The 4 Villages Half Marathon is an event I’ve wanted to run for about 5 years. This was the first year I actually managed to get there!
Essar 4 Villages Half Marathon
Starting in the village of Helsby, at the mainland-end of the Wirral Peninsula, this 13.1 mile race visits the villages of Manley, Mouldsworth and Dunham on the Hill, before finishing a few hundred metres from the start in Helsby. It is a road race on closed roads and this year attracted some 2000 runners on the day.
The route undulates a fair amount. I was told at the start that ‘it’s a very hilly race’. During the middle section of the race, the elevation increases gradually over about 4 miles, and then decreases again over the last couple of miles on the course. Here’s my strava print:
Yesterday’s conditions were pretty awful, with a -6 degrees celcius icy wind blowing across the course and the skies throwing hail, sleet and rain at the runners throughout the whole race. Aside from it being very unpleasant, the net result was a build-up of slush on the roads which was slippery and not easy to run on. The 4 Villages Half Marathon has gained a reputation for being regularly cancelled. With these conditions, it really didn’t take much imagination to understand why the race has to be cancelled. It’s just too risky underfoot.
Despite having done the #RunEveryDay challenge throughout November and December, I’ve not run that much in January. And even during the run streak, the number of long runs was very small. For me January is very much the start of my training season, and so I would not expect to be in ‘race-shape’ by 21st January! That said, the #RED training had given me more of a base than I might have had in previous years.
I travelled over with one of my #LymeRunners colleagues who had done the race several times before and it was one she really liked. Upon getting to Helsby it was clear that the weather forecast of much wetness with plenty of cold stuff was accurate and we huddled in the Helsby club house along with 2000 other runners!
Having decided that I needed the loo again I bumped into another runner from Stockport and we did a bit of a “warm up” before heading to the start line. That was about the only time outside there was any warmth, with 2000 shivering people huddled together! And then we were off.
My first 4 miles were at a good race pace for me, but I could not settle into a comfortable rhythm. Perhaps I was worried I’d gone out faster than my fitness would allow. Or maybe it was the icy headwind and face full of hailstones. I became slightly obsessed that my left shoe-lace was going to untie itself. I was aware all around me of the sound of squelching trainers on the slush-covered road. Despite all the road races I’ve done, I’ve never heard that much squelching before!!!
During the 5th & 6th miles I dropped back on my pace. I’d been told of the hills ahead and didn’t want to blow up on them. I also had a realisation that it had been a long time since I’d run such a distance on the roads; I run off-road far more these days. Again, possibly niggling doubts.
Hills? What hills?
I knew from the course profile I’d seen that the main increase in elevation started after mile 6. And I ran and waited for this hill to arrive. And waited. It would appear that the graphical profile of the course doesn’t really seem that obvious on the roads. Yes there were a couple of undulations over hilly bits. It certainly wasn’t an obvious ‘you are on a long and increasing hill’. There were plenty of downhill bits which just don’t seem to show up on the profile. So actually the 4-mile up hill section wasn’t anything like as bad as it had been made out to be.
Actually the hardest thing about this section wasn’t the profile of the course. It was the icy wind that got at you at every angle. Throughout the race you were exposed to headwinds and cross-winds. It was out on quiet country lanes so there was no real protection from it. This not helped by the amount of slush on the road which meant you were always anticipating that you might slip and fall.
Similarly, the apparently steep downhill at the end, really wasn’t. When I first saw the profile I thought it was going to be a very steep downhill. I did manage to pick up a little more pace on the ‘descent’ but again it was more undulating than the profile suggested. But by this time my lack of fitness was the limiting factor. My head was wanting me to stop with just 0.5 mile to go, and it took a lot of focus to keep going. Heart Rate was at the top end of my ‘normal’ range which meant I was having to work hard! Having run for 12.5 miles, I wasn’t stopping now!
I knew the course finished after a quick spell of residential housing. After what seemed like an age, we turned a corner and houses appeared. My Garmin had already decided we were at 13 miles, but the marker still hadn’t appeared. Another corner and there was the marker.
A few more twists and turns and the finish gantry appeared. I’d caught up another runner in this last section and managed a “sprint” finish to the end. We were given our memento and a race bag whilst being wrapped in a foil blanket. It was then back to the club house where tea, coffee and biscuits were being provided for free.
My time was fair. It highlighted the impact of the weather conditions and that I really need to get my finger out and start building up my training! Whilst the time was fine, I was concerned as to how little I had left in the tank in the last few downhill miles.
A big shout-out to the marshals
Whilst 2000 people had paid to come and put themselves through this wintery race, there were countless marshals on the course keeping everyone safe. Throughout the whole course an army of enthusiastic marshals were cheering the runners on. Whilst they probably each had about 30 layers of clothing on, it must still have been bitter to be stood around in that weather for so long. So a massive thanks to all who were involved in the race. Matters such as having foil blankets to immediately wrap around finishers was sensible and well thought out. And a complimentary cup of hot tea/coffee immediately after the race to all finishers; genius.
Race cost, goody bag & photos
As with all events I like to make a comment on what I perceive as value for money of a race.
The race cost £26 to enter. There was an option to purchase a technical T-Shirt as well although a note that this could be done on the day. For a full-closed-road half-marathon this is a pretty average cost (others are about £30 with cotton t-shirt) so I had no issues with this price.
The goody bag at the end was limited, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. I’d rather a couple of genuinely useful items rather than a whole load of tat. In that we got
- the memento
- beanie hat
- mars bar
- usual selection of bits of paper.
Here’s a close up of the memento
Photos were taken by Mick Hall Photography. As I write they have not become available as yet. I’ll add a link and a note about the prices once they are.
The 4 Villages Half Marathon was a good course to run. The weather is always likely to be the event’s Achilles Heel being a January race. Unfortunately in 2018, the weather was not kind and made for very unpleasant running conditions. That said, the organisation of the event was excellent, and in particular the marshals and the arrangements at the finish really standing out. It’s an event I’m glad I’ve had the opportunity to run, although whether I’d do it in future I’m not sure. That’s simply a factor of the time of year in relation to the weather and my training cycle, and no reflection on the race itself.