Last weekend was an impressive one in terms of sporting achievements. You may have seen the Brownlee brothers swim, cycle and run to a one, two finish in the elite men’s race at the world triathlon series in Leeds on Sunday, or looked on as team GB triathlete Vicky Holland claimed a bronze in the elite women’s race (Holland and fellow triathlete Non Stanford are now definitely my new sporting girl crushes!), but I’m also incredibly proud to say that, earlier in the day, two of my close family friends – Matt and Chris – raced in the open entry men’s event. For both of them this was in their first Olympic distance triathlon and they both totally smashed it.
If that wasn’t impressive enough, I can’t tell you how proud I am of my friend and running pal Katie, who faced her first half Iron Man this Sunday, completing a 1.2 mile (1.9 km) swim, 56 mile (90 km) bike ride, and a 13.1 mile (21.1 km) run in and around the grounds of Shugborough Hall in Staffordshire. While I knew she would nail it (that girl’s got grit) that doesn’t detract from how incredibly in awe I am of her for doing it. (And I’d be fibbing if I didn’t admit that it’s started to sew seeds of a triathlon in my mind too…)
After all of that it seems rather anticlimactic to add that this weekend I also ran in the 2016 Potters ‘Arf Marathon.
The 13.1 miles around the towns of Stoke-on-Trent are possibly some of the hilliest I’ve run under race conditions. Still, being a natural born Potter and having never previously run the race I decided that this year was the year to face ‘heartbreak hill’ (the killer climb between miles 11 and 12) alongside my brother-in-law and Potters ‘Arf veteran, Georg.
Knowing the reputation of the course with it’s multiple hills I had no expectations of a PB and as such went in to the run with a relaxed attitude. My parents, sister and two nephews came along to watch, which was so nice, and they all waited with us at the start despite the torrential downpour that arrived just before the race began.
Despite the rain, supporters had turned up in their masses and the atmosphere wasn’t dampened at all (although we were all pretty soggy by the time we were called to line up on the start line). Luckily by the time we began to run the rain has stopped and it held off pretty much the whole way round.
I don’t think I’ve ever run in such a well-supported race. Every mile of the course had people on the sidelines cheering us on and many of the supporters were offering water, jelly babies, orange segments and cold sponges to us as we went. It made me so proud to be from Stoke and I found myself grinning like a loon most of the way round as a result.
I ran the first couple of miles with Georg but lost him in the crowds (surprising as he is a 6ft something barefoot giant with an enormous red beard any Viking would be proud of!). Still I soon settled into my own pace and the initial miles ticked over quite quickly. I had been warned about the hill between miles 4 and 5 and kept my head down as I ploughed up it.
I was flagging slightly at mile 8 but hearing our friends and neighbours Andy, Lisa, Morgan and Spencer on the sideline cheering me on gave me the extra push I needed.
The other notable hills came at around miles 9 and 10 and on the second I heard a runner behind me say ‘is this “the one”‘ to which someone else answered ‘no, that’s still to come’. It was lucky that I heard this exchange as I knew the worst was still waiting for me!
Heartbreak hill was signposted, although the signage wasn’t necessary. Usually when running up hills I look at the ground to protect myself from the sight of the gradient, but even looking down couldn’t conceal how steep the drag was. I was determined to keep my legs turning over but did have to walk a few steps before pushing on. Still, once at the top it was all down hill to the finish and I ran into Hanley with the biggest smile on my face. Mum, dad, Jo and the boys were all cheering at the finish and I was surprised to see that I’d comfortably come in under the two hour mark, which, given the hills, I hadn’t expected.
I saw an old friend at the finish line too, and despite having never run a half before he crossed the line not far behind me, impressive stuff! It was lovely enjoy the end of race euphoria together. I soon found Georg too and we celebrated together.
So a successful weekend all round and another ‘run not race’ under my belt.