Category Archives: Races

Spar Craic 10k

Remember how I said in the my last post that I wasn’t targeting the Spar Craic 10k for a PB, and that I was going to take it easy because I’ve got the Larne Half next Saturday?

Well, umm, that didn’t really go to plan I’m afraid.

Not only did I beat my time in last year’s event by almost six minutes but I whacked nearly five minutes off my 10k PB, the same personal best that I set less than two weeks ago in London without really trying.

Today I did try, and I well and truly smashed it!

So what happened?

As ever, I’m not entirely sure. I travelled to the race with Lisa, Elle and Aidy from the club and, as per the race instructions we parked at the Odyssey Arena which was a mile away from the start at the City Hall.

Normally, with half-an-hour to spare to kick-off, I would have dandered across and tried not to expend too much energy. However, Elle is the club female record holder for the London Marathon so she knows her stuff and, on her recommendation, we ran into the city centre.

It would be a good warm-up, I was assured. I was sceptical. I’m firmly of the belief that I have only so many miles in my legs on any one occasion and I wasn’t going to waste them on a warm-up.

But run we did and, you know what, it was alright. It was a bitterly cold morning, but it warmed me up nicely for the start. I just might have been converted into little running warm-ups from now on, rather than solely relying on my usual series of stretches etc.

Anyway, so what of the race? Instead of my usual preference of starting at the back I decided to embed myself in the main body of runners, partly to keep warm and partly to see what would happen if I allowed myself to be dragged along in the early stages.

It seemed to work a treat. Yes, plenty of runners still passed me but I was still going faster than I would have had I lined up further down the field. I decided to try to stay with everyone for 3km, see how I felt then and decide to either ease off or attempt to maintain that pace.

My second kilometre was a bit faster than the first. This was going ok, I thought. The third was a similar pace and I felt good so I elected to try going at this tempo for as long as possible.

The next couple of kilometres ticked over at the same pace. At the halfway point I was just a smidgeon outside my 5k PB but I didn’t really feel tired. I had settled into a nice rhythm and my legs were behaving themselves.

By this stage we were back into the city centre after having gone out to West Belfast for a while. I was back onto familiar territory, I could envisage the remainder of the route. In my head it didn’t seem too far, and I mentally broke it down into stages.

Past St. Anne’s, along the cobbles in the Cathedral Quarter, around the Custom House Square area, past the Big Fish, over the footbridge and into the Titanic Quarter for the finish. Wee buns.

And, to be honest, it was. I started to tire a bit but I kept pushing. Looking back at my stats, the second half was only a little slower than the first which is testament to the strength I still had in my legs.

By now I knew my PB was going to fall, and fall in style. It was only a case of by how much, so I decided it was a case of go hard or go home. I had dared hope of maybe knocking a minute off it … but nearly five? Really?

With the finish line in sight I usually make a sprint for it, to try to shave a precious few seconds off my time. I didn’t do that today. I had no need to. I just coasted over the line feeling immensely pleased with my efforts … and even though over 1000 people still finished ahead of me I felt as if I’d won the bloody thing!

I honestly didn’t expect this, and really didn’t anticipate going for it how I did – and what is especially encouraging is that I felt I had more left in me at the end. I wasn’t doubled over, I wasn’t breathing heavily and I didn’t feel drained.

This coming week will be one of consolidation, a few easy runs in preparation for the Larne Half. Miles, yes, but gentle, relaxed miles and, who knows, I may even study the start area to see whereabouts I could squeeze in a little pre-race warm-up!

Relive my run


Ballymena Academy 5k

For the second successive year I took part in the Ballymena Academy Charity Race, a 5k around the grounds of my eldest daughter’s old grammar school and the traditional ‘graduation’ race for the latest intake from the club’s very popular Cosy Sofa to 5k programme.

Last year – in fact, a year to the day to be precise – it was a wonderful Spring evening, numbers were good and the race itself was run in very pleasant conditions.

Fast forward twelve months to tonight, a gale was blowing, the rain was falling and a hardy few gathered in the foyer of the school Sixth Form Centre questioning their sanity for daring to venture out on a night like this.

But us runners are a tough breed so after the pre-race instructions and safety briefing we somewhat hesitantly headed outdoors to assemble for the start.

The race is four laps of the school grounds, downhill at the start before levelling off and then uphill on the other side. The wind was blowing in our face on the way down, which hopefully would mean it’d push us back up the hill.

And that’s how it was at the start. Despite the wind working against me I darted down the first descent, and instantly regretted it when I got to the bottom when the wind came at me from the side, almost taking my legs from below me. Marvellous, I thought.

Knowing I had to go back up the other side I knuckled down and tackled the climb with the help of the wind behind me. All was going well, I completed the first mile in just over ten minutes which I was happy with. My only objective for tonight was to beat my time from last year and at that first mile marker I was well ahead.

Back down the hill again with the wind in my face and, again, at the bottom, it hit me side on … I think you can see a pattern developing!

But I was going well given the conditions, and was happy with how I was adapting. Yes, there was burn in my legs because I purposely set off fast but they were gradually settling down the longer I went on which is what I hoped/expected would happen.

I felt I had enough in me to keep going for another few laps but, that said, I was also glad to see the finish and knock 1 minute 31 seconds off my time from last year. As I said, that was my aim so I was pleased to have done it.

Next up is the Spar Craic 10k on Saturday morning. I set my old PB there last year until I beat it twice recently, so it’ll be interesting to see what I can do this time around.

Relive my run

The Big Half 2018

Wow! That really couldn’t have gone any better. If I had drawn up a bucket list for the Vitality Big Half I would have ticked off every item, every single last one.

