A long overdue race report of the Bupa Great Birmingham Run 2014

This is a very long overdue race report of the Bupa Great Birmingham Run from October 2014. For various reasons, I did not get around to writing a formal write-up of this event. I have thought about this event, somewhat critically, for a long while. I believe the reason I did not write a race report for this event was due to a somewhat bitter taste left in my mouth, reasons for which will become apparent as you read on. It is a race in which I, arguably, was at the peak of my running ability, ran the strongest and learned a lot about myself. Before I continue much further, I should add that 2014 was the year in which I began to run seriously. A few weeks before (5 to be precise) I had only just managed to break a sub-40 10k, and was absolutely elevated. I had no idea that within just 4 weeks, I would achieve a half-marathon PB of 1:23:39. This was a week before this race at the Oxford Half. Feeling stronger than ever, I was super excited about Birmingham.

Sania and I stayed the night before at Staybridge Suites in the City Centre, which was a little run-down in all honesty (the City Centre, not the accommodation which was lovely!). A pleasant dinner at Wagamama the night before and a visit to the gym for some stretching made me feel ready for the next day. I was rested and well hydrated (probably a little too much with multiple visits to the portaloos before the race!). Now everything was going according to plan on race morning, until I got to the start pen entry. I was in the orange wave, which is supposed to be the first wave behind the elites and ‘faster club runners’. I was not a club runner at this point in time, nor were my times sufficient when I entered this race to be in this wave.

I went to join the back of the orange wave, but was ushered by a Marshall who was closing the pen to go over to the ‘other side of the road’. “The orange wave will start on both sides of the road at the same time”, he said (or something akin to this). Fair enough, I thought. I entered this wave, which was separated from the wave on the other side of the road, and made my way so that I was somewhere closer to the front.

The gun soon after went off, but to my dismay, the people on the ‘left’ side of the road were not allowed to start! So here I was now, all warmed-up and mentally rearing to go. But could not! I had to watch hoards of runners on the other side of the road start their race. After the faster runners went off, I was now seeing progressively slower paces cross the start line and eventually elaborate fancy dress boat costumes with two people in them and a handful of walkers. I was distraught. Being psyched and ready to achieve another potential PB, I was feeling somewhat angry and emotional. The temptation to even jump across a double barrier and get onto the other side of the road was ever so tempting.

It was some 10 minutes later before we were able to start! I made my way right over to the front line and as soon as that gun went off, so did I. The emotions best describing my state of mind were as follows: sad, frustrated, energetic and even angry. I was leading the entire field from this side of the road, and am sure many runners must have thought, “What the hell is this guy doing!? He’s surely pacing this wrong and will burn out”. The course at the beginning was downhill and I just ran. And ran. And ran. Not thinking that this was a half marathon.

My first kilometre was done in a blistering pace of 3:00/km! This is around my current 1 mile race pace. I slowed down a little, once the initial adrenaline wore out and we got to a flatter part and out of the downhill zone. The next kilometre was 3:37, and the next in 3:52. The pace was slowing as I finally got to my HM race pace and felt comfortable with my strides. It was around the 2 mile point when I caught up to the back of the runners who started 10 minutes ahead of me, some of whom were grinding to a slow jog now. This really hampered my pace as I had the arduous task of overtaking multiple runners. Dodging and side stepping really slowed my pace down, and eventually, I had to move onto the side of the road to overtake them.

This process continued for some distance, and I knew that I would not be catching up to the faster runners now. This was a somewhat different experience, though. Overtaking runner after runner really helped motivate me to keep running hard. I felt absolutely incredible and was in another world. I don’t think I have ever felt as strong in a race as I did during this one. I reached 10k in an official time of 38:46. The kilometres passed by, and I have attached a breakdown of the splits.

After 10 miles I recall going through a Park, still feeling strong and not slowing down. I then passed my mate Dan Ellis (who started on time!) at this point. Shortly after there was a climb, and I remember seeing so many runners walking up. This was not an undulation and definitely what I would consider to be a ‘hill’. Apparently, Birmingham is not a PB course and definitely not flat! But the desire to get a PB pushed me through. Pace here dropped to 4:35/km, but my effort level was definitely not dropping! I remember getting to the top of this incline, thinking that was it, before seeing yet another climb!

