It was an unusually sunny day, with just a hint of a breeze. The spring sunshine, still low in the sky, was beating down on Stafford. The car park was already filling up, and there was a steady stream of runners making their way, past the Gatehouse Theatre and the line of Portaloos, towards the Market Square. Aside from the mighty Green Army, the usual rag-tag bunches of local runner types were beginning to arrive. The Stone Master Marathoners, Stafford Harriers, Potters Trotters, Newcastle AC, the odd Whitchurch Whippet and Shropshire Shuffler… to name but a few… huddled together into excited little groups, waiting for the race to start. The day had arrived. It was time for the 2012 Stafford Half Marathon.
This was my 1st Stafford Half. Since the first race in April 1984, the Stafford Half Marathon has grown from strength to strength, is an established focal point of the community, and one of the town’s premier sporting events. It had a lot to live up to. I had familiarised myself with the route, and was looking forward to the run, but I had decided not race. I didn’t want to be in pain on this occasion. I was there to enjoy the atmosphere, and soak up some to the good cheer I knew would be forthcoming from one of my favourite towns. It wasn’t long before the tannoy was commandeered by ‘the worlds most charismatic man’ who, in a dead-pan tone, advised us to take up positions in Stafford St, ready for the tribute to the late and much missed Clare Skelton, and the starting gun. I stood chatting to my running bud, Kayz, and my boss from work, Kate. As we waited, the odd one or two blokes had a piss up the wall of the shopping centre, I spotted some old drinking buddies a few people in front, and then we were off! I was immediately surprised how many people were out in the town to cheer us on, and it took me about 4 minutes to pass the start line. Having previously convinced myself I didn’t care about my time, I started my watch…
13 miles is a long way for me, but I knew what to expect. I stuck with Kayz, taking care not to get separated in the crowd. She is a strong runner who puts me to shame on the flat. We train at club together and I knew needed her support. The route initially weaved through the town, at which point Kate, blinded by the low sun, ran into a lamp post. The noise was incredible, and the field at that point seemed to lurch… but she stayed upright, and to her eternal credit, carried on. We headed out onto the ring road, past the miserable looking drivers sat stationary in their cars, and onto the A34.
Through Forebridge and Rising Brook, there was a curious little excursion through a modern housing estate. Residents were out in abundance, some looking baffled, but most offering support. “Keep on Going” they cheered… It always seems odd at the beginning of a race, but it was great all the same, and off to the first of two notable hills: Radford Bank. All the tales of woe and despair had been for naught. Seven Hills has taught us well, and we cruised to the top, over the brow and down towards Milford. I waved at my former Boss, T, who was cheering the pack along, and grabbed a bottle of water. So far, so good. Off we headed into the countryside.
It is about a mile to the obelisk at Tixall, and it is a lovely stretch of road. A typical country lane, my only experience of it prior to this run had been at speed, in my car, attempting to circumnavigate rush-hour Stafford. It’s a lovely area. We once again settled into out 9:30 min/mile pace and took in the scenery. About half way down, we noticed the thin line of bobbing heads about a mile off. From afar, we had witnessed the second hill. Before we knew it we were there, and began to see the first casualties of the heat. Out here there was no shade, and no respite form the freakishly and unseasonably hot sun. However, we knew that once this hill was done, it was (mostly) downhill and flat. From the top you can see the town. Stafford is essentially built on a swamp, and the town looked so cool and inviting. Bring it on.
At the portaloos, me & Kayz split. Down I swept, past St Thomas’s Priory, and back into residential Stafford. Once again, the locals were out in force. On sign informed us that the ‘Free Beer’ had sold out. Cruel. Loads of support was forthcoming, even from ‘Old Plod’ (who normally remain severely and ominously quiet) and I thanked them accordingly. We popped out onto the Weston Road and fed up onto Beaconside. The soul destroyer… long, flat, featureless… I don’t run well on the flat for some reason, and my pace dropped. I was staring to get the jelly-like feeling in my quads… Not now, not with 3 miles to go! I tried to ignore the chiselled military types looking on, with their v-shaped torso’s and crew-cut hair. I am a mortal, and have a desk job. I’m entitled to feel, and look like, death.
Dropping down onto the disused railway came as somewhat of a relief. The trees offered some shade, and whilst unsupervised 4-year-old kids cheered me on (?), I calculated how I was from the town by the bridges I was passing under. A34, Check… Over the Doxey marsh I ambled – It was hardly running by this point – through the lovely Victoria Park, and back into town. I was nearly there. I could smell it! I know Stafford well, and it was cruel to make us pass within spitting distance of the finish and send us round the back of county buildings, but a half marathon is what it is. By the time I reached the Vine Hotel, I was pegging it, all out. Some random chavs screamed support… thank you chavs… most people were a blur. I missed my wife and child. There was one thing in sight, the end, and I was bolloxed. Over I went, and proceeded to stagger about like a zombie for a little while whilst I gathered my senses. I was hot and tired, but very, very happy.
I had not trained very well for this event. I am a bit fat, and had not covered the distance this year to date, but I had done it, and the miracle and wonder? I got a new PB. I’ll never be known as ‘Lightening Dan’ but taking 6 mins off my previous PB, which was set on an entirely flat course, was very satisfying indeed. There were many PB’s and fantastic performances on this day. Kayz, Jim ‘The Green Blur’ Fowler, Trina, Ruthy, Nicola, Parko, Kate ‘The Lamp Post’ Boss, Greggles, Jacquie, Ken, Pete, Tidy, The Bowman’s, Walter & Chris, Taxi Lee, Pitstock, John from the Fuzz, Ben, Mandy, Laura, Steph, Sam, Dan, Debs, thingy and whatshis(her)name, hairy chap from work and many, many more, all excelled. I am in complete awe of your achievement. Massively well done to you all. The 2012 Stafford Half Marathon was a well organised, friendly event, with a memorable and varied course, a posh medal and a fine technical T-Shirt to take away. I enjoyed it immensely, and will be back next year… Thanks to Marko for the Bicycle support, and to Ryan for the superb organisational skills. Hat tip to Crazy Walt for pushing me on at club. I owe you…