Yesterday I competed in the Halifax Half Marathon for the first time and it was an experience I will never forget.
Having reckied part of the course the day before albeit in my car, I was under no illusion as to how tough this race was. Pretty much from the off you are climbing from the depths of Dean Clough Mill, Halifax to the heights of Soil Hill and Roper Lane, Queensbury before you descend back into Dean Clough Mill and the finish.
I arrived at the start and plenty of time and was pleasantly surprised to find plenty of car parking available. Some events I have turned up to and parking has been a nightmare so this time having plenty of space to park was nice. I later found out that the reason for there being so much parking available was more due to the notorious reputation the Halifax Half has and the effect this has on putting people off rather than me being early.
At one point before the start it seemed that most of the other competitors were in the queue for the toilet then preparing themselves to run! And then we got the call to assemble at the start and a couple of hundred runners were off to test themselves on the hills of Halifax.
The start heads up towards Shroggs Park before dropping down and heading towards Brackenbed Lane. This was the first of the hard climbs taking you up to Moor End Road and Mount Tabor. It is one of those typical climbs that we seem to have a lot of in Yorkshire where you think you have reached the top only to be confronted with yet more climbing.
And this is the advantage of doing a reckie. I was prepared for this second climb rather than being taken by surprise and I had set off at a steady pace in anticipation of this. I have been caught out by this in the past at races and suffered later on in the race as a consequence, but this time I was ready and climbed Brackenbed Lane in one go which set me up nicely for the rest of the race. I was feeling good and my confidence was going up.
Onwards and upwards on Moor End Road and towards Mount Tabor a nice village set in the countryside of Calderdale. Four miles soon went by and we headed right on Moor End Road towards the village of Moor End. Going through Moor End we had a bit of respite from all the climbing as we ran downhill towards Mixenden. On this first bit of downhill I decided not to push the pace but relax my body and mind and conserve my energy for the climbing that was yet to come.
We were soon through Mixenden and beginning to find ourselves in our own little races with the other runners. I was running with a lass from the Halifax Harriers and two young lads with charity vests on. At times like this it’s nice to have other runners with you as they keep you going and pull you along and you can maintain your pace easier too.
Through Mixenden the climbing started again. A steep climb on Mill Lane, takes you up to the outskirts of Illingworth and it was on this climb that a man running in sandals passed me! I was surprised at his choice of footwear but each to their own! I decided against racing him as it was obvious he had run in sandals before so I left him to tackle the climb on his own.
Once you have got to the outskirts of Illingworth you assume that you would head to the main road preparing for the last major climb, Soil Hill. However, the organisers of the race had been particularly nasty and instead the route took you left down Lane Head Lane before turning right up Rocks Lane. This route means you are as far down as you can go before you start running up to Soil Hill. Once again I was pleased with myself for having done a reckie of the route the day before. If I hadn’t done the reckie I would have been taken by surprise again and had another heart sinking moment that could have put my hopes of getting a Personal Best (PB) on the course in tatters.
My PB for a half marathon was 2:19:40 set at the Liversedge Half in February. I had run the Huddersfield Half in early June and missed getting a PB by around 40 seconds due mainly to wearing the wrong shoes for the course and stopping at water stations which I don’t normally do. At Halifax I had set myself a time of 2:10:00 to finish and coming off a week of rest after some hard runs I was feeling confident of achieving this.
At the six-mile mark on the main Keighley Road, I was on target to get a new PB in the time I had set myself but I still had the climb up to Soil Hill to contend with which would be the deciding factor in how close I would get to 2:10:00.
Soil Hill has a reputation as being one of the toughest climbs around and it is easy to see why. It starts off reasonable enough before flattening out and then steeply ascending taking in three ninety-degree bends before getting to the top of Ned Hill Road on which Soil Hill is. The first one of these bends is particularly difficult as it is at the steepest and narrowest part and you have to concentrate on just getting up and not worrying about your pace.
I did exactly this and successfully negated the bend and was on the climb up to the second bend. On this short straight I met one of my other Queensbury runners coming down in his van. He had, had a successful day out motorbike racing the day before coming away with a very well deserved third place and was in a good mood. On the way up I gave him a high five and carried on.
Up and up I went cheered on by some supporters from Halifax Harriers who were in their car and giving all the runners a much needed boost. At the top of Soil Hill, I passed the two young runners in their charity vests who to my surprise were now walking. They were younger than me and looked fitter than me but looks can be deceiving… This was the last I saw of them until the finish. The girl from Halifax Harriers was still in front of me so I had a decent marker to aim for and to keep pulling me along.
