One of our favourite weekends of the year is returning to our home/University town of Liverpool to pace the Liverpool Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon. This was our fifth year pacing at the event. Its a busy time of year race-wise for us, so we usually just pay a flying visit staying Saturday night, running Sunday and returning to London after the race. This year we decided to go up Friday evening to take part in the Rock ’n’ Roll 5k on Saturday morning and spend some time with friends.
One thing we love about Liverpool is the way the Liverpudlians live life to the full. Whether it’s going shopping, going out for the evening (often difficult to distinguish), running a 5K or marathon (again hard to distinguish) or supporting a football team – they put 100% into it. And it seems to be infectious.
This weekend when we arrived, the city was buzzing. Not only was it R’n’R race weekend but the following week Liverpool FC were to be playing in the Champions League final in Madrid. A huge achievement for any football club at the best of times but made even more special by the way it was earned.
For non-football-lovers, Liverpool secured their place in the final with an amazing come back in a two-leg match against Barcelona. After the first round it seemed almost impossible for them to win – they had to overturn a 3-goal deficit in the second leg. Mo Salah, one of Liverpool’s prolific goal scorers, who was injured for the return match, was seen that evening wearing a sweat shirt with the slogan “Never Give Up”. Liverpool have a reputation for never giving up, and after running Sunday’s marathon with a pretty determined bunch of people, we decided this was an appropriate theme for this week’s blog.
A special Saturday
Before we got to race day itself we spent a pleasant Saturday running a very sociable Rock’n’Roll 5K alongside runners in the most amazing themed costumes reliving the Liverpool of the 60’s and 70’s. In fact Saturday turned into a bit of a trip down memory lane with lunch in a favourite pub followed by a short visit to a local shopping outlet (Cheshire Oaks is a good reason in itself to do the Liverpool or Chester marathon!). We had a hunt for a mermaid and a memorial bench to some special people on the Wirral. Thank you, Tim and Jason, for humouring me and joining in with enthusiasm. And well done Jon – you coped incredibly well with the mid-race photo shoot! A lively evening meal with friends and fellow pacers finished off a lovely day.
On race day morning we woke up to heavy rain and wind. After the high temperatures in Copenhagen the previous weekend we didn’t really mind. Fortunately the rain eased off as we met up with the rest of the pace team for the obligatory photograph. What a brilliant team of pacers Paul (Addicott) has assembled. Spirits were high and the winning Liverpool vibe was definitely present.
We’ve often talked about what a privilege it is being asked to pace a marathon. We love it because we get the chance to meet some really inspiring people and to be a small part of their journey to achieving, for some, hard fought for goals. This happens whatever time we pace. Runners’ goals and achievements are all relative to the individual’s own story. Pacing 5hrs, we often get first-time marathon runners whose main aim is to complete the marathon within the cut off time.
We see our role as trying to alleviate their anxiety, give them the encouragement and confidence they need to complete the task, providing a steady paced run and hopefully helping them to enjoy the day.
Inevitably not everyone who starts off running with us completes the marathon within our pacing time and it is always sad to see runners drop back. We know we will pick others up along the way, and our experience is that most runners are grateful for the miles spent running together with us – they will often seek us out at the end to tell us. Always a special moment. This year we had a particularly large pace bus at the start and had good fun with them for much of the race. Liverpool Marathon is not the easiest of courses and they coped really well with the hills in the first half. Unfortunately when we joined the the river at 22 miles to turn back and head for the finish, we hit the strongest headwind that we have experienced on this (or almost any) course. We had to take our flags down for a while in order to battle through it. It was just a bit too much for most of our pace bus. But they certainly didn’t give up and impressed us with their determination to finish. Marathons are good for sharing stories. Here are just three of those that we heard on Sunday.
Christine started running in early 2016 – another runner inspired by parkrun. She is based in Bolton and enjoyed her weekly runs in Leverhulme Park. She loved coming home every Saturday after the run to a text from her father, who lived in Scotland, asking her how she got on. He was equally encouraging, whether to congratulate Christine on a PB or to commiserate her on not so good a week. Sadly in December that year he died unexpectedly. Though grieving for her father, Christine made a promise to herself that she would make something good come of his death. She decided to apply to become a student paramedic and started her course in September 2017. At the same time she lost 2.5 stone in weight and started entering races with her running club, Ramsbottom RC. Christine’s first half marathon was in Manchester in October 2018 (in which she ran 2:14:40) and by January 2019 she had signed up for the Liverpool Marathon.
People often start running in order to raise money for a specific charity. Alana has been running to raise money for Mind after having to admit her mother to a mental health hospital a few years ago. Alana said this had been the worst experience of her life, but again wanted something good to come of it. Based in Southhampton, she ran the Great South Run and raised a massive £3,500. Spurred on by this, Alana applied to run the London marathon to raise more money for the Charity. In the meantime she entered the Portsmouth Coastal marathon and Liverpool too. She ran Portsmouth in December, but also got her place in London for April. With Liverpool following a few weeks later, she was anxious about running two marathons in a month. She needn’t have worried: in London she ran a 23 mins PB, and took another 7 minutes off in Liverpool, running the majority of the route with us.
We marked Sheila out as being determined right from the start. She told us she had been living in the USA, unhappy and overweight. In August 2016 she moved back to the UK aged 48 years and decided to do something about improving the quality of her life. She had dabbled with running in the past but never managed to complete 5K without walking. So she joined Slimming World and started a couch-to-5k programme in October 2016, with the aim of completing 5K without stopping and to be fit as she moved into n her 50’s. Initially finish time wasn’t an issue, but then in December that year Sheila joined her local parkrun. She was amazed by the people just like her achieving great things and every week became a personal challenge. Having completed her first goal, Sheila missed the structure of her training program so in August 2017 decided to attempt a 10k, and then a half marathon in 2018. Running gave her space and time to get her thoughts straight; as mother of (now 19 year old) triplets, and with her own mother and mother-in-law both suffering from Alzheimer’s, this was important for Sheila’s own mental health.
This is why we pace!
These are just three of the many inspirational stories we heard on Sunday – what a privilege it is to pace and spend time with people like Christine, Alana and Sheila. Next up Comrades Marathon, South Africa!