Good afternoon one and all. ☺
A quick warning to start off with; this post is a travel journal by way of a race report, so there's every possibility (okay, it's highly probable!) that this will go on a bit. And a bit more. Though I am typing all this out on my phone so anything is possible.
Right then, as a few of you know, I signed-up to the Belfast HM back in March; I was the 11th person to sign-up, in fact. Ever since then I've been massively looking forward to it, both the race and to exploring Belfast, which is a place I've never been before but have always wanted to visit. I was worried at one point a few weeks ago, due to my anaemic episode, which I've spoken about a good bit on here, but I've managed to sort it out, with the assistance of iron tablets. Just in bloody (pun intended. Always.) time too as I've a full marathon in three weeks time!
The weeks and months flew by and before I knew it, it was time to head out to Northern Ireland; stupidly excited about this, I was. Talk like Yoda, I do. Anyway, on Friday morning, with great excitement, I made my way to Leeds via coach, and from there on to Leeds Bradford Airport, on a bus that was becoming increasingly packed with every stop; if ever a shuttle bus 🚌 was needed, my God it was there. Survived that Little Journey of Unpleasance (LJU) and into the airport I went. Never been to LBA before; I must say, I'm definitely a fan of the bigger airports. Give me Heathrow anytime, although this place is quite convenient, although it takes three times as long to get to as the flight to Belfast, which is around fifty minutes, I think it was.
The flight was pleasant and before there was any time to do anything, we were landing at Belfast City Airport. (BCA) From there, an altogether more pleasant bus journey down to the bus station, and from there it wasn't far to my hotel. Although early, they kindly let me check-in without charging me extra for being early. Which was nice. Dumping my stuff in the room, out I go into Belfast city. At this point I feel I should thank a friend of mine, originally from NI but now living on the mainland. She's been brilliant in helping with the planning of the trip, and in letting me know where is and isn't safe to go, so a great many thank yous to you for all you've done. 🌼
First port of call was the Belfast Welcome Centre, (BWC) a fantastic tourist information centre, right opposite City Hall. Picked up a few leaflets and got the Very Helpful Staff (VHS) to arrange me a taxi tour. These are done in black cabs but aren't just a taxi ride, they're a proper tour, with a driver who is very knowledgeable on the history of Belfast; £30 for an hour and a half, but it ran into two hours. My driver was brilliant, truly, and took me on a tour round the murals, and into areas that just wouldn't be safe to wander into on your own; lots of history and information on The Troubles which was deeply fascinating; it's a subject that's always interested me anyway, but to see it all up close and see how things are away from the city centre was amazing. Went to the Falls and Shankill areas, as well as many others. Learnt so much and came away with loads to research and read up on. The murals are amazing; works of art, a good deal of them, and there's new ones popping up all the time too.
Back into town after that for more exploring. Amazingly, only the day before, I discovered the Belfast Culture Night was on, one night of free music, arts and comedy all over the city. I took in as much as I could but by now was shattered as I'd been up for hours and didn't sleep great the night before. So after a bit I called it a night and went to bed.
Yesterday was a great day. Up and fed and then the bus up to Crumlin Road Gaol, which is a former prison but now a tourist attraction. crumlinroadgaol.com/visitor... well worth a visit if ever you're in the area. Really fascinating place. Even went into the execution cell, which was quite an experience. After that and something to eat in the cafe there it was off to the viewing platform at Victoria Square shopping centre. A Great Big Dome (GBD) overlooking the city. Not overly high, but nice! After that, it's out to the Titanic Centre, which was really interesting; really good to take it all in, in the very birthplace of the ship!
By this point it becomes massively obvious to me that over the last two days I have spent sooooooooo much time on my feet. And what's a big rule of racing? Don't overdo the sightseeing the day before! Let alone two days before! So, back to the hotel for lasagne then an early night. Fell asleep quite early, but was woken at gone 0200 by a girl announcing loudly, to someone on the telephone, I assume: "ME AND JULIEANNE ARE SHARING A ROOM AND WE'VE LOST OUR KEY"! How decadently careless. This usually happens to me the night before a race, being woken up by someone being rowdy outside the room!
So then, onto the reason we're all here: the race! I awoke at 0633 this morning, and with no time to waste it's down to breakfast as soon as it's available, 0700. Another big Race Day Rule: (RDR) nothing new on race day! I went and ate porridge. I usually have it after a run but never had it before. Hopefully there will be no calamities because of it. Breakfast nommed down, a quick change into my running gear, then it's off back downstairs. Through the restaurant, where everyone seems to shift their gaze to me; I'm the only person dressed in running gear and wearing a bib number! Shuffling past them I go, out into the open, mild air and proceed off to Ormeau Park, where the start line is. Two police vehicles fly past, a marked response car and an unmarked response car, sirens and blue lights on. Thanks to my friend who I mentioned earlier, I had a route there that I knew should be fine, and it was. Encountered a good few runners on the way, including one Polish guy who now lives in London but is doing the Warsaw Marathon next week. Next week. As in, next week. And I thought I was pushing it by having one in three weeks!
Finally arriving in the park, I'm greeted by a Sodding Massive Queue. (SMQ) it's for the lavatories and it really is a gargantuan queue. The organisers did say the facilities would be overwhelmed on the day but I didn't realise to that extent. Found the baggage tent, dropped my bag off but then realised that I'd left my 750ml bottle of water in there. Eventually got it back and oh dear goodness, how glad I am that I did. More on that later!
