The Liversedge Half Marathon. Again. For the second year in a row I was heading off to run this brilliant race. My reasons for choosing this race were similar to the previous year – close to Leeds and two months out from the Manchester Marathon, so a good tester of form.
This time round though I wanted to take part for another reason. Having finished fifth in 2015, and winning a trophy that has sat on my shelf for the past year, I felt a duty to go back and try to defend the trophy.
Before I get into talking about my race, I wanted to say a few things about the event. It is a brilliantly organised friendly event, run by a small running club and based out of a village community centre. People give up their time to help to put the race on, give up their time to bake a great selection of pasties and cakes at the end and serve teas and coffees, and do so in a warm and friendly way. What’s more is that they are completely unapologetic about the toughness of the course, when most road races strive to make the most of advertising their routes as ‘flat’ or ‘PB potential’.
The weather was better this year round, still very chilly but without a cloud in the sky. I knew I would be a bit cold on the start line, but once I got running I’d warm up quickly enough – and if I didn’t I wasn’t running hard enough! With this in mind I opted for running shorts and vest – no gloves or baselayers like in 2015, and pinned three SiS pineapple gels to my shorts for miles four, seven and ten.
With more expectation on the start line, wanting to finish in at least fifth and to try and go faster than 2015 to see if I was in better form ahead of Manchester, I was a bit more nervous than last year. From the gun I was off hard – for a very brief moment I was leading off the start line, and then settled into the back of a small pack in fifth place. After about a mile this group of four started to move away, and then I tried to settle into the required pace.
When I say pace – it is very hard on this race to run at a ‘pace’. From the off you are smashing down hill – I ran the first mile in 5:04. For the rest of the race you are very rarely doing anything but running hard up a hill, a steep hill, or a very steep hill, or trying to stretch out the legs and turn off the fear and run as fast as you can downhill. You really have to race the course, running as hard as you can at any given moment rather than ticking off each lap within a bracket of a second or two either side of a target mile pace.
I was passed by a runner in a white and green vest at mile three. At that point the pace was too high for me, and there was a long way still to go.
Down into Bailiff Bridge was the hardest fastest downhill, losing about 250ft in half a mile. There was a brief respite over a mile that was flat, and then another sharp hill up towards Clifton. On some stretches I could see the runners in second, third, fourth and fifth, so although the pack was faster than last year it was also closer together. The pack was faster, but so was I.
At the Liversedge Half you don’t only have to race the course, you have to race the other runners tactically. I wasn’t far from the runner in white and green in my beloved fifth spot, but I knew where I needed to make my move. Between mile markers nine and ten there is a long, straight, gradual ascent which seems to go on forever, but funnily enough is only a mile. I was keeping fifth place in my sights, and for a while thought about this climb.
When I got there I consciously raised the intensity ever so slightly. I thought that if the runner in head was only continuing their same efforts, then I should close the gap. Slowly I pulled him in, and at the end of the mile we were neck and neck – and fourth place wasn’t out of sight either. I checked my watch at this point. I was clearly on course for a PB, but now it was all about the position.
We were both racing, pushing ahead of each other at different points. Early on after I had bridged back up it was – although completely silent – aggressive, pushing hard trying to drop each other, and then became more friendly as we started working together to keep the pace high. With a mile to go he vaguely grunted that we should work to pull in fourth place. I went for it, unfortunately he was unable to follow.
Over the final mile I was running really hard on now really tired legs, but my finish line wasn’t at 13.1 miles but at the fourth place runner ahead. I could just see the gap dropping and dropping and dropping. Here an unknown marshal called out to me – and this really shows the friendliness of the race – “go on Phil, you’re in fifth again!”.
With half a mile to go the route turns left, goes straight for 700m on a slight uphill slope that you would barely notice if not for the state of the race, and then turns left for the final 100m. I was gaining and gaining and gaining, although my legs were so heavy. With maybe 500m to go I was literally in touching distance. There was no possibility of sprinting, so I just tried edging ahead. I was in fourth with less than two minutes to run, but it didn’t last for long. He was able to kick again, and then as I turned left on to the finish straight I was running in treacle, but as the PA announcer called out my name I was again on for fifth place and a PB.
I finished the race in 1:18:23 – about a minute and a half faster than last year. It was great to talk to the fellow runners and racers at the finish line. The performance has given me confidence about how my form is coming along for Manchester. When I was speaking to the runner I beat into fourth he guessed I was aiming for a sub 2:40 marathon. I was a bit flabbergasted by this, sub 2:50 or 2:45 would be nice, but he was much more confident than me. He himself had a marathon PB of 2:30 something. I’m not going to try and do that this year, but I’ve got a few years in me yet!
I can only finish by encouraging you to try this race out next year – it’s a great one.