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Not your standard Great Birmingham Run…
So I’m back-pedalling on this one after making a huge song and dance last year about not running it again for a while. Read on to find out what happened.
A different kind of race
It’s kind of strange how things happen when you stop trying so hard. It was never my intention to run this year’s Great Birmingham Run due to cost and lack of PB potential, but then as we edged ever closer to race day, everybody around me was both talking about the race and training for it. I started to debate to myself whether I should just run for fun or not.
A couple of weeks ago, the Birmingham Mail posted a competition online for a free place in the event. “You’ve got to be in it to win it”, as the saying goes so I duly entered. A week later, I was pleasantly surprised to discover I’d actually won! So, 2014 would become my fifth running of the course.
Just recently, Ed from Birmingham Running and Triathlon Club and Cannon Hill Parkrun approached me with a request for help. He does a lot with BBC’s West Midlands edition of Inside Out and said the host, Andy Akinwolere, would be running his first half marathon. Ed needed somebody to run with Andy to capture some footage of him. Knowing that I’d recently thrashed myself at the Cardiff Half Marathon and was in no fit state to chase after another PB (lesson learned from last year), I was happy to simply cruise through the course and agreed to help out (this is the short abridged version of the story – won’t bore you guys with the full edition).
Race morning arrived and I went to meet Ed, Andy and the BBC crew at the Copthorne Hotel. It was pretty nice inside and despite having lived in Birmingham for almost 25 years, I’d never actually set foot in there before.
Ed introduced me to everyone and handed me the camera that I would be using to film Andy. Being a geek, I’ve been paying great attention to the ever-evolving world of action cameras like GoPros and the Garmin Virb, with the intention of recording some of my races from my POV. The Drift camera seemed easy enough to use, with one button for on/off and record/stop. It also featured a very wide-angle lens to keep it usable without too much accuracy required. We parted ways so us runners could get a warm-up in, to reconvene closer to the race start.
Ed Barlow, Andy Akinwolere and Andy Yu at the Great Birmingham Run 2014
Pre-race gubbins done, I made my way back to the start line and quickly found the film crew, also bumping into Fergal from Parkrun en route. Andy and I made our way into the start pen – after four years of running this race, this was the closest I had ever been to the start line at Birmingham. A sudden sense of vertigo hit me when I looked back at the long, snaking line of runners. I also couldn’t help but notice all the cameras everywhere and reasoned that I stood a good chance of making it on to the Channel 5 coverage…
Ed says I’m now a “media tart”
I recorded a short segment where I was giving Andy some advice regarding the mofo hill at mile 11, though this segment didn’t make it into the final cut for Inside Out. Just in the distance, I could see a few of the elites including Steve Way and Jodie Stimpson. I felt like a bit of a fraud, surrounded by the fast club runners when I wasn’t about to run myself into the ground.
Before too long, Jodie started the air horn and my race that wasn’t a race began.
It was pretty insane up front with fast runners darting off everywhere. All I had to do was stay with Andy, film him from time to time and also act as pacer/motivational speaker if times got dark. I kinda just followed for the first half-mile or so, just to get a feel for how Andy wanted to run. Ed said that he should run something around 1:40 or so based on previous training runs, so comfortably within my own abilities to keep up.
Passing by the Bullring, Mike Deakin from work called out to me, so he saw at least one person he knew!
Running through the 1 mile marker, my Garmin beeped with a sub-6 minute mile split. Crikey! I wouldn’t even run a sub-6 mile as part of my own chase for a half marathon PB; I pulled Andy back and slammed on the brakes before things got too carried away.
I started shooting some short segments with the camera, mostly of Andy from the front, back and sides. If something of interest was coming up, I’d shoot to try and capture that in the background. Passing by the cheer bus, located at the junction of Pershore Road and Edgbaston Road, Rob Foster from Cannon Hill Parkrun called out to me.
Our pace was decent and that quick first mile would act as a buffer of sorts for the much tougher second half of the race. At this point, a time under 1:40 was very likely.
I’ve got to take my hat off to the organisers for the very well laid out drink stations. They were sign-posted well in advance and were long enough that you could carry on running for ages before you reached the end and missed out – so much more runner friendly compared to other races.
Further on up the Pershore Road, Alex Mold from Cannon Hill Parkrun came storming past and called out to me. One advantage of running your hometown race – you’re more than likely to bump into people you know along the course. This became a theme that continued for much of the race and one I was welcome to have.
Whilst running up the hill on Kensington Road, I began to shoot some more footage of Andy, only for the camera to lock up on me. The screen reported a “low speed card error” and refused to let me do anything else, becoming completely unresponsive. I tried removing the battery but this involved unscrewing a pretty hefty compartment door, clearly designed to keep things like water and me out! Once I managed to open it up, the battery then refused to eject and the screen remained frozen and still lit up like a Christmas tree! Great, just great. I decided to give up on the camera and would try resetting it again later.
