There were 2,564 runners taking part in Sunday’s Conwy Half Marathon, among them Pumas’ own Brett Swiffen and Rachel Calvert, who, perhaps, had been attracted to the event after it had been voted in the top five most scenic half marathons in the land by readers of ‘Runners’ World’, writes a special correspondent.
Now in its ninth year, the Conwy Half Marathon has already been described as a “classic”, with the start and finish on the quayside in front of Conwy Castle which was built for King Edward 1 at the end of the thirteenth century. The route runs along the road adjacent to the Conwy River as it proceeds towards Deganwy beach and the West Shore Llandudno, and from there it goes along Church Walks towards Llandudno Pier, then around the Great Orme, taking in views of the Isle of Anglesey, Puffin Island and the surrounding North Wales coastline. The route then heads back towards Conwy and the finish line.
Two months earlier, both Brett and Rachel participated in the Great North Run, completing the 13.1 miles in 3h hours 21 minutes. Here, at Conwy, they had a great time and were both beaming at the end. Rachel said, “Best run of my life by far!” And Brett agreed, adding, “Today was honestly one of the happiest days of my life, the run was so amazing.”
And why were they feeling so good? Well, they’d not only taken over twenty minutes off their time from the Great North Run, but they’d also smashed the three-hour barrier as well. Fantastic achievement, I think we all agree. Rachel, feeling proud, later admitted that her body “aches from top to toe,” – and then the pair of them hopped into the hot tub.
Reflecting on how far they’ve come since joining the Pumas, Rachel said, “Massive thanks to the Pumas for your support and encouragement these past few months,” and gave special praise to Lauras Fairbank and Hattersley, Ian Marshall and Neil Coupe.
Brett also added that the Conwy Half Marathon was the most scenic race he’d even taken part in, and then suggested the Pumas put it on their calendar for next year. Any takers? Matt Newton?
Sunday saw the 36th staging of the Worksop Hallowe’en Half Marathon, an event which attracted a handful of Pumas. Running under the Northowram umbrella were Alison Shooter and Sharon Wilson, whilst Paul and Jenny Hopkinson ran wearing the colours of Halifax Harriers. Registered to run but having to opt out was Laura Fairbank; seemingly she had succumbed to Halifax’s own version of Montezuma’s Revenge, but we’ll spare you the details.
Also known as ‘the scenic one’, the Worksop Half Marathon takes place on the last Sunday in October every year, hence the Hallowe’en theme. It attracts a large number of entrants, and, indeed, there were 2,482 willing participants lined up at the start this year. Some really entered into the spirit (geddit?) of things and donned ghoulish outfits and scary masks.
The route touches the edge of Worksop but also takes in Clumber Park, so the scenery is a sight to behold – if you’ve time or the energy to take it in. Setting off from Outwood Portland Academy, the course rises to 310 feet over the first mile and a half, heading southwards along Ollerton Road for several miles, turning left into Lime Tree Avenue before taking a scenic detour through the trees around Clumber Park itself, with the glorious lake in view. The route then continues northwards then veers off onto country lanes, taking in Clumber Lane, swinging right at Truman’s Lodge into Clumber Road before making a sharp left turn into Old Coach Road, a route that is shadowed by trees. There then follows a loop around Worksop College before the course picks up Ollerton Road, and a devilish climb as it heads back towards the finish at Outwood Portland Academy. Photographs of the route would make a nice postcard scene, but they disguise the inclines. The total elevation was 667 feet and Alison Shooter’s described the course as “undulating”.
Mind, the prizes on offer were not to be sniffed at. The overall winner walked away with £80 plus a pair of local retailer Hoka One One running shoes, whilst second and third place also received a pair of trainers and £60 and £40 respectively. Fourth place got you £40 and a Trespass Cancan Running Belt. There were also cash prizes for each age group winner, male and female.
The race was scheduled for a 10.00am start but mounting problems in areas such as lack of parking meant there was a delay. Which was something of an inconvenience for those who’d got there on time. It wasn’t exactly a warm morning. So cold, in fact, that Alison felt compelled to don a foil blanket before they set off! Still, the Worksop Salvation Army kept everyone entertained as it played continuously for an hour and a half, though in light of what lay ahead of the runners, this drew comparisons with the band that ‘played on’ while the Titanic sank.
Eventually, the runners were sent on their way, meaning for Sharon Wilson a second half marathon in the space of a fortnight, having taken part in the event at Manchester fourteen days earlier. She completed that in 2:08:26; here, on a tougher course, she bettered that time, finishing in an impressive 2:04:16. Of the race, Sharon said, “I quite enjoyed it as it was testing in places with a few inclines. Scenery was nice too and the support was great.”
I’m not sure if Alison enjoyed the run quite as much, if her post-race comments are anything to go by. Looking at her medal, she reckoned it matched her race experience – ugly! She finished in 2:18:05, then immediately turned her attentions to this Sunday’s Abbey Dash.
Paul and Jenny Hopkinson love each other’s company so much that they ran the full thirteen and a bit miles together. Paul finished two seconds in front of Jenny, clocking 1:41:39. Walking away with eighty quid in his pocket and a spanking brand new pair of running shoes was race winner Stuart Spencer of Notts Athletic Club. Hope they fit him.
