I haven’t take part in this event since 2010; I’ve been meaning to enter every year since, but I’ve always been full of autumnal bugs. This year was no different, as I’ve been suffering since Robin Hood, but I’d agreed many months beforehand to support my mate, Louise, and I’d already entered when my disease (or diseases, it’s been so long) almost prompted me to duck out. A week before, me and The Bloke had been out for a long run, but I felt bad afterwards, and on the Monday, I felt “fluey”. Amazingly, I had recovered sufficiently to join in with Brian’s running group on the Thursday. It was draining, however, and I really felt the 4½ miles, yet enjoyed the chance to “stretch the legs”.
The Bloke had also had his preparation interrupted by another injury, this time to his knee. Sensibly, he decided to pull out on the Friday, and managed to sell his number to another runner. Instead, he was going to volunteer as a marshal.
My pre-race day preparation went a lot smoother than Robin Hood. We ate in a Frankie and Bennys (I was good, and had the chicken breast burger, despite wanting a full fat beefy one). Sadly, the footy result was the same; a 2-0 defeat. It was also a long journey home from Swansea, and as I hadn’t been exercising as much as I normally would, thanks to being ill, my sciatica was playing up. I eventually had to recline the car seat so much it was practically a bed, just to feel comfortable.
On the plus side, the clocks went back, which meant I was up in plenty of time to have a drink, and to use my inhalers. The weather had been mild, but it was forecast to be windy. I agreed to wear a vest to raise awareness for organ donation, in particular, @1MLikes4Matthew, a 9yr old boy waiting for a transplant, and his family are raising money for the Bodie Hodges foundation. Details can be found by following this link, and if you could spare the cost of a coffee, or a pint, then it would be much appreciated.
The Bloke had to be at a meeting point at the other end of the city centre at 8.20am, so I was taken to Victoria Park very early. When I arrived, the “marathon village” was relatively empty. A few people were milling about, and volunteers were setting up the baggage tents. Most importantly, most of the portaloos were available, and after some light relief, I tried to find any of my friends. The morning was cold, and overcast, and as I wandered about, scanning the ever increasing crowds for a familiar face, I could feel the wind picking up.
Eventually, I saw a friend, Lucy, and was no longer looking like Billy No-Mates. I was starting to get worried about meeting up with Louise, and not just because I had agreed to run with her; she had my pink running vest!i had my club vest with me, just in case, and this came in useful when a couple of runners from rival club, Wigston Phoenix, came over to say hello. Nicky tried to convert me with his green vest, but the blue of West End Runners soon put paid to that. Ha!
Lucy wanted to stick her bag in the tents, and I saw another friend, Stu, who told me that Louise, and my other friends, were on the other side of the crowd! I followed him, and there they were! An assortment of friends from my running club, and from Twitter were there. It’s amazing to think that a love of Leicester City could bring together a group of runners!
As I was in the process of attaching my number, I was told that there was a photo call for the pink vests and t-shirts. It was amazing to see so many runners there raising awareness for a good cause.
I then had the unenviable task of getting my bag to a baggage tent. The queue was massive, but then I noticed that this was for one tent. The other tent was empty, so I happily deposited my bag there, and went back to my mates. I had gone prepared, and had taken the foil wrap from the end of Robin Hood to keep me warm. Lou said that she wanted to run at 10 min/mile pace to 10½ min mile pace. I warned her that the start was quick, as the first mile is downhill, but she knew. Her worst case pace would see a finish of 2:17:33, or thereabouts. With no pressure on me, though, I noticed that the Curse of the Phantom Wee had not reared its ugly head. Clearly this is down to nerves, and something I’ll need to try and work on when I next race.
The time came to line up at the start. We seemed to walk for ages to find the marker for the sub 2hr runners, and I said we’d start not far behind that, to try and get a clear run. It appeared to be less congested than further up, but there was no way that everyone in front would be quicker than us.
Then there was a cheer, like a Mexican Wave, from in front, and everyone started to move forwards. The noise of all the GPS watches being started as runners crossed the line got louder, and pretty soon, I was joining in.
We were off.
As we settled into our pace, and rhythm, down (literally) London Rd, we were slightly ahead of the pacing, but I’d factored the hill into that. I asked Lou if she was comfortable, and she said that she was. In fact, we chatted for the first six miles, a sign that a runner is not being pushed. Louise was running well. By now, the sun had come out, and there was little sign of the wind. It was almost perfect running conditions. We saw The Bloke marshalling along Belgrave Rd, and he gave us a cheer, and among the people cheering us along the Golden Mile were a few members of the running club.
After the three mile water station, we saw one of the running club runners with a young lady, who had collapsed. Thankfully, there looked like there were people attending to her, and as Jo overtook us a bit further up, she confirmed that the lady was in good hands. I later heard that a runner had collapsed at around that point, in between marshals, and nobody had reported it. If that is true, I’m astounded.
I was also astounded by a couple of impatient motorists, waiting to exit a side street in Rushey Mead. A marshal signalled for the first one to go in the gap in front of us, but he went too slowly, and I could see us having to stop. I nearly swore at the guy behind, who took the opportunity to dive out, and coming within just a few feet of us! It’s a bit of a bugbear of mine; the last time I ran Leicester, a few motorists drove down the open lane of the A607, beeping aggressively, and shouting abuse out their car windows. When I spoke to Mother afterwards, she said that some of the motorists in Birstall drove far too closely to the runners, as they impatiently tried to push their way past. This event happens once a year. The disruption is only for a few hours, and I’d like to think people would either be out supporting the runners, or if they have to use their cars, to leave them somewhere they can travel safely, without making runners races more difficult. Rant over.
