October Double Header

I’ve done a fair bit of running over the years it’s safe to say, and I know you’re probably sick of me droning on about it. It’s probably been over ten years now since those first tentative steps along the banks of the River Mersey in a crap £20 pair of lurid orange running shoes from TK Maxx. And then look what happened. Loads of running. Loads of races. Loads of medals.

But with all that in mind, one thing I’ve never done before as best I can recall, is (if you discount the weekly free parkruns) two events in the same month. I’m not sure why it’s never happened before, I mean apart from the bits where I want to kill myself, and the bits before the start where I constantly feel like I’m going to crap my pants, I generally love taking part in a big old running race. And yet I only ever seem to actually enter the odd one here or there, sometimes only a couple a year such as the pair of 10ks back in 2015. Even throughout our epic 1000 Miles for MNDA journey last year it was at most one a month. Never more.

October 2017 was the month where it finally happened, although in both cases they were very much familiar faces on the running calendar. The first Sunday of the month would be the annual jaunt round Standalone and then two weeks later a return to the Manchester Half Marathon, twelve months on from a surprisingly good result in the inaugural race where I somehow ran my second fastest half marathon with hardly any training in the legs.

It was a right funny old couple of months leading up to these two though. A horrendously busy period of work coupled with a frankly ridiculous run of bad luck, which I plan on covering in a future blog post, meant that just getting out and going for a good old run every so often was just what the doctor ordered to take my mind off things. With no target for either race in mind, the training came naturally despite the crap autumn weather we had and in both cases I went into raceday feeling pretty well prepared and ready to roll.

The races themselves weren’t without their share of bad luck as well, which I’ll get to in a bit, although to be honest with Standalone it’s actually a bit of a recurring theme with almost every year having some sort of issue for at least one of us. 2008, my first, featured some of the worst weather I have ever raced in, with pissing rain and autumnal gales blowing it into my face at 90 degree angles. It still remains my slowest ever 10k. 2009 sold out before I could get an entry in, 2010 my Dad got injured and we subsequently both pulled out. 2011 was a gap year as it clashed with my first ever marathon but normal service was resumed in 2012 with a bout of man flu in the run up to raceday and subsequently no training, leading to my second slowest ever 10k. 2013 my Dad was ill, 2014 my sister got a bout of vertigo. The bloody race is cursed, I tells ya.

This year kept nicely with the theme as I decided to get a massive cold in the week leading up to it and my sister twinged her back. Worst of all though, my poor old man had long since had to drop out after knackering himself up a couple of months beforehand by trying to be a bladdy hero helping some old geezer up off the floor who’d keeled over. The bloke ended up OK, my Dad less so. After putting in some of the hardest block of training he’d done for anything, I could tell how gutted he was to have to pull out but he’ll be back soon and hopefully better than ever.

There was at least one positive story in there though as my wife once again joined me out on the streets, hot on the heels of her successful day out the month before at the Salford 10k. She was the only one of us not carrying some sort of ailment going into this one and duly responded by setting her third PB in a row, and once again one of my favourite memories of the day was seeing her little smiley face steaming in with a big finish. She now has her very first coloured Standalone finishers’ T-shirt; a proud day. My sister put in a solid effort too despite the niggle in her back, which was good as she like me is now looking ahead to bigger things and the London Marathon in April 2018 (eeeek).

From my own point of view, I had very much a run of two halves as I opened pretty well and was on for the magic sub-40, only for some reason to absolutely melt just before half distance and lose a whole heap of time, eventually staggering over the line twelve bloody seconds outside it. It wasn’t quite as near a miss as the 40:03 I ran in 2015 but it was still a bit annoying, although considering how difficult the second half of the race had been I was surprised I actually ran it that close. We all agreed afterwards that it had been a hard day’s work for some reason, which made it even more remarkable that Jenn had got that PB (and on a much hillier course than Salford the month before to boot). Still, it’s another one off the list and for the first time ever at Standalone, a cute little medal at the end to mark the 30th running of this lovely little race. We’ll probably all be back next year, hopefully with the old man in tow.