On Sunday, Bradford MDC hosted the sixth Bradford City Runs, a unique event which includes three races on one course. Here, one loop of 5k gives the runners the chance to view the city in all its glory as the course skirts the centre. But for those who couldn’t take it in first time around, then two laps, therefore 10k, might do for you. Here, Pumas’ very own Simon Wilkinson, Mark Brook and Bryonie King decided that this was the option that suited them. Tiffany Lewis, on the other hand, is someone who works in Bradford and therefore perhaps felt duty-bound to pay the city of her workplace full homage. She elected to run four laps (and a little bit more) to thus complete the half marathon event. Watching frustratingly from the side-lines was Wendy Hewitt. She’d registered to run the 10k but had to pull out due to illness.
All three races started off simultaneously at 9.30am from Centenary Square, the route taking the runners up Thornton Road, left down Longside Lane, left into Shearbridge Road before picking up Great Horton Road and heading back towards the city centre, having circumnavigated the University of Bradford. Dropping down Morley Street, the route passes the Alhambra Theatre on the left and continues around the Magistrates Court along Princes Way, along Norfolk Gardens with City Hall on the left, then picking up Broadway, looping around the shopping centre and heading towards Little Germany and a slight climb via Well Street, Vicar Lane and Peckover Street. The route then heads back down towards the city centre, passing Bradford Cathedral on Church Bank, then continuing down Lower Kirkgate, into Hustlergate and Market Street and into Centenary Square to complete one circuit. Each route finishes with a three-quarter loop of City Park Mirror Pool and Fountain to finish beneath the Magistrates Court.
The 10k event attracted the most interest – 416 runners as opposed to 287 running the 5k race – with Simon Wilkinson determined to achieve one of his targets for the year, that of completing this distance in under fifty minutes. Incredibly, he ran the first half of the race in 23:56 to give him a great chance, and though he slowed somewhat over the second circuit, he managed to finish in a personal best of 49 minutes 13. He was, of course, #FPH. A fantastic achievement, and clearly the sky’s the limit for this Puma. If he carries on like this, he’ll probably go beyond that, too!
Several weeks ago, Mark Brook completed the Cannonball Brighouse 10k in 54:52 on a course that was as flat as anyone could have expected. So it was always interesting to see how he’d fare on this Bradford circuit where there were slight climbs, a pull up to Little Germany but nifty downhill sections. Mark’s been coming on leaps and bounds, so it surprised no one who’s been following his progress to see him complete this course in an even quicker time of 54:15. Obviously he’s getting fitter and faster, though just what was behind this time we’re not quite sure. It could be that he was still on a high after attending a Little Mix concert two nights earlier – or perhaps it’s the benefit of all that looping paying off. Asked how he felt after completing the two laps, Mark, a man of few words, replied, “Great.” He said the same when describing the Little Mix concert.
Bryonie King was not only representing the Pumas for the first time, or running her first 10k race. She was, so she tells me, running her first race EVER! Her time, therefore, of 1:01:59 is encouraging. Bryonie will have a good crack at lowering this next time out – which is this weekend when she, like scores of other Pumas, tackle the Abbey Dash.
There were 195 runners taking part in the Half Marathon, among them Tiffany Lewis, who’s willing to try any event over any type of terrain. Field and fountain, moor and mountain, she doesn’t care. Always with a smile, she was well acquainted with the sights and sounds of Bradford as she trooped around, coming home in what was, for her, a personal best of 2:09:36. She finished 151st and was also seventh in her age category. She felt the course was “hillier than expected” but at least her Strava showed an impressive increase in her elevation gain (996 feet!) – because she had to do the same circuit four times!
“If you only enter one half marathon this year, make it the Manchester Half Marathon. One of the flattest and fastest around. Only 41m of elevation gain and a two- mile finishing straight, we expect to see some very fast times here.” So said the event organisers, and whilst all this may be true, many Pumas were backwards at coming forwards. Perhaps some were put off by the unearthly o’clock rising time to be ready for the 6.45 bus. Others maybe by the thought of running thirteen-and-a-half miles. Or it could have been a bit of both. Whatever, there were twenty-eight Pumas running the inaugural Manchester Half Marathon last year; this time around, there were just less than half that number, with only five reappearing. And that despite this event being the latest in the club championship – the last until February. They were all aboard on time, save for Paul Pickering, who, having slept in (by all accounts) and missed the bus, made his own way there, and Philippa Denham, who had elected to stay over in Manchester the night before. “One less thing to worry about,” she said.
Last year, the race got under way in a downpour; there was little chance of that happening this time, and on one of the warmest mid-October mornings we’ve seen in a long time, over eight-and-a-half thousand runners lined up for the 9.00am start. Ahead of them lay 13.1 miles, the route familiar to a few Pumas, not so to most.
The course took the runners around the Salford area, up the A56 Bridgewater Way and looping all around Stretford via East Union Street, Henrietta Street, St John’s Road, King’s Road, Seymour Grove and Talbot Road. It then rejoined Chester Road for the long run due south west all the way to the Crossford Bridge and into Cross Street and Washway Road. The runners then negotiated several back streets to join Hope Road, Broad Road, Dane Road, before the run for home back down Chester Road. The course veered off into Talbot Road to the finish line just outside Lancashire County Cricket Club.
As expected, Tim Brook was #FPH, clocking 1:29:59 but thereby managing to finish, as he had done at Fleetwood, inside an hour and a half – if just by one second. Mind, had it not been for an unscheduled pit-stop (and no one actually timed how long it took him) he perhaps could have set a new PB. Next in was Tom Moran, who, having taken his lucky Calderdale Way Relay Leg Six map with him once more, found his way around the course without any problem. But hailing from the area, perhaps it had more to do with the fact that he was running on home turf.
