Saturday 4 September 2021

East Riding of Yorkshire: Hornsea Trail marathon race recap

This was the last of the four Yorkshire counties, having previously completed West, South and North and this race was again a reschedule from October last year due to Covid.  It was a pretty straightforward out-and-back from the seaside and I was feeling pretty fine about it.  

That is until Thursday night, when I got hit by a car :(

I was on my way home from work on my beloved Brompton, as usual in high vis jacket and helmet.  I was at a particularly horrible junction where I was going straight on (I had right of way) and a car turned right without looking and cut straight across my path.  I swerved but couldn't avoid him and collided with the back of his car and was thrown from my bike onto the tarmac.  Luckily I wasn't hurt and got up straight away, the driver stopped, there were lots of witnesses.  Sadly my bike seemed to be very broken.  If you're familiar with Bromptons you'll know they definitely shouldn't look like this:

I got a lift home with a total stranger.  I immediately went out for a run -- it was on my training plan and I needed to burn off some cortisol...  Later that evening, my knee started to throb and I spent the evening with a bag of frozen peas on it, eating chocolate and feeling sorry for myself.  

I considered asking my coaches what I should do about my marathon, but I figured if I asked, they would probably say, "don't do it" and as that wasn't the answer I wanted to hear, it was probably better not to ask!  (I do not advocate this as a life strategy)

The next day I pulled myself together, did Project Awesome (jumping was problematic), packed my marathon bag, took the bike in to be repaired and went to work.  After work I drove directly to Hull, where I'd booked an incredibly cheap hotel room.

When I arrived at 8pm, I realised why it was so cheap.  It was on an industrial estate, next to the prison.  It smelled a bit funny and I could feel every spring in the mattress.  All the furniture was laminated black ash.  I sighed and checked the bed for bed bugs - thankfully all clear.  I laid out all my marathon kit and had a Morrisons cheese sandwich for dinner.  At 10:30pm, the fire alarm went off, earsplittingly loud, and myself and the other denizens all tramped outside to wait.  After 25 minutes, the management finally managed to turn it off and I went to bed.

The next morning my knee seemed to be fine.  I had a porridge pot and a banana and several cups of coffee (obviously I had brought my own Nespresso machine - I've learned the hard way that that's way more important than most of my running kit).  Then I set off for Hornsea at a very civilised 8:45am.  On the way I passed a few signs that said "Caution: Runners" as there were lots of road crossings on the route.  I also drove past an absolutely gorgeous water tower - never seen one like that before.

I arrived with plenty of time and there was a car park literally right next to the Grim Up North Running tent.  People were queuing up to register already.  I went to get my number and asked the woman in front of me in the queue whether I could get away with road shoes and she said yes.  I collected my number - for the first time I can ever remember I was number 1!  Yikes!  I laughed with the organiser that I hoped that wasn't some kind of expectation!


I had brought some new drink to try called Maurten that contains 80g of carbohydrates per 500ml so I made that up (tipping white powder all over my car seat in the process, definitely felt like some kind of drug dealer) and went to the loo and put my race vest on.  By then the race briefing was about to start.  I listened to that and then we were off!  Standing on the start line in a t-shirt and bare legs, it felt pretty chilly, but I soon warmed up. 

Within the first few minutes we were already out of town and onto the Hornsea Trail, which looked like an old railway line route.   I found myself running alongside the lady who'd said to wear road shoes (good call - I reckon I could've worn road shoes even in the middle of winter) and a couple of other ladies who were all doing the 20 mile race.  Unfortunately I didn't ask any of their names!  They were good company and we chatted and ran for the first 10k before I had to stop to go to the loo.


Despite a few unfortunate GI issues I soon got going again, and upped the pace to see if I could catch them up before their turnaround point.  It wasn't too long before I could see the two pink ladies in the distance and that was good incentive to keep up the pace.  When I finally caught them up, the first of the 20 mile runners were just starting to come back in the opposite direction.  I kept going at my new pace as I was feeling comfortable.

