It was all a bit of a rush to get there. I was ready to go out and run anyway which was handy, and I just grabbed a couple of gels and a jacket and shot off in the car. After a few minutes I realised I forgotten to grab any salt caps (big mistake), and a few minutes later I realised I was on the M57 going in the wrong direction. Whoops. A quick u-turn later I was on the M58 and going the right way.
I got to somewhere near the race HQ at the Hilton Hotel about an hour and a quarter before the race, and despite freaking out a bit when I found the car park was full and half the roads were shut, I managed to find a sneaky space and legged it down to register.
Now I know I was pushing it by rocking up only an hour before to pay on the day for a reasonably sized race, but I figured since they had put “ENTRIES AVAILABE ON THE DAY” in big red letters on the website they would be geared up to deal with people wanting to do that. Instead, it was chaos. After asking a few people where I should go (no signs) and which queue I should join, I got in line. The queue moved painfully slowly, and with about 40 people in front of me I started to worry I wouldn’t get in. Apparently the main problem was too many people wanting to run the half, but with some guy shouting people to queue on one side, then announcing 5 minutes later to queue on the other, tempers were starting to fray as people worried they wouldn’t get in. The only person that seemed to be there to help was being pretty rude and not helpful at all. I get they were under pressure, and some of the runners were being a bit stroppy, but all of the problems were due to bad organisation and non-existent communication on the part of the organisers. The highlight for me was finally getting to the front of the queue, cash in hand, and being told they were opening up new queues on the other side and I had to join that one now. At the back.
I finally got to hand over my money and get a number, and was reassured that although it had someone else’s name on, they would amend the details so I got a proper finish. At this point it was 0925, 5 minutes until the start. I then found out how hard it is to pin a number to a running shirt when you’re in a hurry.
I managed to stem the flow of blood from my fingers, and while I was in the queue for the portaloos a gun went off. I was still 200 yards from the start area, so I resigned myself to a bad gun time, went for a pee, and jogged up to the start. Fortunately, the gunshot was a false alarm, a test, or just someone in Blackpool getting shot. I quickly bunked over the fence into the start area, plugged my earphones in, and we were off.
The route was a bit grim, 5km south along the promenade, a u-turn followed by 11km north along the promenade, then a u-turn back the other way to what was the finish for the half-marathon, or half way for the marathon, where we got to do it all again. Flat as a pancake too. It would have been totally unremarkable if it hadn’t been for the wind. A stiff southerly breeze meant that 0-5km, 16-26km and 37-42km were bloody horrible. Not Mad Dog horrible, but definitely Liverpool Half horrible.
I hadn’t started with much of a plan. It was so last minute, I hadn’t really had a chance to think from leaving the house to making the start. I had a look at my watch after a few minutes and was running 4:30/kms which felt ok. I did some quick maths while my brain was still working and reckoned that pace all the way would see me home in around 3:10. That felt pretty ridiculous. It would be 16 minutes faster than my PB at Manchester last year, and I still had last week’s 40 miler in my legs – as well as the 30 miles I’d run in the week. But I figured what the hell, and decided to see how long I could keep it up before I imploded. Worst case scenario I’d end up broken, staggering and covered in vomit like everyone else in Blackpool.
I don’t do many flat races, but it seemed sensible to break it into 14km thirds. The first one went ok in around 1:04 with no real drama. The second one passed in 1:03 which surprised me as it felt slower. I let myself entertain the possibility of running under 3:10 for a minute or two, before reminding myself how badly things were likely to get in the next 14 kms.
At 32km/20 miles I started to struggle. There was no electrolyte or sports drink on the course, just water, and I’d forgotten my salt caps. Going that far at that pace I’d usually have had at least one, and my hamstrings were starting to tighten and cramp up. I’d had all of my three gels too (none of those on the course either), so had no choice but to dig in. Of the 10km left, I tried to enjoy the 5km I still had with the wind at my back, but I could feel a growing shadow around me from the grand piano falling from the sky and about to land right on top of me.
At 22 miles it hit. Although I thought the course was two identical loops, there was an extra bit to run around the second time around. It wasn’t much, but it got to me having more to go than I thought, and I really stopped enjoying myself. Shortly after that my legs were cramping pretty badly, and between that and the wind I’d slowed to 5:30/kms. I tried to work out what time I might be on for but my head was mashed and I just couldn’t do the sums. I went from being certain of a PB (sub 1:26) to being sure I wasn’t going to make it, just desperate for the final stretch along the promenade to end. This was a weird experience for me. Usually I run marathons like this as training runs for longer races. I’ll stay well within myself for 2/3 of the race and finish nice and strong, upsetting everyone else by being irritatingly chipper about things. This was the opposite of that and to be honest, it’s MUCH more fun the other way.
Finally, I passed below the finish line on the lower promenade bit, staggered 500m or so past it to double back up a walkway, and headed down the finishing straight with the wind at my back. I could see the clock and my first thought was “great, I can walk from here and still get a massive PB”. Then I saw that I might be able to sneak under 3:15, which is a pointless thing really, but it kept me running.
I crossed the line in 3:14:05, with a chip time of 3:13:42 which I was well happy with. I’d run the last third in 1:06 which wasn’t as much of a collapse as it felt like, and since I hit half way in 1:39 I’d still (somehow) run a pretty tidy negative split. Being a wet and windy day in Blackpool it was a bit flat at the end, but I shook hands with a few of the guys who finished around me, exchanged a few “how about that wind?” comments, and trudged off to find my car.
I’m made up to have improved my PB by so much, not least because it means I can give fast, flat road marathons a big swerve for the rest of the year. Next up couldn’t be more different - the Calderdale Hike is 26 miles of hills (plus whatever I add by getting lost), but I’ll be way better prepared, and there’ll be cake. Like a proper race.