Well that was an interesting experience!
From swearing at a member of the local constabulary, tutting and muttering at an anarchy of Hells Angels and getting lost in the city centre it’s safe to say that my first running of the Belfast City Half Marathon will also likely be my last. I say ‘likely’ because I know me and when next year comes round ……
So how to describe the day. Let’s begin with the bleary eyed start at the Park ‘n’ Ride to catch the club bus to Ormeau Park … we set off at 7:30am but by then I had already been awake for a couple of hours. Probably not the best preparation with hindsight.
The journey itself was pleasant enough. I fell in with a chap I didn’t know so it was nice to chat on the way up.
Getting to the start, I met up with my support crew aka Dawn, got ready, battled to fix my number on straight, had a pee and ended up with muddy legs (walking across to the start I should add!).
The start was a little shambolic, although that was more due to a load of competitors arriving late cutting in just the other side of the starting line and not the fault of the organisation. It’s just a shame the organisation was far from perfect later in the race, but more of that later.
The first three miles concentrated on Ormeau Park, looping the outskirts and then cutting through. At this stage all was going as I expected. Yes, I was already near the back but my time was bang on what it should have been.
Leaving the vicinity of the park, the route took us up the Ravenhill Road, along the Albertbridge Road, into Sydenham and the very steep bridge at Mersey Street before going through Victoria Park. Someone really should remind the users of the park that loose dogs and runners isn’t the greatest mix.
After that it was a turn for the city centre which meant that godforsaken Airport Road. Seriously that place is grim and desolate, not helped by a police car coming along and telling those of us at the back to stick to the footpaths from here on.
My reaction to being told this was less than polite. I explained in my own inimitable way that this was less than helpful, although I may have dropped the F-bomb and used words like demoralising.
Just a word on this. The race had a 3-hour cut-off which is fair enough but reopening the roads etc. well within that limit isn’t really on and doesn’t really help those of us towards the back of the pack. Surely to goodness we are the people who need the support even more.
But it got worse. Crossing the river and running down High Street we then went through the city centre and out the other side into an area of Belfast I didn’t know.
So it would have been kind of helpful for the route to be clearly marked and marshals at strategic points to direct runners where to go. I’m not saying there wasn’t because that would be a lie, there just wasn’t enough of them, nowhere near enough.
There were sporadic pockets of marshals and it got to the point I had to ask them for directions to be told, for example, to turn left at the lights and then take the next right and so on. Surely each turn should either have someone posted there, or a sign at the very least.
Maybe there was but maybe the organisers only felt they had to cater for runners of a certain standard and took them down after a while. Mile markers were also few and far between which again points to either sloppy planning or the event packing up before the last few competitors had passed.
And, would you believe, it got even worse! Going back into the city centre after a brief sojourn west I then had to contend with the normal late Sunday morning traffic, both motorised and pedestrian …. and, guess what, not a marshal or sign in sight!
Crossing the road outside the Europa to get over to the Crown (yes, I had to wait at the lights and cross the actual road with everyone else … I bet the vast majority didn’t have that hassle) I spotted a bloke in a green t-shirt and guessed he was running too, so I decided that if I kept him in sight and followed him then I’ll not get lost.
I then spied a marshal and whilst thanking him for being out on the course also ranted a little bit about the lack of assistance further back. To be fair to him he then ran with me until the next turning before giving me my next set of directions. This is a road race through a city centre, not the bloody Barkley Marathons … I shouldn’t have to navigate myself. The thing was, I wasn’t even last, there were a reasonable number still behind me, so goodness knows how they coped.
Running along the Dublin Road up towards Botanic I might as well have been out for a training run. I was forced to dodge round people, wait for traffic and, at one point not far from the Empire, cope with a load of hairy blokes and their motorbikes getting in my way on the footpath …. the feckin’ footpath, people!
Anyway, once I got past all that I then almost got lost on the approach to the park for the finish. Again, due to the lack of signage I ended up on the wrong side of the road and it was only after catching a yellow marshals jacket out of the corner of my eye I knew I had to cross, and wasted time waiting for a gap in the traffic.
Thankfully I was homeward bound by that stage and turning onto the Ormeau Embankment for the last kilometre or so I was greeted by all those who had already finished making their way back.
The support they gave me was amazing. It felt like literally every last man jack of them was clapping me, cajoling me and just shouting out words of encouragement. It didn’t quite make up for what had gone earlier but it did mean I didn’t finish in a foul mood.
I mentioned earlier the 3-hour cutoff. Up until the 10k mark I knew I was well within it, I lost my focus a little from 6-8 miles and began to doubt if I could do it but by mile 10 I had recovered somewhat, and was actually around 8-9 minutes quicker than my Great South Run time last year … and I remember being absolutely delighted with that at the time.
I knew then that I’d make it before they started closing things down (yes, I am being ironic now!). In the end I finished in 2:54:39 which whilst not great you have to factor in the looking around wondering what way to go next, the waiting at traffic lights and other such hold ups.
The event also highlighted the huge jump from 10k – which I have been concentrating on lately – and a half marathon, something I need to work on now over the winter months. My legs coped ok, or as well as could have been expected, except for my right foot which began to hurt quite a bit after I had finished.
And no account of a ‘big’ event like this would be complete without a special word for Dawn. Once again she excelled herself in managing to catch me no fewer than five times on the course …. in fact, she even ran with me for a short period on a couple of occasions! Simply amazing.
So, would I do this again? At the minute no. It reminded me too much of the Titanic Quarter 10k which I absolutely hated …. and it also means that I absolutely definitely won’t do the full Belfast marathon.
Next up is something different, the Shine Night Walk in London on Saturday/Sunday in aid of Cancer Research, all 26.2 miles of it. I’m not sure what to expect but at least it’ll be a break from running.