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.