Monday, 17 November 2014

Abbey Dash 2014

The Abbey Dash has been in my mind since before I ever considered myself a runner.  Living in Leeds you cannot help but know about annual road closures.  However, back in 2012, a few months after I decided to take up running, I decided to test myself on the same day as the Dash.  I set off along the canal from Leeds City Centre to Kirkstall an hour or so before the race started and amazed myself when I got back to town 10k later in 59:46.  Under an hour for my first ever 10k, the furthest I had ever run, I was hooked.  The canal run was to become a weekly ritual and my times gradually fell.

Fast forward a year to 17th November 2013.  I was finally lining up for my first official Abbey Dash.  Having had a really poor Leeds 10k earlier in the year I was determined to run sub 60 again.  I ended up towards the back of one of the slow runner pens feeling very much like cattle, and a good five minutes after the gun went off, got under way. I achieved my goal and stopped the clock at 57:18.

But the 2013 Abbey Dash wasn't the end, it was the beginning.  I pushed on from there and started training for the Leeds Half Marathon.  I ran all winter, in all weather to improve my fitness and stamina so that I could take on the 13.1 miles.  This years Dash was set to be the culmination of a year of races.  But after injuring my knee I had been in two minds about pulling out.

As I mentioned before, I had started running again and my knee was holding up, but my stamina had almost vanished.  I'd managed sub 50 for the Leeds 10k and wanted to do the same again.  I was close to deferring my place for the Abbey Dash to avoid a bad time, but then I got some shocking news.  A good friend, Lyndon, had an accident while mountaineering and ended up having to be airlifted to hospital after a 3 hour search by Mountain Rescue teams.

I felt dreadful, it's very difficult when you know that there is nothing you can do to help somebody when all you want to do is help.  The only positive thing I could think of doing was to thank the Keswick Mountain Rescue Team for finding Lyndon.  So I set up a Just Giving page to raise money for them, pinned my bib number to my current favourite running shirt, and got as ready for the Dash as I could.

By the time race day came around, Lyndon's family and friends had raised almost £1,000.00 for Kewsick Mountain Rescue.  There was no chance that I was pulling out now.  With family in tow we made the short journey into Leeds and the site of the old International Pool, where the runners were packed into their stating pens like sardines.  I actually like this method of filtering as it greatly reduces the chance of being held up by slow runners in the early stages of the race.

I studiously avoided the group warm-up as I simply can not stand the perma-grinned instructors.  Luckily, and not for the first time at the start of a race, I bumped into another good friend Diane.  We chewed the fat about our lack of race prep and studied our watches making sure that we were readdy for the off.  The gates of the pen eventually opened and we jogged out onto Wellington Street.

I was already running buy the time we crossed the start line.  I'm told that I looked really focused at the start of the race.  It's not surprising really, there are so many people the chance of tripping up is very high.  Against all of the advice I have given and received I set off far too fast.  This is not unusual for me but it is very frustrating when you go through the first kilometre marker a minute faster than you have anticipated.

I tried to take stock and steady my pace and I was still a minute up at the 5k marker.  I was starting to flag though.  I had decided at the start of the race that I would avoid the water station but looking back a sip or two of water may have been a good idea.  However, while most of the people around me were kicking through a sea discarded plastic cups in the hope of getting a full one themselves, I stayed on the clear inside of the road and kept going.

I managed to keep going until 7k when my lungs and legs reminded me that I wasn't as fit as I had been back in July.  I had a brief walk to catch my breath and gave myself a bit of a pep talk, only 3k to go, you can do it.  A kind runner shouted encouragement from the pack.  His exact words "Come on, just keep plodding!" were enough to get me back off the pavement and onto Kirkstall Road.

My pace had dropped as had my head.  The tarmac wasn't flowing under my feet anywhere near as fast as I wanted.  Another brief walk was enough for me to sort myself out.  I reminded myself that my target was not to run my best ever race and get another PB for the year.  All I wanted was to better last years time and, more importantly, I wanted to finish the race with my head held high to thank everyone who had helped me thank that mountain rescue team.

Showboating at the finish.

I made it up and over the dreaded slip road at the end of Kirkstall Road and found one last push, one final scrap of energy to get me across the finish line.  I don't know how but I stopped the clock at 50:03, only 11seconds slower than this year's Leeds 10k time, but more importantly, 7:15 faster than last years Abbey Dash.  A course PB that will keep me smiling for a long time.  I collected my finisher's t-shirt, found my family, and picked up my phone to tell the world what I had achieved.  It was then that I noticed that we had gone over £1,000.00 on the Just Giving page.

What really rounded the day off though wasn't my time, it was not the brilliant race organisation by Age UK, it wasn't even the fantastic fund-raising efforts.  A little later in the day, while I was toasting my run with a bier and wurst in the German Christmas Market, I saw a tweet from Lyndon.  He was hooked up to machines that go ping and had NG tubes in, but it was him, in one piece, communicating with the world.

I doubt I will ever run a more emotional race, but the 2014 Abbey dash is one I will remember for a long time.  Next time it will be sub 45 and I hope that I won't be fundraising for any more fallen friends.  In the mean time I'm going to take some advice on board and keep plodding, at least until I get my fitness levels back.

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