Back in May 2014, Chris Tucker (or Mr Plock!) took on his first half marathon, at the Rock'n'Roll Half in Liverpool.
Here's the story of his day...
Usually I’d use the motorway around Wolverhampton and then pick a route depending on what the traffic reports suggested the least congested route was.
Friday was, however, my cousin Kirsty’s wedding and whilst Sarah was able to attend, I needed to pick the kids up from school. Having to go through Wolverhampton to pick her up from the wedding venue increased the journey time and I was ready for a relaxing beverage on arrival.
Waking up the following morning, it was apparent that the drinks I had consumed the previous night weren’t the energy beers I was used to. Fortunately, I was already planning a slow pootle around parkrun on Saturday in my Asics trainers so I could save my Boosts for Sunday. The problem with this idea became apparent when I unpacked my running gear – I hadn’t packed my Boosts!
After parkrun, we went on a Shabba recruitment drive. On the beach at Crosby/Waterloo is Anthony Gormley’s “Another Place”, a collection of about 100 iron men standing looking out to sea. They’re surprisingly nippy for inanimate objects!
In the run up to my half marathon, I’ve had a bit of a twinge in my left ankle after I’ve finished running. On the bright side there was no reoccurrence of this after parkrun. On the down side, when coupled with routine being disrupted due to school holidays and other events at home, I hadn’t actually run farther than 10km since the end of March – something that I’m glad I only found out whilst writing this blog as opposed to beforehand. As it was my nerves kicked in the evening before as Sarah and I went for a short walk around Waterloo. I’m sure my muscles and organ were taking it in turns to try and convince me that running was going to be a stupid idea.
Many glasses of orange squash later, it was time for an early night as an 8am race start meant an early get up. To be on the safe side, I set four alarms every fifteen minutes from 5:15am. Sleep did not come easily and after glancing at my watch at around 3am it felt like I was just waiting for an alarm… Which didn’t come. No idea what I’d done, but I’m assuming that the ‘Do Not Disturb’ function on my phone overrode the app that I was using for the alarm. Even at 5:30am, it looked like it was going to be perfect conditions for a run.
Never mind, one shower, one breakfast and one brew later and we were out the house by 6:35 and arrived at the Echo Arena just before 7:00. Sarah was originally planning on just cheerleading, but the promise of a free t-shirt and a free lunch saw her being assigned to giving out medals at the finishing line.
There were various people I knew running the race – a couple from Walsall parkrun (Ian and Anna), Sarah’s cousin, Mark and fellow Shabba, Nikki. We managed to meet up with Mark and Nikki before the race and unexpectedly bumped into Jo Stacey (who I follow on twitter) and some of the Run Mummy Run girls.
The hour between 7 and 8 flew by and as start time approached, we headed towards the corrals. Mark and Nikki were in corral 2, but when I entered the race, I’d only put my estimates finishing time as 2:30:00 so I was in corral 8 (out of 9). Mark was trying to encourage me to move up to a pen nearer the start, but I decided to stay put, reasoning that slower runners would mean that’s settle into my own pace rather than try and go off too quickly due to being around faster runners.
Just before the first water station, I passed the 2 hour 30 pacer, which I was happy about as it showed I was making progress through the field. The second mile took us into Chinatown and through the Chinese arch before turning to go past Liverpool Cathedral. It was at this stage I saw a familiar orange t-shirt with Lichfield on the back of it. Somehow amongst all the runners I’d found Ian. We settled into a comfortable pace and had a bit of a chat about the weekend so far, although this had to be postponed as we turned the corner and headed up the hill.
Turning off Upper Parliament Street, we were heading toward Princes Park and back on a flat stretch. At 6km, we went over the timing mats at the first checkpoint. I was feeling good at this stage and was comfortable with the pace. Although 35:08 was slower than I might have hoped for, I was coming up to a part of the course I was actually familiar with… and it was undulating.
Half-lap of Princes parkrun in reverse, during which we passed the 2:15:00 pacer, out the gates, up the hill and then right towards Sefton park. I was now back in unfamiliar territory about the route (I could still have traced it on a map, but as far as ups and downs were concerned, I had absolutely no idea!) At this stage, the course started to head downhill and I allowed my pace to pick up a little. Shortly after heading over the 10km timing mats, I realised that Ian was no longer with me.
As we headed into Sefton park, the sun came out. I’ve not been to that part of Liverpool before, however the park seemed really nice. I wonder how much more of it I’d get to see by doing next year’s Liverpool Spring 10k!
Having left the park we had to head under a dual carriageway. This was a quite tight part of the course as we used the ramps to sharply switch back on ourselves having left the underpass and it was tricky not to bash into other runners.