One of the happiest Pumas was Sarah Haigh. Upon finishing in a time of 1:49:27 she admitted to being “pretty chuffed” but was quick to give praise to Matt Newton, who paced her all the way. As the pair hit the ten-mile mark, they consoled themselves with the thought that “it was just a parkrun now” but they were having to deal with increasing temperatures. Matt would describe the conditions as “hot, hot, hot”, but despite this, his time this year was a vast improvement on last year’s – almost four minutes quicker. “Sweet, I’m well impressed,” he gleamed when notified.
Simon Wilkinson continues to defy logic. As his parkrun times have begun to dip under the 24-minute mark, similarly his half marathon times have continued to impress. Last year at Manchester: 1:57:32. Such a time is but a distant memory as he managed to run nearly SIX minutes faster. His reaction? “Pretty damn chuffed,” and like other Pumas, acknowledged the help and encouragement he’s been given at the club. He’s certainly reaping the benefits. Simon was out running on Friday and found the pull up through Shibden Park and Kirk Lane something of a breeze. We all knew he’d smash Manchester!
Julie Bowman was also out running Friday, grimacing at times, and when put on the spot, admitted she was hoping to get under 1:50. We all know she has it in her to do this, but feeling slightly under the weather, she came home in 1:52:01. But she was still pleased with her time, as was Peter Reason, who also completed the course in under two hours, setting his own personal best. Paul Bottomley was keen to snap up a spare place and in the event he did himself justice. Running ten miles at York seven days earlier, he found the extra three miles no real problem, despite the heat. Also ducking under the two-hour mark was Jodie Knowles, a work in progress, but improving with every stride. Two years ago she ran her first half marathon at Leeds, completing the course in 2:20:57. Acknowledging the help the Pumas have played in her development, particular with the long Sunday morning run sessions with Ian Marshall, this time Jodie ran over twenty minutes faster, admitting, “To say there has been a big improvement in my time is an understatement! Goes to show how much my first year as a Puma has helped me with my running!”
Helen Jackson completed the course in 2 hours 7 minutes exactly but despite running slower than twelve months previously, was still upbeat. “I’ll take that, as race prep hasn’t gone quite to plan. Thanks to Pumas as ever for the amazing support,” she said, then praised Andrew Mellor for helping her over the last couple of miles. Andrew’s another runner who’s come on leaps and bounds; he ran his first half marathon at Leeds in May, clocking 2 hours 19 minutes, so you can imagine that having gone around in 2:05:49 here he was very satisfied. Upon finishing, both Andrew and Helen made a pledge that next time they’ll both crack two hours. And who’d bet against it?
This run at Manchester was the first of two half marathons Sharon Wilson is running in the space of two weeks; her next on 29 October is at Worksop. She’s raising money on behalf of the Yorkshire Cancer Centre. She didn’t set any records here, but maybe will do in a fortnight’s time. Meantime, Carine Baker admitted to being out over the weekend – not running, just out – and seemed happy with the fact that she managed to complete the course at all! While Rachael Hawkins gave it her all in an effort to beat her target of two hours and fifteen minutes. She wasn’t far off, but her initial disappointment was soon set aside when she realised just how far she’s come, and we’re not talking of the coach trip over the Pennines. And then there were the memories of the day which made it all so special. “I thoroughly enjoyed every step of the way,” Rachael said – and that was before she took to the wine.
Having arrived unnoticed, Paul Pickering slipped into the pack, then ran steady away to finish in just over two hours and eighteen minutes. No one knows if he was happy with his time or not – it was a reasonable one when all’s said and done – as he left in the manner in which he’d arrived; unnoticed!
But the runner who surprised herself more than she surprised her friends who know her best, was Philippa Denham. This was her first half marathon, and running one was something that she wouldn’t have even contemplated several months ago. But urged on by Ian Marshall, she geared herself up for the challenge and on the starting line she was nothing but positive. In the end, Philippa managed to complete the thirteen and a half miles – without stopping I might add – in 2:33:54, and on crossing the finish line, was ecstatic. “I feel amazing,” she cried, and claimed completing this run had been the biggest achievement of her life! And if anyone was going to inspire others, then surely it was Philippa. She added, “One thing I’ve learnt today is; believe and you will achieve.” This could be a slogan which may take off.
Once everyone had crossed the line and the latest T-Shirt and medal neatly adorned, the Pumas made their way back to the bus and relaxed on the journey home. Where, waiting for them at the clubhouse, were drinks and FREE food, kindly organised by the new Mrs Coupe. These Pumas are a pampered lot – but they’ll happily tell you that they deserve to be!
The Great North Run is one of the major events in the athletics calendar, certainly the biggest in Britain, and one that was inspired by the former Gateshead Olympic medallist Brendan Foster. First staged in June 1981, the race evolved out Britain’s first-ever Fun Run which was held on 29 October 1977, an event, incidentally, which I was privy to as I was there that day running for Halifax Harriers as a thirteen-year-old in the Gateshead Road Races.
The first Great North Run was competed for by 12,000 runners. The event has grown considerably in stature since then and over the years has attracted many top athletes and famous names, such as Mo Farah, Haile Gebrselassie, Kevin Keegan, Paul Gascoigne (who pushed wheelchair-bound Maureen Martin around in 1986), Nell McAndrew, Ricky Wilson, Jon Culshaw, Davina McCall and Andy Haslam.
