorkshire’s version of Jurassic Park but these were in fact grouse or partridges (or something similar).

Shortly after our prehistoric vision, June White appeared with her dog Barney and stayed with us on our final stretch to the checkpoint. Supported (literally) arm in arm, we got closer until the point when I thought I was having yet another hallucination. Thankfully, it really was Darren Finnegan coming towards me and not some sort of crazy daytime nightmare! Seeing Darren overloaded the emotions and after pulling myself together I told him that I had enough. I’d got Rachel to 103 miles, I’d done the race last year and had nothing to prove and had literally nothing left. Darren reasoned with me and the fact that the strong headwind would have sapped my resources early on in the race and I wasn’t to let the chimp beat me down! After having to withdraw from the race at mile 26 due to injuries sustained at Lakeland 50 a couple of weeks earlier, it was such a nice gesture for Darren to drive out and come and support the other runners and he was a welcome face to many of us.

Darren changed my mindset and with only a mile to go, I had turned my head around and agreed with his suggestion to get some proper rest and set off to cover miles 103-143 early next morning. Before I could get that opportunity, I saw a runner coming towards me in the distance at full pelt. Thinking ‘this person must be out for a nice Sunday run’ I started to move to the side but then realised as my eyes focussed once again that it was Laura who’d also driven out to Penistone to surprise me. What a surprise and a huge motivation that was as I got the biggest hug and almost collapsed on the floor. She helped me up the steps (yes steps at mile 103 – what cruel Race Director makes you climb steps to a checkpoint!) into the village hall and I sat down. Darren tended to my feet (brave man) as Jemma brought me coffee and a couple of slices of pizza. A further surprise then followed – not only had Laura come out to surprise us, but she had her car loaded up and out came a huge cool box containing homemade ham & cheese sandwiches, pork pies, red velvet cake, galaxy caramel cake, fresh pineapple, minstrels, dinky deckers and water. This was a sight for some very sore, tired and foggy eyes!

After having sorted out my feet and refuelled, my mind was coming to its senses and I moved into a side-room to climb into my sleeping bag. It was now about 6pm and I said goodbye to Laura and Darren and we had decided our plan of action was to wake at 0300 and set off again at 0400. Sadly, my timing for resting meant that I just missed Paul Carter and Michelle Jones who’d also driven out to meet us at Penistone checkpoint.

Sleep wasn’t great. Too much noise from the main room combined with pain all over my body and sleeping once again on a gym mat meant I wasn’t as fully refreshed when Jemma came in and turned on the light. Coffee, cheese and tomato as a breakfast soon changed that and after a quick wash and brush of the teeth, change of clothes and armed with a pair of walking poles, I was ready for the off.

Rachel and I set off having said goodbyes to the amazing checkpoint team with our first checkpoint 26.5 miles away, one of the longest stints without a break on the whole route. We covered the first 4 miles pretty quickly but as dawn was breaking, so was Rachel’s achilles (or so she thought) and the intense pain meant frequent stops were necessary. Doncaster loomed and it was looking like 129 miles was her limit but we pressed on. Spurred on by facetime conversations with Laura and random discussions about snails kept the distractions away from the current problems. We were joined along this section by Paul Edwards who had set off after us that morning and despite getting lost a couple of times, caught us and joined us through the woodlands alongside the River Don. As we sat on a bench to treat the feet and let them cool down once again, we saw an otter in the river (funny how the littlest things stick in your head).

At the checkpoint in Bentley, although I was feeling sore, I still had only the one blister thankfully which hadn’t got any worse and was being held at bay by the Compeed. Others who were lay on the floor as we arrived weren’t in as good a state and the floor resembled an army field hospital with bodies strewn everywhere with various foot / leg injuries. As one runner was having his blisters drained by one of the checkpoint volunteers, I got access to my roller and started vigorously rolling out my aching quads – this seemed to work after about 30 mins and injected a new lease of life into them.

Feeling like Tigger but not smelling as fresh, it was time to head out. Jemma the checkpoint heroine had arrived here once again laden with Subway for me, Rachel and Paul who had joined us. With that to fuel us, it was onwards to mile 143 and the prospect of finally seeing Mark and Leanne Morgan-Hillam at Sykehouse (or Psycho House as it had been affectionately named last year). As we moved, our tracker had obviously notified Mark as he called me to let me know Keith West had just arrived there and they were bringing him down in the car so he could run the best part of the 13 or so miles.

About 3 miles in, we were nearly run off the road by Mark as we ran over a railway bridge but it was such a nice sight to see their happy faces and the fresh-legged Keith step out of the back seat. After a quick selfie, we were off and we made our way over railways and through the quaint villages to Sykehouse. Along this point disaster struck – my garmin watch battery had died and had not been recording my progress. Armed with numerous powerbanks for the duration of the course, I quickly plugged one into my watch and worked out that I’d only lost about 0.5 miles of the course. Not wanting to miss out any of the route on Strava and for it not to count, I did what any sane person would do 139 miles into an event – I ran back to the point of data loss and ran back again to catch up our newly increased merry (?) crew.

As darkness started to fall, it was time to endure one of the worst parts of the route – 4 miles of canal leading to Sykehouse. No cottages, no roads, no life, just canal. Oh and a few cows looking weirdly at us form the other side of the water – and a heron flying along (or maybe it was a pterodactyl?) What makes this canal so bad are the sprayed on number markers on the ground every 5 metres. They go on forever and ever, and ever.

Mood was low, the light was lower and it was now starting to drizzle. Every step was painful and as it approached 9:30pm, the checkpoint seemed like forever away. Thankfully it wasn’t and as we once again were greeted by the cowbell ringing Jemma, we stepped through the doors of Sykehouse Village Hall to be greeted with open arms and huge smiles from Mark and Leanne.