I had another nice surprise shortly after the 8-mile mark as Sarah’s Auntie Ann was waiting at the entrance to Otterspool park. I noticed in sufficient time to be able to run past and high-five her. Unfortunately, I did cut across another runner to do so and quickly apologised. It did, however, give me a boost going into the last quarter of the race.
We reached the bank of the River Mersey and turned onto the path to head along the path that would take us the 4.1 miles back to the city centre. I reached the 10 mile timing mark in 1:32:04, at which point i only had one parkrun to go. In theory, I could still reach my sub-2 hour target, but it was going to be tight.
It had turned into a beautiful day and it was getting warmer. Fortunately, there had been plenty of drinks stations around the course and I was able to keep myself hydrated and cool. The path, however, seemed to go on forever – what seemed like a decent distance travelled turned out to be just a tenth of a mile according to my watch. Even so, I don’t remember feeling as knackered as the photographers from Marathonfoto have managed to suggest!
Shortly after 11 miles, I passed the farthest distance I’d completed in training. Part of me had wanted to complete a half-marathon distance prior to the race just so my body knew what to expect in the latter stages and my mind couldn’t start to doubt my ability. Whilst there were brief thoughts as to whether I should have a bit of a walk (after all, lots of other people were giving it a go,) I knew that if I did, my achievement wouldn’t feel as good at the finishing line.
All of a sudden, we turned the corner of Atlantic Way and the cathedral was back in view. My vague knowledge of Liverpool told me more about where I was in relation to the finish as opposed to the mile markers and it gave me another spurt of energy to push on.
As we re-entered the dock area, I was still under 2 hours, but only just. It was all going to depend just how far the last straight was. As I approached it, I tried to peer round the final corner to see how close I was to being done and in that moment, I knew I was going to be outside my target time. Even so, I kept going, determined to make sure I’d run the whole distance.
The crowds lined the finish, but a sprint finish was beyond me. I looked for anyone I recognised around the finish line, in case the children were there. I approached the finishing gantry showing a gun time in excess of 2 hours 11 minutes and reasoned I was on for a time around 2:03:00-2:04:00. Over the line and I stopped my watch, but I didn’t register what it said. Heading down the funnel, I saw Sarah and Nikki waiting for me.
I vaguely remember getting a hug off them both, a kiss and a medal off Sarah and having my photo taken by Nikki, but otherwise it was a case of “What happens next?” I grabbed a bottle of water from a volunteer and headed slowly away from finishing line. All of a sudden, Nikki reappeared – I was grateful to have someone with me to talk to and take my mind off my aching legs!
The arena floor itself was a little chaotic, although that was only due to the number of people there (hint: run faster and you’ll avoid that problem!). Nikki headed off to get her XS t-shirt and I headed in the direction of the medium queue. Eventually, I found the back of the line and joined it just as Nikki turned up with her clothing. Seeing the queue for baggage collection, she headed off to grab her stuff whilst I slowly moved forward in my line.
Heading into the open air, (having had our medals engraved with our respective times) I headed straight to take advantage of the free massage that was on offer. You can blame Sarah for the fact there is a photo to illustrate this
After a while, it was time to move on, we briefly caught up with Nikki, who was planning a trip on the “Ferry, cross the Mersey” and we planned to meet up by the Iron Men later on. As a final surprise for the day, our friends Jay and Kayleigh were in the city for the day and noticed us chilling out and stopped for a chat – small world!
Food was calling so we headed back to the station to go back to Waterloo. We bought our tickets and realised we only had 2 minutes to catch the train. Sarah ran ahead, taking advantage of me being tired to try and get to the platform first. In her haste to try and beat me in a race she nearly headed down to the Wirral line by accident, but fortunately, I was able to point our her error (like any good husband would) in the nick of time. Sometimes being tired and slow has its advantages!
Unfortunately, we didn’t manage to meet up with Nikki again that day. We ended up at different ends of the beach on which the Iron Men were and a sudden downpour meant it wasn’t worth getting even more drenched trying to find each other.
You may have noticed that despite it being called the “Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon”, I haven’t commented on the music. To be honest, when you’re running you go past the bands that quickly that it’s difficult to be able to comment on what they were doing. They provide a short bit of entertainment as you go past and I gave many of them a thumbs up (in true Jonny Shaw style).
It’s a race that I’d definitely do again… in fact I’ve already registered for the 2015 event! There may be other half marathons in the meantime, however you only do your first one once and (apart from 1 minute 7 seconds) I couldn’t be happier about the race I’d chosen or the way it went.