Meeting Across The River

I’d written this one off. It’s just a training run, I’d told myself. Let’s just go over to The Wirral and have a little jog. I’m quite a bit injured, actually. It’ll probably be my slowest half marathon ever. I might not even finish the bastard thing.

Well, I bloody did finish it. Somehow, 48 hours on from barely being able to walk up or down a flight of stairs, I dragged myself 23,056 yards up and down the banks of the River Mersey and the Irish Sea and unintentionally ran my first ever negative split as I completed the Wirral Half Marathon. Like I’ve often said in the past, the human body is weird.

One thing that can be said about having zero expectations for a race though is that the raceday nerves are absolutely minimal. I woke up as if it was any other day, had a bowl of muesli. It was all fine. I didn’t keep feeling like I was going to crap my pants, I didn’t feel sick. I just got in my car with my wife and and drove 40 miles to the coast. Everything was normal.

Except it wasn’t really that normal at all. In my experience, nothing is quite normal on this part of The Wirral. I can’t put my finger on exactly what it is but everything is just a bit…odd. Last time I was over there, I saw a load of grown men in their 40s driving tiny toy boats around a lake on a weekday afternoon. A pretend shipwreck covered in children lies on the muddy beach. The whole place smells a bit like bleach. There’s a fucking fort opposite the chippy. It’s the seaside Jim, but not as we know it.

It was nice to be out though. For the third time in 2018 I’d be running with my wife over on Merseyside, this time using it as a bit of a warmup ahead of the main prize of the Manchester Half Marathon on October 14th. With my ankle falling apart four days before kick off and an absolutely dreadful night’s sleep going into raceday I could have probably done without it all to be honest and did quite seriously consider pulling out at one point, but the lure of a race I’d never run before and a superhero-inspired T shirt and medal proved too much in the end and so we duly packed our shit up and drove over to one of the more picturesque areas of the north west to go for a nice little run with a load of strangers.

I honestly had no idea what to expect from this. I really didn’t. I say that a lot, I know, but I’ve never gone into a race before not knowing if I’d even be able to run a few yards let alone get to the finish. Lining up on the (back to front) start / finish line I laid out the various scenarios in my head. I’d have a slow jog and see how I felt after half a mile or so, perhaps. Maybe I’d run down to the three mile mark and get a bus or taxi back to the finish line in time to see Jenn finish her 10k. Maybe I’d branch off myself and do the shorter race as well. Maybe, just maybe, I might even be able to complete the whole thing and run further than I had for nearly six months. What I never in a million years expected to happen was exactly what did end up happening.

I’d said to Jenn just before we set off to look out for me coming in around 1:45, unless I’d sent her a message before that saying I’d abandoned or something. And so after bidding farewell to go and stand around our intended pacers, off we all trotted and remarkably the ankle felt fine at this steady pace, a good 30s per mile slower than I’d be aiming for at Manchester but that was OK. The important thing was nothing felt like it was flaring up. God bless the combination of ibuprofen and raceday adrenaline, eh.

The longer we went on the more confident began to feel. On the midweek run leading up to this race (when the whole thing had come to a head) I felt a bit of pain within half a mile and although it came and went over that steady plod, by the fifth mile I was really feeling it and had to stop completely and walk back home lest I end up totally fucking myself up for Manchester. Here, four days later, the miles were dropping off one by one with barely a niggle.

I passed Jenn around four miles in after the course had switched back on itself and she was heading down in the opposite direction. She looked in great shape as usual and shouted if I was OK – a sweaty thumbs up in reply said all was well, for now. I still had nine miles to go though if I was to actually bring this home.

Gradually though I began to grow in confidence. Past Fort Perch Rock and there was the divide – should I call it a day and claim the fluorescent orange 10k T shirt, or go all in for the red half marathon one? Sod it, the ankle’s fine. Let’s do this I said to myself. Let’s see what happens.

We branched off heading out away from the finish and onto the long drag along the banks of the Irish Sea. The wind began to whip up and the field thinned out and suddenly I felt very exposed and lonely. It was unspeakably bleak and yet weirdly epic all at the same time, the waves crashing rhythmically against the sea walls almost as if they could wash us all away in a second if they felt like they really wanted to. Every so often a gust so fierce it felt I’d hit a brick wall and it was almost like a line was attached to my the small of my back, pulling me back the way I’d come back towards the finish line. It was heavy going but a part of me enjoyed it for some mad reason, just me against the elements with nothing else to the right of me except this vast expanse of churning water.

Finally, after what felt like the longest 5k of my entire life we turned left then left again and we were at last away from the seafront and heading for home. The wind was behind us and suddenly even though we were ten miles into what I’d promised would be my slowest ever half marathon I noticed my pace was sitting almost around my half marathon best. I was motoring along, picking off the runners ahead of me one by one as my slowish start meant I had plenty left in the tank. I tried not to get carried away lest I trashed my ankle again but it all felt so effortless that I just kept on going. If it hurts I’ll slow down, I told myself. I’ll stop completely if I have to.

It never happened. The ankle held up to the job and I put a huge finish in, the last mile actually coming in under my 10k pace. I hammered round the final corner and saw Jenn by the side of the road and gave her an oddly cheerful wave and then it was all over. Somehow, in a race I didn’t even think I could start let alone finish, I came home just over four minutes off my PB and in 54th place overall. Jenn had done brilliantly as well as yet another PB – her fifth in six races – earned her an extra medal on top of her finishers’ one, reserved only for those that ran quicker here than they ever had anywhere else.

It had been a more than decent morning, far beyond our wildest dreams in definitely one of the more unique races on the calendar. In all my years of running I’ve never had an experience quite like that stretch along the coast and I’ll probably come back and have another crack at the Wirral Half Marathon next time I want to blow the cobwebs away again. And the medal and T shirt were pretty bloody cool, too.

So now, finally, comes the big prize on offer. After the annual jog round the Standalone 10k in a couple of days time comes the Manchester Half Marathon the following weekend an attempt at trying to get near to a PB I set five and a half years ago. Apart from the Standalone curse rearing its little head again a bit, which I’ll no doubt cover in my next post, things are looking fairly positive and I’m just generally winding down now with a small taper towards raceday. The hardest few months of training I’ve put myself through since that marathon, I’ll be a bit disappointed to be honest if I don’t at least go sub-40 for the 10k and sub-90 for the half. There’s a fairly decent chance I might go even better than that though but we’ll have to see what happens. There’s so many little variables at play that I’m just gonna take it all in my stride and see where we end up. And maybe, just maybe, I might be able to do something a little bit special.

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