Report by Hana Clitherow
I tried to tap out a race report after completing the first of the two Half marathons, whilst it was fresh in my mind, but I was out of county having a week’s break celebrating/commiserating yet another birthday. My brain on the other hand appeared to have remained in Cornwall, so no words upon laptop screen were forthcoming. Some of you may have thought “Phew, we’ve escaped the “old croc’s” ramblings”, but I am not that easily put off. I am after all the type of woman who dresses as the Devil whilst marshalling a running event and has recently found out that she is psychometrically failing………nothing new there then.
As the regular readers of my running reports know, I have a husband who plays golf which means our weekends take on a familiar structure. He usually plays golf on a Saturday and I sometimes run a race on a Sunday. I like to point out he plays more Golf competitions than I run races and sometimes weekend fixtures clash. This is when I go into Race v Golf bartering mode.
Last year I won my age cat at the BBCHM (Birmingham Black Country Half Marathon) and this win gave me automatic free entry into the 2017 race. The race is held on the first Saturday in July and by chance “Husband who plays golf” had Golf fixed for the very next day, a Sunday (most unusual) so he agreed to a week away in the Birmingham area and I agreed to travelling home after the race on the Saturday so he could play his golf the following day. Part one of my plan had gone smoothly and so the bartering continued.
A couple months ago we booked tickets to see Rick Wakeman perform at the Town Hall in Birmingham. This fell on the Saturday before the BBCHM on the 24th June and it had a start time for this performance of 8pm. This meant if “Husband who plays golf” played his competition VERY EARLY on the Saturday morning, we could drive up to the big smoke in time for this show. All’s good so far but I don’t like to miss an opportunity of entering a new race somewhere out of county, so I trawled the net for any races being held on this same weekend and low and behold there it was, a Half marathon (my favourite distance) at Shifnal.
“Shifnal!” I hear you exclaim,
“Where the bl—dy hell is that?”
Well it’s just under an hour’s drive from Birmingham in the county of Shropshire, not far from RAF Cosford, A little more research informed me that the RAF base had a good museum which was open on a Sunday and better still FREE to enter. It was also within “Clitherow” walking distance from the race HQ (5 miles) possible bonus points to be scored there as well. This all meant, husband would have something to do whilst I had a little jog around the countryside for a couple hours.
So I gave this event the hard sell to husband who plays golf, whilst he was mellowed by red wine and fine food and the deal was agreed: Golf/travel/show/race/5 days of stuff/race/travel/Golf. Marvellous! Take heed youngsters, it takes a lot of work, cunning and guile to have almost 33yrs of marital harmony.
So Sunday 25th June arrives and our drive to Shifnal is uneventful with the in-car sat nav taking us straight to the school where the race HQ is being held without a detour up the M6 toll road. There is plentiful free parking and so having arrived extra early I read the paper whilst husband walks to the Museum. I’m soon distracted by a male. Now, now girls, this isn’t because he is wearing tight Lycra and has the body of an Adonis. No, he is driving a large and very new and shiny Range Rover and is having parking issues. He has so many parking places to choose from (at least 100) but he dithers. He drives into one space then reverses out. He then moves to one in the middle of the car park and completely misses the lines marking out the bay. Move number 3 takes him to a bay a couple down from our car and male in running kit gets out of said vehicle and wanders off to get his race number. About 10 minutes later he returns to his vehicle and moves it to yet another parking spot where thankfully this time it stays. I was exhausted just watching this, so decided to go off and check out the toilets and air temperature.
Toilets = 2 female cubicles which are in need of a refurb but they worked and had toilet roll. Big bonus point though…….NO QUEUE.
They are also situated in the room where there are 4 showers for our use after the race.
As for the air temperature, it’s cool and grey with the odd patch of mizzle. My clothing dilemma once again comes to the fore. I opt for race vest and shorts security hanky and “IQ reducer” then shiver the 10 minutes it takes to walk to the start line in the town centre.
This is a low key charity race with about 250 runners run by “Bloodwise” a charity raising funds for blood cancer research, a worthy cause in my eyes and although I haven’t tried to get sponsorship for this race I have decided to find a runner at the end of the race who has and then give them a donation.
The race starts before I know it and a quick trip around the houses is where we are directed. My “IQ reducer” is keeping the mizzle off my glasses, but the clouds soon start to part and thank god I didn’t add any extra layers to my clothing as it’s really quite warm. My security hanky will have its work cut out today that’s for sure.
This Race use to be called the “Shifnal Steeple chase” which when I first read this made my heart race with panic. I had images of the Grand National and me falling at the first hurdle or into the water jump. Thankfully the steeples referred to, are the three steeples of the three churches we pass along the route.
The race description states the route follows quiet country roads, bridleways and footpaths so I decide to wear my new Hoka trail shoes which have had a couple outings which have been shorter in length so my fingers are crossed that they don’t cause any issues. It turns out that all the paths are bone dry and hard under foot due to the mini heat wave the country basked in the week before, so road shoes would have been fine.
