Race Report

Nottingham Half Marathon
Great North Run
Snowdonia Marathon
from Bill Murphy

2 x ½ = 1


(or subtitled: 2 Half Marathons make a fool)





Time to focus I thought. I had returned from Lake Placid, complained about the damage to my bike[1] and, frankly f%$£ed about doing no serious training. Somehow with another Ironman under my belt (as were most of the accumulated chronic injuries) the prospect of the Nottingham Half seemed, well, half baked really. So I did a few long rides, a few swims, the odd 13-15 mile run, but not really what one would call training and I consumed food as if I was still racing Ironman. Needless to say I was out of shape by the time I got to the start line at Nottingham. Oh yes, I was also exceedingly hungover courtesy of one of my former research students who decided he would open the 3rd bottle of red the previous evening. However, at least I was there. It was a half marathon – what could possibly go wrong????


Well, 27 minutes and 35 seconds later when I passed the three mile mark feeling really rather shabby I realised what could possibly go wrong. Somewhere in the masses of the Nottingham Half Bren and Mitch were probably in front of me – although the last telephone conversation I had with Bren indicated that he was more likely to be having a pub lunch in Barnsley as he had been diverted off the M1 tat morning. However, even my alcohol drenched mind was at this stage beginning to warn me that I was in serious danger of running a 2 hour half marathon – something I had never done before (even at the end of half Ironman) so having kicked myself up the backside, at least mentally, I swung[2] into action. With a frenetic burst of activity, I surged ahead and found myself overtaking people left, right and centre. I fell into a rhythm with another triathlete (she was from Sheffield) and we found a slightly out of comfort zone pace together. We had just passed the 10 mile mark in pleasant conversation when she revealed that she was running the full marathon and could we speed up a bit: so much for my ego. However, I also noticed that I was still heading for an unacceptable finish time of greater than 1:45 so I made my excuses, and left my erstwhile colleague and decided to hurt myself for the last 3 miles. Seventeen minutes and thirty four seconds later I crossed the finish line, completing the course in a personal worst of 1:38:34 on my watch. What a shocker – at least I was not feeling hungover any more. Bren and Mitch crossed the line shortly thereafter and we adjourned for some luncheon.



Great North


Having actually enjoyed the day, in a slightly strange and perverse manner, Bren’s comment of “I have a couple of numbers for the Great North next weekend” was greeted with an enthusiastic[3] cry of agreement. However, one thing I thought was that I had learned my lesson, and wouldn’t be having a skin full of wine and racing with a hangover.


Therefore, one week later I stood on the startline of the Great North having had a skinfull of Guiness the night before and feeling rather sorry for myself. I say I stood on the start line – that is actually not strictly true, I was in fact standing about half a mile behind the start looking at c. 20000 people in front of me along with a selection of various farmyard animals, squaddies a Royal Navy officer in full number ones, a pantomime horse and a gorilla. Strangely apt that the gorilla is here I thought as my mouth tasted like a gorilla’s armpit[4]. However, the gun fired, the horn blew or at least something happened to start and the one thing that did not happen was movement. It took approximately 22 minutes for me to cross the start line (the bright side was that the hangover was beginning to clear). As I progressed along the route of the Great North Run, I hesitate to say that I ran, there were many things I noticed. Firstly, a guiness hangover is better for running with than one from red wine. Secondly, this was not a run, but more of a crab like side to side shuffle, where I went 10 m across for every 100 m forward. Thirdly, there were people reduced to walking in the first mile. It really begs the question, of what did many of these folk think they were coming to do? A sponsored walk perhaps? A Sunday morning stroll on the roads of Newcastle? Social intercourse with like minded people? Who knows, whatever it was it was not a great run, the first 3 miles was more of a Great North Shuffle. There was not really much to report about this as the number of people involved meant that there was never going to be a major race for the finish. The course was nice, the weather warm (but not the punishing, gruelling temperatures described by the BBC) and the day passed by. Another medal, another T-shirt: this was possibly the only occasion when I didn’t think “there must be easier ways of getting a T-shirt”[5]. All of this done I thought “I’m getting the hang of this. I’ll do the Leicester marathon to keep my hand[6] in”. This is normally mid November so an easy 2 months to get in marathon shape.