The path varied from gravel to tarmac with fields on both sides.  This one had loads of blue flowers in it.  It was monotonous, but broken up with all the road crossings and impossible to get lost, which was lucky as this was one of the extremely rare events where I didn't have a GPX file to follow.

At 16km, I reached the 20 mile turnaround point.  Everyone I could see ahead of me was turning around here (there were more than twice as many people doing the 20 miler vs the marathon).  In the distance I could just start to see Hull (the turnaround point for the marathon).

 As I passed the marshall I looked ahead at the long, empty path ahead and started singing the chorus of "All By Myself" which raised a smile.  In some ways, this section was my favourite bit of the marathon.  I was happily noodling along at an easy pace, just content to hang out with the thoughts inside my head, no other runners or pedestrians or cars to contend with. 

Somewhere along this stretch I saw an older lady coming towards me in a marathon bib and it was only as she passed me that I realised it was Hils, the amazing woman I'd met at the Lancashire Scorcher and a couple of previous Grim events.  She often starts races early as it takes her a while to get round.  If you re-read the Scorcher report, you'll see she was 78 in August 2019 and had run 73 marathons and was hoping to get to 100 before she turned 80.  Well - she's 80 now - and I am absolutely delighted to report she was wearing a 100 Club vest when I saw her.  I shouted, "I know you! I met you before!" over my shoulder as I disappeared off in the opposite direction.  When the results came out I discovered she'd finished in 7 hours 36 minutes.  What an absolute legend.  Unfortunately she finished before me so I didn't get a chance to congratulate her, but I'm optimistic I'll bump into her again eventually.

I carried on along the path, crossing a couple of busy roads before coming to an underpass that said "City Centre" - finally starting to approach Hull.  By this point a few of the marathon runners had already passed me coming back the other way.

I looked at my watch at around 20k and realised it had only been 2 hours - my easy pace is definitely getting faster!  10k in 60 minutes is pretty decent. At the halfway point, I saw a marshall, who instructed me to go round in a loop and go back past her for the return leg.  Whilst running around the loop, it suddenly dawned on me that I'd not seen any female marathon runners go past me the other way.  I do tend to notice them as I like to be extra-encouraging towards women racers... surely I wasn't leading?  How could that be?  I thought back to registration.  There had been loads of trophies on the table with the cakes - I was certain there was one for female marathon winner.  Wouldn't that be pretty amazing if I actually won it?  Especially in bib #1!

I looped round the field and asked the marshall if any other ladies had gone past.  She said she didn't think so.   I figured that meant no women had gone round the loop since I did, so the longer it was before I next saw a woman runner, the more of a lead I had.

I didn't have to wait long.  A woman passed me after 0.9km going the other way.  My brain went into overdrive.  That gives me approximately a five minute head start.  Obviously she will also be aware of this, and five minutes is quite easy to make up in two hours.  But then again, I have been going easy all the time and I can step it up a notch, so she'll need to step it up two notches.  Maybe she's not going to try and race me for it.  She didn't look like she was racing.  A second woman passed me.  Then a third in quick succession.  I felt my pace increasing.  

I did the next 10k in 56 minutes.  I stopped taking pictures and focused on maintaining a pace that was not quite easy, but not unsustainable either.  I passed various men, walking and a few who kept stopping and starting due to injury.  I tried to get them to run with me - my plan was to catch up with a man who could then pace me the rest of the way, but no such luck.  I put my headphones on and put on the playlist I made for the London marathon in 2017.  It had Memories by David Guetta and World Hold On by Bob Sinclar and Hello by Martin Solveig which all reminded me of happy memories of dancing in Leeds.  I ran and ran, feeling more and more confident as I put more distance behind me.

