It felt fabulous to guide Danny through his first half marathon though that feeling wasn’t there instantly as we crossed the finish line at Wilmslow. The race was well organised, routed, marshaled and supported. It was chip timed, with excellent pace runners, it had a bag drop off area, tempting post race food and beer available and a post race massage tent but the only down side was that it finished on a rough, narrow track by the side of a corn field. This wouldn’t normally be such a problem but when you’re responsible for guiding someone who’s tired, wet and cold and you don’t quite know which way is back to somewhere sheltered suddenly you’re on edge and tense among the crowds of finishers and supporters when you’d really like to collapse and relax yourself. Danny was picking up fliers for other half marathons whilst at that point in time I was much less enthused by the prospect of another 13 miles at any time in the future. On finishing I suddenly realised how physically drained I felt as well as being a bit mentally frazzled.
Our training had gone really well and other than getting locked in Heaton Park one evening after dusk, it had passed without incident. Busy weekends with our respective families left us short of daylight for training but as the days lengthened so did our runs with an excellent final run just short of 20k that Danny rounded off with a sprint finish down his street.
We had very welcome and helpful company on the day of the race with me picking up Rob and Sol before Danny. It all felt a bit Ocean’s Eleven as I rounded up a North Manchester posse to do a job on Wilmslow’s streets. Rob worked in Wilmslow and I was grateful that he navigating us there in good time relieving me of some race day stress. Rob is the current quickest guy in our running club and amazingly broke 80 minutes in only his 2nd half marathon. Sol managed a 4 minute PB as well and helpfully lead us off from an elevated position on the graded starting grid halfway between the 1:30 and 1:40 markers.
As we set off Sol opened up a space in front of us and then as the field settled there was a steady succession of people passing us. A block of runners overtook us at the 3 mile point bunched behind the 1:45 pacer and then a 2nd wave behind the 1:50 pacer passed at 6 miles. This was a bit more troublesome as it was on the narrowest section of the course, a country lane riddled with potholes. The body of runners made it harder for me to see the road immediately ahead and I couldn’t stop Danny from stumbling a couple of times. He didn’t want to stop although we could afford to as we’d banked some time against our 2 hour target by running the first 10k in 53:30.
The last 4 miles were tough and I suggested he count them down by ‘visualizing’ the distance remaining in relation to somewhere familiar like Heaton Parkrun. As we passed the 9 mile mark I’d remarked that we had less than one and a half Parkruns to go and explained that as I get into the later stages of the race I busy my mind with conversions between miles, kilometres and percentages to find the figure that makes the distance seem shortest. Having mentioned ‘visaulizing’ I instantly realized that wasn’t going to help Danny, bearing in mind his impairment, but maybe he could relate the last 5k to our Parkrun’s turns and gradients as I compared our actual position to various virtual points on the course which we have run together numerous times over the last few months. I’m not sure if that helped him as Danny had gone a bit quiet and was digging deep to ignore some niggling leg pain caused by an over-excited cross trainer session in the gym. We conquered the most significant climb cruelly positioned just after the 12 mile point but once that was out of the way there was a gradual downhill to the end with crowds building as we returned to Wilmslow. You’ll notice from the photo above that I was struggling as much as Danny and we were both delighted to get to the finish line.
A few days later I’m feeling more satisfied with what we’ve done. Danny smashed his target time and is keen to run again. We’ve learned loads along the way to make sure the next race is easier although knowing Danny he’ll be pushing even harder next time.