The terrain is undulating with no Cornish hills to contend with but as the heat rises so I find my own central heating system trying to match the suns output. There is only so much sweat a body can produce and mine is at flat chat. It’s energy sapping but there are water stations every 3 miles to assist. I only take one sip at mile 9 to freshen my parched mouth.
I detest many things and horse flies are very high up on my list. If bitten I end up looking like “Mr Blobby” or someone with a form of “Pox”. Thankfully one bald headed male ahead of me is doing a great job of attracting every fly on the planet around his very moist shiny head. He has his own personal black cloud and as I overtake him thankfully the flies stay with him and don’t follow me.
We run along lovely quiet lanes with rural views, where potatoes appear to be the main crop in the fields. There are some wide “Green lanes” where you would only want to take a tractor or a Land Rover, some woodland track, one wooden bridge over a stream and then paths along the edge of corn fields before a pavement along the edge of the A4169 and back to the school fields and the finish line.
I manage to overtake a few people along the way with the last overtake being of a male runner with about ½ a mile to go. I don’t think he was too impressed with this so with the last 200m ahead of me, I had to really dig deep and sprint for the finishing line. I turned to shake his hand but he was obviously not impressed with being beaten by someone so old, so with head down he marched off to his waiting family.
I am handed my finishers medal, a bottle of water and then head to a huge pile of fresh orange quarters where I graze for a minute or two before heading for the showers. There is no prize giving, no tea or coffee stall and once you have finished running everyone seems to just wander off.
I locate the showers, disrobe, enter cubicle with small towel. The shower heads are fixed at a level set for people much shorter than myself and so to wash my hair I have to crouch, which after 13 hot miles is one of my least favourite poses to adopt. The water is hot and with a full head of shampoo lather, the flow of water suddenly decides to reduce to a trickle. The sort of trickle that will not remove soap suds from my head let alone any other part of my body. Worse still I only have a small towel which is just bigger than a hand towel and will not go anyway near covering my embarrassment, let alone dignity should I have to go for help. So I move between shower cubicles looking like a demented smurf trying to find one that will provide enough water pressure to return me to a clean happy Old Croc. I eventually emerge a new woman, clean and presentable and in need of COFFEE.
Husband has sent me a text to say he is having coffee at the museum so I walk into Shifnal in search of a large coffee and something calorific to go with it. The town is dead apart from a few Marshals waiting for the last runners to come in. I eventually find a coffee shop and indulge in coffee and cake before I return to the car where I see three very tired ladies all dressed in “Bloodwise” running vests who had completed the race. They had been running to raise funds via sponsorship, so they received my donation.
The event is very low key but it was their 13th year. I would run it again as the route is lovely, as it the support along the way, but I am sure they could raise so much more money if they made more of the finishing area with catering facilities. I had no idea of my time let alone if I had an age category place which was a shame. It wasn’t until yesterday over a week later that I received an email to Say I had won the V50 female category and a silver salver was in the post.
I spend the next 5 days in the West Mids walking, eating and drinking which is a good way to spend a birthday week. Then 6 days after running the Shifnal Half I am taking the Train from Birmingham to Wolverhampton with lots of other people in running kit to run the BBCH, a race that starts in Wolverhampton and takes you down the canal path to Brindley place in the centre of Birmingham.
It will be the third time I have run this event. The first time I paid an entry fee of £20 and won my age cat which gave me free entry to the 2016 race and a voucher for £20 to spend in a running shop. In 2016 I again won my age cat and again received free entry to the 2017 race and a voucher of £25 so I start the 2017 race well in pocket.
As the route of this race is along the narrow canal paths there is no mass start. You are given a race number with chip timing. You are allocated a start time in wave Number ???. You are asked to provide your normal half marathon time and with this information they allocate you a wave time with others of a similar time. This year I am in wave 2, two waves back from the elite runners, which is ideal as in previous years I have been in wave 6 or above and then spend the race overtaking runners who have given incorrect timings which is a pain.
My daughter has also entered this race and she is in wave 1 with a start time of 9:15, 15 minutes ahead of me. To date she has not managed to beat my half marathon PB just missing it by a few seconds a couple months ago and I sense this is causing her some frustration. I don’t think she has quite reached the point of sticking pins in an effigy of me yet? I on the other hand must enjoy this fact for a long as possible as although I have got faster in the last couple of years (without the aid of banned substances, in fact no substances other than good food and good wine) I know that it won’t be long until she trounces me. I will be momentarily disappointed to lose the crown, but as a parent I will also be immensely proud as I have been, at all she has achieved, but I won’t make it easy for her. I’m just such a bad parent!
The starting location is a small canal basin where there are about 8 Portable watering boxes for us to use and absolutely no queue waiting to use them. I have already used the facilities at the Train station but feel that in the tradition of all my previous race ramblings I should check these green coloured vestibules out. They are odour free, clean, with toilet roll and hand sanitizer so absolutely fine. There is also a bag drop in the back of a large van, and this van will then take all our worldly goods to Brindley Place to The Malt House public house where we can collect them after the race and pick up our race memento.
