It’s Sunday 15 October, 7.30am and we’re standing in Alexander Stadium. After all the runs so far, this weekend was the one we were least looking forward to attempting as it was new territory for us all. The Birmingham International Marathon followed straight after by the Great Birmingham Run half marathon, almost 40 miles in total, was about to become a reality. A very daunting thought but here we were, as ready as we’d ever be, to start what was going to be a long day in the office!
There had been great build up to the event during the week. On Wednesday we did some PR at the Baggies training ground, as the club are right behind the Albion foundation supporting them in a big way. So we had a photo with Baggies boss Tony Pulis who gave us some great words of encouragement.
On Friday the Great Run team held a press call at Millennium point with the local media out in force, with some of us runners telling our individual stories, creating some great publicity for the event and helping the excitement to build.
The morning was just right weather wise, fresh and warm but no rain. The supporters were gathering and thousands of runners were getting prepared to be set on their way by both running legend Liz McColgan and the world’s oldest marathon runner, Fauja Singh.
The elite boys and girls, along with fast club runners were set off, then within a few minutes it was the turn of Team Blind Dave. The noise from supporters was immense as we left the stadium and headed for the dual carriageway and the city centre.
The dual carriageway and the first four miles covered a constant incline, taxing the legs at this early stage. I love it when people comment on how flat Birmingham is!
We were soon at Millennium Point, where we were stopped by WM Radio for a quick chat. The area was beginning to fill up, this being the main start for the half marathon and finish area for both events, but the young man on the PA system gave us a great shout out as we ran on.
We zig zagged around the streets, on through China Town, passing Selfridges, with the comedians amongst us explaining they didn’t sell fridges at all! The streets were quite quiet at this time, the city not yet fully come to life but on we ran up, over and down towards the marathon loop and Cannon Hill Park. But by 10am the crowds were out in force, the support as we approached the park fantastic, kids wanting high fives, people singing on the street corners, drummer bands, the atmosphere was certainly building.
Off the streets and into the park we ran, following the paths, over the little bridge, crowds urging all the runners on. Tony and I stopped briefly at the park café for a call of nature, walking through the tables of customers it would have been so easy to stop for a bacon butty! But like the athletes we are, we declined and ran on to catch the rest of our team up a mile further on down the road.
By now we were running around Edgbaston cricket ground over what seemed like the only flat bit of the course before we came to another climb! Not a steep hill but a long incline up towards Bournville and Cadbury World.
The crowds were now fantastic, shouting and screaming out our names, passing out sweets and water from outside their houses. After Cadbury World we ran down the other side of the Pershore Road, exchanging shouts with runners coming the other way, stopping for photos with loads of people.
Around 16 miles we came across a tom-tom band, just like on the Great North Run route, so we had to stop and join in with them, all the fun of a marathon. They sang us off with a rendition of only 10 miles to go and the crowds around cheering.
Down the road we went with a sign being read out that said ‘left to the finish, right to the marathon loop’. Taking the right turn we found ourselves heading back through Cannon Hill Park, over the little bridge, past the café again, back around Edgbaston cricket ground then heading once again up the Pershore Road towards Cadbury World.
Halfway up we had to stop to have a photo with a family brandishing a large Baggies flag, then with another couple of families we knew, high fiving even more kids. I must admit we were having a great time although admittedly we were feeling the run in our legs.
The weather was still doing us proud as it was dry and warm with the rain staying away. Past Cadbury’s for the second time, back down the Pershore Road, past the tom-tom drummers but this time at the end of the loop we turned left and headed for the finish line.
Our legs were hurting now and Garry had started to struggle a bit as we had run a slightly quicker pace than usual, but with some encouragement and quite a lot of swearing at him, he ran on albeit he was very quiet!
The last mile was a little demon, it had quite a nice hill taking you up to the finish. The crowds at this point were screaming and as we approached the finish line I was told my wife Deb and the kids were waiting. But I didn’t need to be told - I could hear them! It was fantastic as we passed them, hitting the finish line in a decent 4 hours 12 minutes with an unbelievable PB for Garry!
At this point it was interview after interview, photos and more photos, it was just amazing for all the team and the marathon done and dusted. A quick bite to eat, a change of run numbers, some encouraging words from the family and we were off to take our place on the start line for the Great Birmingham Run half marathon!
After the elites and fast runners were sent on their way Team Blind Dave was once again given a fantastic start. I was really pleased that this time my daughter Grace and her boyfriend were running with us. So with the hooter sounding and Team Blind Dave swelled to seven, we were off on some rather stiff, creaky legs!
Out of the course it was like we were running between giant speakers, the crowd was amazing, the noise unbelievable, the hairs stood up on the back of my neck as we pounded those streets.
Unfortunately around a mile in Garry was suffering and couldn’t concentrate on guiding me so passed me on to Tony to guide instead and we settled into a slower pace, ready to count the miles down.
We were heading once again for the marathon loop, voices seeming to ring out from every street corner, singing, PA systems playing, to me it sounded like a continual carnival with the sore legs gradually eating up the miles.
On we ran, eventually coming back to the nice little incline taking us back up towards Cadbury World which now felt very steep indeed. At around 5 miles Tony decided he needed to walk for a while which was fine by me. But no, “you keep running” he said, handing the running cord to my daughter Grace. I was like a baton in this run, being passed from one to another!
At the next water station Tony caught us up and the little walk we had then was very welcome. But soon we were running again, someone asking if we could name 10 films centred on prisons. Slightly unfair I exclaimed, how can I watch telly or films? Highly amusing for them all, but I still managed to name three and without thinking about it too much, another mile has passed.
Getting to the top of the hill at Cadbury World seemed to take slightly longer this time, the legs definitely feeling the strain, but as we turned and began running back down the Pershore Road for the last time I had to laugh. A lady who had obviously been out spectating for a while shouted out “Blind Dave are you lost? You’ve gone passed three times now, what are you playing at?” When we said we were doing the marathon and the half she was flabbergasted, Grace saying the look on her face was priceless!
We stopped from time to time for a photo or two, another visit to the marshmallow lady, a quick top up with jelly babies to keep us going. We shuffled past the tom-tom band and then reaching the last water station we slowed to a walk for a while. We had lost poor Garry a while back but on ringing him quickly found out he was now only a mile behind. So now our goal was to stop about 400 yards from the finish line where Deb, the kids and some pals were waiting until Garry caught us up.
With Team Blind Dave all back together we ran towards that finish line and with only a few yards to go all seven of us linked arms and with my daughter guiding me and our legs aching, we crossed the finish line together.
I’m told we all had smiles from ear to ear which was no surprise as we had now completed runs 21 and 22 and another 39.3 miles in the bag. What a day, what a team and when we were all done at the finish line, what a wonderful pint of Guinness!
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