The iconic 13.1-mile half marathon route starts just outside the centre of Newcastle on the central motorway. Continuing down the A167 the course takes the runners past Jesmond, Haymarket, Monument and Central Station before arriving at the Newcastle side of the Tyne Bridge. Here, as the runners cross the bridge they approach the two-mile mark. At this point, as usual, there is the fly over of the Red Arrows. Having entered Gateshead and being welcomed by the shimming sight of The Sage, runners are directed on the A184 to make their way towards Heworth. On route, they pass the renowned Gateshead Stadium as they approach the three-mile mark. Having entered Gateshead, the route continues on the A184 for the beginning of a six-mile stretch before being taken onto the A194. This takes the runners into South Tyneside, and they pass the eight-mile mark at the A19 interchange. Taking the A1300, participants pass Whiteleas and Centenary Avenue before they change onto the A183 just past Marsden Lane at the twelve-mile mark. Now on the home stretch in South Shields, runners are welcomed by the view of the sea in one of the most scenic and enjoyable parts of the whole course. With just over a mile to go on Prince Edward road, runners are cheered profusely as they make their way to the finishing line.
Yesterday, the 43,127-strong field included sixteen Northowram Pumas, most taking part for the first time. Each had their own reasons for being there, some raising money for charity, others doing it, in the words of George Mallory on why he set out to conquer Everest, “Because it’s there”. Sadly, Mallory never returned from his quest in 1923; happily, all Pumas made it to the finish line, all proud as punch for achieving what they’d set out do. There would have been others there, too, but for a variety of reasons (injury, other commitments) they had to miss out.
One person who’d missed out on seeing the start live over the previous 36 years was instigator Brendan Foster, but now retired from the BBC commentary box, he was there to start off all the runners at Spital Tongues, the elite wheelchair race getting under way first at 10.10am. Five minutes later, the gun sounded for the start of the elite women’s race, and at 10.40 the elite men and mass ranks of thousands behind set off, though for the likes of Mo Farah and his compatriots, he had no problem at all in getting into his stride. Some of the competitors would take over an hour to reach the starting point!
It wasn’t a particularly warm day; there was a definite cold snap in the air, something which gave Katrina Wood a bit of a dilemma; what or what not to wear. In the end, she went with bright pink T-shirt under her Pumas’ top, with neat Karrimor black peaked cap. A pair who had decided weeks in advance of exactly how they were going to dress up for the event were Cathy Farley and Katharine Barnett. Raising money for a Bradford cat rescue centre, they’d already left all those at the Brighouse parkrun open-mouthed eight days earlier when they arrived sitting inside their unicorn – or Pumacorn – outfits; now they were going to show all of Tyneside, too. And didn’t they just? Not only catching the eye of the thousands of spectators, but also those of a roadside BBC reporter who pulled them aside for a quick chat – live on TV in front of a few million viewers.
Those who lined the route or watched on television from the comfort of their front rooms doubtless had an interest in Olympic champion Mo Farah, to see if he could pull off a record fourth successive Great North Run victory. He successfully managed it by pulling away from New Zealand’s Jake Robertson in the final 200 metres, but while Mo basked in his personal glory (lying prostrate on the tarmac), Robertson duly got down on his knees to propose to partner Magdalyne Masai (who’d finished fourth in the ladies’ race) seconds after he crossed the line.
But what more of our local interest? Well, the honour of being #FPH fell to relative newcomer Andrew Barnes, who finished in a time of 1hour 35:19, some two minutes faster than second Puma Rick Ralph. Rick was back in good time to cheer home wife Anna, who completed the course in 2 hours 14:05.
Paul and Jenny Hopkinson were representing Halifax Harriers once again, and as at Fleetwood three weeks earlier, Paul took the domestic honours (with a personal best to boot). And Vicky Owen would be the first to acknowledge the invaluable help given to her by Julie Bowman (who had selflessly helped Matt Newton prepare for the London Marathon earlier this year). Both Julie and Vicky comfortably managed sub-two hours and seemingly had more trouble finding their way back to the car. Agonisingly, though, Katrina Wood missed beating the two-hour mark by just 29 seconds. Yet she should still feel proud of her achievements; several weeks earlier injury looked to have threatened her participation at all.
Claire Ramsbottom was quick to praise friend Rachael Hawkins (who’d she travelled up with) and fellow Pumas after completing the race in just over 2 hours 16 minutes. “Super proud of myself, what an amazing event and couldn’t have done it without my amazing friend Rachael Hawkins and the fab Pumas,” she exclaimed post-race. Rachael, to her credit, finished in 2 hours 33:08.
Hard on her Yorkshire Lass Sportive thirty-mile bike ride four weeks ago, Sarah Firth donned running shoes to complete the Great North Run in a respectable 2 hours 16|:28, whilst Brett Swiffen and partner Rachel Calvert continued their impressive road to fitness. The vagaries of the system meant that Brett finished two places in front of Rachel, though she managed the course eight seconds faster!
Perhaps the final word should be left to Carla Roxann. After finishing her first half marathon, she paid tribute to the Pumas, and the run leaders in particular. “I just want to say a massive thank you to our run leaders! If it wasn’t for them, especially Ian Marshall, I wouldn’t have done as well as I did today at the Great North Run!” Carla only ran her first parkrun last April and joined the Pumas the following month. She’s put the work in and the long Sunday sessions have certainly paid off. Serving as an inspiration to others, Carla added, “For those who think you can’t do it, you can! I always told myself I couldn’t run, but I did!”
Northowram Pumas’ finishing positions and times were;
Whilst the Great North Run may have been grabbing all the media attention on Sunday, in an event a little closer to home, and one a little less congested, Alison Shooter, Adam Standeven and Shaun Casey were representing the Northowram Pumas in the must-do, sell-out Vale of York Half Marathon.
