This is one of the toughest half marathons to win in the UK. It’s quite a scenic course around some nice towns and villages in the area, it’s also a course I know quite well, as I work at Royles in Wilmslow.
As we all know the weather has been awful in Britain recently, which caused the Northern Road Relays to be cancelled, albeit at the last-minute. As I had booked time off work to do the relays, I decided to make use of my free time and actually relax for once, the day before a race! I finished off my 81 mile week with 6 miles on the treadmill at the gym, then some stretches, before heading into the sauna, maybe I’m getting mard as I’m getting older!
I felt pretty good after the Finchley 20 and I felt I could be a bit of a dark horse and possibly sneak a win. The standard of the opponents were high, as expected for this kind of race. Previous winners Andi Jones and Thomas Abyu were there; Joe MacDonald, Patrick Martin, Mark Buckingham, Mohammed Abu-Rezeq and Gareth Raven also toed the line.
Amazingly, Wilmslow missed getting snow, so the race was all-set, we just had to contend with sub-zero temperatures and a biting wind. I wasn’t expecting any of us to run a fast time in these conditions. The race set off fast, which caught me by surprise and Andi Jones’ speed made me blink! There was no alternative but to go with it, I wasn’t sure if it was the pace or the race last week that made the start seem so tough, but when I saw the 2 miles marker I noticed around 9:30 on the clock! Jones carried on at a tremendous pace running superbly, I hit 5 miles faster than the Alsager race in 23:55. By 10k (29:56) I moved to the front of the group, but shortly after, Joe MacDonald surged ahead rapidly on a downhill section and try as I might, I couldn’t get near him. The race really changed shape at this point; myself, Martin and Buckingham were working hard trying to go after MacDonald, Andi Jones and Abu-Rezeq were slowing slightly a few yards further back.
We reached 8 miles in 38:36, about 200m behind MacDonald. I still felt there was a chance we could catch the leader, but as well as the battle for places, I also had a personal incentive of bagging a club record set by our clubs’ legendary Michael Green at 65:15. Then we got a first taste of the headwind as we rounded a left-hand turn; suddenly it had instantly pegged us back to marathon pace. 10 miles was 49:15, still good, but we had worryingly lost over half a minute in just two miles, despite this I still felt really strong. There was some shelter from hedges for most of the next mile, but I knew the last two would be mainly uphill, making it a tough finish. MacDonald was still 200m ahead, but Mark Buckingham was starting to fall back, leaving Pat Martin and I battling it out for 2nd. 12 miles was covered in 59:28, but time was slipping as the headwind was making it difficult. I reasoned that if I could outrun Pat, or at least run him close, that the time would take care of itself and I’d just about get that 65:15. We were neck and neck in that last mile, as we were for most of the race. I made an attempt at a sprint finish with 300m to go, then as we rounded the bend for the last 150m, Pat shot past and finished strongly in 65:24, with me 3 seconds back, scraping a second off my pb, but missing the club record. Joe MacDonald won in 64:54 and, along with Pat Martin and Mark Buckingham (65:52) had a splendid half marathon debut.
On any normal day in Spring, 59:28 at 12 miles would have had Pat and myself well on for around 65 minutes flat, Joe’s 64:54 out on his own is even more impressive with those conditions taken into account. Andi Jones came 5th, but had it not been for his aggressive pace early on, I don’t think anyone would have run decent times as those last 5 miles were pretty horrible!
It rounds up a very good month for me; I’ve beaten some great runners and managed to race consistently well in three races in as many weeks, all of them a tough battle right to the line. Now the focus is on the track season ahead and if I can improve my speed and mix that with my approach over the past two months, I’m confident of having a really good result at the Berlin marathon in September. Good luck to the guys and gals after the World Champs qualifying times and to all the runners doing Spring marathons!