Before taking on the Rock n Roll Liverpool Half Marathon I had managed to notch new PBs at 5k, 10k, and marathon distance during 2017. The temptation to add the half marathon distance to this list was therefore certainly on my mind. I was cautious about my chances though, I had not really trained specifically for the race and was just relying on my residual marathon fitness and the running I had been doing since the London Marathon to get me through. I was not unprepared by any means, but for some reason I did feel nervous as race day approached, especially with hot weather forecast for the day. It would be my third consecutive Liverpool Rock n Roll Half Marathon and one thing I did know was I would enjoy the day regardless of my time, and also that I would come away with a haul of medal bling!
Waking on race day to see the paths splattered from overnight rain and the sky covered with light fluffy cloud I was overjoyed. A quick flick onto my iPhone weather app informed me it was 14 degrees outside – much more bearable for running and far less intense than the previously forecast 20 degrees. My nerves disappeared like the summer sunshine seemed to have; I didn’t want to be racing in that heat and now it seemed like my chances of making it around the 13.1 miles course without melting were better, as well as my possibility of sneaking a PB. The race starts near Liverpool’s dock and finishes on the dockside itself, with the final four miles of the course actually running adjacent to the water. This finishing stretch can make or break a race depending on the direction of the wind. I was running with my sister and as we met up her run club - The Dockside Runners - it was clear to see which direction the wind would be blowing as it ruffled through flags; the final four miles would be a head wind. The consensus however seemed to be that this was much preferred to scorching sunshine, and my mood remained optimistic.
To run a PB I had a 1:45:44 time to beat. My sister and I opted to try run together, her half marathon PB is far quicker than mine, but she had predominately been training for a duathlon, so again had not got very specific expectations for this race. After a poignant moment stood on the start line in which a moment of silence was held for those who lost their lives and had been affected by the recent Manchester terrorism attacks, the race began, with countless fellow runners adorning yellow ribbons as a sign of support and remembrance.
The initial miles through Liverpool’s city centre flew by; we settled into a target pace of between 7:50 and 8 min/mile and quickly overtook the 1:45 pacer. I had mixed feelings about this as from now on I would have slight dread in my mind that the pacer would catch me up, which would mean my chances of a PB would also be slipping away. I tried to put this to the back of my mind though and focused on the more challenging section of the route to come. This challenge was presented in the form of the three near consecutive hills, all fairly long and steadily inclining, with the final one ‘Parliament Hill’ being the cruellest. The hills are early enough on in the race to face with relatively fresh legs, but on the other hand they are also early enough on in the race to potentially leave your legs suffering with many miles still to come. We steadily ticked off these tests, and as we entered the part of the course which incorporates many of Liverpool’s glorious parks, I felt in control still.
It was peaceful running through these parks and seeing a snake a runners drifting through, the peace only disrupted by the live bands dotted around the course which popped up and offered extra motivation. I felt like I was running comfortably hard – a phrase which is difficult to appreciate sometimes, but it seemed like I was pushing my legs but not to the point they were going to fail me. I had specific flashbacks at times to my run last year where I massively struggled (more here) and could remember just how empty my legs had been. I felt good to be in far better place.
As we left the final park the head wind of the dock beckoned for the last four mile stretch. Glancing at my watch I knew it would indeed be make or break time for my PB. I think I went into marathon mode at this point, I got my head down and focussed on ticking off each mile, my legs were tiring beneath me but I knew they must still have some marathon strength in them somewhere, so I just believed I could keep going. I drifted ahead of my sister at this point, which was a shame we could not run the whole way together, but I just had to keep moving forward and keep consistent pacing against the wind.
With one mile to go I knew I had achieved a PB, the question now was just how much of one could I squeeze? I picked up some extra pace in my legs and pushed for the finish, roared by the crowd who lined the final few hundred metres extremely well. Line crossed, watch stopped, I looked down – 1:43:35.