Continuing through, I was now coming up to the 20km point, knowing that the end was near. Okay, I had lost a few seconds on that climb, but was still on track for a PB… just! I was truly feeling a little tired by this point, but not slowing down. I remember heading through a tunnel, taking a sharp right turn and grazing my arm on a wall. Ouch! But none of that mattered. I saw the 400m to go sign and began to pick-up the pace. I got to the final 200m now and really began to push hard and eventually went flat out with everything I had left. I can still remember the commentator saying, “Look at this sprint finish here all the way, keep it going… What a finish!”, as I stormed across the finish line.

The best race I have ever performed in. Despite the far from ideal course, I truly felt that I was almost robbed of a significant PB here. Then again, could I have run with as much drive and ferocity had I started on time? I guess I’ll never know. I felt totally fine after the race, not tired at all. Another finisher came up to me and said, “Good time! 1:33?”. I looked at my watch, seeing my run time as 1:23:44 (5 seconds slower than Oxford last week) and said, “1:23. I started 10 minutes later I think”. The young guy replied, “Wow!”. I am not sure if he truly believed me.

I then went over and picked up my goody bag and whilst looking for Sania I saw a couple of faster looking runners with a stripy bib and asked them if they were in the elite field. They said they were in the “faster club wave”, and at this point, I had no idea what this meant. After discussing times, they suggested I join a running club. A few months later I eventually did join one, East London Runners, after seeing a gentleman (and now good friend) John Booth at a local 10k the following month. Also managed to get my arm scrape sorted by medics nearby. It was a pretty nasty graze!

I also need to mention that I received a text message after the race stating that my finish time was 1:21:47. I was pleasantly suprised by this, and thought that perhaps my watch time was incorrect. It later transpired that there was a timing error with the matts, which I found out about from other runners on the runner’s world forums. This apparently only affected the starters on the left side of the road! A few days passed and the times were not changed automatically by the event organisers. I could have easily kept this as my “PB” on my powerof10 profile, but knew it was not true. I contacted the race team and got this changed. I wonder how many other runners did the same now, so personally believe that the rankings are not genuine anymore. Pretty shambolic for an IAAF silver level graded event.

So there we have it. A long overdue (by almost 3 years!) race report of my experiences at the Bupa Great Birmingham Run. A lot has happened since then, and my current HM PB stands at 1:23:14 from Run Hackney in May 2015. A new PB is long overdue. Reliving this race and remembering my training from this era has flooded my mind with positivity. I now know what I need to do to get back into that form. Watch this space for further updates! 🏃🏽✌🏼

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2 thoughts on “A long overdue race report of the Bupa Great Birmingham Run 2014

  1. Once again, a great race report Andy.
    Really feel for you having to start 10 minutes after everyone else though. Psychologically it can really affect your performance but you held it together and ran it in a cracking time!
    I remember the frustration when I ran the Reading half as I couldn’t get past some of the slower runners and became increasingly more annoyed. I think I was partially to blame though as when I booked the race, I predicted a lower time than I was capable of. Not going to make that mistake again!
    Hopefully, now that you’re a club runner with a great set of half marathon results, you’ll be able to start with the faster club runners.
    I put myself in the 1.40 pen for hackney in April, even though I didn’t expect 1.40 and managed to run it in 1.41 because I was trying to keep up with everyone ahead of me. I think it helps with motivation if you’re running alongside runners as fast or faster than you.
    There’s a great book called “The art of running faster” which is a great read if you ever get time.
    I know you’re always striving to improve your pace and this has some useful tips.
    Anyway, good luck with the duathlon and Ealing. I would have considered Ealing if I felt I could get 1.40 but realistically I’m a little way off, so I think I’ll have to do some speed work before I book another half 🙂

    • Hey Sam, thanks for your kind words (yet again!). Really appreciate it. It’s reassuring to see that someone else can relate to my frustrations in the organisation of the starting pens.

      Coincidentally, a friend of mine recently recommended The art of running faster (Julian Goater), and I am currently ploughing my way through as we speak! A fantastic read; going over some things I already know, and new things alike. Inspirational to also read about Julian’s exciting running career.

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