Mark Armstrong: Here’s hoping Blickling Half can kick-start safe return for Norfolk race scene

Let's hope the Blickling Half Marathon can start a return for the Norfolk road race scene. Picture:

Let's hope the Blickling Half Marathon can start a return for the Norfolk road race scene. Picture: Archant - Credit: Archant

The last time I was on the start line of an actual road race was the Bure Valley 10 more than a year ago.

A mixture of conkers and Covid put paid to any road racing since then and Im looking forward to this weekend when I, along with more than 500 others, toe the start line of the Blickling Half Marathon.

Speaking to the organisers they have put in place measures for the event to take place as safely as possible so here’s hoping it can be the start of road racing coming back to Norfolk in the near future.

I’ve really enjoyed the virtual racing scene but there is no substitute for actually competing with other people. That’s what gets the best out of me.

That was the difference between two different 5Ks I did on the track as part of the Joe Skipper Track Challenge. The first one I was completely out on my own, having to try and set my own pace, and I found it hard to get round in 19:51.

A little over a month later (admittedly with another month’s decent training behind me) I was in a race with people that were quicker than me and it made a huge impact as I set a new PB of 19:05. Sometimes it’s nice to mentally check out and tune in to someone else’s pace (as long as they aren’t going too fast!)

A 5K and a half marathon are obviously very different events, certainly in terms of pacing. I’m not as prepared as I would like to be and, if truth be told, I don’t really know what my half marathon pace is as it stands.

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Neil would point out here that I don’t have anyone else to blame but myself for that as I chose to run the Virtual London Marathon, which was always going to impact my ability to get some specific half marathon training in. I don’t have any regrets about that – I knew what I was doing – when I look back on 2020 I will remember running a unique marathon event with my wife, Alison, rather than a half marathon race.

That’s no disrespect to Sunday’s event but perhaps my heart wasn’t in the training for Blickling following the track series.

It’s in my nature to give it my absolute all on Sunday but I can’t have any complaints if I don’t run to my full capacity – it won’t stop me trying. I honestly don’t know how my legs are going to feel after seven or eight miles of relatively hard running.

MORE: Mark Armstrong Virtual London Marathon race reviewBut Sunday’s event is bigger than just a half marathon. I hope, just like the organisers, that the event goes well to demonstrate that actual races can be put on safely.

Pre-Covid, there were probably too many races but they are a huge part of life for many people in the running community. They are part of the social fabric that runs through the Norfolk running scene and it would be great to get some local races on the calendar. It feels a long time ago that we had a Sportlink Grand Prix race and wouldn’t it be awesome if 2021 could see a partial return to proper racing, if the risk factor can be kept to a minimum obviously.

I did a recce of the Blickling course last weekend, when I must admit I felt quite leggy and all I could hear was Neil Featherby telling me: “I told you so...”

Don’t tell him, but he’s normally right...

But anyway, it was a useful run – it’s a difficult route in places. A lot of the first five miles feel like you are steadily making your way uphill, ‘undulating’ is the correct parlance, I believe. It then levels out before a difficult last mile when there is a steep hill towards the end – make sure you save a bit of energy for that. Adrenaline alone won’t get you through that last hill!

But most importantly as well as wishing everyone who’s running on Sunday luck, let’s also make sure as runners we all respect the new rules and way that racing has to be at the moment. If we don’t then it could be a long time before we get to do it again.

See you Sunday!

For a full preview of the Blickling Half Marathon check out Saturday’s EDP.