So if all that eventually more or less went to plan in the end, the Manchester Half Marathon a fortnight later was rather less successful. My second half of the year and my fourth in a little over twelve months (after only running three in the four years before that), you think I’d be used to it all by now. However, for some reason I decided to get a bout of Big Anxiety on the morning of the race and after multiple visits to the loo before setting off, the fear I often have about missing the start of a race was very nearly realised as the car decided now was the day it wasn’t going to start.

Usually I’m a bit obsessive about how early I set off to get to a race, especially after the 2013 Liverpool half where I ended up dead last after getting the timings badly wrong. Here though I casually strolled out of my house 45 minutes before the race was due to start five miles away, turned the key in the ignition and…nothing. Nada. Fuck all. The silver arrow had finally died. And suddenly, I had a race against time on my hands to make it over to Old Trafford in time for the 9am start.

It all went a bit tits up from there but I’m delighted to say I did eventually make it, although not without having to leg it a mile up to the tram and consequently yawning my breakfast up all over the side of the A34, missing a tram by literally seconds and having to wait ten minutes for the next one, then having to then run another half mile at the other end to drop my bag off or face carrying it on the run down to Sale and back, and then finally, after one final visit to the loos, rush up to the startline and getting there with two minutes to spare. Not the best pre-race preparation I’ve ever had I have to say.

Thankfully the race itself was all good, in fact it was a bit of a cracker in all fairness. I found it hard work at times, especially miles 8-11 as the heat and the pre-race disaster (and net loss of my breakfast intake) began to kick in, but I really do love this race and already have my entry in for next year. I did a couple of fast miles early on, started to feel a bit crap, realised it wasn’t to be my day and then just tried to enjoy myself from then on in. The weather was glorious (if a little warm) and it really was just a beautiful autumnal Sunday run, basking in the sun and waving at the crowds and the music stops on the route. A big enthusiastic cheer from the MNDA cheer point at miles 3 and again on the way back up at mile 12, swelled by a few extra numbers by the time I ran past the second time around. And then as with last year, a cracking medal at the finish, a couple of pints of (alcohol free) Erdinger and a properly decent T shirt which I’ve already worn out and about a few times on my local runs. A grand day out.

I was also pretty moved by a couple of the stories of the day I came across on the day, and emphasised just how much I love running sometimes. I’m sure there were many, many other heroic tales out on the course, but the two that caught my eye were genuinely unbelievable. One involved Patrick Barden, a 24 year old with cerebral palsy, who completed the race over three days starting on the Friday. I saw the lad a couple of times out on the course, including in the final 400m as he finished shortly after me, and he was getting an incredible reaction from all the spectators and runners as he went round. Bloody well done, Patrick. His sponsorship page is here, should you feel obliged.

With the other story I won’t publicise the names or anything as the two runners are members of a private Facebook group for people like me who enter races for #TeamMND, running to raise funds and awareness in the fight against Motor Neurone Disease, and it’s not my place to “out” them, as it were. However, it involved a couple running their first half marathons ever and with the chap having sadly been diagnosed with MND. The video of them crossing the line genuinely moved me to tears and as with Patrick above, I have no idea how he did it but it just goes to show what can be achieved if you’re determined enough. As we say in the group, there’s no finish line until there’s a cure. You can donate to the MNDA here.

As soon as I crossed that line outside Old Trafford cricket ground, my racing for 2017 was over. A grand old year where I finally achieved my ambition to run the London Marathon, then entered new territory by going into running races with my better half in tow and being able to cheer her on. 2017 was a completely unique year in changing how I approached my running: no more time targets, no more pressure. Heading out and hitting the training miles as a form of catharsis. Looking forward to a training run rather than dreading it. Enjoying myself. Savouring the journey, rather than clamouring to get to the destination. And I’m all the better for it. A decade on, I’m still learning about myself as a runner. And now we roll onto 2018 and the next stage of the journey.

See you all there.

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