On Sunday 30th April 2017 I ran the Great Birmingham 10k, and had a great time.
This wasn’t an ‘A’ race and it wasn’t a PB attempt – it was a day that was really about the atmosphere, the occasion and the people.
Here’s how it went.
Entering and Build-Up
I was a late entrant to this race.
After missing target ‘A’ races earlier this year because of my run slump, I was keen to get back to race atmosphere and excitement. As a home race – I live in Birmingham – with a huge contingent of fellow club members from Bournville Harriers running too, plus a few lovely folk from UKRunChat, the Great Birmingham 10k was a great choice.
I’d run this race in its first year in 2015, but not last year in 2016 because I was in Milton Keynes to run the marathon there. I hadn’t been mad keen to run the 10k here again because I knew the route, and with ‘The Hill’ – as it’s become affectionately (infamously) known and loved (loathed) – I knew it wasn’t a PB course.
Anyone who’s run this race or the Great Birmingham Run half-marathon will know ‘The Hill’ – a tough incline up from a 1960s brutalist concrete underpass, a brief respite turning left onto a residential road that tricks you into thinking it’s over, then the soul-sapping right turn into the worst incline of the lot. Lovely and leafy past the old church and into the quiet back roads of Edgbaston, but steep incline on and on and on. Slow and deadly for pace. And right at the end of the race.
So, no, not a PB course.
But this year ‘The Hill’ was gone from the course. And also from the half-marathon later in the year. And will also not be present in the inaugural Birmingham International Marathon, to be run in October. This put a different slant on things.
It generated a bit of debate too, as to whether or not it was A Good Thing. I’m lucky, of course – living here means I can run The Hill often in training (well, as much of it as possible; obviously pedestrians can’t get down onto the thundering dual carriageway underpass). At half-marathon pace I can handle it without slowing too much, so I was a little sad to see it go from that race. But at 10k it made for a potentially fast and flat course.
It was irresistible anyway; there were so many fellow Bournville Harriers entering that there was a great deal of excitement and buzz about this race.
There was also a group of us from UKRunChat who were doing this race, with the usual excited Twitter chat in the days leading up to the event, and pre-race kit photos the night before.
Also as a first for me in quite a while, my wife and daughter were coming to spectate and support.
Big Event Feel
This event had a ‘big race’ feel about it, which made it huge fun. You’d have been forgiven for thinking it was more than just a 10k. From the crowds of eight thousand runners, the national television coverage and their cameras and helicopters, the excitement in the local press, the buzz on social media, the support on the streets, and the sense of anticipation among the runners that morning, there was a tremendous feel to this race.
It didn’t have this when I ran it in 2015 and it bodes very, very well for the first running of the full marathon in October.
Because my training had been so hit-and-miss since the start of the year, I wasn’t expecting much. My 10k PB is 40:06 but I knew I was nowhere near this sort of shape, so I was approaching the day just to have fun and enjoy the atmosphere. And, obviously, go for the best time I possibly could – racing is never not about times – even if it was nowhere near my PB.
Having said that, I’ve been feeling re-energised and increasingly free of the plantar fasciitis that’s been bugging me. I’d been turning up the pace week-on-week in my club runs since resuming training four or five weeks previously, and progressing in the club reps sessions. I’d begun to feel I could put in a half-decent time, somewhere in the 40-42 minute range.
Now, this is nowhere near properly fast, actually fast – as in, sub-40 and down into the 36, 35 minute kind of fast – but it’s still a relatively respectable time. Entering my starting pen under a sign marked “Fast Paced Club Runners” gave me a thrill. This is where I want to be; where my running has brought me. Holding my own with the club runners. Very near the front of the start.
(And later, watching the television coverage, spotting one of the elites and realising I know them from Twitter, have met them and chatted with them in the past. Plus, when I crossed the finish line seeing Liz McColgan being interviewed.)
A bit of ego-boosting pre-race smugness. Happy days.
There were quite a few UKRunChat folk to meet. I met David/@RossoNeri_79 again on the way to the start – we bump into each other at a lot of local races, and it was great to meet up again. It was also good as David/@jedi58 (of #thedavids) was away running the Milton Keynes Rocket 5k and marathon, and a race isn’t really a race unless there are enough Davids in it. Is it?
I met Amy again – who as well as being lovely is also kick-ass super-weightlifting-inspiration Amy, who squats and deadlifts enormous amounts of weight more than I do – and her sister Lucy. They were with their mother for her first race; a family first for all three of them running together. (Lots of lovely happy photos on Facebook afterwards.)