Those striders of longer years, and with less interesting things than reading my race reports to do (you’ve started now, so don’t pretend you actually have something better in the diary), may remember my report on the Leicester Marathon. It was an exercise in poetic license, exaggeration and wild fabrication[7] so it will come as no surprise that I stood on the marathon start line looking up a hill. Alas, the hill I was looking at was not in Leicestershire, it was in Nant Peris; the marathon was not Leicester, but Snowdonia. It turns out that the date of the Leicester race had been moved to the point where even I felt it was too close, so five weeks after the Newcastle Shuffle, I was at the foot of the mountain looking up, and I mean up. There were two reasons why I was looking up: firstly, I was trying to see the top of the mountain which was shrouded in cloud, and secondly, it was the best way to keep the rain out of my eyes. The rain was not really falling as such, it was moving horizontally and coming down only as a last resort[8]. I had compressed an eight week marathon programme into five, I was somewhat apprehensive, but the horn blew[9] and we were off. The first 3-4 miles was a long climb up to Pen-y-Pas. Now many people looked at us as if we were stark, staring bonkers. Why were 1000 people running up a steep hill in a windy, wet Sunday morning they were thinking? It is in fact, pretty much what I was thinking in fact. However, the reality sank into my fevered brain that as mad as they thought we were, I thought they were madder – at least we were running, not just standing in the rain. With a ragged applause we reached the top of the hill (well more of a waterlogged sloshing really) and turned right towards Bedgellert. By this time the rain was off, the sun was threatening to break out and I realised that I should no longer run with a bin liner on as it was far too hot. Bag ditched; I am now in full flow[10]. I had found a convenient pace with a chap from the Amazing Feet Running Club we were well matched for pace and stamina and we made good time between the 5 mile stage and the 13 mile stage. Conversation up until then had been easy: we had discussed our mutual joys of Ironman (me) and Ultra-marathons (him: the him in this case going under the nom de coureur of Matt Smith).We then started a long climb to the 21 mile mark where we managed conversation more intermittently as he was pacing himself by time and I was setting my pace by heart rate (I try to run marathons at a pace to average c. 165bpm for th techno-weenies amongst us who may want to know these things). At the 21 mile stage Matt and I parted company to face the steepest climb of the day and the fact that I live in Yorkshire and he lived in Kidderminster paid off – in other words, at least I knew what a hill looked like[11]. I surged to the top, not breaking step (serious poetic license being used here given that I was overtaken by a strolling octogenarian with her rather arthritic collie) and encountered the off-road section. Now, it does not take rocket science[12] to know that 24.7 miles of road running and 1.5 miles of running on track means that the measurements are in the favour of road shoes. This is the section of the course where this did not pay off. Between c. 23.7 miles and 25 miles the course drops about 900-1000 feet and is on, what was a rather muddy, track. The end result was a section of course where I found myself desperately trying to stop, looking at the Llyn Padarn getting closer and being glad that I could swim[13] as I was unsure if I was going to come straight off the hill into the water. However, I was soon in the town, the sun was out and I was running away from the finish line.


What is it about marathons that the organizers seem to take a perverse pleasure in making you run away from the end of the race? In this case it was doubly mean as it made you run past Pete’s Eats twice! However a cry of support from Steve Webb (I owe you big beers at the Christmas party for this Steve) and I was heartened enough to make an almost sprint for the line, which I passed in 3:50ish in 225th place. I have to say, I felt good[14].


Despite the weather, this was a fantastic race and I will definitely do it again. There was a really sporting attitude amongst everyone. I really recommend it. The winning time this year was 2:46:50 and there were 80% less people ran the race in in sub-three hours. I look forwards to doing it again in 2006 and hope to break the horizontal rain in Llanberis curse that has afflicted me on two racing occasions. 

[1] And by some miracle of the author’s dark literary art, got compensation from Lufthansa!!!!!!

[2] Well, it would be fairer to say that I lurched into action. Anything that was swinging at is best left to the imagination*.

* Well, actually it is best left out of the imagination as the imagination is often more frightening than real life – although possibly not in this case.

[3] Enthusiasm was one word that could not be used to describe the resulting sound. Dread, horror, anguish, all would be better descriptions of the sound I made which could be described as something akin to a spasmodic frog with hiccups.

[4] This was a colloquialism I picked up from a friend many years ago and not an admission of ever tasting a gorilla’s armpit. In fact I found it vaguely worrying that anyone new what a gorilla’s armpit actually tasted like. Look on the bright side it could have been worse.

[5]  Of course getting the T-shirt was even easier on this occasion as I didn’t even have to fill in the entry form. I hoped the original owner would be happy with his time and didn’t have any major medical problems that were on file should the heat get to me (and before Bob Jackson asks, yes, I did check that I wasn’t going to be giving away by not running with a sports bra on**)

** that’s normally just on Mondays.

[6] Perhaps using my hands is what I have been doing wrong all these years.

[7] A bit like my last science article really.

[8] Striders of even longer memory will remember my race report of Half Ironman UK in Llanberis in 2002. On this occasion it was horizontal, driving rain as I came out the water after the swim. I was beginning to see a pattern here.

[9] In fact the horn did not blow as such is kind of went “pharppppp” as it had obviously become somewhat waterlogged as we waited in the rain and the wind.

[10] You may at this point be somewhat unclear about what I mean. I mean I was running fluidly, not that the race report bullsh$t machine is now running smoothly***

*** which of course is also true.

[11] Even Matt had to admit that hill training was a problem for his club. Every so often when someone discussed hill sessions they would take out a photo of one and have a look at it, and mutter things like “thank God there’s nothing like that around here….”

[12] Of course if by rocket science you are talking about NASA this might actually mean that you are not talking about miles and inches but km and centimetres – even if you are not aware that you are talking about miles and inches. Or should that be micrometers and, oh never mind…

[13] Anyone who has seen me in the water would realise that this is a wildly optimistic description. What I actually mean is I was glad I could thrash about ineffectually in the water. My ploy with swimming is this – put so much kinetic energy into the water that you make it evaporate. You can then run along the lake bed.

[14] To be fair however I felt good for the rest of Sunday. I did all the right things in terms of stretching and so on, but come Tuesday the long descent left me incapable of walking downstairs and was reduced to using the lift at work.