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.

Pumas looking ready to run
Pumas looking ready to run

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 startline

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:

The crowds towards the back of the startline
The crowds towards the back of the startline
Simon, Grace, Holly and Julie...all smiles before the pain...and rain
Simon, Grace, Holly and Julie…all smiles before the pain…and rain
Pumas raring to go
Pumas raring to go

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!

Johnny scoping out the crowds
Johnny scoping out the crowds

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.

Liz and her now infamous green shorts
Liz and her now infamous turquiose shorts

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.

Homeward bound

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.

Andy crossing the finish line, in an amazing time
Andy crossing the finish line, in an amazing time

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?)

Pumas still looking happy...possibly the thought of a beer though
Pumas still looking happy…possibly the thought of a beer though

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.

Scrabble anyone?

 

Complete results for all the Pumas;

1 Luke Cranfield 1:28:18

2 Andy Haslam 1:31:20

3 Chris Ellis 1:39:16*

4 Liz McDonnell 1:39:20

5 Kirsty Edwards 1:43:58

6 Julie Bowman 1:51:06

7= Matt Newton 1:53:31

7= Catherine Sweeney 1:53:31*

9 Ally Canning 1:54:01

10 Jane Cole 1:56:28*

11 Neil Coupe 1:56:38

12 Simon Wilkinson 1:57:32*

13 Holly Parry 1:57:44*

14 Johnny Meynell 1:58:22

15 Victoria Owen 1:58:49*

16 Shana Emmerson 1:58:54*

17 Debbie Fox 1:59:07*

18 Paul Bottomley 2:03:22*

19 Melissa Hall 2:05:16

20 Mike Hartley 2:05:39*

21 Helen Jackson 2:05:56

22 Jo Allen 2:09:13

23 Alison Wilkinson 2:09:29

24 Nicola Pennington 2:13:16*

25 Lisa Garland 2:19:21*

26 Joanne Hotham 2:20:28*

27 Nicola Hartley 2:24:43*

28 Susan Burlison 2:24:45

29 Laura Fairbank 2:27:21*

30 Alison Shooter 2:27:22

31 Caroline Reynolds 2:31:50*

 

* Denotes Half Marathon First Timer.