Racing hadn’t been going great recently, and neither had training. After what I perceived as a failure at the Robin Hood Marathon I wanted to start getting back to where I was with running back in March. For October my plans included two back to back weekends of half marathons, the first of which would be this hilly one in Birmingham for the Great Birmingham Run.
I had some idea of what I was getting myself into having done the inaugural Great Birmingham 10K back in May – I knew about the big hill towards the end. However I didn’t expect to get another cough and cold right before this half marathon – just as I had done with the Robin Hood marathon. This resulted in easing off the pace in a few training runs and even cutting one short due to not feeling well enough to go the full distance.
On the day of the race I met up with some friends and we took a taxi from Leicester to Birmingham – definitely easier than having to navigate the roads around Birmingham. The journey passed by really quickly and not long after arriving we met up with some others from the #ukrunchat community for a chat and a pre-race photo. I parted ways at that point and joined @DavidNFLF1 as we headed over to the orange pen. It was quite full and somewhere in front of us we could see the 1hr35 and 1hr40 pacers more or less together.
I wasn’t too bothered about the pacers being in front as I knew that by the end of the first mile we’d settle into a place and I would likely find myself somewhere between the two. The odd thing is though I don’t actually remember passing either of them, but I suppose I must have passed at least the 1h40 pacer at some point, and I didn’t see the 1hr35 pacer again until the end – he’d finished before me despite me finishing ahead of that time.
In the first mile it felt like I had started strong, and was at a pace that felt quite comfortable. I’d been lucky to get out of the way of other runners pretty quickly so had some breathing room for a while until some tight bends required me to slow down as they became congested. It was also pretty familiar as those of us in the left hand lane had turned off the main road and was taking the familiar course of May’s 10K whilst the right-hand lane had carried straight on for us to eventually meet up before the first mile marker.
For the first four miles it was fairly congested and somewhere around the end of this section I did get a fellow runner run straight into me and should barged through a gap in front of me. In some ways I can understand their frustration, but at the same time it’s something we all had to contend with so he should really have just put up with needing to “ease of the gas” a bit like the rest of us where. It was around this point that we could see the 8 mile marker on the opposite side of the road – knowledge we’d be running up a slight incline to get to it later. A good thing to know.
The fourth mile did also include a surprising hill and I dropped my pace for it – not wanting to use up too much energy too early. Still, even with this dropped pace due to some faster miles earlier I was still averaging ahead of what I would need for a PB I had no intention of attempting. I decided I’d carry on at a pace that was comfortable and wouldn’t push too hard – I wanted to enjoy this after having had some difficult races lately. There were a few runners that were cheating themselves here though – despite the tape indicating to go wide around corners they were mounting the pavement and chopping off about 20 metres of the route.
At some point during the fifth mile I saw the elites running passed in the opposite direction – they were running hard and doing incredibly well. I slowed briefly to clap them as they passed and then put the focus back into my own running. The support from the people of Birmingham was still strong and I used this to push a little harder. For the next three miles I was consistently doing sub-7min/miles and still felt capable of continuing. I think I could have pushed harder at this point but decided not to as I wanted some left in me for tackling the hill at the end.
Between miles 5 and 6 we also went through Bournville – the home of a Cadbury’s chocolate factory. It would have been nice if they’d been giving out chocolate to the runners – but that was just wishful thinking! I think perhaps if they’d been doing that there would have been the temptation to run passed a few times!
As I reached mile 8 we were back along the stretch of road we’d seen previously from the other side and I started to look out for @amy__everett – hoping to see how she was doing. Fortunately I was able to spot her and gave her a smile and wave as we passed in opposite directions. I’d not been keeping an eye on my pace at this point and was still going faster than I’d intended. By mile 9 I decided to ease off a little so I could have a better run at the hill. This is where we ran around the back of the stadium and out onto a housing estate.
At some point I noticed a frame set-up ahead that was spraying water. Although warm I didn’t really want to get wet so decided to take it wide – I still managed to get one foot wet though! It didn’t really bother me, though I did think I’d need to be careful not to get a blister like I had done when I’d gotten my feet wet in a previous race.
Eventually we reached the dreaded 10 mile marker – the one which I believed to be the start of 2 miles of running up hill. Although I’d slowed down a little, I hadn’t seen any sign of it going up hill. Early on we rounded one corner and a pedestrian walked out into the road in front of the runners whilst talking on his mobile – completely oblivious to what was going on around him. I don’t think it caused anyone any issues though fortunately.
A short time later the course dipped down for an underpass and @1SteveMac caught up with me. We chatted for a while, but I started to feel my nose was getting a little congested and I was struggling to breathe. We then hit the 11 mile marker and the route started to go up hill. It still felt okay at this point, but it was getting harder to breathe. My right ear then popped and I was struggling to hear out of it – though I could now feel the vibration in that ear of each foot strike I made.
I slowed to a walk hoping that my ear would clear – seconds later @DavidNFLF1 sailed passed me – running strong and making good progress. After about 5 seconds I then decided to try and catch back up with him, and I got close, but the hill climb was getting steeper and I still wasn’t able to breathe through my nose that well. Unashamedly I then slowed back down to a walk and took the hill fairly casually. Once we got to the top I then started running again, and only stopped briefly to try and clear my ear, but unable to I carried on.
I then noticed @DavidNFLF1 was about 600 metres ahead of me, and I thought I’d see if I could speed up enough to catch-up with him (I didn’t – he’s too strong a runner for me to stand any chance of that! And really pleased he managed to set a new PB for the second week running!). I tried hard and even picked up some reasonable speed as the route dipped down for one last under-pass. I could see the 400 metre sign and I wasn’t sure if I should try and pick up more speed or not. I decided to hold off and then started to pick up speed as I got to the 200 metre marker.
I finished in position 631 of 12,242 finishers (top 5%), with an official time of 1:32:43 – 20 seconds slower than what I’d set as a PB at Silverstone back in March. It didn’t bother me though, I was happy with it. Considering that at Silverstone I was at full health, had great weather conditions (was cold so I’d never really be overheating), and was flat for the majority of it I think being 2 seconds per mile on average slower on a course where I was still getting over a cold, and a hilly course at that, it wasn’t too bad. I’m happy- next week I’ll have an attempt at a PB when I run the Leicester Half Marathon.
The goodie bag at the end included a medal, a finishers tee, a bottle of water and lucozade, a fruit bar and a few other bits I wasn’t that interested in. It was then nice to be able stand around talking after the race for a while a