I’d really been looking forward to the North Lincs Half. Not just because the organisers promised cake at the finish line (although that was obviously a factor!) but also because it’s over a year since I’ve done a half marathon properly. I sadly had to miss out on both the Yorkshire Wolds Half and the Vale of York Half last year when I was injured. I did the Brass Monkey Half in January, but was only just getting back to proper running at the time and took it very steadily. Now, off the back of training for the Paris Marathon followed by the Vale of York 10, with a few Parkruns thrown in to sharpen up the legs, I was finally feeling a lot fitter.
The weather forecast for race day was perfect – sunny but cool – and I set off (solo on this occasion) from York to Scunthorpe at about 6.30 am. I wasn’t 100% per cent sure how long it would take me to get there, and we’d been warned that the car park wasn’t big enough for everyone, so I wanted to allow plenty of time. In the end I got there in about an hour and parked up with no problem at all. The race HQ and finish is at Scunthorpe United‘s ground, Glandford Park, which is perfectly situated just off the motorway so really easy to get to. The facilities were great (lots of loos!) and it was nice to be able to wait around inside, out of the early morning chill.
The actual start of the race is about three quarters of a mile from Race HQ, and we were encouraged to make our way down there from about 8.30 for the 9 am kick-off. It’s a pleasant walk down a footpath through some fields, but you wouldn’t want to leave it until the last minute, as the path is narrow and progress was quite slow! On the wide, tree-lined road where the start is located there’s plenty of room to have a bit of a warm-up, and there are also a couple of portaloos for any last-minute calls of nature. Everything seemed very low-key and relaxed, which was really nice.
I’d got my half marathon PB of 1:52:37 at the Brass Monkey in 2015 on a very cold day where we had to walk over a few icy stretches of road. I reckoned with a bit of work I could have a fair crack at sub 1:50 and was planning to give it a go at the Vale of York Half in September this year. I reckoned that would be about 8:20 pace. My plan for North Lincs was to run at about 8:30 and see how things went. Then I noticed two 1:50 pacers, with a pace of 8:24 noted on their flags. Thinking that didn’t seem much faster than 8:30, I decided on the spot to set off with them and see how long I could hold on!
The first couple of miles seemed slightly downhill to me – or maybe I was just feeling good! The pace felt very comfortable. The course is generally very flat along some really long, straight roads – at times it seemed as if you could see runners for miles into the distance! It’s mostly rural, and it was certainly a gorgeous day to run through the countryside. There were a couple of stretches of quite narrow lane where it might have been tricky to pass people, but I was just focussed on sticking close to the pacers. There are five water points along the course – generous for a half marathon – plus stations with jelly babies and sponges around halfway. At this point I still felt OK and was cautiously optimistic about getting a PB. In the third quarter of the race things started to feel slightly harder and my belly felt a bit uncomfortable. I usually take Clif Shot Bloks during long runs, but they seemed to be laying a bit heavy today, so I didn’t take any more after about eight miles. The pacers, who I believe were called Barry and Mat, were brilliant, shouting out motivation and warning us when water stations were coming up. From about mile ten I was finding it harder and harder to keep up, but sheer bloody-mindedness made me attempt to cling on as best I could! I’m sure I would have slackened off sooner without the pacers to help.
Towards the end I looked at my watch and thought “Yes, only half a mile to go” and then… a hill! Only a short one, but as I started up it I felt my left calf beginning to twitch and knew I’d have to walk it. How disappointing – losing the pacer at 12.5 miles! One of the girls in our group kindly touched me on the shoulder and said “Come on!” encouragingly, but I didn’t want to risk full-blown cramp. As I got to the top of the hill I could see spectators cheering near the finish and a sign that said 800m to go, so decided to try for a final push. From somewhere I managed to find a bit of speed, and the roadside encouragement really helped. The final stretch round the football pitch to the finish line was great. I could see the pacers finishing some way ahead of me, but didn’t dare look at my watch until I crossed the line… when I was astonished to find that I’d somehow still managed to sneak in just under 1:50 at 1:49:48! I was chuffed to bits, as I hadn’t planned or expected to do that at all. I was completely cream crackered though, but not too tired to go and thank Barry and Mat, as I certainly wouldn’t have run as fast as I did without their help. The race swag was pretty good; a t-shirt and a trainer-shaped medal, plus a goody bag with crisps, Haribo and a Penguin – oh, and the cake of course! After collecting all this I went and sat on the grass for a while, ate my crisps and did a bit of stretching with a big smile on my face! I was amazed to find out later that I’d come 8th in the V50 women’s category. Perhaps there were only eight V50 women there!
I really would recommend the North Lincs Half to anyone. There were runners of all abilities there, and the organisation and communication were great. The course is really PB-friendly, and obviously the pacers are a Godsend! There’s also a family fun run as part of the occasion. Perhaps best of all, it only costs about half as much to enter as the Leeds Half the week before. Getting away at the end was smooth too, with no traffic hold-ups. A top event all round!
So now I’ve ticked off one of my major goals for the year four months early what’s next? I feel I need to officially re-establish my sub 4 marathon status after the Manchester fiasco, so the Yorkshire Marathon in October is probably my main goal. I’d also love to do a sub 50 minute 10K, but I’m not sure that’s possible. Still, never say never!