Being a teacher, I am part of a great community with plenty of supportive people around me. Many of them are interested in my running and having won the race last year, the obvious question from them in the lead up to the big day, was, ‘Are you going to win it again?’.

Cheltenham Half MarathonI was asked this a LOT by both pupils and staff – they meant well, I loved their enthusiasm and I’m not complaining at all!! – but it was hard to switch off from the race in the final few days – which I really wanted to try and do!! In the end, it became quite a big thing and dominated my thoughts. That’s why I was desperate for race day to dawn and to get on with the action. Eventually, the day did arrive and after a bowl of porridge and a banana – washed down with plenty of coffee, obviously! – I cycled the 3 miles across town to race HQ and began my final preparations: a couple of easy miles followed by some fast ‘strides’ (6/7 x 40m of fast running) before assembling near the start line…

After a few minutes of idle chit-chat in the holding pen – mainly about sore legs, poor preparation, runny noses and sleep deprivation – we all love a good excuse! – the race began.

Mile 1 was nice and steady. My friend and fellow Cheltenham Harrier, Oli Mott led it out and I was happy to sit in with him. A group of 6 quickly formed and as we went through mile 1 in 5.14 we had a slight gap to the rest of the field.

Mile 2 was a steady net downhill so a 5.08 was pretty comfortable and we settled into a rhythm, enjoying the crowds and trying to forget how much longer we had to run at this pace! The highlight of this section for me was seeing my parents who had come up from Cornwall to support. Mum was leaping around like an overexcited energiser granny!

Miles 3 and 4 took us through the crowded centre of Cheltenham which was absolutely awesome. There were so many people! The group was still together but Alex Pilcher of Derby AC had taken over at the front as we knocked out a 5.22 and 5.18 up through town. After a solid start, Motty faded to the back of the group – clearly not feeling well. I sat in again and concentrated on being smooth and controlled, taking in the brilliant scene around me as much as possible.

Mile 5 was simply awesome – we ran right past my classroom on Shelburne Road so there were plenty of staff and pupils cheering us along. It was massively motivating and I loved every second of it. A slightly faster 5.15 mile felt cruisey with that support!

Mile 6 (5.15) and 7 (5.20) – now the real racing started. The group was starting to disintegrate a little and this gave me confidence. I don’t have much of a kick at the finish so I needed to break them before the end. A hard race suited me. However, there is plenty of time for self-doubt in a half – at the 7-mile mark the legs were beginning to hurt and the breathing was quickening and yet we were only just over half way! The thought of a further 35minutes hard running was quite a daunting thought so I kept telling myself: stride by stride, don’t think about what’s left, it’s the same for them, immerse yourself in the race, you’re stronger…

Mile 8 (5.24) – by this time there was little talking. We’re no longer saying hello to people on the side of the road. We’re deep in the race mentally and physically. It starts getting a little more undulating and the rhythm is broken by the odd incline and sharp turn. My thoughts are internal and the race is on: Keep the pace up. If it’s starting to hurt me, they’re hurting more. You’re mentally stronger.

Mile 9 – a slight gap opens as my mates and Cheltenham Harriers, Alex Lee, Dom James and I keep pushing on. I notice the gap and tell Al to keep the pace on as we solidify a breakaway group of 3 following a quicker mile of 5.15. The top 3 is now established, but what would the order on the podium be?!

The business end.

Mile 10 – I ‘m good friends with Al and Dom, but we’re racing and I know they’re thinking the same. How am I going to break these guys? I know I have to do it before the final mile or so. I surge a little to test them out and get a small gap and they close it…. but not immediately. Their breathing is heavy. I begin to grow on confidence. IT’S ON!!

Mile 11 – this is where it really counts. We know the course and know the final 3 miles are undulating and are going to hurt. But if I’m hurting, they’re hurting more. Dig in. Push hard now. You can do it. Don’t leave it too late. No regrets.

Mile 12 – I round the corner of the racecourse stadium and am met my the screaming faces of friends and family: Mum, Dad, Uncle, Aunt, Rach and of course my children: Barney and Kiki. No calm composure from them….. they’re going crazy. What a lift!

THIS IS IT. This is where I f#£@ing win it. Go hard. 2 miles of pain and make them proud. I surge and Al falls back a little but Dom is still there and stubbornly chasing me. I enter the bleak and unforgiving race course and go even deeper. I dig in mentally and my body somehow responds physically. My surge opens a gap and I don’t look back.

Mile 13 – the gap widens. I’ve got this!! Keep the pressure on but don’t go mad. Barring a major problem this is mine. Stay relaxed. Drive hard, tap it out but STAY RELAXED!!

400m to go – I chance a look over my shoulder….. Dom’s further back. YEEEESSSSSS! You’ve got it! Enjoy this moment. Savour it! These special moments don’t happen very often and may never happen again.

I see my family going mad by the finish and I am filled with emotion: all kinds of emotion! Elation, agony, happiness, relief, pain, euphoria. All of it! But mainly joy.

I cross the line sub 70mins for the first time (1.09.50) following 5.15, 5.17, 5.15 for the undulating miles 11-13. This is very satisfying from a performance point of view but not nearly as satisfying as crossing the line and the confirmation soon after that my buddies Dom and Al hold on to take 2nd and 3rd. My friends and fellow Cheltenham Harriers on the podium with me: amazing!! There were plenty of exhausted sweaty hugs between us before we do the same with our families.

What a race. What a day. One to savour for sure!

You can follow Ben’s adventures on Instagram.