Rob Burrow Leeds marathon – 14th May 2023

by Simon Pickering

It seems kind of fitting that my first race report is for my first marathon, but here goes….
I had originally planned to do the Yorkshire Marathon as my first one, due to it starting in my birthplace of York, but a lack of organisation meant I’d forgotten I’d be sat on a plane on that day. Being the tight Yorkshireman that I am, I didn’t want to lose my money, and after a phone call with Run for All, my options were the Rob Burrow Marathon, or lose my money. One option then – jump in the deep end!
I couldn’t believe how quick race day came round. Run for All were sending some good updates and motivational videos and messages from Rob Burrow and Kevin Sinfield in the build up, but before I knew it, I was at Headingley Stadium in Leeds, questioning how I’d got myself in this position – it was time to become a marathon runner!
We got off a little later than the planned start time of 9am, purely down to logistical issues (more on that later), but the second you got over the start line, you were met with literally thousands of spectators, which lined pretty much the whole route. Even in the rural sections around 8 miles in, there were clusters of people handing out sweets and drinks, holding signs and cheering people on. Add to that the entertainment points every couple of miles, and the incredible supporters hub at Otley, it really was a carnival atmosphere to support Rob and Kevin’s mission to raise awareness and funds for research into motor neurone disease. The last three miles were like nothing I’ve seen before, with crowds that deep, they were spilling on to the roads leaving only enough space for 2 or 3 runners across – the noise was incredible and really helped get me through what at that point was some pretty bad pain.
The course starts at the cricket side of Headingley Stadium, before going towards the city centre, then looping back on yourself and travelling up Otley Road towards Lawnswood. From this point you start winding through some beautiful countryside with stunning scenery. You then head towards Bramhope, then a little loop before a relatively flat 4 miles to Otley. Up to now, it has been pretty up and down in terms of elevation, with one hell of a steep drop – get ready for arms and legs all over!
Otley is where it starts getting interesting. The now infamous “hill” is fast approaching and hits you with very little warning. You take a tight turn left and it hits you immediately – a 3 mile constant incline, with no little dips or even flat spots for a little respite where you climb (I think) just over 500ft. My legs didn’t want to work anymore, and I fully understand now why they had multiple “retiree collection points” up this stretch. Once you get to the top (after what feels like an eternity), it is largely downhill, with only a few short uphill sections. My legs had gone by this point with knee pains I’d not felt in a long time, so my personal target of a sub 4 hour would have to wait for another day. Completion soon became the main target which I achieved largely down to the amazing crowds mentioned previously, before finishing within the rugby stadium. Witnessing Kev Sinfield push Rob Burrow into the stadium 10 minutes behind me was something I’ll never forget.
Sadly, organisation at the stadium was poor. No signage, very few stewards to direct people and no split between those wanting to get to the start line and those wishing to get to the bag drop meant a necessary delay to starting the race. As it was the inaugural event, and the place Rob Burrow has in the hearts of the people of Leeds, it was always going to be a busy one, but I do hope they learn for next time. My advice would be avoiding the bag drop at all costs as it was carnage, and also go for the park and stride option, rather than the park and ride options. The 0.75 mile walk to the car park was far less painful than the mile long (literally) queues for the buses.
All told, despite the initial disappointment of not achieving the sub 4hrs target, on reflection I am happy with my finishing time of 4hrs 11 mins having looked back at just how horrible that hill is. I’ll not be doing it next year, but I will be back to beat the hill at some point!