Report by Hana
Last year Julie and I had a date with Robbie Williams at the NEC which gave us a great excuse for a sunny weekend in Birmingham. Whilst we took in the sights around Brindley place, a lovely spot by the Birmingham Canal, we happened upon the finishing stages of the Birmingham Black Country Half Marathon. For whatever reason, we both decided that this event would be one to add to our Race Diary for 2015 and it gave us a good excuse for another girls weekend away, not that we really need any excuses.
July 3rd arrives, as has a mini heat wave and I’m starting to regret entering any race which might cause me to spontaneously combust. Julie has been suffering from Back problems, which doesn’t bode well, and I have been troubled by stiff ligaments at the back of my left knee after a cycle ride the previous weekend. What a pair of old croc’s we are.
With “Sydney Skoda” all washed by “husband who plays golf”, the boot packed and ready for departure, Julie and I set off up the A30 then the M5 for Birmingham, with a little detour to Cheddar Gorge for a stroll. The paths up and down Cheddar Gorge are steep, the views are wonderful from the top, but my body appears to be irresistible to the swarms of Horse Flies that lay in wait in the shrubbery at the top. These menacing insects crept up on me and silently devoured my O Positive blood. I have been left covered in red itchy swellings that are still driving me potty. I only managed to kill one of the evil blood sucking beasts that should have been attacking livestock instead of me and I don’t think that will make much of a dent on their current population, do you? Grrrrr!
As we rejoin the M5 a few hours after leaving it, someone appeared to have turned it into a large car park with a very small exit, the sort you find at Concert venues. If only the train did take the strain, but if we had chosen that option our bank accounts would have gone sick with stress.
We arrive in sunny Birmingham, where “Sydney Skoda” has to stay in the street where my “Daughter who runs, cycles and swims” lives, whilst Julie and I take a short train journey from Bourneville, the home of all that Chocolate goodness I like to devour daily, to New St Station. Then it’s a two minute walk to our hotel, The Holiday Inn, which from the outside looks dreadful, a monstrous 1970’s block of concrete ingrained with 20th century pollution, but once inside it is very comfortable, modern, clean and welcoming. Should you choose to look out of the bedroom window the views are not pretty, but as all we need is somewhere comfortable to sleep that is within easy walking distance of the station and Brindley Place, it fits the bill very nicely.
Friday evening was spent eating Italian food and drinking Cocktails before trying to convince my body and inner body clock, that 8 hours uninterrupted sleep is a possibility. Sadly my Body has ideas of its own and I spent the night waking frequently thinking someone had placed me in a sauna for a laugh. In truth my body has turned into a slow cooker, a poor quality slow cooker, the type that ticks along Ok then goes into overdrive and burns all the food. Oh to be 36yrs once again.
Race day arrives, a sunny Saturday 4th July and we have a start time of 9:45am. This gives us plenty of time to consume our pots of instant porridge (2 for me as I’m greedy) grab our bags and then catch the train to Wolverhampton, a 15 minute ride away. I don’t think I have ever arrived at a Race venue by train before and this train actually stops next to the race start line, well a mere one minute walk away.
The train station also has clean, queue free toilet facilities that we could use. What I wasn’t prepared for was how vicious these toilets would prove to be to the uninitiated. My first attempt was OK, normal procedure, sit down, do whatever needs to be done, wipe, flush and go, but when I returned for a second “let’s see if I can squeeze any more liquid out of my bladder” visit, the toilet turned into a high powered bidet. No sooner had I lowered myself onto the seat than a high velocity surge of upward propelled water hit my nether regions causing me to squeal out loudly and leap off the seat. God knows what anyone in the cubicle next door must have thought, but apparently Julie suffered a similar experience on her earlier visit. Maybe Portable toilets do have advantages after all?
We sat outside watching the world go by for a few minutes and I noticed many bemused males with running kit on who were looking lost. As I had spied the signs pointing race goers to the start location, I shouted out “it’s that way”. Ah, it’s the toilets they are looking for, so I shout “in the station” Oh dear that’s no good either, apparently the gents loo’s were blocked, out of action, probably overused. My helpfulness has now be worn out, so I return to people watching before Julie and I decide we should walk around to the starting area.
This race is a Chip timed race which involves the 1000 or so runners to be set off in waves of 50 runners every 15 minutes. Waves down a Canal…….will I need a wet suit? Could I metamorphose into one of JFD’s “Totty in Tri Suits” or “TITS” for short that he writes about in his race reports? I think not.
