LSS’s parents no longer live in the town, although they still have a house there, so I left early in the morning for the 40 minute drive to their place in Blackpool, parked-up outside and walked the mile or so to the Hilton hotel where the event base and registration was.
I missed a trick here for as soon as I hit the promenade, a tram trundled past - I had not brought any money with me so I could not hop on and get a lift to the hotel… Oh well, at least it was not raining, even if it was threatening to.
Once at the hotel I registered with around 30 minutes left to the start and pinned my number on whilst crammed alongside countless other people in a corridor of the hotel as we tried to remain inside for as long as possible.
With the race being in the town centre with of water stations every 3 miles or so I had made the decision not to run with my hydration back pack and just rely on their water. I had decided to wear a running belt with my camera and gels stuffed in to it for my in race sustenance… Unfortunately the latest batch I had from SiS were a bit dubious on the quality of their seals and one of them had seeped out emptying its sugary self all over the others and the camera. The problem with the sugar solution is that when it dries it crystallises and becomes abrasive, so I had to duck in to the toilets (no queue just to use a wash basin) and wash-out the running belt as well as I could so as to avoid a potential chaffing issue.
Sorting all this out left me no time to be in the massive queue for a pit-stop before the race so I went straight to the start and the line-up for the race.
The event was a massed start for all runners after the wheelchair racers had begun their race, with no streaming for relevant pace blocks or even separation of half and full marathon runners. This meant it was just a case of being in the throng and waiting for the run to begin to sort out positioning and a pace after a couple of miles of weaving in and out of people who really should not start anywhere near the front as they are just road-blocks.
|Milling around for the start|
As I trotted over the start line with the rest of the throng, the guy a few people in front cut the cheese - now fair enough we all do it, and anything bowel related is something that as distance runners we are all too well aware of and fear and dread in equal measure and will excuse each other from as hey, its only natural… Now the thing is, you’re in a crowd, you’re moving, you let rip with, in this case, a silent trump, you would think you would just ignore it and carry on running as those behind you unwittingly run into and through your fart-cloud, but oh no, this guy thought it best to advertise what he’d done and wafted his hand behind his arse as we slowly plodded along, leaving anyone in sight of him in no-doubt as to who it was had dropped their guts… Some times it really is better not to claim ownership, its not as though he let rip with a wet thunderclap in a crowded lift!
Having dealt with the stink-cloud and overtaking its perpetrator at the earliest opportunity for fear of more to come, I continued south at a pace as high as I could manage without threatening a burn-out. My game plan, even with the minimal running I had put in before hand was to stride-out for a PB with a secondary goal of a sub 4 time.
As a means to an end I tried to keep-up with a couple of women who were in front pretty much from the start and who I had heard chatting about keeping as close to an 8 minute mile pace, faster than I knew I could maintain for the whole race, but if I could get into a continual groove at this pace and hold it for as long as possible then all to the better.
Heading south it was slightly downhill passing the tower, the three piers and the pleasure beach. Each of these serving as good stage markers on the way to tick-off little psychological targets and goals, especially as we would pass them all 4 times on the figure of 8 course.
Just after the turn at the southerly point we hit the first water station at 3 miles where I chose not to grab a bottle as it was too soon in to the race to need to take on water. One thing I thought as being a little petty was the organisers had banned you from having bottle tops as they only wanted people to drink the water and not carry one to throw over their head whilst running - but what is there for you not to grab 2 bottles and drink one and throw the other over you?
Anyway, this northerly stretch was back up the slight gradient all the way to the northerly turn. Running on the left of the road we had the promenade beside us and we got a good view of all the sculpture that adorns the several miles of the sea front.
A new one since I was last here appear to be giant 'triffid’ stamens - triffids being the eponymous killer plants in John Wyndham’s ‘Day of’ novel:
|The very impressive statues that sway in the breeze|
|A triffid and its killer stamen!|
At the turn we ran past one of the many public toilet blocks dotted along the route. Now to me it would seem sensible that even though it is ‘out of season’ you would have ensured that they would be open for the use of the public and in this case the runners, rather than the only ones available being in arcades/ fast food joints/ pubs along the course - with runners just diving in to the shop fronts on the way past in search of a trotter, something that probably irked the proprietors no doubt!
At the turn we dropped down on to the promenade/ sea wall for the return south. Until this time we had been running with a tail wind, which took the edge off the slight uphill gradient of the previous 7 miles, but on hitting the turn, the strength of the headwind was glaringly obvious. To put it in perspective, I had been running at a steady pace up to the turn and as soon as the corner was rounded, the pace dropped by a minute and a half per mile.