This event starts on a race track and ends by a runway and takes in scenic closed roads on the way. Setting off in Sherburn-in-Elmet, the route heads south-west before doubling back, going past the start line then veering off left up Lennerton Lane before turning right and continuing along Bishopdyke Road for almost a mile. The route then swings right into Scalm Lane; this may be the longest section but it’s also the most picturesque, with fields and woodlands to your left and right at any given time. At the crossroads with Broad Lane, the route turns a left then completes a clockwise loop, taking in Broad Lane, Windgate Hill Lane (the halfway point) and Long Lane, which winds its way around to eventually reach the Broad Lane-Scalm Lane crossroads, with just over four miles to go. Then it’s a case of retracing the route back along Scalm Lane and Bishopdyke Road, before completing the last mile by turning left into New Lennerton Lane.
The BBC cameras may have been conspicuous by their absence, and conditions slightly overcast, but the field of 1,621 runners soon warmed up after they were set on their way at 9.30am.
The Vale of York Half Marathon is depicted as fast and flat, and therefore reckons to be the perfect course to lower a runner’s personal best. Here, as far as Adam and Shaun were concerned, it didn’t disappoint. A little over an hour and half after setting off, Adam was #FPH, completing the course in 1hr 33:53, his fastest time to date over this distance – just. Two years ago, he completed the Liverpool Rock and Roll Half Marathon six seconds slower! A little further down the field, Shaun Casey must have been satisfied with his new PB, finishing in 1hr 41:44 (at Liverpool in 2015, Shaun finished in 1hr 42:31). It’s hard to imagine that while they were finishing, many runners in the Great North Run in Newcastle wouldn’t even have reached the start line! Adam and Shaun only entered the race on Wednesday, wanting to be part of Strava’s attempt to create a world record (and helped in no small way by those using the app at the Great North Run) for the most half marathons run in a single day.
As for Alison Shooter. Well, she didn’t quite manage her own personal best (achieved, incidentally, at the Humber Bridge Half Marathon in June), coming home in 2hr 20:39, but she was, nevertheless, still proud to be a Puma!
Northowram Pumas’ positions, finishing times and category positions;
Over the course of the season, the Northowram Pumas’ Club Championship has and will take in many of the best – and handiest – local races on the circuit, varying in mileage. Sunday saw the latest round where points were up for grabs, a merry jaunt of 13.1 miles around that near and familiar seaport town that is…Fleetwood!
Yes, you’ve read that right – Fleetwood, just above Blackpool, some seventy miles away on the west coast. Which probably explains why only three Pumas set their alarms for an unearthly hour to be ready to leave at 6.30am (on a Sunday!) so that they could prep themselves well for the 10.00am start. Personally, I’d give the three amigos Tim Brook, Jane Cole and Helen Jackson maximum points each for making the effort – and that’s before they’ve even started running the half marathon.
Organised by Fylde Coast Runners, the runners set off from the registration point at Beach Road Car Park, Rossall Point on the outer seawall walkway. The route promises grand views over Morecambe Bay as it winds its way along the sea coast along Fleetwood’s Outer Promenade and Esplanade. Initially sending the runners up the coast, the route passes the Model Yacht Pond and Marine Hall before veering right and doubling back to take the long stretch of The Esplanade. This turns onto Laidler’s Way, which then runs into Princes Way with the Irish Sea on the runners’ right. As the competitors pick up Marine Parade, they begin the first of two four-mile loops which comprise the promenade, left up Westbourne Road, then along the A587 Broadway passing Rossall School, then left at the seven-pronged roundabout down Chatsworth Avenue to pick up the promenade once more. Upon completion of the second loop, the runners then head back in a north-easterly direction along Princes Way with Fleetwood Golf Course on the left. Rejoining Laidler’s Way, they take a left to circumnavigate the Model Yacht Pond before finally turning for the finish in the field behind where they started.
Tim Brook may have run longer distances, but this was his first proper half marathon event, and he seemingly breezed it, being #FPH in 1hr 27:29.3, and finishing 21st out of a field of 548 finishers. Impressive, eh? There’s no truth in the rumour that Tim, who drove the team over, when asked how he found the course, replied, “I took junction three off the M55,” though he did go on record as describing the route as “dull”!
Jane Cole, who ran 1hr 56:28 at the Manchester Half Marathon last October, pushed herself all the way to run a super-duper sub 1hr fifty, officially recorded as 1hr 49:07.4. Her reaction was understandable: “Absolutely over the moon!” She had until this point kept quiet about a niggling Achilles problem which caused her some grief, so her time was even more remarkable.
And what of Helen Jackson, a runner whose availability was in doubt until the eve of the race? She’s been suffering with a ‘glute’ problem (look it up) but having being strapped up, dared to finish the race. She started well enough and was comfortably running sub-ten-minute mile pace over the first eight only for her injury to reoccur and slow her down considerably. Her eleventh mile was run in 11 mins 21. But she picked up the pace over the last mile to finish (in some considerable pain) in 2hrs 11:42.0.
A word for other runners familiar to us; husband and wife team Paul and Jenny Hopkinson were running in the colours of Halifax Harriers, with Paul taking the domestic honours, finishing in 1hr 39:16.2 with Jenny home in 1hr 43:12.8.
There were problems with some of the chip times, but this eagle-eyed reporter had noted them as they came in; later, the results showed just the finishing times, and these are shown below, alongside the positions;
Hot on the heels of the Leeds Half Marathon, Simon tells us more…
Some had it booked for over a year (on the back of last year), some only signed up this week, some entered for their first half marathon challenge and one even had it bought as a Christmas present by fellow Pumas!
