I'm not doing any half marathons until at least August. Well apart from the Birmingham And Black Country Half Marathon in July because it sounds cranky and well, the Potters 'Arf... because... it sounds cranky and if it actually says ‘Potters Arf’ on the t-shirt, I’ve got to have one. So here we are. At this rate I’ll be at 500 miles around the same time as L.
We arrive early in sexy Stoke, as the organisers suggested, and park right next to the course in a multi-storey for £1.50 all day. So far so good but there's one problem, there’s hardly anyone here. So I'm looking at top ten and probably, so too is L. Perhaps not, after going back to the car for a while, we re-emerge to find that hundreds have arrived ‘late’.
The early morning sunshine has given way to black clouds and the temperature appears to be dropping fast but we’ll be ok because they say the rain isn’t coming until mid-afternoon. ‘They’ are wrong. The main consolation as they walk us down to the start in the rain is that things could be worse, I could have been at a wet dog show. I look across at a daffodil that seems the worse for wear already, I wonder if he’d rather be somewhere else. That costume must be pretty heavy when it’s dry, let alone wet.
The start is well organised, after they’ve walked us down to the line we are released almost immediately, so no standing around shivering in the rain. Small mercies I suppose, as it rains from start to finish but once you’re running you don’t notice it that much. That’s what they say isn’t it? It certainly didn’t put off the hardy folk of Stoke who still came out in large numbers to cheer us on.
Sexy Stoke ain’t that sexy to be honest but the zero scenery of endless housing estates and industrial units, often derelict, doesn’t bother me much. It means I can concentrate on my running and I actually loved the course. Which is a challenging mix of hills and hills with a few hills in between, but all on decent tarmac. The field is big enough to have some atmosphere, which the crowd add to by offering sweets, drinks and ice pops. Apparently there’s usually a hose pipe spray at the top of one of the hills, not required today. Also absent apparently is the guy who DJ’s from his roof. Shame. Could have done with a bit of music but I don’t blame him for bailing out.
I start to enjoy myself, burn off the daffodil and a rather bedraggled Alice in Wonderland and set about running a steady but not spectacular pace. There’s not much point going for a time on this course and with my lack of training.
A ‘Potters Trotter’ potters past me, or should that be trotters past me, so obviously my pace needs to be a little more spectacular. I put that right. Interestingly I’m beginning to think the step up in distance to half marathon suits me. How irritating is that?
At around 12 miles they throw ‘Heartbreak Hill’ at us, just like the one on the Chicago marathon. It’s short and sharp but not too bad. Then it’s all downhill to the finish where I finish in a second under 1 hour 42.
They are handing out gold, silver and bronze medals, which is a nice touch that I'd forgotten about. I get a silver for under 1:45, sadly a gold for under 1:30 is out of my league. There’s also a Potteries plate and the famous t-shirt in a generous goody bag. Well generous apart from the fact that there wasn't any chocolate in it.
I’m very cold when I've finished and there’s no massage tent staffed by girls from the local uni to warm me up so I head back to the car to get dry, dressed and have a quick coffee. Then it’s back down to the finish to see L storm down the finish straight and she does storm, I can’t keep up with her.
Well done Stoke, you've done your city proud. An excellent race, very well organised with police everywhere dealing with the traffic. Ok there’s a gripe or two. The mile markers were not very visible and I missed a few. Also advance notice of the drinks stations would be nice, so that I can glug my gel well in advance but overall it was superb. It again makes me wonder why Derby can't manage to organise a half marathon.
The post race coffee we have brought is very welcome to warm us up; as is the hot bath once we get home. Now we just need the beer. We slip on (almost) matching coats over our matching ‘Potters ‘Arf’ t-shirts and head out. How twee! But as it so annoys Daughter, it's so worth it. We attempt to pub crawl Beeston but find out that the Wetherspoons there is so good - several dark ales including Damson Porter plus Jaipur that we can’t escape for several hours. We do eventually make it to the Crown where, as is tradition, I try and took L into a curry.
(Sunday 12th June)