Andy, Andy and Darryl at Bournville – photo by Elsa Tam
Approaching Bournville, I had another bash at resetting the camera. Success! The compartment door opened up and the battery unclipped – we were back in business, and not a moment too soon because Cadbury’s World was quickly approaching on our right for an interesting backdrop opportunity. Iain and Elsa were also somewhere along here and managed to catch our attention. Both of us being called Andy made things easy and I told my companion to soak it all in. Somewhere else along this point, I noticed a Bromsgrove and Redditch AC vest just slightly ahead with “DT” printed on it – it was indeed Darryl Thomas, who I got speaking to at the Wythall Hollywood 10k during the summer. Here’s your shout-out, Darryl! Shortly afterwards, Nigel Beecroft also came into contact with Andy and me. He looked superb and I had wondered whether a 1:37 target was selling himself short, so I ushered him on to keep going (I later found out Nigel had run 1:32:59 – a stunning time). Running through Bournville and back on the other side of the station, Iain and Elsa emerged again for some more support (they’re good, aren’t they?).
Andy and Andy on the other side of Bournville – photo by Elsa Tam
Passing through Stirchley, I heard another voice call out my name from the right. Initially, I thought they might have been calling out for the other Andy but upon closer inspection, it was my old friend and ex-work colleague Martin Hamer. Whilst I was disappointed to see he wasn’t running after a cracking debut PB of 1:45 last year, it was really good to see him out spectating after years of heckling me as a runner. I went over for a high-five and carried on with my merry way.
The camera was still misbehaving from to time, but I had got the battery reset down to an art. Hopefully some of the footage I had shot would be of some use to the Inside Out crew (EDIT: loads of my footage was used!). I was really enjoying the task, offering up something different to a run that I was otherwise going to simply complete without any real goal or purpose in mind.
On the approach to Cannon Hill Park, Jonny Costello caught up to us and shared that he wasn’t having a particularly great time. Passing by the bandstand where Parkrun takes place, we got a few cheers from Kings Heath Running Club supporters (Mike and Barbara), with the club also well represented in the race.
I continued to feedback info about the course to Andy, letting him know we had about 2 miles of flat or steadily downhill running ahead of us before the big hill. Andy clearly loved the experience with a massive smile on his face throughout.
Entering Lee Bank Middleway, I told Andy to steel himself for some hard work, giving him plenty of encouragement to get him fired up to tackle the hill. We were touch and go whether we would go under 1:40 or not at this point, and whilst I think he would have been happy with whatever result he ended up with, there was no harm in trying to help him get the time he deserved based on his training. Once on the Charlotte Road/St James Road hill, I ran ahead to get some footage of him working at his absolute hardest. I did feel a little self-conscious because there I was, taking everything in my stride, whilst everybody around me was grimacing and in bits. I spotted Khalid Malik on the other side of the Road and got a cheer from him.
At the brow of the hill, we were almost home free with the toughest part of the course behind us. At around 12 miles, almost everything came undone when Andy nearly tripped on a stray conker… This was some sort of cruel intervention from fate – both of us named Andy and both of us almost came a cropper at mile 12 (I nearly stumbled on a speed bump in Cardiff)! He tweaked his hamstring, so I eased off the gas to get him to the finish line in one piece.
Filming duties almost complete – photo by Lis Morgan
On the approach to Five Ways, the organisers had set up speakers blaring out the Chariots of Fire theme for that last bit of inspiration before the sprint down Broad Street for victory. I spotted Lis, Iain and Cheryl to my right and gave them a wave during some footage capture (who says I can’t multitask?). I ran alongside Andy for some side-on shots and then ran ahead to shoot him on the run in to the end, moving over to the right and out of the way when I saw his film crew just beyond the finish line. Andy comfortably came in under 1:40 for 1:38:55 – a fantastic debut and a time he should be very proud of. Here’s the Garmin data for this race.
And for your viewing pleasure, here’s the episode of Inside Out, featuring the footage I helped shoot:
Andy’s film crew were busy shooting footage of him after crossing the line, so I left them to it and handed the camera over. I heard Jonny Costello’s name called out over the PA so I decided to hang back and walk through the finish funnel with him.
I loved the overall experience and would do something similar again or lead a pace group if needed. Today offered a very different Great Birmingham Run and was what I needed to reboot the whole event for me after four previous attempts with strict time goals in mind. I’m certain I could have made a big attack on my course PB, but for little gain. As I said at the beginning of this write-up, it’s funny how, sometimes, things happen when you stop trying so hard.
See you all again in 2015 for the Great Birmingham 10k and the half marathon!