Less than half

After last month’s little diversion into the world of cycling, or more specifically, the sad story of my total withdrawal from it all, it’s back onto more familiar ground this month with my first running update of 2018. We’re now well over three months into the new year and although spring is only just starting to fully show itself I’ve already got a race in the bag (well, almost – more on that in a bit) and I’m staring down the barrel of the second. One down, one to go. A half, then a full. Liverpool, then London.

That’s right – London, baby. Again. Like big red buses, you wait your whole life for one London Marathon to come along and suddenly look here’s two in a row! But we’ll get onto all that in due course, first of all let’s wrap up the last few months of running, including that nearly-half-marathon just over three weeks ago.

The new year started off considerably better than twelve months previously where I didn’t even go for my first run of any description until the 24th of January. This time around I came into it on the back of a fairly decent base of running, including getting my Christmas Day run in again, and generally felt positive as I began to build the long run up ahead of London. First 10 miles, then 12, 13 then 15. Onwards and upwards. I was well ahead of where I was at the same stage in 2017 and I got round OK that year. Things were ticking over nicely and everything was looking rosy.

It wouldn’t quite continue in that vein though. To say it’s been a winter of ups and downs is a bit of an understatement, with a few bouts of injury and illness getting in the way of things, including a couple of minor calf and ankle injuries and worst of all a terrible episode half a mile into my first 16-miler where all my breakfast ended up all over a nice bit of path just down the road from my flat, leaving me in despair trotting home, the long run aborted. The insane weather also played its part, with the first 20-miler taking place in snow halfway up my shin at certain points on the route and various other runs curtailed or re-arranged as various sizes of eastern beast slapped the UK over and over again. Thankfully at least I didn’t end up having to spend two hours on a fucking treadmill at any point like back in 2016 but it’s safe to say it’s still been a bit of a challenge fitting the runs around -15°C wind chill and frequent bursts of mental snowfall.

With the Liverpool Half Marathon happily falling on one of the “easy” weekends in between the pair of Sunday 20-milers, I’d already decided that it was a good opportunity to get a bit of race practice in four weeks out from the big one, and it just so happened to be one of my favourite races too, the scene of one of my greatest ever triumphs back in 2013. A new ten mile race on the same day gave my wife the opportunity to join me on the start line again as she entered her first ever race over 10k, and it was a nice race to choose to do together as we both have such fond memories of Liverpool after meeting there in 2005 and then marrying each other 200 yards from the same spot in December 2016. The race starts and finishes just across the road from our evening venue, right on the Pier Head in front of the mighty Liver building. A spot we gazed down on from above from a roof terrace while smashing tequila with all of our nearest and dearest; it would be a very different set of circumstances this time around.

The 9am start meant an early rise to drive over and get parked before KO but thankfully – although chilly – it was a glorious morning over on Merseyside, bright, clear and crisp. The brisk westerly breeze filled us with a li’l bit of fear about the long stretch home along the promenade, unlike 2013’s welcome tailwind, but nevertheless after weeks of grey miserable shit it was brilliantly refreshing to see a resplendent blue sky showing Liverpool off in her best light. Also unlike 2013 I was there before the race actually started which was a bonus and so after a quick good luck to each other we took our places a few yards apart in the starting pens and then without further ado we were off. Me and my wife running a race together again, this time through the streets of the very city where we married.

Not literally together, mind. We started and would finish in the same place as each other but we wouldn’t be on exactly the same journey as I’d be doing a little extra loop of the beautiful springtime Sefton Park to get an extra 3.1 miles in. Before long, after the horrible early hill on Upper Parliament Street (a long-time nemesis of mine), we headed down Princes Avenue, through the park of the same name and then there was the fork as the ten-milers went right down Aigburth Drive and we half marathoners went off in the other direction to look at all the daffodils in the park.

When the races came back together not long after I was thrilled to spot Jenn up the road ahead and we had a quick chat as we passed each other. As always, she had a big grin on her little face despite being halfway through the longest race of her life and I loved seeing her out on the course at the same time as me, the first time it had actually happened in the handful of races we had done together. It was a nice moment.