Hot food was served this time in the form of ravioli on toast with cheese and a cup of tea. Socks off once again and a check of the feet revealed no new blisters or injuries, just bruised feet from what was now 143 miles and 63 hours of being on them. Rachel however was a different story and her blisters had swelled, were bleeding and her feet were shot – her race was unfortunately over. She was distraught but it was the right decision as her injuries were too bad. Paul wasn’t in too great a shape either and with taped up toes and a strapped up knee, his progress was limited too. Nevertheless, he wanted to continue and was determined to finish and asked if I would stay with him as he had no depth perception due to reduced vision in one eye. I of course agreed and we made a plan to finish the race whatever it took – as Paul said ‘three eyes were better than one’ and on that note, we agreed to grab some sleep and set off at 3am.

Blearly eyed, I was woken by Mark at 3am and got changed again before making my way into the main part of the village hall. Paul was all ready to go and after loading up with water, saying goodbye to Rachel, I finally saw Julie Valentine for the first time since the start. She was continuing but setting off shortly after us so after a bit of a chat and a Harriers photo, I left with Paul to continue to the next checkpoint which was 27 miles away in Broadfleet.

It must have been raining very heavy overnight while we slept as there were huge puddles on the roads and as we dodged them and progressed through Snaith, I realised that we must have dodged the predicted back end of the hurricane. Another humid dawn turned into yet another hot day and after a brief stop at McDonalds after 13 miles in Goole for a coffee and another rollering session, we set off towards the River Humber. Conditions had been dry underfoot up to that point and at mile 165 I was STILL wearing the same socks that I had been wearing since the start – they had performed amazingly.

The long wet grass on the riverbanks soon changed that and my trainers were soaked through which meant that my socks and feet got wet too, bringing on the first of what would be 4 awkward blisters on my toes. A dip into my bag of talc and a change of socks minimised the damage and we were soon off the grass and back onto the road again, heading into the next checkpoint at mile 170. One of the Race Directors along with Jemma Coleman had run out a couple of miles to meet me and Paul and join us for the final stretch so we ran in with them in the now beating heat.

With just 30 miles remaining, our heads were in a good place now knowing the end was in sight even if our bodies weren’t feeling as strong. Paul’s feet were painful and he went to sleep on the floor with his legs raised at 90 degrees to reduce the blood flow to his feet. In the meantime, Jemma treated my feet with tape to try and prevent my toes from ripping open.

It was now about 4pm and our plan to reach Hornsea in time for last orders was looking in doubt! Just as we were leaving, Keith West appeared once again – he was on his way home from Hull and had checked the tracker to see where we were and so called in to see how we were. After a brief hello / goodbye we headed back along the riverbank to Brough and were on the lookout for the final checkpoint – the Humber Bridge.

The infamous Adam Gallimore was host to this checkpoint and greeted us in his unique style as we entered the checkpoint at about 6:30pm. One of my friends from East Hull Harriers had rung me earlier to wish me well and came out to meet us at the checkpoint. She was armed not only with Cadburys chocolate fingers, energy drinks and haribos but had been to McDonalds and turned up with a ¼ pounder meal and coffee for me and Paul – such a nice and well timed gesture. (It seems evening picnics under the Humber Bridge have become a regular thing after last years Dominos with Mark & Leanne!)

Fully fuelled up and with feet retaped, we set off towards Hull. Fear had descended on us as we’d be running (now very slowly and in a lot of pain) through the dockside area dressed inconspicuously with headtorch, watch, phone and backpack. Not a high-risk target at all! Fortunately, we made it through the delights of Spyvee Street and picked up the Trans Pennine Trail once again and headed in the pitch darkness to Hornsea.

Only 16 miles remained now and with only fields either side and trees surrounding the trail, this had the effect of making the trail look like we were constantly in a tunnel and that the ground was on a constant incline – even though it was flat. Our heads, body and hearts were mashed now but we were determined to finish.

5 miles remained and we saw a headlight coming towards us – we initially thought we were hallucinating but as the headlight got closer, I realised it was once again Laura who had driven the 130 miles to the finish line and then had run out to meet us to help get us to the end. She had come laden with sandwiches, water and protein bars and after an impromptu picnic at the side of the road (and both me and Paul falling asleep on the road for about 3 minutes), we were now re-focussed on getting to the end.

With the end in sight, I shook Paul’s hand and let him take the finish line first, his full-size Welsh flag held high above his shoulders as I held back a couple of hundred metres while he had his photos taken and received his medal.

It was then my turn to finish and I crossed the line at 03:38 on Wednesday morning – almost 94 hours after starting the race. Time and finishing position wasn’t important to me this time after last years achievement of finishing 4th, I’d achieved my aim of helping Paul realise his achievement of completing the race, battered, bruised and unable to do anything more than hobble but at least we did it.

Not the race in terms of time or position that I wanted but sometimes, it’s about sacrificing your own personal goals and supporting others. To me, I achieved more satisfaction this year in helping Rachel achieve her first ever 100 mile and 200km distance and Paul complete the race which he said he wouldn’t have been able to do otherwise.

Recovery has been slower than last year, probably due to the increased bruising and pounding on the body but on reflection I loved the race. The organisation and support from the GB Ultras Race Directors is second to none and you’re made to feel that your race is personal and not just a race number or chip. The checkpoint volunteers were fantastic and were outstanding in the help the provided to every runner whether they were the first through or the final finisher.

Ian has been raising money for UK Sepsis Trust.

Next year the UGB race moves to Scotland and as well as the distance extending to 214 miles, the ascent increases from 6600ft to over 21000ft with only 8 checkpoints along the distance.

Will I be there? Of course I will!

Final Editor note: Big congratulations to Ian for completing this epic event again and to first timer Julie Valentine. You should both be very proud.