Maybe I should just go out on a high and retire now! Obviously I won’t, but the events of the weekend have inspired me to push on to achieve even bigger and better things.

Given the recent weather there was a little uncertainty as to whether or not the race would actually go ahead. The organisers had already cancelled the associated ‘Little Half’ but, in the end, all the snow disappeared and conditions were almost perfect on race day.

After a hassle free journey to the start I dropped off my baggage and made my way to my starting pen, Wave E. I assumed I would be in the final wave but it turned out there were eight waves and I found myself in the fifth one wondering just how I ended up here! Did I over-estimate my finishing time when I entered months and months ago? Did a lot of really slow runners enter to push me up a wave or two as a result?

I did feel a little like a fish out of water. And that feeling didn’t disappear when I bumped into Sheila and then Louise, two ladies running for Diabetes UK whom I’ve known for a couple of years now and who are at least half-an-hour faster than me over a half marathon. I was definitely in the wrong wave!

It was great to chat and catch up with them as we waited to start. We eventually got underway at 9:26am and, as we did, we were told to look to our right because the front-runners, including Mo Farah, were about to go past us in the other direction.

I drifted over to the right to try to have a look but, unfortunately for Mo, he wasn’t fast enough to catch a glimpse of me. His loss, really, I just hope winning the overall race was ample compensation for him.

After that, my next task was to try to spot Dawn as she stood at the side of the road to support me. In time-honoured fashion I missed her … but, not to worry, sure I would catch her again at Tower Bridge.

I started the race with the intention of going slow at the beginning, to ease myself into it, but obviously I was swept up in the occasion recording a first mile split of 10:31 which was much faster than normal.

I told myself to slow down in the second mile. Ummmm …. 10 minutes dead. I was getting faster! What was happening? Surely I’d blow up soon.

Not so, it seems. My next mile was again faster than usual with the result that I had smashed my 5k PB without intending to do so. This wasn’t meant to happen. This was an endurance race, I was supposed to pace myself, not set a personal best at the first recognised distance marker.

But so it continued, my 5 mile PB was next to fall … then my 10k. Really, Martin, really? What were you doing? I was still waiting for my legs to tell me I’ve done enough but it just didn’t happen.

I’ll admit by now that having known I’d set new best times for 5k, 5 miles and 10k I made a conscious effort to really kick on go for my longest outstanding PB – 10 miles.

Before that, however, was Tower Bridge. It never gets old running over this iconic structure and this was no different. On the approach I got a very welcome cheer from a couple of girls who had spotted my club shirt. I don’t know who they were, nor where they were from other than that they had Northern Irish accents.

This propelled me over the bridge, knowing that Dawn and the Diabetes UK cheer point were waiting on the other side. Surely I wouldn’t miss Dawn a second time? Oops. I ran past the cheer point but didn’t spot her before, out of the corner of my eye, there she was so I turned back for a much welcome hug and words of encouragement. In my defence she missed me too but a gentleman wouldn’t mention that, right?

Anyway, back to my PBs. My next target was that pesky 10-mile record which has stood for over two years and to which I’ve never come close to matching, never mind beat.

Realising I’d really have to kick on I dug deep and, for the first time in the race, I began to struggle mentally to keep going strong. I wanted, briefly, to ease off but I knew I’d regret it afterwards. A bit of pain now would be worth it for the glow of satisfaction I’d feel afterwards. I pushed hard and the huge sense of relief I felt when I did it was palpable.

At the time I knew I’d beaten it, but my scrambled brain couldn’t figure out by how much. It was only checking out my stats afterwards that I realised I’d taken a whole three minutes off it! My 10-mile time had taunted me for ages. I look back to the time when I set it as my golden era since taking up running. It was before my injury and I never thought I would get back to that level of form again but now I know I have and bettered it.

Back to the race, the only thing to aim for now was my half marathon PB. It was very much on and because I was actually so far ahead of where I thought I’d be timewise I could allow myself the luxury of easing off a little.

In my mind I’d done all the hard work so now was the time for a little ‘victory lap’. I gently ran those last three miles, albeit still keeping an eye on my time in case I got too complacent.

I coasted for a while before, turning into the last few hundred metres, I thought I’d finish really strongly so started to sprint for the line. I didn’t need to but it was almost instinctive. I wanted to end on a high, and duly did, running at six-minute mile pace … absolutely unheard of for me, and especially not at the end of a half marathon!

I was absolutely exhausted, may have had a bit of a quivering lip as I crossed the line and possibly something in my eye. I had set five personal bests, overcome some mental struggles mid-race and finished in an almost euphoric state.

Afterwards I met up with Dawn in the event village, and we made our way to a local pub to meet up with the rest of the Diabetes UK team for a catch up, a couple of drinks, some brownies, fingers and cake (!). What a bunch of legends they are, I feel so lucky to be part of that group.

That was my race, but what about the course? I’ve read some negative comments about it but I can’t find fault with any event that starts with Tower Bridge and the Tower of London as a backdrop and ends in the shadow of the Cutty Sark.

Yes, there was a long, long tunnel at around two miles – but my fellow runners created a fantastic atmosphere as we ran through it – and there were sizeable cobbled sections but this didn’t really trouble or concern me. In fact, I’d consider both to be part of the charm of the race. Spectator wise, it was a bit patchy in places but the support was still great at all the major points which was very much appreciated.

What a fantastic and memorable event to kick off my #18in18 Challenge. I’m running 18 Half Marathons this year as a personal challenge to myself, as well as to hopefully inspire others and raise a little something for Diabetes UK.

Read all about it by following this link, or if you wish to donate you can do so at my JustGiving page.

One down, 17 to go!!!

Relive my run