At six miles, as we turned into Watermead, the wind literally hit us. The route out of the city centre was pretty sheltered, and I hadn’t noticed. I actually welcomed the cooling effect, but Lou immediately said that she didn’t like it. The wind followed us around the park, well, I say followed. It was right in our faces. As we ran through the park, Louise started to drift away, and I slowed down and tried to urge her to keep going. I knew that there was a short, but steep, hill as we left the park, and ran into Birstall village centre, so I warned her about it, but I also knew we would be running down Birstall Road. There, we would be able to recover from the wind, and the overall gentle uphill out of the city.
We reached the hill on Whiles Close, and I got Lou to work her way up it, and told her it wasn’t long. I heard my name, and there were my parents! I was so pleased to see them, and notwithstanding the inconsiderate motorists, I hope my Mother saw me doing something that I love to do, and that it doesn’t hurt me, I’d like to think it would put her mind at rest.
An even bigger surprise was waiting for me outside of the Earl of Stamford; my sister, and my nieces! I was really pleased to see them. The older niece thinks I’m a masochistic nutter. The younger one doesn’t know the word “masochistic”, and so I hope she thought I was “admirable” or “inspirational” but I don’t think those are in her vocabulary yet, either. She was waving at us, as we went past, which must be a good sign!
We reached Birstall Rd, which I had been looking forward to. It’s steep, but the route was taking us down, not up it. Yet we seemed to slow down! I kept urging Lou to let the hill do the work for her, but she wouldn’t let it. She later said she doesn’t like steep downhill sections. Some people find the mechanics of running down too stressful, but I love it. I think I was gutted we didn’t use it.
By the time we reached the flat, we were still in the target range, but at the other end of it, but we were steady. As we moved onto the Riverside path, the wind whipped up again. As did the noise. For almost a mile, we put up with some women badly “Ooh-oohing” to a tinny sounding “Islands in the Stream” being played on a phone. As a pedant, I wanted to shout, “it’s ‘arms’, not ‘ooh ooh'”! But I didn’t think it was the time or place.
As we reached ten miles, Lou didn’t look happy. I had to tell her we had just a parkrun to go, and we carried on, but the pace started slowing. It would take a massive blow-out to not reach her target, however.
Around the 11 mile marker, we passed what had become a mini-West End cheer point, where for some strange reason, there was an empty bath! We carried on into the city centre. Our club captain, Scott, who we had passed in Watermead, was on our heels. Rather than going past us, he very gallantly ran with us to the end. Running through the Highcross shopping area was strange; a few people were cheering the runners, but it was apparent others weren’t impressed with the inconvenience of dodging us as they tried to get from John Lewis to the main centre. Why they didn’t use the footbridge, if it was that much of an inconvenience, I don’t know! On the High Street was a drumming band. They were fantastic, and it was a huge boost. It’s a shame that other parts of the course don’t have things like this on them. It’s things like this that spur on the majority of us, and gives us some atmosphere.
After twelve miles, we reached the dreaded New Walk. I never noticed it went uphill to Vicky Park until the first time I had to run up it. It’s not the steepest of hills, but it’s timing is part of its problem, and the fact it goes on for what feels like ages. It flattens out in the middle, then bites back with a slightly steeper gradient. I spent most of it shouting instructions to poor Lou, who really did not look happy, reminding her to use her arms, and to lift her knees. Scott offered better advice, such as treating New Walk in stages.
We made it, and the finishing line was in sight. I urged my friend on, loudly according to those friends watching! I saw a few familiar faces cheering us on down the finishing straight. Then we crossed the line. Two hours and sixteen minutes after starting, we had finished. When Lou asked what the time was, she was amazed, but I knew she could do it. I do wonder if letting her run at the quicker end of her pacing instructions took it out of her, as she found the last three miles tough, but then I wonder if the wind would have had the same effect in slowing her down. We will never know. The next time she runs it, and she will, she will be a quicker and stronger runner. Most importantly, we had our bling!
It was also great to see our friends, including Mesha, Macca, and their lads. They had only just got back from New York (not the lads), and had come down especially to cheer Lou over the line. The Bloke said that he had finished in 2nd place, which he found bizarre. Thankfully, by the time the results were published, the organisers had changed the names! Some of my running friends had new PBs, Matt and Mick, to name but two.
For me personally, I really enjoyed the run. I enjoyed being able to soak up the atmosphere, and the sights. I was buzzing at the finish. I’m a competitive person, but this was the most enjoyable half marathons I’d run, certainly compared with Silverstone, which I hated. The route is undulating out of the city, and it’s not until you reach Birstall Road that you realise how much you’ve climbed. However, looking at the chart, it seems as though the gradient at the start and finish is the key part of this race. The downhill start could get you off to a flier, but you risk blowing out before the slog to the finish. I though that this course was easier than Robin Hood, and still think that’s the case, but the graph suggests otherwise!
The goody bag is also a lot better than Robin Hood. It includes a medal, t-shirt in a choice of sizes (no XS for the petite runners), and some nice snacks. The dreaded bananas were thankfully available at another stand.
The baggage collection looked horrendous from the one tent, but wasn’t too bad at the tent that I had used. A good job, as I didn’t want to miss out on a post-run celebratory cider!