The year has got off to a great start and my training has been going well since late November, so I was really looking forward to getting in a race, which was the Four Villages Half Marathon in Helsby, near Chester. I was hoping to run around 67 minutes or less, which going off recent sessions and mileage (80.5 and 91 mile weeks), certainly seemed plausible; I ran a 10k effort on the track the week before in 31:36 and on the Tuesday I did 8x 800m (2 min rec) in windy conditions all under 2:20. Perhaps this caused me to be more ambitious than I should have been.
Conditions on the day were far from perfect, as it was quite windy. Mo Abu-Rezeq was the clear favourite and I was determined to go off hard and try to stay close to him, which in turn would mean I’d be running close to a 5-5:05 minute per mile schedule. Once the race was underway, Abu-Rezeq shot off in the lead as expected and I ended up being the only runner going after him; I was able to stay fairly close to him up until three miles (15:09), but by then I knew the tactic was already failing, as the gap ahead was starting to increase and I was conceding about eight seconds. By five miles (25:32) the race was turning into a bit of a struggle, both mentally and physically; Abu-Rezeq was well out of reach, as was my target of sub 67 minutes and I was already being closed down by the others, who I assumed were Ben Gamble and Tom Charles. I decided to stop worrying about time and about being caught, as it was going to happen regardless. I eased off a tad and just focused on running as smoothly and efficiently as possible, with the hope of being ready to respond when they were upon me. The plan seemed to work and by the 8th mile I was starting to feel “slightly” better; I was also still holding my position. As I was reaching the 10th mile (covered in 52:14) I could hear a runner coming up on my shoulder and then he made an effort to pass me, I expected him to be Gamble or Charles, so it was a surprise to see someone I didn’t know (later discovered it was Mark Jenkin from Bideford, Cornwall). The course is mainly downhill from that point, so I made an effort to move back ahead and over the next couple of miles it was a tough battle between us for second spot. My resolve was being tested to the limit, but I was able to keep forcing myself onwards and in the last mile I could sense I got a slight gap, though I didn’t dare look behind to be sure! It was a gruelling finish and with a quarter-mile to go I had a quick glance on a right turn and was relieved to see I had about five seconds on him. It wasn’t pretty and my time of 68:04 was a bit average, but one must always try to take positives and I was certainly happy with how I battled out those last three miles. I’m hoping for a big improvement at Bath in March, where I fully expect those last three miles to feel just as unpleasant, but hopefully I’ll be two minutes or so quicker!
I think Mark Jenkin ran a personal best and he’s certainly looking well on for achieving 2hr 23 or faster at Seville Marathon in February. It was good to see Ben Gamble back in fine form, who was just 20 seconds behind me in fourth place and it was another solid performance by Tom Charles in fifth. Mo Abu-Rezeq was the clear victor in 67:24, maintaining what has been an incredibly consistent high level of performances over the past few years. Full results can be found here.
By March I’ll have been running for 20 years and it was pure coincidence that I was contacted by Danny Grear of Retinair; a local filming company he runs that use drones and all sorts of other technical things I know very little about. He approached me a few months ago about the idea of doing a short film on myself whilst capturing iconic shots of Darwen landmarks. I was more than happy to oblige; it’s quite an honour to have people show an interest in what I’ve done, especially whilst linking it in with my town, which is very much part of the fabric of who I am as a person and runner. I had to give him a bit of a background about my running and I dug through my old archives of training and races to give him the information he needed. It was quite therapeutic looking back on all those years of running and I’ll talk more about that in a couple of months. It was filmed in early December and we were lucky to have a cold clear day, but it was very windy up on the moors and filming took up most part of the morning. It was a joy to do and Danny certainly knows his stuff, I can’t imagine how difficult it must have been to operate the drone in gale force winds! I think you’ll agree when I say he captured some amazing shots and did justice to the scenery of Darwen, which I think is often underrated. Most will have seen this video on social media, but here’s the youtube link for those who haven’t. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kVxmFT8JD9o