To start the day, there were some rain showers so there were a few bin liner fashion statements out from the early birds but the sun soon came out and it turned into a lovely sunny and hot day. We travelled over to Leeds in a few cars – Gabriella, Paula and Carine in one and Andrea, Tiff, Andrew and me with Andrea’s Simon in another. Simon (Warrington) had the most important (and maybe hardest?) job of the day – getting us to Leeds safely (parking in the secret underground car park), taking the official publicity photos, holding the hoodies, seeing us all out and then checking us all back in again plus the most challenging chore, inspecting the local Leeds hostelries for some breakfast and a coffee.
We all congregated outside the Town Hall for the obligatory toilets and Pumas photo shoot before making our way to the starting areas. We all separated into our respective colours and then after a quick sneaky dive under some rope, moved into the same pen for the start.
Carine ‘I can go out partying the night before my first half marathon’ set the pace off at the start and a brisk one it was too! I tried to keep up with her and we stormed out of Leeds city centre (clearly running away from the assembled crowds basking in the sun) before approaching Meanwood Road. Knowing Leeds from a previous life (and with warnings before we started from the announcer to take it steady) we embraced ourselves for the ascent. Ironically, Ascension (sung by Holly Johnson) came on my phone at that point. We were joined by Paula and Gabriella (#sistersledge) and Andrea ‘I can’t run this far’ and after exchanging frivolities saved our energy for the hill. ‘If you’re talking, you’re not running hard enough’ as Coach Canning says (yes Tracey!)
Once up Meanwood Road and the dog leg corner (part of my patch when I looked after a section of the route and a number of marshals in the earlier referred to previous life), we kept ascending up Stonegate Road to meet the ring road. As we approached the top of Stonegate Road and the roundabout, it reminded me of scenes from the recent Tour de Yorkshire as crowds lined both sides of the road, several people deep, angling themselves off the pavement to get a view of the top of the climb as we peaked the hill.
The quiet couple of miles on the ring road eventually passed by and we were soon seeing spectators and hearing the familiar sound of cheering again. Once in the leafy suburbs of West Park we were met by oranges galore and more jelly babies by the bucket load!
As we went round the route we passed partner charities and their volunteers and running clubs with their branded gazebos and flags all keeping us going.
We soon dropped on to Abbey Road (the top of Kirkstall Road) and for those of you familiar with the Abbey Dash route, then joined the familiar trek back to the city centre for the last and probably most gruelling four miles. As we ended the end of Kirkstall Road the feared slip road towards the Headrow became a reality before turning towards the finishing straight.
Those who’d run this race before warned me that the finish wasn’t where the start was (as is often the case) and the start gantry had now been rebranded to say ‘almost there’. Not a good sight when you’re so close but also so far, but I was glad someone had warned me where the finish actually was! I turned the corner and attempted a sprint finish (not much happened) only to be overtaken by a very speedy sprint finisher. Even though my trusty Strava app has been chatting away in my ears all the way around and knowing, I spotted the (gun time) clock approaching 2hrs (it was 1:59:50) and so bust my fat gut to get in just under it (think it was 1:59:59!) to be met by a smiley #firstpumahome Gabriella and pocket rocket Paula. Andrea soon appeared while we were collecting our medals, goody bags and non-alcoholic beer (but it tasted pretty good after 13 miles) and then we spotted half marathon first timer Carine. We congregated with our Puma support crew (Junior Pumas Jude and Orlagh and Mark Kirkby) along with friends and families before Tiff and Andrew soon joined us.
Throughout the route, the Leeds crowds were fantastic. We were fortunate that the weather brought people out – from people who took their morning coffee and a chair and sat outside their house to the spectators that had bowls of jelly babies (I could have eaten my weight in jelly babies that morning – yes that’s how many there were!), hose pipes to keep the runners refreshed and even orange segments (a new sight for me!).
There was plenty of encouragement, cheering and clapping as we trucked around including plenty of opportunities for high fives (Andrea tried to do most of these!). Here’s to the next one (and yes, there is already talk of signing up again!) and thanks to the wonderful Puma family who kept everyone going in training and on the day!
A journey of 13.1 miles starts with just one step…
It’s hard for me to write this as I still really can’t believe that I, Laura (who couldn’t run to the end of Westercroft Lane in mid- April this year without being out of breath and praying for the breather to be elongated due to the main road being busier than m62 at rush hour) completed the Manchester Half Marathon on 16th October, just seven months after joining the Pumas.
On January 1st 2016 I had embarked on a New Years resolution-cum-Yorkshire Air Ambulance fundraiser in memory of my cousin Georgina Lockey; For every pound in weight I lost, I would put a pound coin in a piggy bank for YAA. My start weight was 18 ½ stone and I had a goal in mind to lose 8 stone of that by the end of the year using Paul McKenna ‘I can make you thin’ and Joe Wicks ‘Lean in 15’ recipes. I began walking to improve my fitness, alongside a kettlebell class and although I had kind of reached a plateau I was reluctant to step it up any more at this stage for fear of doing too much too soon and putting myself off exercise all together.
Joining a running club
I came to my first beginner’s session in April this year following much persuasion from Holly Parry who convinced me to give it a go, despite my reassurances of ‘I can’t run!!’ she talked me round by saying that the beginners sessions were perfect for people like me; an introduction to running with other people of similar ability and no pressure. It would help to keep me losing weight and putting money in the piggy bank so I caved and said I’d come along- after all every one of us has to start somewhere!
Well, we were both right; I couldn’t run very far, but the session was perfect. Ian has this knack of making me continue running when I don’t want to! He was so encouraging without being pushy which is what someone with my mentality needed.
