“Honestly, I'm thinking of giving this one a miss...”. So began the conversation at 8.30am on a cold and wet Sunday morning in the living room at my brother's house.
It wasn't me having doubts, although I could see exactly where he was coming from. The weather was truly foul and the forecast was saying worse to come. James had been on holiday for the week, swapped carb loading for pint lifting and only landed back in the UK 24 hours earlier. In short, he didn't fancy running the Great Birmingham Run one little bit.
I was a little more enthusiastic, keen to see how I'd perform running a half just a week after the Chester Marathon. It would also be my last chance for a long-ish run prior to Snowdonia. And miserable as running in heavy rain can be, I was also conscious of getting some wet weather practice in given the high probability of a downpour around those Welsh mountains.
Anyway, I persuaded him to lace up and he felt better knowing I was doing a bag drop so he could stash a change of clothes for after the race. We took the bus into Birmingham, walked across town, finding shelter as and when we could, before entering our respective pens.
Finding myself in the first wave was a blessing, keeping the hanging around to a minimum. The warm up did little to warm anyone up (we just wanted to get going), but at half past ten, a minute or so behind the elites, we were off.
I was in two minds as to how I should run. My last competitive half was Leicestershire way back in February, which was solid enough given the freezing temperature (more bad weather!), but a good seven minutes off my best.
I was also recovering from injury at the time and truth be told this was a concern now for Birmingham too. I didn't let on after Chester, but having cramped up at the finish I was feeling the after effects for most of the following week. A tightness up the back of my left leg, possibly the hamstring, which was obviously a worry with Snowdon less than three weeks away.
I dropped my usual Friday training run and took it easy on the other two. In between there was plenty of stretching, Ibuprofen gel and applying of heat pads. I hoped it was 'maranoia' – all in my head – but vowed not to run Birmingham if that tightness remained.
Fortunately by Sunday morning things felt a lot better, but I still put on the compression sleeve that had previously helped with my thigh strain, just in case.
So this was to be the plan – run hard for the first 5k, but back down at the first sign of trouble. While Birmingham was following its usual half marathon route, they reversed the course for 2018, which meant the famous Edgbaston hill climb at mile 12 was now a downhill sprint at mile two.
This certainly supported a fast start and I was averaging 7:30 minute miles through the 5k mark. No pain, no backing down and I headed with confidence for the next stretch through Canon Hill Park and Edgbaston Cricket Ground.
Birmingham is usually very well supported, but the horrible weather had clearly put many people off. All the more reason to thank those who did turn out, as well as the marshals and volunteers who kept smiling throughout.
The wetter and colder I got, the more I expected my pace to slip, but those seven minute miles just kept on bleeping out. I briefly saw James on one of the switchbacks and he was looking comfortable approaching the 10k mark. I was also feeling good, spurred on by the sniff of a PB, and pushed hard to try and keep clocking sub-8s.
Mile 11 was a 7:57 – that was close! Mile 12 a 7:54 – still too close! What I really needed now was fuel, having only taken on a few swigs of water at the aid stations. There was no sign of any spectators clutching jelly babies or such like and although I had some in my back pocket in a ziplock bag, everything was so wet and my fingers so cold it was impossible to get hold of them without stopping.
I was definitely slowing by now and an uphill stretch towards Moor Street station and the Bullring did nothing to help matters. I didn't look at the time, but instinctively knew that last mile was going to be too slow. I forced a sprint finish from desperately heavy legs, stopped my Garmin and... 1:41:55. That's 30 seconds off my PB and it was all down to running an 8:40 final mile. The one that got away!
However, it is my best time at Birmingham – a race I've ran every year since catching the running bug in 2012. Back then, I ran my first ever half in 2hrs 03 and wondered how on earth people managed to go sub-2. It felt impossible!
But I know that word is nonsense now. Six years on and I've shed two stone and taken more than 20 minutes off my time. I've also ran twice as far on seven occasions – by this weekend, you can make that eight. So never mind missing out on a PB, I've got plenty to be proud about and this time I'm going to allow myself to enjoy the feeling.
Talking of being proud, Mr 'I don't want to run today' also had something to celebrate. He did manage a PB, coming home in 2hrs10. Suddenly the rain and the cold didn't seem so bad after all.
Funny how more often than not it's the runs you don't want to do that end up being among your best.
Now my attention turns to Snowdon. No more injury scares, I think I'm in the clear. My eighth marathon – and fourth this year – awaits me on Saturday. I've heard nothing but good things and I absolutely cannot wait. Not just because of the stunning scenery and great support. I'm excited because, for once, it will be a shared experience. Shared with you lot. That's what will make Saturday special.
The hills will most definitely be alive with the sound of Buzzers. Awn ni, everyone... Let's go!
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