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Lucky in Leeds

Lucky in Leeds

As I work in the Centre of Leeds I’m used to pushing around the street in my every day wheelchair to get to meetings and social events but I am not used to the roads being closed to allow the Run for All Leeds 10k to race through the heart of the city.

It was a hot day on the 9th of July but the air was still cool as I left the house early to drive into Leeds City Centre. There was very little traffic until I got close to the middle of Leeds and then the morning seemed to come alive. Runners were walking to the start or beginning to warm up, the crowds were slowly gathering to watch the race and the marshals and officials were busy making sure the event ran smoothly. I drove past the Hoare Lea office where I work in the Merrion Centre and parked just 1 minute away in an area I knew would remain open so I could make a quick getaway after the race. I wheeled my racing chair onto the Headrow, where the race would finish outside the Town Hall and began my preparation. The rest of the wheelchair athletes had gone to the VIP holding area which allowed me to focus, stretch and get my head into the right place for the race ahead.

In the weeks leading up to Leeds I had already raced in two 10k’s at Woodhall Spa and Croft racing circuit. My times had improved from one event to the next as I raced myself into shape and I had got closer to my training partner Tiaan Bosch. At Woodhall Spa I was some 3 minutes off his pace. This had closed to just 30s at Croft and following some technical modifications to my gloves I was hoping to be with him in Leeds. I’ve been mentoring Tiaan for several years and he has made incredible progress in that time. 2017 was the turning point for us where the pupil began to comprehensively beat the coach! However, I knew I was in great shape for Leeds and the flat out and back course suited my style of pushing.

Soon we were lined up at the start and as the gun went the racers launched themselves forward. It doesn’t matter if a wheelchair race is over 100m or a marathon there is always a sprint at the start to gain position as the adrenaline is released. I got myself in a great spot with Tiaan, we were just off the leading 3 racers. I held on to Tiaan’s wheel as we wound our way through the city centre streets and out onto Kirkstall Road. The 5k out was into a slight head wind and I was on the limit just staying with the pace. However, once we turned round and started the return leg into the city the tail wind picked our pace up and I suddenly felt at one with the chair and within my limits. I could see we were pushing well from the time and pace showing on my minicomputer but there was little time to glance down as I was pushing just centimetres from the back of Tiaan’s chair in order to stay in his draft. Once or twice I went to the front and set the pace but for the majority of the time I was on the limit of my lactic threshold just to keep up.

I’ve done the Leeds 10k a couple of times and knew that between 300 and 400m from the finish there is a short steep climb to get onto the Headrow and into the last sprint to the finish line. Tiaan and I had been together for the whole race until that last 400m. As we hit the base of the hill I could see him begin to struggle as the fatigue kicked in. I took the opportunity and used every ounce of my reserves to attack the climb. It must have only been seconds but within that space of time I hit the front. As we crested the hill I knew I was ahead and that I had a very slight advantage. There was no time to look back and check with just 300m to the finish so I put my head down and sprinted. I knew Tiaan would be hunting me down and closing the gap but as my muscles burned the finish line approached. As I crossed the line I had managed to gain a 3 second advantage to take 3rd place.

As we caught our breath and congratulated each other, and the other racers, we saw our times. Tiaan had pushed a new personal best time of 25m 18s and I was just 3 seconds in front. Whilst my personal best is just over 24 minutes this was the fastest time I have pushed in probably 7 or 8 years so we were both delighted.

It was only later that afternoon as I lay on the lawn in the sun at my mother in laws that I realised just how hard I had raced and how much I had drawn on my reserves. As my wife and her Mum chatted their voices slowly faded into the distance and I drifted into a lazy sleep, my mind filled with exhilaration, exhaustion and how lucky I had been in Leeds.