I even slowed down briefly to take a couple of photos:


I passed a marshall at some point along here and confirmed that I was definitely the female lead.  I shouted over my shoulder, "I've never won a marathon before!" and they said something like, "And you're number 1!" referring to my bib.  I grinned and continued. I was starting to feel really excited that I could actually do this.  I was feeling strong and had picked up the pace a bit more - I definitely couldn't call this pace 'easy' any more.  I knew I just needed to hold this pace until I got to 40k and the last couple of kilometres would look after themselves.

I overtook a couple more blokes, including one guy called Richard who'd done a 135 mile canal race last weekend.  We chatted briefly - he is doing A100 as well which is my A race this year - and he told me it was a really good one, which is nice to hear!  I apologised for zooming off but explained that I was 1st lady so I had to go.  He understood.  At one point there was a busy road to cross, with a marshall on the other side.  I was hopping up and down, glaring at the traffic, muttering, "Come on, come on, COME ON!  I haven't got TIME for this!"

I passed the 40k mark, having completed that 10k in 57 minutes.  Remarkable.
And now the fun really started.  I've never really been a competitive runner, but my recent training has focused on doing more efforts and I knew I could push harder if I needed to.  In my head, the next woman was hot on my heels and I needed to do everything I could to finish strongly.  I could see a man in the far distance so my first goal was to catch up with him.  I cracked the pace up a few notches.

The last couple of kilometres are a bit of a blur.  I averaged 5 minutes per kilometre, which is approximately my 5k pace, but it's pretty hard to sustain 5k pace after you've just run 40k!!  I overtook a guy near the end and absolutely left him for dust - not many people are all-out sprinting that close to the end.  My breathing was laboured and I was definitely at the point where normal people would think, "what a nutter, why would you do that to yourself?"  Picture from the official race photographer taken at that point:
The course finished with two loops round a weird roundabout thing and then I did a sprint finish up a little hill and that was it!

I stopped, got my breath back, and drank 4 cups of water.  Then I went to check if I had won.  It took a little while as they hadn't been keeping track of whether people were male or female (!) but after a few minutes it was confirmed and the lovely Race Director gave me the trophy.
I was beyond delighted.  There may have been some squealing.  It felt totally different to Escape From Meriden, which a) wasn't a marathon, b) winning criteria was based on distance not time, c) I didn't even know if there was a prize for solo female, d) I finished it on the side of an A road on my own.

I took photos.  I grinned a lot.  I wouldn't put the trophy down. 
A kind spectator offered to take some photos of me.  More people commented that my bib said #1 on it.  I suddenly remembered that I was considering not even doing this race at one point because of my bike crash - how bloody lucky that I did!
There was loads of homemade cake at the end - it was hard to choose but I went with coffee and walnut in the end.  It was bloody great.

In all the excitement I nearly forgot to pick up my medal and goody bag, it was only when I saw another competitor get theirs that I remembered just as I was leaving.  I didn't even put the medal on, I was just so made up with my trophy.  I put the trophy on the car seat next to me and kept looking at it as I drove back to Liverpool.


My official time was 4 hours, 6 minutes and 31 seconds.  This is my second best marathon time ever - my PB was in 2016 when I was FIVE YEARS younger and I've run a lot of marathons since then - today was my 84th.  I also ran negative splits for the first time in my running career (first half in 2:06:33,  second half in 1:59:44).  Obviously this was greatly aided by the fact I wasn't trying for a good time in the first half of the race, but nevertheless an achievement.  I only stopped once for a toilet break - I skipped all the aid stations and carried all my own supplies.  This definitely makes a big difference.

But most of all a huge thank you to my fabulous coaches, whose training programme has made an amazing difference to my fitness capabilities in a really short amount of time.  Fingers crossed it'll also do the trick for A100!

Addendum: When the results came out the next day, the second-placed female finished in 4 hours 29 minutes. Turns out, I needn't have rushed :) 
And in one final stroke of luck, the bike shop have said they can fix my Brompton and the driver has agreed to pay.  Result!