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06 Aug Ben Fish updates us on the Potteries Marathon & Recent Racing

Photo by Mick Hall

Following on from Manchester Marathon in April, I have been racing frequently and taking advice from Eddie Simpson. Most of my races have been on the road, apart from some Northern League track races for my club; including a dire steeplechase performance (not my forte!) and scraping a 5,000m win on a photo finish with Preston’s Dave Rigby.

On the 17th May I competed in the Chester half marathon and I ran a fairly useful 67:38, which was good enough for third. A few days later I did the Horwich 5 in Rivington and I established an early lead over Ray Edgar, going on to win in 25:34; my slowest time on there, but it is now accurately measured and also over 200m longer! That weekend I then had the Buxton half marathon, a very hilly course, but one I enjoyed doing and I hadn’t raced there since 2010. I steadily pulled away during the first three miles (17:55), which is uphill and I hit six miles in about 33 minutes. By 10 miles (56:40) I was well clear and out on my own, I was still feeling good and finished strongly to cover the course in 72:48, about half-a –minute quicker than 2010 and five minutes clear of the others.

The following week was the Sinfin 10k near Derby. I was doing this race with my fiancé, Hannah, who lives near Ashbourne. I won in 31:38 with Joe Rainsford 20 seconds behind. On Friday evening on the 12th June I competed for the North in the Nottingham 10 mile race, which was a flat three-lap circuit around Holme Pierrepont Water Centre. It was a stacked field, including last year’s winner Toby Spencer, Ben Livesey, Yared Hagos and Tesfaye Debele. I knew if I wanted to be in the mix I’d have to run around 50 minutes or less. We got off to a solid start with Ben Livesey leading the way for two miles, though it seemed as though some runners where happy to sit right on his shoulder leaving him to do all the work. Shortly after this I decided to have a short stint at the front, only to be passed a few minutes later. Halfway through the second lap I had another go and I was surprised to notice that Hagos was dropped. Six miles was covered in 29:58 and I tried increasing the pace to see if I could drop anyone else, which proved unsuccessful. Ben Livesey came back up to the front and at 7.5 miles he threw in a massive surge, taking Spencer with him and leaving myself straining to maintain contact, but I was losing ground. Fortunately it was enough to drop Debele and by the eighth mile I was on my own in third. I couldn’t close the gap, but I could see them battling neck and neck to the finish, Livesey just edged it in 49:48 by one second. I finished in 50:19 and Alistair Watson finished strongly to take fourth spot from Debele in 50:32.

On 21st June it was the Freckleton half marathon and I was going for my ninth consecutive win. I knew I’d be for a battle with the Canadian John Mason. He has pushed me close before and he has achieved similar performances to myself this season. Rob Affleck and Wesham’s top runner, Rob Danson also needed to be considered. Fortunately it was a bit cooler this year for the 2pm start and the battle with Mason was immediately established in the first mile. I got away between the third and fourth mile and I was able to maintain a reasonable gap, gradually increasing it to somewhere around half-a-minute by the tenth mile. I then hit a slight snag crossing Blackpool road; there was no traffic control and I had to wait a few seconds for some cars to pass, it proved inconsequential as I went on to win in 69:19. Mason finished well in 69:43 and it’s the first time two runners have run under 70 minutes for over a decade here.

5th July was my second marathon of the year, the Potteries marathon in Stoke. The race has been reinstated after folding in 2004; whilst not a pb course, the event appealed to me as the hilly profile looked similar to my training runs around Darwen and I also wanted to support the return of a prestigious race. Ben Gamble would be the main challenge; a runner similar to myself who is the reigning Potters half marathon champion, and the veteran international, Mark Dalkins would also pose a threat. We got off to a steady start with Ben Gamble taking it out in the first mile, we ran alongside each other up to 5 miles (27:45) and by the sixth mile I eased slightly ahead, it was a gap of no more than ten seconds. I covered 10 miles in 54:24 as the course got a bit easier and reached halfway in 71:38 with Gamble still only about ten seconds behind. There was more climbing in the second half, though it didn’t seem to slow me down that much and between 16-18 miles I had increased my lead. I reached 20 miles in 1hr 49:31 and I got the impression I was at least 200 yards ahead, I was able to have a good look at the subway crossing at 23 miles and from there I could see that I was a good 300 yards ahead. I still felt strong and the win was within grasp, but I knew that a runner of Ben Gamble’s calibre was quite capable of closing in if the pace slackened. After a long climb, there was a sharp downhill near the 25th mile, I bashed it down there trying to finally put the race to bed. It was a minor error in an otherwise perfectly judged run, as I tweaked my left hamstring and made a bit of a dogs dinner of the last mile, probably the only one I took over six minutes to cover. The last 400m took 95 seconds as I gingerly made my way to the finish outside the Britannia stadium in 2hr 26:14, I was that slow over the finish line I didn’t break the tape properly and nearly tripped over, which would have been a perfect way to make an arse of myself! Ben Gamble battled all the way to the end and finished within a minute of me. The organisation was brilliant with regular updates for the spectators, there was never an issue with directions as the course was well marked and marshalled; it’s surprising how many times those details get overlooked! The support was fantastic and the locals really got behind the event. I rate it as my best race of the year so far, I only ran three minutes slower than Manchester, on a route that had over 20 hills and a total climb of 445 metres. Clearly I perform better on hillier courses, if only it could host the AAA’s championships like it once did in the 70’s!!!

All in all it’s been a very successful year so far and I’m confident that I can nail a couple of personal bests later in the season.