This was a near 2 minute PB, which I had not expected at all, and also was virtually 20 minutes quicker than my 2016 time on the same course. Admittedly I was not in a good shape in 2016, but I felt proud of how I far I had managed to come since that moment. My sister crossed the line shortly after me, she was less pleased with her time, but the real magic of Liverpool’s Rock n Roll event was still to come and is enough to lift anyone spirits…
Last year I had an amazing time post race joining the Dockside Runners cheer station and encouraging all the marathon runners, who start after the half marathon, and I was keen to join the fun again. Together with many other Dockside Runner half marathon finishers, my sister and I joined the crowds along the finishing stretch, positioned about 200 metres to go. I found it incredibly inspiring being stood there; my hands hurt from clapping and my heart was just filled with emotion. There were so many touching moments; looking at the expression on runners’ faces when they saw the finish line, their eyes lighting up at the pure joy of seeing the finish, the determination they found to get to that line, and the moment they realised what they had achieved. Then there were the children who spotted a parent or family member, and joined them hand in hand to complete the final section, their tiny feet racing alongside the weary strides of the marathoner. I peered at peoples’ bibs attempting to spot names and give a more personal cheer, as well as trying to give runners who were walking that extra push – ‘the finish line is right there!’ I bellowed ‘you’ve got this!’
The moment which reduced me to tears however was when a runner appeared from the crowd whose legs were rapidly going. Flanked either side of him were two Merseyside Policemen, giving him support and making sure he made that line. That is human spirit. We stood and clapped for hours, even as the crowds thinned and the final runners trickled through, we just could not bring ourselves to let anyone complete that finish alone! It is so rewarding being able to do that, we are supporting strangers and we could have quite easily gone and sat in a pub with a cider (that could wait!) but it makes the whole Rock n Roll experience extra special.
Arriving back home from Liverpool on Monday I hung my two medals (one for the half marathon and one – the encore medal – for running the event on consecutive years) on my medal board and amended the chalk PB numbers next to ‘Half’. Never at the start of the year did I think that by the end of May I would have set a new PB at each distance; but I had. What I have also achieved among these accomplishments however are many new experiences and memories made with friends, and I hope this year will hold more to come.
One of the great things about running and taking part in events and races is that it lets you explore not just your local area, but also new cities and countries. I love seeing new places when I enter races - it is usually the only reason I travel anywhere! - however sometimes a race and/or place is so good you just want to keep going back. On Sunday it will be my third Liverpool Rock n Roll Half Marathon; which says something!
Liverpool's Rock n Roll event has a unique feel; part of the global Rock n Roll series it is enjoyed by runners from across the UK and also the world. The event is packed with atmosphere and provides the biggest, blingiest (not sure that's a word!) medal haul I have even seen! The route incorporates Liverpool's city attractions, its beautiful parks, the famous dockside area, and has numerous live bands dotted around to provide extra motivation. It is simply a wonderful 13.1 mile tour.
The first time I took part in the event I ran alongside my friend (more here), and it was very memorable to be able to complete the route together, and it was also my first ever half marathon race (despite having already competed a marathon!) Last year I took part with my sister and her Liverpool based run club - The Dockside Runners. At the time I was not in good health and really struggled round the course, posting a Personal Worst for a half marathon (more here). I still loved the day though, and cheering on the marathon runners afterwards was such a wonderful feeling.
For this year's race the forecast looks to be hot, which worries me slightly. I do not feel I am acclimatised to summer running yet, and the couple of runs I have managed this week in similar conditions to those foretasted, I have found tough. The temptation to go for a PB is there even though I have not trained specifically for this event and have really just been recovering from the London Marathon and running for my own enjoyment the last few weeks. I know I do not want to push myself too much as my training for the Berlin Marathon starts very soon, and I want to be fresh. If I can squeeze a PB I would be very happy, if not, it will not be the end of the world either.
Another of the great things about running is the social side. This means I am also looking forward to using the Rock n Roll Half Marathon event, which is cleverly combined with Bank Holiday weekend, as a chance to celebrate my London Marathon achievement with others, which I have not really managed to do yet. To use the cliche phrase, it will be nice to 'let my hair down' a bit, especially before marathon training starts all over again!
Alice's Adventures In Running Land
Read about my adventures in running land...