At the seven-mile mark halfway on Ned Hill my time was 1:15. I was five minutes behind my schedule and knew that the next six miles were going to hurt. There would be no time to relax and enjoy the scenery this was now me against the clock, me pushing myself once again to my limits and seeing how far I could go. This was now me against me.
Ned Hill Road goes into Perseverance Road some more downhill and flat and I began to pick up the pace knowing I had no time to rest. Going faster was the only way I would achieve my goal.
At the bottom of Perseverance Road is the Raggalds Inn and several from the Queensbury Running Club were there to cheer me and the other runners on and take photographs.
After the Raggalds, Roper Lane takes you around the outskirts of Queensbury. The first part is steady climbing before turning left and going downhill. By now I was visibly catching the lass from Halifax Harriers but remembering the advice I had been given by more experienced runners I reminded myself that this was about me and my own personal race and not racing other people.
I was soon at the bottom of Roper Lane and on the main road where the final water station was at the nine-mile mark. Here I finally caught and passed the lass from Halifax Harriers as she stopped to take on some water and I took some on the run. This gave me the advantage I needed to not only pass her but maintain momentum as there is a small climb before you head back down once again.
By now I had made up around two or three minutes on the time I lost going up Soil Hill but despite the pain in my thighs and my mind telling me I couldn’t do this I knew deep down I could and I knew I had to maintain this pace and I would achieve my goal.
Left onto Swalesmoor Road and a climb that you don’t notice normally became a hill but still I maintained my pace. Down the other side, pass the ski slope and another incline that isn’t there usually is all of a sudden huge. By now I’m catching two runners in front of me and this gives me added impetus to keep my pace up.
At the bottom of the road I am caught out. I assumed, wrongly that the route would take me over the road and down through the area of Claremont before heading into Halifax town centre. However, at the bottom of the small decline the arrows say right onto Claremont Road. I remember wondering where the route was going? We weren’t far from the end now so where were we going? What surprises did the organises have in store for us?
At the end of Claremont Road, I was soon over the main road. I had been lucky today with crossing roads and had not lost too much time. Some more downhill on the outskirts of Halifax town centre and another runner was in sight. I was catching her fast and knew I would soon pass her. This however was inconsequential to me. I had made up all the time I had lost previously and was now on course to achieve 2:10. This was now about me maintaining my pace and pushing myself not about beating anyone.
At the bottom of this road we turned left and I realised that the organisers had put us on a road that runs parallel to the main road but is far quieter. This is where the pain really began to set in. My thighs were on fire and felt like they would drop off at any time, my breathing was heavy and my mind was telling me to take it easy. I knew from looking at my watch that I would set a new PB whatever but now it was about how much I wanted that 2:10 time.
And then it kicked in. All the memories of the hard miles down over the winter. Doing it the hard way through mud, water, rain and snow with no one there to see it, no one to cheer you on, no one at the end to say well done. The winter months spent up on the moors all came into their own now, the climbs, the feet ice cold from being in water for hours, the mud that was still there after a week. This is what is meant by doing the grind.
And people’s voices flashed through my mind reminding me all that I have achieved, how far I have come, the respect I have earned from everybody not just other runners, reminding me that I can do this, willing me on!!
And I ran through the pain, through the hurt. I was passed by a lass but it didn’t matter. I was only bothered about keeping going and finishing now. Giving up would be easy but I don’t do anything the easy way.
Round the edge of Dean Clough, down and up some dangerous stone steps and onto the road that goes through the middle of Dean Clough and one final small climb before turning right into the car park and the finish at last!
The finish was strange to say the least as the organisers had decided to put a couple of turns in before you crossed the line, which in the middle of a car park seemed very odd!
I crossed and looked at my watch, 2:10:28. I had done it! But prior experience of how fickle the organisers can be with their timings meant I knew I would be tempting fate if I was to announce it straight away.
But I had done it. I had achieved something I would have thought impossible a couple of years ago. But more than that I had fought the voices in my head telling me to slow down, accept something less, telling me I could not do this. The last three miles had been the hardest miles I had run all day. All the climbing had taken everything out of me and then for the second time in a week I had to dig deep and then dig deeper to get what I wanted. I had to go through and beyond my pain threshold, my legs felt as if they would fall apart and I would never walk again, mentally I had to switch everything off that said no and focus on my goal and nothing else.
This run was proof that whatever your level you can achieve something if you’re prepared to put in the hard work, go through the bad runs hoping for a good run when it matters, put yourself through the pain barrier again and again and again, seemingly for no reason, push yourself to your limits only to push them back again the next time. And the only competitor you have is you. It doesn’t matter where you finish, first, last in the middle, it means nothing. All that matters is that you have done your best, you have achieved your goal and you have nothing more to give.
And my official time yesterday? 2:10:34. For once the timing gods were on my side too!