Oliver Kirkland reports: Given some of the achievements of other club members over recent weeks, I feel a little coy about reporting on my comparatively meagre performance at Blackminster a fortnight ago. However, given that race reports have been a little thin on the ground of late, I thought I’d cobble something together.
I’d been hoping to do a couple of halves ahead of my (injury-permitting) first Marathon at Worcester in April, but work commitments and sold out races limited my choices and I was left with the so-called ‘Scorpion Run’ as my only viable option. Matt Sandison was the only other Harrier to keep me company.
This was only the second running of the Blackminster Half and entries were probably boosted by its recent high ranking in Runner’s World’s ‘most scenic half’ poll. To add to its appeal for someone like me, elite runners were in short supply as evidenced by the good-humoured ribbing of the 20 or so competitors who dared to go to the front of the queue when asked if they thought they’d finish in less than 90 minutes. I had lofty ambitions of taking a few minutes off the 1.30 and a bit I’d done in the Birmingham Half last year on the back of a few reasonable shorter distances over the last couple of months and was keen to see if I could maintain a 10k pace over the extra miles.
It was exceedingly cold at the start and remained so for the duration of the morning. However, having disregarded the old adage of not experimenting with new kit on race day, I was more pre-occupied by my drinks belt than the climate over the first few miles. After 20 minutes of trying to get it to stay in the right place and retrieving dropped bottles, I gave up the ghost and dumped it.
The first half of the race was a struggle. I’d had vague aspirations of setting and trying to maintain a 6.20 pace, but was struggling to keep below 6.40 for much of the time. In addition to the equipment malfunction, I felt bloated and my mind wasn’t where I had expected it to be. I’d been overtaken by a handful of other runners since the first mile and wasn’t making much impression on them as I struggled to hold on to my position.
The one positive I clung onto was that I hadn’t lost sight of Matt. I knew he was keen to post a similar time to me, so if I could keep close to him I knew all wasn’t lost. Around the 8 mile mark, I started to feel more energised for the first time in the race. Perhaps that large bowl of porridge had finally been digested and was starting to release the carbs I needed, or maybe we just had the wind behind us at last. I drew level with Matt and we seemed to spur each other on over the next 4 miles as, together, we picked off the 4 or 5 runners within our sights, one by one.
Just after the 12 mile marker, the route went left and we were confronted by the 800 metre ‘sting in the tail’ that gave the race it’s nickname. Knowing that I’m stronger going up than down, I realised this was my opportunity to cement my position, so I went on the attack leaving Matt a little behind and taking out the guy in front. I managed to create some distance between myself and them, but then had to contend with an even longer downhill stretch, not knowing how close behind me the next person was.
The last couple of hundred yards took us on a horseshoe loop around the local school playing fields so I had the comfort of being able to see that no one was going to overtake me before the end. I even managed to shout out some encouragement to Matt, who was involved in a tighter finish a few yards behind. I was really pleased to finish 11th in 1.24.57 (though it took me more than a week to get my result as a dodgy chip had meant I was left off the original results list) and Matt came 14th in 1.25.33. Whether that means I can get anywhere near 3 hours next month is another matter…!
I can’t say I really absorbed the supposedly beautiful scenery, but it was good value and only 45 minutes from South Birmingham, and I can unequivocally recommend it to others looking for a Spring Half in 2014 – so long as they don’t mind waiting a bit for their result.