Dickie Felton

I write about music and football

PART 1. Pouring rain, sludge, sand, dirt, aching legs. The wind in my face. Most people might hate this.

But for 300 determined runners, this isn't just Thurstaston shoreline, this is running bliss.

This week I embarked on the epic "Tour of Merseyside" which is an annual challenge for dedicated runners. It involves six races in seven days across a variety of courses and distances.

The shortest race (tomorrow night in Hale) is five miles. The longest - the Southport Half Marathon is 13.1 miles.

The finale - the last race - comes this Saturday along New Brighton promenade (12 miles).

All-in its 52 miles in the space of just seven days. Or - as my mother unhelpfully stated - "like running two marathons in a week."

No wonder I'm tired. I type this lying in my bed at the half-way stage of the tour. Today is Wednesday - the only day to not feature any race. It's strange, but I feel quite low that there's no running tonight. I want to get back amongst it.

Me and my fellow runners, known as "Tourists" have completed 29 miles so far.

On Sunday the Southport Half Marathon was tackled. "Hot and boring" the phrase which best describes that one. I struggled to get going and my demoralising (and dehydrated) mind games kicked-in around mile six.

This was not enjoyment, this was pain. The voice in my head screaming: "you're tired, you'll never finish this race, it's too hot today, you're too old today, you should pull over and grab a pint..."

If I was suffering in the heat, then so was everyone else. But if everyone else was fighting their way through this, then so should I. I finished in 1 hour 41 mins. Not bad at all and not a million miles off my PB.

It was a difficult start to the Tour. I felt tired, I felt unable to run to my full ability, I felt daunted by the 39 further miles ahead of me this week.

The next evening the tour rocked into Thurstaston, Wirral - a multi-terrain course over six miles. Me and my friend Steve, a fellow tour debutant, had much trepidation. The rain started to pour, our legs ached from Southport's half, but we go again.

The field got a fast flat start with wonderful views over the Dee Estuary. Bobbling boats in the distance, as we descended to the beach.

And then it happened. As the line of Tourists silently coped with head winds and dark swirling rain clouds, we glanced up for the best motivation ever. At least 100 spectators braving the elements themselves just to cheer us on.

They were perched high on cliffs shouting encouragement to us all down below. A wonderful moment - almost like a scene from a film. Think "Chariots of Fire" meets "The Fog".

I dispensed with my usual reliance on music for Thurstaston. I tend to always run with headphones. It helps me keep going. But - there's something very different with the Tour - it's social, we're not individuals, we run as a team. Or that's how it feels anyway.

I don't need Morrissey's Greatest Hits or the latest Brandon Flowers song for inspiration this week. Because, the inspiration is all around. From the fabulous Born to Run team (the organisers), to the volunteers at each race, to the crowds supporting and, of course, our fellow participants.

It feels like even the athletes at the very front are of exactly the same mindset as those runners who will finish some time behind them. We are all in this together, the fastest, the slowest, there's no real difference. We run the same distance, the same course, the same six races. One for all and all for one.

On Monday, somewhere in a wood, running up some steep tiring steps I suddenly felt this elation. An elation at the simple pursuit of running. Fellow runners offering encouragement and urging others to dig in and keep going.

Me and a lad called Ult - or at least I think that's the name on his vest - both hurtled down a hill at the same time. We laughed and pushed each other to go faster.

The field got spread out at Thurstaston, I ran the final two miles well and the finish line was one of my greatest running experiences ever.

It seemed that every runner who had already finished, around 70 of them, were waiting to cheer the other runners in.

I'm sure Mo Farah felt pretty good at the noise and support as he finished his Olympic winning races but for me Monday night in Thursaston, with that amazing vocal encouragement, well, it felt like Olympic Gold. I'm sure my other fellow tourists would have felt the same way. I finished in 49 minutes.

Last night The Tour moved to Walton and a ten mile flat course along former railway lines. My fellow tourist Steve said before the start: "I feel so part of this now. I feel like a runner."

I started slowly at Walton. Sluggish. We had to run two and a half miles out, then turn back, to run five miles the other way. To then turn back to run oh, two and a half miles.

At two stages in the race the leaders pass the rest of the field. These men and women are the real deal. Fast, fit and frankly, super human! But - despite these guys fighting it out for glory they still find a moment to offer encouragement to us other mere mortals lagging behind.

We ran across long since abandoned railway bridges and through tunnels. It was atmospheric, it was tiring, I finished in 1 hour 18.

The vocal support among the Tourists during the races is remarkable and real. Three races to go. Can this get any better?

Ok, I better get some kip. Tomorrow Hale 5 mile road race. Friday Knowsley 7 mile cross country. Saturday New Brighton 12 miler.

My head hurts, my left ankle is sore, I'm coming down with a cold. 29 miles complete, 23 to go. We Go Again. To be continued...

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