Sunday 8th September saw a field of over 50,000 runners complete the Great North Run half marathon event in Tyneside, and whilst I was not one of them, I took my own place on the start line of a 13.1 mile road race. With a field size of just over 300, the Newton's Fraction Half Marathon in Grantham may not grab the headlines or attention of its Northern compatriot, but it did not mean it was any less of a good running event.
I took on the Great North Run in 2015, and whilst I loved the atmosphere and the passion there is for the race, I find I am now equally as happy supporting smaller, local events. Although Grantham is only a relatively short drive from my home in Lincoln, the Newton's Fraction Half Marathon was a race I had actually never completed before. It was only through a conversation with a fellow Run Club member that I actually signed up this year. I had a fast 13 miles on my marathon training plan for this particular week, and when they suggested this event to me, which they were also planning on running, I was tempted. I put off entering for a while, however after a number of weeks of solo long running and back to back 20 milers, I felt I wanted a break and some running company - so I entered.
During race week I did not feel my best; with marathon training at its peak I was tired and trying to balance keeping the miles ticking along with also some recovery. I was not ever really going to be racing Newton's Fraction, but it was still not ideal. I also took part in a track session with my Run Club on the Thursday before the race, and my quads were still feeling the effect of some hard effort sprints. Needless to say, I was keeping my expectations for the race no further than just a nice variation for a Sunday long run.
I travelled to Grantham with my fellow Run Club member and enjoyed the relaxed feel in the build up to the event - the benefit of a small race field! It had been a cool morning to begin with, the change in season quite notable, but as the sun rose higher in the sky, and with the sightly later 10.30am start time, it gradually became quite a mild day. Probably my only wish for the event would be for it to start at 9/9.30am, as at that time, conditions would have been perfect.
The course is a large figure of eight, and is described as undulating. I was also well warned by many about the two 'big hills' which seemed to have almost traumatised some runners who had taken part previously! I am not one to over analyse a course - you cannot change it, so just have to go with it! - so was strangely looking forward to seeing what these challenges would present. Another feature of the race is that it starts and finishes on a race track, which would at least ensure a nice flat finishing stretch!
Lining up on the track it felt almost a relief not be zooming off for 100m sprints as I was a few days previously, and instead as the start signal was given, I settled into a steady early pace. The first couple of miles followed local roads and had a few undulations. As a fairly steep climb appeared on the horizon one runner joked out loud 'that's not even one of the big hills... so basically we are all screwed!' It was apparent early on that my legs were not up to truly racing these hills; uphill I could cope with, but downhill my quads were sore and held me back. It was fine; I was not here to race, but to push myself on a fast 13.1 miles according to what my body could do on this course.
Just after 2 miles the route turned onto a canal path; I had actually been looking forward to running along here as assumed it would be a pleasant place to run with some nice scenery. It was; but my legs did not really like it! The path was uneven, at times a little gravelly, and I just did not seem to ever find a natural stride. It was not horrendous by any means, but I just found it a bit tough going. The surroundings were lovely though, and the narrow path meant for a colourful snake of runners following the river and ducking under bridges.
Approaching nearly 5 miles the course turned off the canal path and back onto roads, which my legs instantly enjoyed more. This turn was also met with a stunning view of Belvoir Castle looming high on a hill in the horizon - I wish I could have taken a photo! I kept on running though, enjoying regaining some rhythm. My running rhythm was however relatively short lived, as soon the first of the big hill challenges appeared. It was hard to doubt whether or not this was one of the infamous hills as a long steep ascent appeared in front of me. The length of the hill was so drawn out you could not see the top, so I just dug in and kept on climbing. A lot of people walked, I can understand why, but I felt strong and kept a steady pace to the eventual top. After this climb, a gradual downhill was the reward, however this is again when my quads held me back a little, and I did not feel I could make the most of the relative easier section.
Miles 7 to 10 were rural and undulating, and they also seemed to pass by really quickly. I remember recalling how much stronger I felt than when running Newark Half Marathon a few weeks previously. My endurance was most definitely with me even if my speed was not quite in my legs.
Just after 10 miles big hill number two appeared. Whereas big hill number one went from almost flat to instantly heading up vertically, this hill had a gradual ascent to begin with, followed by a sharp rise in gradient. A lot of people were already walking on the lower section, but again I was determined I would not let it beat me. It was hard, and I really had to draw on my determination not to walk during the final sections when it felt almost like I was climbing forever, but I made it to the top without stopping.
With the last of the big hills out the way I felt like I was on a quest to the finish now. I felt strong and very much in control, so knew I could tick the miles off. As I got closer to the end goal I even seemed to find increasing increments of speed in my legs. My fastest mile was in fact my final mile, and as I hit the track again I really tried to power around the final few hundred metres. I crossed the line in 1:43:36; I had it in my head as I was running that I would be happy to run a sub 1:45 on this course, and I had met my goal. My quads hated me a little bit more, but I was pleased and happy to have another medal for my ever-growing collection!
Newton's Fraction Half Marathon was a well organised, testing but not too challenging event, set in a beautiful area, and with a friendly, supportive atmosphere. It might not have had the TV cameras, celebrities and fan fare of Great North Run, but it certainly was equally as impressive in its own right.
Alice's Adventures In Running Land
Read about my adventures in running land...