I would never have thought despite enjoying the session that on 16th October in the same year I would run a half marathon in under 2 and a half hours- I don’t think I thought I could ever achieve that in my lifetime.
Through attending the beginners sessions and running with Holly, Ian and Alison I began to see the improvements over time, granted some runs were harder than others, but every week got a little easier plus I had targets to aim for which kept me focussed. I signed up with Holly and Caroline for the Solstice Saunter at Bolton Abbey on 20th June, a five mile run which was anything but flat and the furthest I’d run prior was 3 ½ miles, but it was something to aim for and I’d promised myself that if I did it under an hour I’d reward myself with a fitbit Blaze. I walked a third of the course in and amongst, but managed to just sneak in under an hour.
Manchester Half Marathon
Shortly after this there was talk on the Pumas facebook page of the Manchester Half Marathon, and spaces on the bus were limited… I must have had a serious case of fear of missing out and booked my seat. Panic ensued. What have I done! I can’t run 6 miles?! Let alone 13.1!! I’d better get training…
I downloaded a beginners 12 week training programme from Runnersworld which the facebook group helped me with some of the terminology (apparently HMP is half marathon pace, not Her Majestys Prison, and LSD is Long Slow Distance not drugs).
I did additional runs alone which were sometimes enjoyable and sometimes hard work but each one was essential, I also ran with a couple of friends who are Sowerby Bridge Snails members who run at a similar pace to me. I had some tough weeks where things didn’t go to plan… you find things out about your bodies tolerances and more so your mental state over physical, but the important thing was to keep chipping away at the end goal, not give up and if I’d had a bad day write it off and start again the day after.
I’d been ticking off the sessions on the plan on my fridge and before I knew it the day was here- I was petrified. We got on the coach at 6 45am and off we went to Manchester. The atmosphere on the bus was as to be expected; friendly and supportive.
I was telling anyone who would listen how worried I was and then Alison Shooter offered to drop back a pen and run with me. I felt better immediately. Alison was a tremendous support for me, she gave me a foil blanket for the starting pen as I was freezing, gave me energy gel and kept reassuring me. Basically she was my Run Mum! Without Alison the run may well have been different for me; she made me smile when I felt like crying, ensured I took advantage of the photo opportunities and selflessly kept checking in on me at every single mile- I am truly grateful. Alison helped out another lady at 12 miles who was breaking down, and pulled her through to the finish line. Real Puma spirit!
There was a great inclusive and social feel about the whole day with so many people taking part in their first half marathon and exceeding their own expectations. The reward for this was drinking and eating whatever I wanted following the race… Cakes, Chinese and gin!
Glow in the Park
On 28th October I ran in a 5K at Heaton Park, Manchester called ‘Glow in the Park’- it was more of a fun run than a race, where participants put as much light up/glow in the dark on as possible and ran through disco zones. Great for beginners; no pressure for times etc and plenty of distractions to take your mind off the running.
Then on 6th November I’ve registered for the Abbey Dash 10K where I’m aiming to finish under 1 hour- something which I’ve not managed to do throughout my training. If I achieve this? Brilliant! If I don’t? Nevermind, there’ll be another run to aim for.
Following on from that I’m aiming to hit my weight loss target by losing my last 2 pounds to take me to 8 stone (112lbs/ £112) in total, and hopefully raise just under £1000 for YAA as a number of very kind people offered to match what I put in the piggy bank also.
I would encourage any beginner to set a short term, realistic and achievable goal with a small reward in mind, whatever that may be; Sign up to a 5K, attend a Pumas session every week, run one extra lamp post than the week- before it really does help. And once you’ve achieved that- set your next goal and reward. All the guys at the club are welcoming and approachable; don’t be afraid to ask for advice. It’s also really important to be kind to yourself and remind yourself how far you’ve come so far- getting kitted up to come to that very first session instead of sitting and watching TV is a huge but important step!
Read all about the Pumas half marathon fun, excellent words by Johnny Meynell
Sunday morning – early o’clock
There can’t be many reasons for wanting to crawl out of bed at 6.00am (or even earlier depending on where you resided) on a Sunday morning, but the call of the Manchester Half Marathon was probably about as good a reason as any. With instructions sent out to all Pumas to be at the club by 6.45 ready for the coach to leave at 7.00am prompt, there could be no dallying.
All told, there were thirty-six who boarded the coach, made up of the nervous, the worried, the excited, the plain mad, and in the case of Helen Jackson, the exhausted, so much so that she needed an extra forty winks. The numbers were made up of 31 running Pumas, one Stainland Lion in Claire Louise (who obviously wanted to travel in style), two other guests and two family members who were there to support. Frivolity abounded, anything to take the minds off the thought of having to run 13.1 miles.
We arrived in Salford around 8.10, the coach driver pulling up on Warren Bruce Road, leaving us with a decent walk to the starting pens (0.7 miles was the distance quoted), but on the plus side, it did give us all a chance to limber up, as well as take advantage of the handily placed loo stop en route.
The starting pens were just around the corner, on the top of Chester Road. Numbered A-G, we funnelled into our own designated areas, the elite runners (Luke Cranfield, Andy Haslam, Liz McDonnell near the front), the rest, mingled somewhere between them and the back groups. There were just a few moments to gather one’s thoughts as they set about achieving their own personal goals. For those who had run this distance before, perhaps a personal best (hitherto referred to as a PB) would be uppermost in their minds. Many that I came across were looking to run under two hours, then there were those who were happy just to get round. One runner was asked what he was hoping for and the answer came back, ‘To finish.’ (This story I know to be true; I was that soldier).
