I started the race at a comfortable pace. Running along the Mersey with the rain face on and sending a chill through me didn’t deter what I felt was a strong start. I settled into a rhythm; feet shuffling close to the ground and arms down by my side. Minimal energy with maximum output. I was exactly where I wanted to be. Out, running, challenges ahead, feeling great. That wind though. And that rain!
I had my first toilet stop at around 4 miles before regaining my pace and making up ground. I promised myself that I would only run my race and not get embroiled in keeping up with others. I stuck to that aswell in the main. Heading towards Birkenhead as morning broke I approached the first stop at Childwall. I passed through relatively quickly, as I had a plan to stick to. I had set a target of 10hours to complete and was on track. I got my number checked and moved on.
Moving through the first bit of trail and parkland, I started to see a different side to Liverpool than what I was used to. The big city, docklands and football grounds that I had been to had not offered the greenery that I was seeing. It was a nice and welcome change. The opening road miles had provided some interesting points of reference, especially Penny Lane for any fans of The Beatles, like myself.
That being said, as I approached the second checkpoint at Alderfield Drive, I was drenched. Head to toe. I was pleased that I would meet my mum and stepdad for some much needed familiarity and an impromptu change of socks. I had text ahead and arranged some emergency supplies given the mixture of rain, sleet and snow that we runners had experienced in the first 12 miles. Couple that with a squelchy finish over a rain-soaked field and I needed that change desperately.
Again, I didn’t stay long. I wasn’t keen to lose time and remained on course. My mile splits were looking to be near perfect. My body felt as good as it had during my training. The race was proving to be highly enjoyable. I was told that I was around 30 seconds of the front pack at one stage. I didn’t think too much about that as such, but certainly gained confidence that I was upto running that distance with other more seasoned and experienced runners.
I moved on to the next stage and rang Gemma to check in and give some reassurance. Ethan was telling me that it was raining outside. I told him that I knew and that he had to get wrapped up for later when he was coming to meet me. I had another stop at mile 19 at Spike Island in Widnes, to get through and again had the support of my mum and stepdad. I had a couple of minutes here after negotiating a pathway down the River Mersey and surrounding streets that included a large path of steps. This was my first walk of the day. It was pointless exerting energy and I saw that all the other runners were doing the same. So, I took a breather, and used big steps to get up the pathway.
Ironically, it was here that I felt it. The first twinge. I was so comfortable upto this point, I felt almost invincible. This was a reminder though that my body would tell me in its own way how it felt. My mind was strong, but my knee began to tell me, ‘hold on pal; this doesn’t feel too good this.’ I had been fine all training, for months without an ache or pain. I was disappointed but put it to the back of my mind. I had a job to do and would manage it. The pathways were clear upto now; nothing to severe following the weather. I’d be fine. I moved on, heading towards the first significant checkpoint as I saw it; the halfway point at Sankey Valley, Warrington.
It was here that I planned to meet Gemma and Ethan. A moment that I had been obviously looking forward to. Meeting them halfway gave me real focus. I arrived at around 10.30am which was slightly longer than I had hoped. My knee began to trouble me a little more as I moved through the various trails, dodging puddles and mini-swamps as I tried to keep my feet dry, and avoiding dodgy pathways underfoot with potholes and trail debris. It was a very scenic and natural area for running, but the weather had put paid to this being something of beauty and it slowly but slowly turned into a nemesis.
To keep my mind focused in the last couple of miles I thought about some news I had received a couple of days before the run that had been a real boost. I have been submitting some race reviews recently on www.racecheck.com and had been selected to become part of the Visor Club. It is a club of runners essentially who race and review, and support eachother in a variety of ways in person and online. Since learning about the movement as part of my Running Dads community, I had an ambition of becoming part of the club. I have made it and am in Team White. I can’t wait to get my hands on the visor and get running!
At half-way, I had a full change of clothes. Everything. I had taken the advice of someone I met on a training course earlier in the year who told me that a change of clothes would be a way to freshen up without washing. Clean underwear especially. He was spot on. In hindsight, it was the best piece of advice I was given.
On my approach, I saw Ethan, wrapped up in multiple layers and looking pleased to see me but a little cold and wet. As I changed, he helped to hold pieces of kit and gave me a good cuddle before looking on as I made my final preparations.
I shovelled snacks in my new clothing and said my goodbyes. Until the next stop. I was aching a touch, but felt refreshed; renewed and mentallly in a good place. I was soon to be an ultra. That, was something I had waiting a long long time to say.