Unfortunately it wasn’t all good news as it was around this time that I’d noticed something wasn’t quite right with the mile markers. I know you can’t ever rely 100% on your GPS but every time I went through one my Garmin had me around 0.2 of a mile behind what it should have been. Had the trees in Sefton Park thrown the GPS signal out of whack or something? I couldn’t work it out but each and every one was the same distance short. I’d somehow managed to lose about 400 yards somewhere and I couldn’t understand how.

We threaded down through Otterspool and onto the riverfront and it was time for the big long slog to bring it all home. Four miles into a chilly headwind, it wasn’t easy and I was beginning to struggle a bit. I tried to pick out landmarks in the distance to help me out a bit but they didn’t seem to be getting any closer as we all plodded along the promenade but gradually we got there, only for the last bit on the cobbles round the docks to nearly finish the old ankles off completely. I’d totally forgotten about those lads, an unpleasant little surprise right when you needed it the least.

We rounded the Museum of Liverpool and back in front of the Three Graces. Nearly home. My splits had, for the most part, been quite a bit over the 6:53 I needed to hit a sub 1:30, my usual half marathon target, but with this really only being a warm up for London the time hadn’t been important to me so I was surprised to come into the final few yards with the clock on the finish still sitting on 1:29. I subsequently lost my head a bit and started celebrating round the final corner and I was delighted as the crowd responded with a big roar just as the chap on the tannoy shouted my name out. It’s the little things like that sometimes that make you feel like a bit of a hero and I absolutely loved it. I staggered to a halt just over the finish line and looked at my watch. 1:29:35. Job done, somehow.

No matter how it happened, I didn’t have much time to ponder as Jenn would be finishing her race shortly after and I wanted to get back down the course and cheer her home. I grabbed my medal and finishers’ T shirt and a clean, dry hoody on this chilly morning and strolled a few hundred yards back towards the Albert Docks and then within barely a few minutes there she was, smiley as ever, gliding over the cobbles. She had absolutely rinsed her first ever ten miler, well inside her two hour target, another cracking day at the office. I was so proud.

The only niggle we both had centred on the actual race distance. I’d clocked the half at 12.8 miles and even taking into account GPS wobbles that was quite a way out, which explained why I’d unexpectedly run a sub 1:30 as well when my pace never really suggested it was on. It was a bit of a shame really; I’ve run loads of BTR Liverpool races in the past, all brilliantly organised. I’d even run this exact race before and it had been fine. Surely they hadn’t made a schoolboy error on the distance with this one? I’d been victim of a short race in the past and it would be a pity if it happened here as well at the other end of the East Lancs Road.

The fallout in the hours after the event ended up with the race director sadly admitting they’d checked and discovered that an error had indeed been made due to some overrunning road works and a hasty re-arrangement of the route, leading to a loss of a few hundred yards on the half marathon. Although the ten miler was apparently unaffected, Jenn had that down a bit short too and so something wasn’t quite right there either. I hate to moan as I genuinely love the BTR Liverpool races and knowing the team behind them I’m sure they’d be absolutely mortified with the mistake, but I just felt so sorry for Jenn who felt like she couldn’t truly celebrate her momentous achievement.

She definitely can celebrate though. Over the course of 18 months she has gone from 5k, to 10k and now an amazing ten miler (give or take), and from what I can tell from her little face as she ran past me she seems to have enjoyed each and every occasion (we runners are bloody weirdos sometimes). It’s been a remarkable story. What next? Who can say, but we’re both laying plans for some more races together and I’m sure you’ll read all about them here.

My next race is, of course, London. I don’t really know what else to say about that race that hasn’t already been said, which is quite difficult when I’ll be aiming to blog about it at some point once I’ve (hopefully) staggered across the line on Sunday. It promises to be an emotional day as I run my last ever marathon (yea right) on the course where I achieved my life’s ambition last year, and this time around I’ll have my little sister and one of my best friends in tow as well as they run their very first. We’re all on the taper now, winding down to raceday as the weeks of hard slog are in the bank and so in just six day’s time we bloody go and do it all for real. Greenwich to the Mall by foot, round all those famous landmarks all the while being cheered on by those amazing crowds, all the way round. I can’t bloody wait for it, let’s just hope they get the distance right.

I’m running the London Marathon to raise funds and awareness for The Motor Neurone Disease Association.

You can read why here and donate using the link below.

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