When we entered this race you had to give a time that you would expect to run a half marathon in, then the organisers place you into a “wave” of similar runners. To be able to start with a friend/club mate in the same wave, one of you chooses a password and the other quotes it on entering. We followed the instructions to the letter and Hey Presto we both received our start time for wave 5.
The staring area/gathering point is located by what I suppose you could call a Canal basin, a parking lot for canal boats just off the main canal. There are quite a few runners gathered but it’s not crowded and I can see a neat row of about 5 green portable toilets for us to use if required. Unlike the Train station toilets, these have a very long queue, which I decide I don’t need to join, not even in the name of toilet reviewing. I’m sure they are all hunky dory and a standard smell and fit.
Julie and I are wearing are TRC race vests and whenever these are worn out of county they usually attract passing interest from other runners. Today was no different with several men stating “what a long way you have travelled”. Another told us his grandfather was the vicar at Kea for many years and another said they came from Par originally. The women on the other hand kept us at arm’s length.
I watched as Wave 4 gathered by a tall brick wall with an open doorway that lead out onto the canal path and they appeared to be having their pre-race briefing. This meant it was time for us to deposit our kit bags at the baggage drop, a transit size van and decide whether to wear sun glasses or cap? The sun was now forcing through what had initially been an overcast grey sky and the temperature was rising. We’d administered sunscreen to our faces and shoulders but sun glasses could be problematic due to long tunnels along the route. As for a cap, well the only place for steam to escape when I’m overheating is either out my ears…..oops no, that’s when I’m angry…..or the top of my head, so I decide to leave both in my kit bag.
It’s now time for Wave 5, our wave to assemble at the DOOR. A nice man gives us a briefing and tells us about the long dark tunnel at mile 4 which has no lighting in it but they have tried to illuminate it with a couple lanterns, otherwise it would be down to Braille or carrying your own torch. I was reassured though by the fact that there would be a railing between me on the tow path and the water and a stomach pump if I fell in.
Once all the information was relayed to us and the allotted 09:45 arrived we were invited to step through the door one at a time onto the cinder covered path and it was suggested we didn’t start our GPS devices until we crossed the rubber strips laying across the path.
This was just so relaxed. There was no need for pushing or shoving. It made no difference whether you were first or last through the door as there was no crowd to try to weave through. All that mattered was the time it took me to run from A to B and the chip on my race number would look after that, if only it could look after my breathing and legs at the same time.
Off I trot, along a nice cinder type tow path with the canal on my right, the sun rising ever higher in the sky and an industrial type area to my left. The path is as you would expect flat with plenty of greenery around and although this is a built up area, it feels almost tranquil, an oasis in a fast moving city. The path is also a cycle route that takes you right into the heart of Birmingham so we have been advised to look out and give way to any cyclists we meet along the way.
I have runners ahead of me, those that were allowed through the doorway before I was unleashed. I am running at a comfortable pace and seem to be making ground on them which feels strange as we should all be running at a similar pace as we are the runners who have put ourselves in the 1hr 50mins group. I overtake a couple and keep doing this for a couple miles or so. No ladies around though.
At mile 3 the first water station arrives where both water and electrolyte drink has been provided. You can also top up your own water bottle and Julie told me later, that helpers at the water stations also offered to do this for her. I’m hot but as usual do not require a drink so I run straight through and carry on my way.
I can see Moorhens bobbing on the canal with one of their youngsters screeching on the far side. I pass some Canada geese that are resting on the grass and they never stop looking at me as I approach. I veer slightly to my right so as to give them the widest berth possible, thankfully there was no aggression on their behalf and I pass by unharmed. Two swans and their many cygnets stay on the opposite side of the water looking all fluffy and cute.
I continue to pass a few more runners and find myself behind a male in a bright orange technical T. I’m doing my usual coughing and spluttering routine and very kindly he enquires if I’m all right. I apologise and explain that this is how I sound for at least 3 or 4 miles and that in Cornwall most of the runners who run at my pace know I’m approaching from behind by this irritating noise. At least I don’t have to say things like “excuse me” or “passing on your left” as runners just get out of the way for fear of catching something. We exchange a few pleasantries and I run on ahead.