Out to find the start line now. But where the hell is it?! Hmmmmmmm, not down there. That's the massage tent. That's the tennis courts. That's a marshal. Ah, pacers, walking off. Follow them! I get chatting to a lovely young lady called Sophie who is as clueless as to where we're going as I am, but she too is playing Follow The Pacer. (FTP) Strike up a good conversation with her and we end up running the first three miles together before I press on.
Nearly time now! All the looking forward to the race, all the planning and hard work are now, hopefully, about to pay off. I have a strategy in mind: easyish three miles, then. Kick-off and go for it, then try picking it up at the end. A minute to go. A final check to make sure all is in place. I don't feel too bad considering that last weekend I did a 21 miler, and have walked miles sightseeing in the last two days.
Horn goes! We're off!
By the way, as an aside, I've been writing this for two hours now.
There's three laps of Ormeau Park, for some reason and it's fairly tight so not much overtaking to be done, but I want to take it fairly easy anyway. I run along, chatting on and off to Sophie, to my left. First mile comes in at 8.02. Once out of the park, things open up and there's some overtaking to be done. Can still see the 1.45 pacers; there are three of them. Or perhaps one very large man with three pacer flags; one can never be sure.
Up to three miles now; I sadly part with Sophie but say I'll keep an eye out for her at the end; never saw her after that and never even got an opportunity to get her number. Waaaaah! 😦 Onward, always, to the second pacer. Hang by him a bit then press on. Passing him, with the final one in my sights (not sure why there are three 1.45 pacers, but there we are. Who the hell am I to be a pacer judge?! I should wind my judgemental neck in!) I also pass the first of four Land Rover Tangi police cars, the armoured Land Rovers that the PSNI use. I love police cars, and roads policing in general and, I love seeing these magnificent vehicles up close.
4 miles: first water station. Remember me saying that I'm glad I retrieved my water bottle? This is why: APC - Abominable Polystyrene Cups! God how I loathe them. I loathe their poxy capacity. I loathe that they're difficult to grab and handle at any speed above a snail wading through oatmeal. I loathe that you end up waterboarding yourself while trying to drink from said ghastly receptacle. I hate them. I hate them so much. Did you know? I learnt after the first time I encountered them last year: always carry your own water. Today that paid off. I grabbed a cup, promptly got the water up my nose in trying to drink it, then just poured it all over myself. And drank from my own bottle. Polystyrene cups. *shudders*
Now, I'm really pressing on here a bit, averaging around 7.25-7.45 minutes/mile for most of this, so though I'm paying attention to my surroundings, I can't remember what comes where, but I'll recount best I can. On 5 miles we hit a flyover (uphill!) and head down toward Victoria Park, very close to the airport, where an Aeroplane Friend ✈ is just taking off. Onward, always. Pace feeling tough, but manageable, I think. In the distance the famous Harland and Wolff cranes, Samson and Goliath, in the shipyard, dominate the skyline and can be seen from almost everywhere.
Passing more crowds, and I have to say that crowd support for this race is great. Really great. The marshals and police are really good too. On we go. We're padding the Titanic Quarter now, where I was yesterday, then over a wibbly-wobbly bridge thing, (it wasn't ramshackle but with us all running on it, it was a strange sensation!) and into town, passing the lovely, grand City Hall. Mile 9 now. God this is tough.
On now to Divis Street and the Falls Road. Been passing a few murals but more here, including the Bobby Sands mural. Such an amazing way to see an incredible city.
At the rate I'm going, I wonder if I'll be seeing the inside of the hospital!
A couple more hills appear; thank goodness I train on the things. I speed up to sprint up them, which I prefer to do if they're not too long or severe. Close to the end now and passing by my hotel.
I start to wonder if I've made a terrible mistake in pacing. This is getting tougher by the second, but my pace is holding okay, somehow. By the river now, heading to the park. Hngngngng. Last mile and somehow I pick it up to 7.16 m/m. The din of the band outside the park gates motivates me on.
Faster, Goddamn it!!! You're nearly there, you've not worked this hard and come all this sodding way to ease off now!
Into the park. Pick it up! The music of the finish line, I hear it. Take a final drink from my bottle, pour the remainder over me and then bin the bottle. Final push now. Finish line. Thank goodness. Punching the air I cross the line, stop my Garmin and grab my medal, which is amazing and comes on a pink ribbon. They knew I was coming! Grab my goodie bag too. And suddenly feel physically sick. Thankfully I don't throw up, but it comes close. I sit by the ambulance, just in case, like.
My time? Official chip time is 1.40.51. Garmin, 1.40.53. I'm overjoyed, that's a new PB and eight minutes off my previous time. Got a new 10K PB too - 47.23, which is 30 seconds off my previous 10K PB. Garmin here: connect.garmin.com/activity...
Bear in mind, I'm not a super runner. I only started in April last year, and thanks to the C25K program, look how far I've come. Seriously, 18 months ago, just the first 60 seconds of running was so so tough. I've come this far - you can achieve running badassery too, so keep on and never ever give up!
Oh, in the first few miles we passed some building or other that was pumping Eye of the Tiger out the window! 😂
So, an amazing race, and an amazing city. I fully recommend the Belfast HM to anyone, it's great. I'll post more pics over the next couple of days.
Right, thanks for reading! I appreciate it must have taken a while, but hey, imagine how long it took to write! 😂 Apologies for any spelling errors, my autocorrect is a nightmare!
Happy running to you all, Lovely Running Folk. (LRF)