I was delighted to meet Alison for the first time, representing her home country Canada at this race (there was a Commonwealth theme to this run, and Alison had been in lots of the press promo material, a bit of a celebrity). I should think just about everyone on UKRunChat had followed Alison’s journey to her first marathon in Manchester earlier in April, and she went on to PB at 10k here with her first sub-50.
After the race I was lucky enough to bump into another UKRunChat buddy: mental health campaigner, Marathon Talk interviewee and sub-3 marathoner Rohan Kallicharan. Rohan had a lot of confidence-inspiring words for me in my summer of training towards the Birmingham marathon.
And after the race I met up with Steve – who ran a superb 39:03 – and Charly – who ran superbly too, despite, in Steve’s words, not being 100% in the lead. (Or did he say Charly wasn’t 100% in the lead-up to the race? I may have misread this on Facebook/may be in trouble here.) Charly and Steve are organising our four-person team for Endure 24 in a few weeks with, you guessed it, David/@jedi58 (#thedavids 👍), of which undoubtedly more next month.
I was also delighted to meet Deborah, with whom I’ve been tweeting lots recently, giving advice about marathon training.
There were more UKRunChat people too, but meeting up when there are eight-thousand runners around and everyone has to get to their pens isn’t always straightforward. Maybe next time.
Bournville Harriers/The Sea of Teal
And so to BvH, because it was very much a proud club occasion.
When you run a hometown race as a member of a well-known hometown club, and through that club’s part of town, it’s a very special experience. I’ve had this before as a member of Bournville Harriers.
The race was a sea of Harriers’ teal vests and tees. The crowds were a sea of BvH support.
Meeting up with everyone before the race, and sharing the excitement, was special. And from those club members who weren’t running, even more support. The BvH ‘Wall of Noise’ at the official cheering point is very much a thing. Cowbells. And shouting/cheering/screaming. And cowbells. And more shouting/cheering/screaming. And (because, yes, it has to be said) more cowbells (I’m thinking Saturday Night Live here; look it up). There’s so much noise and support it becomes almost a physical thing, picking up those of us running and powering us along.
And not only at the official cheering point. There were club members all over the course – some of them in locations which were not the most glamorous (are there glamorous locations in Birmingham?) where other crowd support was thin, and where a boost was most needed. And what a boost they gave. Thanks to all.
Stood outside the abattoir.
Then there was the meet-up in the finishing area afterwards. All of us. Sharing results. Swapping stories, how we’d found the race, how we’d found the three twisting inclines at the end that had replaced The Hill (the verdict: tough). So much support, encouragement and enthusiasm. Group photos. Congratulations, camaraderie and comradeship. Great fun. A real team atmosphere.
When I watched the television coverage at home later in the day, it became apparent that this race really was a BvH takeover. Just as it had seemed when I was running, there were teal Bournville vests and tees everywhere. The place really was a sea of teal. I was very proud to be a part of it. Last year the club was the most represented in the 2016 race, and happily we repeated the feat again.
Wife and Daughter
As I mentioned, my wife and eight year-old daughter came to spectate and support. They don’t often travel with me to races, so this was lovely. We’d arranged they would be waiting in Cannon Hill Park, and sure enough, as I swept round one of the bends, there they were.
They spotted me, my wife tried to take a photo and cheer me on all at the same time, and I peeled over to high-five my little girl, who was bouncing up and down with excitement. “Go Daddy!”
Such a wonderful, sweet boost.
How I Did
I was very happy with the time I ran. Alright, it wasn’t fast fast, it was way slower than my PB, but I ran 41:43. I was pretty happy with that for where I am right now. Things moving in the right direction, finally. There were large stretches where by feel I would have said I was running seven minute-miling, but in fact – when I glanced down at my Garmin – I was down in the low six-forties. Happy with that.
At the End of the Day
By the end of the day, later, at home, we were quite the buzzing, happy little household.
We watched the television coverage and took great delight in spotting me going over the start line, and my wife and daughter cheering on the elite men as they went through Cannon Hill.
After the elites, they’d been cheering and shouting support to almost all the other runners too. Apparently after I’d high-fived my little girl she’d started high-fiving other runners as they came through, and had been joined by a throng of other children to do the same thing, and told me excitedly that she’d high-fived “more than twenty people, Daddy”. Then they’d spent the rest of the afternoon out in Cannon Hill Park.
So, a big success. I’d run a decent time, we’d all had a great day, and we’d all been on television (albeit momentarily…)
I’m looking forward to doing it again next year.