At mile 4 we reach the TUNNEL, Coseley Tunnel, all 329m of it. The ground under my feet as I enter is uneven and slippery, there is a railing on my right side to stop me falling into the water and I can…….wait for it…….”see a light at the end of the tunnel”. There is no need for a torch on a sunny day like today and the race marshals have put a couple lanterns in the middle to help us all, but running for me is not an option, as I have no traction control in my running shoes. I can hear heavy breathing from behind me, so I step to my left and let the more adept runner pass me by, as I’m sticking to a slower pace in order to stay upright.
Once I am back outside again, running is resumed. I’m feeling very hot and so far the path has been in intermittent shade. There have been plenty of large puddles to negotiate and the backs of my legs are looking quite splattered. I have chosen to wear road shoes and not trail ones which so far has been fine. We have canal bridges to cross which are constructed out of red brick, which can be a tad slippery under foot. If I had been wearing studded trail shoes the downward slopes of the bridges could have been dicey.
“Runners world” featured a small article on this race last month and in the description they had stated the route crossed an aqueduct. Now I am a wimpish female who has the most terrible fear of heights. I have serious melt downs on staircases, Bridges across motorways, cliff paths and mountains. I can’t even go up escalators that go up the middle of shopping centres with a drop each side. I end up losing balance, feeling sick and in tears. My husband is my usual life saver but even he gets exasperated with me. So I have been having a slight panic about the possibility of an aqueduct and what drop their might be to the side. Even Julie tries to use logic with me, you know the sort of thing, like it’s made of granite, been there for years and it won’t fall down. Sorry folks it just won’t work. I have though decided that no matter what I cannot wimp out and if all else fails I will make some poor runner hold my hand to cross to the other side. Before I know it, one aqueduct sort of bridge arrives in front of me and its very short in length, the height above the road is manageable for me if I focus straight ahead and just run. I get to the other side and I don’t even have heart palpitations. What am I going to do when I run the Rat (20 miles along cliffs without my husband) in August?
It’s getting hotter by the minute; I’ve even ingested some electrolyte drink at two of the water stations which is not like me at all. I’ve soaked my security hanky in water and I’m wiping my face and neck with it. We have crossed the canal onto the right hand side and shade appears to be hard to find. The humped bridges are becoming more frequent, so I walk up them and then run down the other side. This route along a canal path may appear flat, but the many bridges do prevent you from any chance of attaining a PB.
By mile 11 I’m feeling very tired and just want the race to be over. I’ve over taken runners that were not in my wave of runners and had a few men and two ladies overtake me. One of these ladies I overtake at mile 12 whilst she is on her phone. I hear her say, “oh shit” as I pass, but I will never know if that was said because I had gone pass or part of another conversation she was having.
I haven’t seen any sofas or dead animals floating in the canal just one canal boat which chugged by and a couple cyclists and walkers.
The last mile along a paved path leading to Brindley Place and the finishing line seemed to go on for ever. In fact you can’t see the finish line until you cross it as they hide it just around the last corner out of your view. What you do see is lots of supporters stood on a bridge over the canal and along the canal banks cheering you all on. I cross the line in a respectable 1:50:53 have a medal placed around my neck and stagger up some steps to where if you give your race number to a nice young man with a computer he prints out your personal result and race placing. My printout says I’m 1st V50 female. Wow!
To collect my Goody bag I have to walk to “The Malt House” a canal side pub, where I also collect my kit bag. The Goody bag is disappointing, a bottle of water, crisps, a biscuit, a sports gel and a very small pack of raisins. I eat the crisps and then head back to the finish line to find Julie running in with a smile on her face. We share a hug, grab some photo’s, and stagger up to an eatery where I recover with a coffee and chocolate brownie with ice-cream……well my Garmin states I’ve burnt 1400 calories.
I loved this race/run; it was so relaxed, friendly and well organised. The weather did help or in some ways hindered (heat), but it’s an event that gives you a great excuse to mix running, retail therapy, a weekend away without spending a fortune. I could return in 2016?
So all in all:
- Parking: Not required as we took the train. It’s a point to point race and the train cost £4:50 pp from New Street Station to Wolverhampton.
- Toilets: Plentiful with some at Wolverhampton station and Portable ones at the race start.
- Race HQ: none as such, just a yard type area by the canal with a van to put your kit bags in.
- Marshalls: very friendly, extremely helpful and kept us on the straight and narrow.
- Goody Bag: Poor, but we are spoilt in Cornwall.
Will I run this race again? I think I could be tempted.