I watch as daughter heads off for her starting wave briefing and once this has finished each runner walks singularly through an open doorway out onto the canal path across two timing rubber mats and off down the tow path. As the last runner in this wave goes through the door so my wave are called over for our briefing.
The briefing tells us to be mindful of other runners when overtaking which I take to mean, try not to fall or push someone into the canal and upset the birdlife in residence. They also suggest runners who feel the need to have headphones on, leave one out, so they can hear the otherwise irate runner or cyclist behind them that wants to pass. There is no keeping left or right as the common denominator is a passage of water that will be either on our left or right depending on whether we have crossed a bridge or not and there are many bridges to cross. I move a little back from a group of males in front of me all jostling to be first out the door. Once the first 10 have headed off so I take my turn, crossing the two mats that let out a bleeping noise and I start to find a pace that I hope I can settle into, to give me a good chance of matching last years’ time of 1:44:41.
Today I have left my IQ reducer in my bag and before long I start to regret this choice. I may not look as stupid without it on, but as mizzle starts to fall so my glasses start to gather a fine covering of the damp giving me a blurred image of what is ahead. Security hanky helps clear some of the damp, but each time I remove my glasses to perform this task, I also run the risk of them slipping out of my hand and under my feet or into the dark muddied waters of the canal.
The scenery on the race route is flat, industrial with some pockets of greenery and wildlife. I see swans and can hear their cygnets squeaking hidden by overhanging plant life. Moor hens and their chicks are also floating by along with the odd canal boat. One such boat has two couples of an age slightly greater than mine. I appear to be the focus of their attention and I hear the words “legs” but I can’t make out the rest of their conversation. Maybe they were surprised to see a woman of my age running without the “rozzers” being in hot pursuit?
There are floating water stations every 3 miles where both water and energy drinks are available so you can’t ever go thirsty. Apparently there was a toilet available at mile 5 in a pub. If I had needed that facility I’m not sure I would have wanted to re-join the race. There are marshals at any point that a runner might go astray and they are all bright and cheery but none in fancy dress. I pass two large groups of charity walkers walking in the opposite direction. They could cause problems for the later runners who tend to be in close knit groups, whereas the first 4 waves tend to spread out and run alone.
There is one long tunnel to run through, the Coseley tunnel that is 360m long and very dark and damp. There are railing between the tunnel wall and the water but I’m not convinced they are strong enough to stop me falling in or through them. Some fairy type lights have been wrapped around some of the railings part way in, but they don’t offer much light, a head torch would be far better. Trying to run on an uneven, cobbled, slippery surface when you might as well have had a blind fold on, is an unusual sensation not unlike being drunk or as if you have alighted a boat after a rough sea crossing. I try to run/walk and make slow progress through the tunnel which is the only stumbling block that will prevent you from getting a PB at this race.
I emerge from the tunnel with glasses steamed up and take a minute or two to pick up my speed again. I am overtaken by a male who clocks my Truro running vest and enquires if I have travelled up from Cornwall to run the race. He then tells me he ran the Plymouth Half and loved it before he settled into a pace slightly faster than mine and jogged on ahead.
I overtook a couple people in my wave of runners at the start of the race including one rotund male who shot off like a Greyhound and was reduced to an elderly Basset Hound by mile one. Then at mile 8 onwards I again started to pass runners who had started ahead of me but thankfully my daughter was nowhere in sight. By mile 10 my legs were feeling tired but not only had I run a half marathon 6 days earlier, I had also walked almost 60 miles in between. I have no idea how ultra-runners do what they do, all I know is that my legs wouldn’t cope with distances longer than a marathon and my mind set would just see me turn into a blubbering wreck. They get my total respect!
As mile 13 approaches I give it a last push to see if I can match last years’ time and I cross the line in 1:44:27 some 14 seconds faster than 2016. I’m handed my finishers medal and a much needed bottle of water before taking a seat on the canal steps next to the male who had run the Plymouth Half. I had a lovely chat with him and another male who was moving to RNAS Culdrose. I then headed off in search of my daughter. She too had improved her time from 2016 but she was a tad harrumph as she hadn’t beaten her mother’s time. I feel slightly sorry for her, but at the same time slightly smug, as at 27yrs her senior she will soon beat my time and then who will be smug? I know I will be as always the proud mother.
This race is well organised, it’s web page www.bbchm.net is worth a look at should you fancy trying this event and maybe if I get offered a free place for 2018 as I was 1st V50 female once again, I might just run it one more time.
The BBCHM is celebrating its 10th anniversary and our goodie bag consists of a Technical T, running drinks bottle and some energy drink powders plus some much needed crisps. I celebrate once again with a large coffee and chocolate cake before a long drive back to sunny Cornwall.
My legs are still tired three days later. My husband won his golf on the Sunday and somehow I have to run the Turkey Trot tomorrow.