A selection of our start line selfies:
Set for a 9.00am start, sure enough the gun exploded on time leading to an inevitable charge from the front… as well as the downpour from above which had looked threatening for a while. In layman’s terms, yes, it threw it down just as we started. The field of runners in turn shuffled its way to the start line (in my case, a good three and half minutes) but the personalised chips attached to our running numbers meant our start time (and finishing times) were accurately recorded.
And so we were off, all eight or nine thousand of us, along thirteen miles of tarmac which we were all told to enjoy. The course took us around the Salford area, up the A56 named Bridgewater Road and looping all around Stretford via East Union Street, Henrietta Street, St John’s Road, King’s Road, Seymour Grove, Talbot Road, then rejoining Chester Road for the long run due south west all the way to the Crossford Bridge and into Cross Street and Washway Road. Then we negotiating several back streets to join Hope Road, Broad Road, Dane Road, before run for home back down Chester Road. The course veered off into Talbot Road to the finish line just outside Lancashire County Cricket Club. Written down like this, it all seemed so easy.
The first few miles
I can’t speak for everyone, but the first three to four miles seemed like a breeze. By then, of course, we’d looped around Old Trafford and were now on the long haul out down Chester Road. We were cheered on by several thousand local residents, something which always helps, particularly when you hear your name being called out, as the spectators identified you from the name on your running number. Nearing five miles in, I was passed effortlessly by Claire Louise, well on the way to a sub one hour fifty in what was her ninth half-marathon, the first sign, perhaps, that I wasn’t moving as freely as I would have liked. Just after the five-and-a-half-mile mark, the elite runners, having looped their way around the Sale area, were now heading back for home the opposite direction down Chester Road, which made me wonder just how far ahead of me they actually were. A quick look at the route planner suggests the distance was, in fact, nearly five miles!
Somewhere between the six and seven-mile mark, I was caught up by Jane Cole, who despite telling me she was feeling (in her words) ‘knackered’, you wouldn’t have guessed it. We ran close to each other for around four miles, but at the ten-mile mark, my legs were beginning to feel it and she pulled away. Ah, the ten-mile mark. Only three more to go. That’s just a parkrun equivalent, and the thought should have given me some heart, but the muscles in my legs were beginning to tighten, and in all fairness, the run for home became something of a struggle.
The end is in sight
We’d just done our own trek around the back roads of Sale, and rejoined Chester Road with two-and-a-half miles to go. But as far as I was concerned, the finishing line couldn’t come quick enough. I knew I was nearing it because the crowds got bigger and louder, though the cry of ‘You’re almost there’ wasn’t exactly helpful – they were shouting the same thing over the last mile. I wanted more clarity. We turned into Talbot Road and suddenly, in the distance, I could see the finish line. The only trouble was, as much as I put the effort in, it didn’t appear to be getting any nearer. The fact I managed to pass a number of runners suggested they were in a worse state than I was, but eventually, the line was within touching distance, and I, along with others around me, crossed it in an exhaustive state.
It was then time to join the throng collecting their souvenir goody bags which included a weighty medal, and catching up with fellow Pumas to see how they’d done. We were funnelled into the grounds of Lancashire County Cricket Club, then it was the walk back to the coach. It was still 0.7 miles away, but with legs now feeling much heavier, it seemed twice as far. At least it had stopped raining, and even the sun was contemplating putting in a guest appearance. By 12.30 we were on our way back home.
Of course, the journey home gave us all time to reflect on our own particular runs, and swap stories. Each had their own. Luke Cranfield took the honour of being the first Puma home in 1hr 28:18, whilst Andy Haslam, in his own words, was ‘quite chuffed’ to finish in 1hr 31:20.
Of the girls, Liz McDonnell was first past the finish line in 1hr 39:20, though not far behind her was Kirsty Edwards in 1hr 43:48. Julie Bowman, who’s had her own injury problems of late, excelled herself with a time of 1hr 51:06, crossing the line hand-in-hand with Matt Newton and Catherine Sweeney. Ally Canning was keen to get a time sub 1hr 50, but she should still be pleased to have completed the course in 1hr 54:01. And whilst I don’t have everyone’s personal tales of satisfaction or other to hand, there are some runners who deserve a mention. Vicky Owen, running her first half marathon, was so delighted with her time of 1hr 58:49 that she rang her mum. Also running inside two hours in what were their first half marathons were Holly Parry, Shana Emmerson and Debbie Fox. And what of Simon Wilkinson? Proving that if you put the effort in over the weeks and months leading up to the event, you too can be rewarded with an amazing time of 1hr 57:32. Further down the field, special mention should be given to Laura Fairbank, who’s made great strides since she joined the Pumas. She was helped in no small way by Alison Shooter, her running buddy, who contrived to sing her way around the course. Well, it helps to take your mind off what’s in hand. There were other personal success stories, of course, and the overriding thought from everyone was that they were ‘Proud to be a Puma’.
We arrived back at the club at 1.50pm and posed for our post-run photo, one that would fit nicely alongside the pre-race one we’d had taken on Warren Bruce Road (don’t you just love these before and after shots?)
before we clambered the steps to the bar. Evidently, Matt Newton and Simon’s job wasn’t finished as they gleefully served the drinks. Neil Coupe had kindly put on a decent spread of pizzas, chips and (for those watching their weight) salad, followed by cakes galore. Appreciated by everyone.
I got away at 3.00pm, shuffled into my car and drove home. What a day. Most of the rest of the afternoon was spent in a slumber, though as I ran the course over in my head once more, secretly satisfied that I had run my second half marathon almost three minutes quicker than my first, I couldn’t help but think there must be easier ways of spending a Sunday morning.