On the map this stretch, out through Stockton-on-the-forest, looks straight and boring, but it does wend slightly and is quite lovely. A right turn takes the road on a climb and dip through a couple of delightful areas of mixed woodland, interspersed with open fields bordered with trees and hedgerows, and the tiny, lovely villages North East of York.
Getting on to halfway in, there is a long stretch of woodland, verdant in the October sun, before a hairpin into Stamford Bridge. Here, as all the other other villages we run through (along with the city itself) there is a nice turnout of spectators cheering us on and giving encouragement.
The stretch here may be the most scenic on the route. The view to the left, South East, over the fields that dipped and rose with a few fragments of the morning mist still clinging here and there, was sublime, and I ran for a while caught in a zen-like state between the beauty of the view and the meditative exertion of running.
Just after this is where I found it beginning the get testing. There is another out-and-back hairpin, but about three times the length of the one at Stamford Bridge. Perhaps due to being 27k in, there is something dispiriting about running along and seeing people coming back the other way, knowing you have to do the seem, as the kilometres clock up. It’s about 3 km each way, but felt a good sight more.
It was coming toward the end of the return that I started feeling fatigued, my legs growing heavy for the first time. I kicked them up behind me, gave myself a good talking to and sucked down an energy gel - all of which seemed to do the trick, as shortly thereafter i caught my second wind and ran the next 4k or so at under 5 min/km, compared to the 5:20-5:30/km I’d been running up until that point.
I’d started to ease off a little by the time we transitioned once more from fields into the suburbs of York, and the cheering of the crowds who had stuck around for those of us so far behind the elite pace was a welcome boost.
I was really flagging now, knowing I was so close to the finish but that this entailed a couple of sharp climbs. Plodding up the final climb, only 400 metres up University Road, i realised I might be able to break 3 hour 45 - a full 15 minutes ahead of my target time! cresting the hill there is a sharp turn and less than a kilometre downhill to the finish line so I dug deep and tried my best for a sprint but, as I passed the 500 m marker cramp bit into my left thigh. I grabbed it with one hand at kept going, crossing the line at 3:45:47, receiving a hug from a friend of mine who had finished a few minutes ahead.
In addition to being on the whole a lovely, scenic course, the route is quite flat with an overall ascent of only 160m. The event is extremely well organised - we started at the arranged 9.30 point on the dot; there are water points every three miles (including isotonic drinks at every other station, and gels supplied a couple of times in the second half of the race). The starting areas, baggage drop, toilets and other facilities were well signposted on the University campus. And the atmosphere was excellent - large crowds at the start, the finish and in the city centre, and what seemed like the majority of the inhabitants of the villages coming out on their Sunday morning to wish us well, often bearing jelly babies. Even the weather couldn’t have been better; bright and still and not too warm.