Cookstown sizzler (not), bloody Garmin & Larne is best (just for half marathons…nothing else!)

This is a longer than usual blog today, but there are so many things I would like to get in: A brief update on my own performance; a review of the relatively new Cookstown Half (this is only its third year) & a general review/ scorecard of the four HM’s I did in the ChampionChip series…

I should begin by saying that in all of the races a huge debt of gratitude is owed to the volunteers who organise and marshall these events (including those at the water & gel stops). They come out in the pouring rain to make it possible for us to run a race…hats off.

To the latest race – Cookstown “sizzle” has a huge tint of irony as today it simply bucketed down. It was wet, cold & windy. My prep wasn’t great – sore shin in the preceding weeks, difficulty sitting watching a Blu-Ray on Saturday evening without a glass or two of red (i did succeed), getting up on race morning and looking out the window at the miserable weather & finally getting lost en route to the race!

Upon arrival I met a couple of friends and a yarn helped pass the time, but even at this stage it would have been soooo easy to pull the plug and go home. Cookstown is still a learning race and only 200 and something competitors took part, but it will definitely grow in popularity. However, they do need to sort out things such as having a simple ‘bag drop’ for peoples valuables/car keys etc.

The course itself is very up & down (undulating I think the term is?). This makes recovery hard in between hills and it feels very like an interval session. On this note, ‘bloody garmin’ struck again. No, it didn’t go on the blink and yes, it was totally my fault. I had it set to beep when I was training if I dropped below a set pace – well, going up some of those hills I was for chucking the bloody garmin in the hedge as it beeped consistently to remind me that I am a slow fat sod!

In terms of time, this was my second slowest half m with 1:49. Nonetheless, I did enjoy it and felt comfortable enough despite not being able to get the legs going at any real pace. Thankfully there was no return of the shin pain that has dogged my training of late.
My fastest half marathon in the series was Larne with 1:43 and it is probably no coincidence that this, for me, is the best half marathon of the lot.

The Larne race has a significant hill in the middle, but it lasts for only 1.5-2 miles (gradual) and then it is over – you go down the otherside and are back along the flat coastal road, no undulating! It is great for a fast finish and it is the only race where I have ever done a negative split (i.e. the 2nd half is quicker than the 1st). So for the route, I give it 8/10.

Larne is very well organised and is on a Saturday morning/early afternoon so this too is very convenient. For organisation, including pack etc I give Larne 8/10.

The Lisburn race has at least a couple of big hills and I personally found it tough. It was my slowest race. 5/10 for the course. It is well organised, but with relay runners and fun runners & walkers etc it is simply too crowded. It has grown a little too big and the organisation of it should reflect this e.g. ask us to pay a few pounds more and provide small bottles of water at the stops instead of bloody cups which are impossible to drink from as you run! Finally, I really do not like the fact that it is on a Wednesday night in the middle of a working week…7/10.

The Ards race is as tough, if not tougher than Lisburn, with some big hills. The pack is very good with a really lovely light blue running t-shirt, but then when you pay £30 to enter (admittedly my entry was late) you expect a little in return. The same applies here re: water stops. This race is on a very tired Friday night, but as a result has a better ‘buzz’ than Lisburn. The course scores 5/10 & organisation 8/10.

Cookstown is relatively new, as mentioned earlier. The course undulates and the roads are open and can be quite dangerous at times as this race is under-marshalled. There are only 200+ runners and perhaps this will change when it grows. The t-shirt is too small (wasn’t given a choice) and it is a normal t-shirt as opposed to a running shirt. The course is ok but challenging & the Sunday afternoon start is ok, but not as good as a Saturday – 6/10 for the course & the organisation will undoubtedly improve with time, 5/10.

In summary this means that Larne wins with 16, Ards comes in a distant 2nd with 13, Lisburn comes in a disappointing 3rd given its size and Cookstown scores 11 at 4th, but with great potential to get bigger and better.

Finally my own performance aggregate across the four half mthns was 1:47. Just slower than 8min/mi. I would like to improve upon this next year.

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