There was little time for reflection after my result at the Bath Half Marathon and the races were coming thick and fast, hence this bulk report on three races. Hastings Half Marathon immediately followed and with my current form, I was hoping I could roll back the years and win this for the first time since 2010. In fact, until my win at Bath, I ranked that performance as my best victory. Again, as with last week, the elite field was weaker than usual and I wasn’t familiar with the domestic runners. The conditions were pretty bad, with gale force winds up to 45 mph and the organiser, Eric Hardwick later told me he had a battle to put up the start and finishing banners, I suppose he’s that good at his job I hadn’t noticed anything amiss! I decided to go out with a fast first mile and gauge the competition; I covered that mile in just under 5 minutes, establishing a gap of about 100 yards. I knew the wind would be mainly behind us in the first half of the race, though I didn’t feel any extra benefit going up the long hill on Queensway from the 3rd to 5th mile and I hit 5 miles no faster than in my previous runs here (26:52). Still, it was enough to increase my lead and I was rattling off a pace close to 5 minutes per mile once the hill was out of the way. 10 miles was reached in 52:12, but the wind was starting to make an impression and I knew those last miles along the promenade were going to be tough! That last 5 km proved to be very difficult indeed and I was pegged back to running each of those final miles close to six minutes! The wind made it difficult for me to hear if anyone was behind me and I had convinced myself that I must be getting caught if I’m struggling this much, but each time I looked back there was no-one there. I ground on towards the finish and put in a last surge to dip under 70 minutes in 69:52 (I don’t like running half marathons outside this time!). The other competitors had the same difficulty as I did; local Hastings AC runner Rhys Boorman ran 74:49 and like myself, was a couple of minutes down on what he’d normally run this race.
I spent the next couple of days in Hastings with my wife Hannah and it’s a place we’ve enjoyed visiting since we first did this race in 2009. Sadly the weather wasn’t great, but it was good to see the pier has been re-opened after being derelict for so many years. I’d like to thank race organiser, Eric Hardwick for his hospitality and also the White Rock Hotel for our accommodation; we had a great weekend and I can’t speak highly enough of the race, the atmosphere from spectators and of Hastings itself. It’s the fifth time I’ve done this race and I’d recommend it to anyone who fancies going away somewhere different to do an event.
My legs felt very stiff after the back-to-back half marathons, so I decided to drop the miles to 60 for the week going into the Northern 12 stage road relays, which was held at Blackpool . Instead of feeling refreshed, I felt no different than what I would off a 120-mile week! I didn’t want to let the club down by having a poor run after so many good races. I was on the 7th leg (9.2km) and I worked at the shop in the morning and was kindly given a lift by Michelle and Bryan Searby, who was running in our men’s B team on the last leg. We went into this with one of our best turnouts in a long time, which is a testament to the ethos and commitment of the runners we have. We got off to a great start and by the time it was my turn to run on my stage, we were sitting comfortably in 10th place. I ran the two lap course as hard as I could, trying to take some places and hopefully increase the gap over our local rivals, Barlick. I didn’t feel great during my run, so I was surprised when I later learned that I ran the 13th fastest long leg of the day. It was also enough to put us in 7th place, whilst adding some precious time over our rivals. It was a sterling effort by the rest of the lads for the final legs and we only lost one place, to a resurgent Morpeth, holding off Barlick by 15 seconds, thanks to a superb run by our rookie, Ben Costello, anchored by a very strong run from Chris Davies. It’s a real pleasure competing in this team and the spirit we have as a club is as good as I can remember; I’m sure we’ll keep getting better in the coming years. Also, congratulations to the B team, finishing in the top 50 and our ladies team, who came 13th.
Initially I wasn’t going to do the Darwen Half Marathon, as it clashed with the Manchester Marathon where I was going to be part of the Up & Running team in the corporate relay challenge. A key member in our team of four was Daniel Cheeseman, who needed an urgent operation on his Achilles. Dan is a very rapid track runner and finding a replacement runner proved difficult, which led to us having to pull the plug. Thankfully Dan’s operation was a success and I’m sure he’ll be back racing later in the year and competing for Great Britain again in the future.
So, Darwen Half Marathon was back on my radar, this year the race was dedicated to the legendary local runner, Don Ashton, who sadly passed away last winter. I remember seeing him out running on the moors when I started as a teenager, all the runners knew him and he was a GB international as a veteran. The race also had the novelty of being video by local runner and videographer, Danny Grear, who did a great short film on myself earlier in the year. These can be found on Retinair’s Facebook page.
I was determined to improve on my previous time of 72:40. If truth be told, I wasn’t particularly happy with that time when I won last year. With the form I’ve been in I reckoned I could knock over a minute off and hopefully that would be enough to achieve a second successive victory. Last year I reached the 6 mile and 10 mile points in 32:38 & 56:28. I got off to a good start and established an early lead in the first mile, I seemed to be running quite smoothly and when I reached the 6th mile, I checked my watch at 30:20, which I found hard to believe and it made me re-check it a couple of times! I was clearly running very well and was already over two minutes ahead of my previous schedule. I was still feeling comfortable when I came up to the hilliest section of the course between 8 ½ and 10 ½ miles, the 10 mile mark was reached in 53:30, I was blowing my old time out of the water at this rate! I tackled the last two miles downhill at a good lick and crossed the line in 69:17. I never envisioned I could run this course that fast, I had hoped one day that I might scrape under 70 minutes, but never expected to achieve it so easily. I was about 3 and a half minutes faster than last year, which may well rank as a better performance than my run at Bath Half last month. Richard Howarth from Horwich finished strongly in second place (75:44), just ahead of club-mate Jack Hindle, who also had a great run with 76:25, which certainly points towards a pb on a flat course. Whilst it’s been a prolific few weeks for myself, it’s also been a great month for the club and we won another team prize in this race, getting five runners in the top 10 (myself, Jack Hindle, Chris Davies 4th, Shaun Livesey 7th & Paul Guinan 10th, 1st V45, just ahead of Matt Nuttall in 11th). Colleague and club-mate John Sutton was disappointed with 28th place, but he’s been training well and i’m sure he’ll get the results he’s aiming for soon. Ben Costello had to overcome being sick around 7th mile and battled on gamely to finish in his debut half marathon.
It’s always a great honour to win a race, especially in my hometown and it’s something I’ll never take for granted, you never know how long these periods last and 12 months ago I wasn’t sure if I’d ever get back to my best form again. It’s been an incredible year so far, winning prestigious races, achieving a pb, being a feature in Retinair’s video and having such a lot of support and goodwill from family, friends, the local and not-so-local running community. My attention now focuses on the track season, which kicks off at the end of the month and it’s very much a case of keeping the foot right down on the accelerator:- onwards and upwards!