This is the 2nd time I’ve raced at Blackpool but my first over the 13.1 miles distance. It’s a good 2 1/2 hours drive away so requires a hotel stop a large commitment to do it justice. My road to Blackpool started last year when my body fell apart in the build up to the Yorkshire marathon for a second year. I decided after that big disappointment, committing to a marathon again the following year was not for me, instead I decided to make 2016 a racing marathon free zone to allow for some real speed work and recover from the demands marathon training requires.
A surprise come back 1/2 marathon PB at brass monkey was the boost I needed, so I started looking round for a fast flat 1/2 that I could target. Due to work and other commitments I was left with Blackpool as the best option. A course I sort of knew after racing the 10k there last year, the dates worked and the chance of making a weekend of it meant it was the perfect choice.
So with the help of our club super coach Allan, we drew up a training plan with Blackpool being the end goal. It was based on the marathon program but allowed for exciting distractions and other races along the way without the pressure that the formal marathon program brings. One such adventure being the kielder dark skies marathon with my secret training weapon and number one fan/coach/supporter and most colour coordinated strider, Catherine. I strongly believe the long and short runs we have done together have helped improve my running in countless ways. This is something I would never have done before, heading out for a run well below my slow calculated recovery pace or spending 5 hours 10 mins time on feet round kielder.
Training had gone really well with a sub 17 Sunderland parkrun and a 10k PB at the sand dancer in the build up. With a current 1:17:30 pb I was hoping for at least sub 1:17 and ideally a top 3 finish if the last few years results were anything to go by. But as always it depends who shows up on the day, as the coach said, concentrate on my running and the race result will take care of itself.
I felt really relaxed at the start line, confident and waving to Catherine who was still suffering from the kielder race and had to pull out of the 10k also on at the same time as the half. The target pace was 5:50 min miles but I knew I was capable of more if I felt good. So after the first couple of splits at 5:30 and 5:34 I tried not to panic too much. I deliberately slowed my pace but still well below goal pace. What worried me was how far back I placed in the field, only just top 10 after 4 miles and the leaders well ahead. You run past all the Blackpool piers, to to the roller coaster then loop back past the start at about mile 8. This is when the fast pace, slight climb and wind started affecting me. Thankfully I had Catherine shouting me on at this point from the tram tracks sidelines and I snapped back into life.
I had slowly picked my way back to 5th after dropping the 6th place runner who wanted me as a wind breaker. The only time I clocked my race time was at the 10 mile point – it read 58 something which was a really pleasant surprise (shock). Either side of that I just concentrated on trying to close the gap to the next runners. The last 3 miles were back along the coast, away from the wind and 3 miles of mad racing I won’t forget any time soon. The feeling was amazing as I caught 4th 3rd then 2nd placed runners and just kept going. This last 5k was the fastest of the race for me and a total dream. As the finish line came into sight I knew 2nd place was mine and the joy just exploded as I did a crazy hand dance to the end. My number one supporter cheered me home and I had some how achieved it, 2nd in a major half marathon race. Only then did I check my watch which read 1:15:15. I just assumed it was wrong and still did not quite believe it till the official results come out online.
For me this was the perfect race with a fantastic flat course, a really good training plan and the best support from so many people within our club. A special feeling I felt privileged to be able to share with them all.
The only slight disappointment came with the prize for 2nd place being another t shirt and that’s about it. Nothing for the mantlepiece, nothing to display leaving 3 very confused and disappointed runners at the so called ‘prize giving ceremony’. A shame after what was without doubt my best ever race and a running highlight I may never top.
Now onto the next challenge…..