The added effort required to run at the same speed was energy sapping and made it very apparent that the final leg of the marathon was going to be a tough one as you make the turn again with around 4 miles to go. 4 final miles when you’re cream crackered already in to this!
Struggling southwards we passed below the hotel and the start line and in a manner similar to Reykjavik the course split and the halfers carried-on along the promenade whilst those of us doing the full made the climb back on to the main street and continued our plod under the switched-off illuminations. At the first available water stop I grabbed a bottle off a table that had not had its cap removed and took a few swigs before putting the top back on and running with it in my hand.
As we ran through the centre of the town the shoppers were now out in force for the day and they were giving us a welcome claps and cheers to boost our moral. There were also some children lining the sides of the road getting in to the spirit of things and holding up their hands to be high-fived by us runners as we passed… Everything was welcome in distracting me from the headwind that was making life tricky when attempting to hold a steady pace to hit my target... I was breaking the course in to chunks at this point, attempting to take my mind off the tedium of pavement pounding as the spread-out field made its way to the southerly turn for the second and final time as the skies broke and the rain began to fall.
|The sandy beach for what Blackpool is famous.|
Back in towards the town centre we passed all the arcades with the morning games of bingo in full-swing. From hearing the bored monotoned voices of the callers you would think that manic depression was a prerequisite to having the job. Their bored ‘just kill me now’ tones of voice might well have been saying:
“37 My wife’s 37 and she’s left me for her zumba instructor.”
“2 and 3, twenty three - How can I compete with her when I don’t have boobs"
“Legs 11 - My wife had great legs..."
Climbing out of the the town centre to the north for the second and final time I put my iPod on to try and take the edge off what I knew was coming… And sure enough I was soon running up against the wall of wind.
There was nothing to do except grit my teeth and carry on as best I could, yo-yoing position with a few other runners as most were now forced in to run-walk strategy with the wind proving such an obstacle… With the strength of it you could not even hold a conversation as you overtook anyone.
Eventually the split in the course from before was reached and I took the right side, safe in the knowledge that it could not be too far to the end especially as the sign for 25 miles had just been passed, so keeping my eyes peeled I was looking-out for LSS who had promised to be there to see me across the finish line… Although with previous time keeping I was not holding my breath!
Looking up I could see the finish line above on the main sea front road. There were lots of well-wishers on the steps down to the path clapping and cheering us on, and I kept an eye open for a familiar face as we teasingly had to run past the inflatable finish line and at least another 1/4 mile further to get to the slope up on to the sea front and then the last 1/4 mile back to the finish.
On reaching the top of the ramp it was a long straight line to the finish, with the assembled masses clapping everyone home as they crossed the line. There was no hiding at this point so it was an all-out run for the line with all the remaining energy that could be mustered, a long drawn-out run that took me back to my school days of competing (badly) in the 400m race where you just had to stick yourself in to top gear and go for as long as you could without dropping. After what seemed like an eternity I crossed the line, catching a glimpse of LSS tucked-away in the crowd as I did so.
Unfortunately she did not manage to take a photo of my inaction, but it was great to finally see her there to witness me cross a finish line!
The goody bag was a very welcome one, with a pair of socks, a wagon wheel, a tea bag and a slice of malt loaf as well as what is the biggest medal I have been presented with so far.
Slowly we made our way back to LSS’s parent’s place for a welcome change of clothes and cup of tea. My knees were killing me having spent the previous 26.2 miles on the unremitting tarmac.
Despite battling the extreme headwind I managed to get myself around the course in a personal best, knocking some 7 minutes off my previous best, nudging me closer to a sub 4 time, but still a way off… My target to achieve this at the Portsmouth Coastal at the year’s end.
I came home in 254th place out of 401 finishers. So nearly at the 50% mark again and on a course that I’m not that used to… Pretty flat!
Next up its back on to the CTS circuit and leg 6/7 for me in the series over in Pembroke… The scene of the first organised trail marathon I ran.
For what its worth, here’s the list of what popped-up on the iPod as I trotted along on the final section:
Rime of the Ancient Mariner - Iron Maiden
Please, Please, Please, Let Me Get What I Want - The Smiths
All She’s Got - Sum 41
Music Reach 1/2/3/4 - The Prodigy
Dawn - Brian Jonestown Massacre
Move Any Mountain - Shamen
Balloon - Catherine Wheel
Not Big - Lily Allen
True Faith - New Order
In Vivo - Wire
Barber’s Adagio for Strings - William Orbit
England My Home - Levellers
Dancing in the Street - Martha Reeves & the Vandellas
Don’t Stop Me Now - Queen
All I Got - Newton Faulkner
Further Away - Inspiral Carpets