With a "bank" of 4 weeks training after the INSKIP HALF on January 19 completed, I'd spent nearly everyday prior to the GREAT NORTH HALF on the grass at the local hockey club. An 8 x 1K track session the previous Saturday had left the legs battered and I wanted to recover well for Sunday's Blackpool race.
As many compettitors, no doubt, I had been checking the BBC WEATHER site for forecasts of race day conditions since midweek and it wan't looking good. They were forecasting rain throughout the day but more significantly... near gale force southerly winds. A forecast which didn't change by Saturday morning. Not good at all.
As I posted on my Facebook page, as a very lightweight 65 year old asthmatic I was less than enthusiastic about the prospect of being battered by 29 m.p.h. winds on the concrete Blackpool promenade. Makes breathing somewhat difficult!
I mooched around all Saturday morning uncertain about whether to race or not, but decided to leave options open by doing my normal prerace jog of 3 miles on the grass. A wind blown jog after which I'd decided NOT to bother for reasons of health and safety.
It wouldn't be good for my health and I might get blown into the Irish Sea!
But the more I thought about all the training I'd done over the 5 weeks since INSKIP.....and the £20 entry fee......the more I was inclined to change my mind. I decided to go. The forecast might change overnight. Just how bad could it be?
A study of the race route, a 2 lap course, would at least mean that the first miles would be wind assisted. I would then be looking to shelter behind young big guys (hopefully) for the next 3 or so miles into the gale then revert to wind assisted race pace for miles 7, 8, 9 and repeat. Sounds like a plan!
Arriving at the Blackpool Hilton ,we managed to secure our normal spot in a side alley just minutes from the start and walked onto the promenade. The forecast had been correct. Rain and strong winds from the south.
Perhaps they would bus us own to St. Annes and we could run back.....gale assisted. Chance would be a fine thing!
Complete with hat, gloves and windproof gilet over race vest I set off with 1350 others but wind assisted with opening miles of 7.32, 7.23, 7.25 I was overheating. The hat, gloves and gilet being shed after lap 1.
Managing to find the planned shelter for the 3 miles back down to North Pier were still a trial. Not surprisingly the pace dropped . 7.45, 7.49 and 7.57 to 6 miles. but not disastrous.
What a relief as we turned now and pushing hard again, at more like 10K pace, miles of 7.14 (uphill) 7.06 and 7.02 resulted. I was starting to think the end result might be so bad after all.
But the wind strength on the second lap was even worse than the first. Now a case of survival. No apologies for using young guys for cover but watching the pace doesn't drop too dramatically. Miles of 7.56. 8.11 and 8.08 resulting.
It was clearly going to require a great effort from 12 miles to get under 1:40. I'm urging the group to keep going for the sub 1:40 but they are mainly wearing headphones so they can't hear anyway!
A 7.13 13th mile and I go on to record a gun time of 1:39.12 ,chip time 1:39.01. 106 half marathon done an dusted.
I turn at the end of the funnel and shake hands with those in the group who have shared the ordeal and pushed the pace along.
Over 30 minutes slower than my PB for a half but after 51 years of racing I'll take that.
The race was won by IAN Mc BRIDE; well clear in a moderate 74.01. But clearly today was more about tactics and coping with the conditions rather than times.
CARLY NEEDHAM (Rochdale) was first lady in 85.09.
I managed to win the M65 category but cold and battered we headed off home. It wasn't a day for hanging around.
Monday, 24 February 2014
Sunday, 16 February 2014
"Charlie! Charlie!". The distressed, anguished screams of Charlie's wife,Bernadette sounded out loud and harshly throughout the foyer of the SLIEMA cinema. His daughter gripped tightly her mother's hand. Tears poured down her face. She was equally distressed by the sight of her father who had been carried from the finishing line and now lay on his back on the tiled floor.
He has finished 3rd in 2:32.50 in this inaugural MALTA MARATHON and would later say he was "very pleased" but few looking anxiously on knew the real story of what had led to his post race predicament!
Just 140 runners had set off from Santa Lucia, many of them from England, on a bright, sunny February morning, slightly apprehensive of the strong winds which would inevitably create problems and make the 26.2 mile journey and even greater challenge for us all.
I had led very early on but Charlie Portelli, the local champion, had edged by and pushed on; maintaining a lead towards the Ta' Quai national stadium. But Longwood's PAUL PICKUP and GB international, Commonwealth and European marathon champion caught him and went by. I was now adrift ,running solo, in 4th position. But was suddenly aware of a lot of chattering coming up from behind.
I looked around to see a very large group of pro cyclists rapidly catching me up. Possibly 20 in total. They quickly caught me, passed me and rode on towards the stadium......and the local Maltese hero.
I ran on but could see them catch him before reaching the stadium. From this high point we would turn down towards the coast and the wind would hamper our progress most.
Except rather than pass the 3rd placed runner, the group of cyclists seemed to form a circle around him. They seemed intent on creating a barrier against the wind. Mile after after, it appeared they shielded him and encouraged him to maintain his position.
I think driven on by annoyance at what I was witnessing, I gradually closed the gap and as we reached the flat Strand in Sliema I thought I might just catch him. The gap was getting maller and smaller. But I failed as i simply ran out of road.
I crossed the line and jogged back down the course for a few minutes, envious of spectators sat drinking lunchtime pints in the promenade cafes. When I returned to the finish line Charlie P. was being carried away indoors. His wife and child followed, fearing the worse. It would appear the cyclists had forced him to run himself "into the ground"
I followed inside. But I said nothing of what had gone on. What was the point. I had had a Fastrax vest especially made in Malta colours of red and white which I took off and gave to him, saying well done.
The records show that PAUL PICKUP went on to win in 2:27.48 followed by IAN THOMPSON in 2:29.46 CHARLES PORTELLI (MALTA) 3RD in 2:32.50 and TERRY LONERGAN 4TH IN 2: 33.52.
A big gap then to GERALD MARRINAN (Stockport) 2:39.40 with a disppointed RON HILL 6th in 2:43.09.
But you'll find nothing in the reports of what happened in the second half of the race as we battled against those strong winds.
I stayed for the race presentation. There were prizes for the first 3. Mr Portelli took away 3rd place prize and first Malta runner. A large trophy and a holiday in England. Perhaps he deserved it for what he had had to endure but I always be left with the feeling that thanks to those cyclists I had been robbed of the "thrill of the chase" and the chance of a "podium" place in that inaugural MALA MARATHON. 1986.