Summer Solstice 10k–Friday 20th June 2014

It was never going to be the easiest race to make in the first place – a 7:15pm start on Friday Practice Day for the Austrian GP – a day when normally I’ll often not be done and dusted until gone 8pm. Throw into the mix an early afternoon hospital appointment with my wife in Nottingham, a short affair in duration that threw up more questions than answers; more uncertainty and doubt when what we really want and need is clarity and assurance.

I would not have considered racing were it not my second claim club Grantham RC’s flagship race – the Summer Solstice 10k. From what I’d seen in the preparations for the event, the committee had pulled out all the stops to host a race punching well above its weight when you consider how youthful and relatively small Grantham RC is compared to more established clubs. If I could not help in the operations of the race, the least I could do was to turn up, race, and hopefully secure a relatively good race position.

With just a couple of hours to finish work that would normally take four, I somehow reached a state where I could leave to head to the race HQ at 6:30pm. Thankfully I’d thought to have all my kit laid out ready to change, which I managed in less than three minutes. I was soon in the car and heading to Long Bennington, approximately 12 minutes drive from Grantham. I was out of the car at 6:55pm and, after the merest attempt at a pre-race stretch, I embarked on an equally half-baked attempt at a warm up run. Normally I like to arrive around 90 minutes before the start of the race; today I had to condense all those preparations into 20.

Alone at the Start

I wormed my way to the start line with around three or four minutes to spare. My mind was buzzing with thoughts of anything but the race I was about to take part in. I felt distinctly detached from those around me, as though I really didn’t belong here. I didn’t bother to look around to see what the competition was – I heard the quickest entrant a few weeks back had estimated a 34 minute finishing time, so it was possible I could, on a good day, be somewhere near the front.

Starting Next to Mr Livesey - The Closest Anyone Got To Him All Evening.

As we lined up on the start line, the minute warning given, I stood still – eyes staring into the still bright evening sun. My mind may have been foggy but the weather conditions around me could hardly have been better – blue skies and not a breath of wind. It may have been a touch on the warm side but I’ve for a long while, ever since I began running on the F1 Grand Prix circuit essentially, considered a hot race something of an advantage for me, once I’d established, perhaps wrongly, that coping with the heat whilst running is mostly a case of mind over matter. The shades would justifiably stay on for the entire race.

The start of the race.

From a countdown of five the race was off exactly on time. It took around 20 meters of running to establish exactly who was going to win, and win at a canter – Ben ‘2:17 London Marathon’  Livesey, who ran 29:28 at the Leeds Abbey Dash 10k last November, was entered, racing, and going to win. He inexorably and effortlessly glided away from the rest of the field, from the look of the pictures of him racing barely breaking sweat as he coasted to a course record 31:58.

Seconds After the Start and Ben's Gone.


All Too Easy For Ben...

Meanwhile I found myself in a group of around ten runners which quite quickly whittled itself down to around six. I was sitting fifth overall when we remembered Ben was racing, I made a brief surge at around a mile to take second position, but at that moment my mind switched irrevocably from thinking about the race to mulling over matters deeper. The first mile was pretty swift – 5:26, it felt comfortable but not a pace I could sustain with my mind in another place. Fairly soon I found myself fifth and gradually losing ground on the third and fourth place runners, conversely easing away from the sixth placed runner. I was, metaphorically, physically, and mentally in No Man’s Land.

The Summer Solstice course is a rural square shaped countryside course, with hints of the fens that lie not far to the east. This makes it a somewhat lonely race, low on spectators, with mostly straight to gently meandering lanes to run along. The second mile came at the first turn – I clocked 5:44. The next road to run along was around a mile and a half long and I had little but the occasional passing car to break the loneliness. My mind at this point was in something of a turmoil, questioning the point or purpose of racing. This is in stark contrast to the runs of recent times, which have provided a lifeline in attempting to bring clarity the subject of such gravity.

Keeping A Gap On The Sixth Placed Runner

Through the third mile in 5:45, I passed the 5k marker in approximately 17:40, not bad for a June 10k when hayfever can wreak havoc with my running. Not long after passing the halfway point there was another left hander and the only humour of the race when an enthusiastic, but possibly naive volunteer at the race’s only drink station, elected to hold the cup of water high above his head for me to grab. I declined his cup and went instead for a child’s, who held it at a far more comfortable waist height. One sip to wet the back of the throat and a little over the back of the head and that was it for race refreshment and straight into the only significant climb of the race, which in reality amounted to little more than a drag.

Racing Alone

It was enough though for the third placed runner to slow significantly, both I and the fourth placed runner closed on him rapidly so that by the fourth mile (5:46) the two ahead were running together and I was around 20 seconds behind. The fifth mile I cannot recall running any slower but it was logged as 5:54 (Adjusted to 5:44 on Strava GAP, so presumably it was a slight incline over most of the mile). I’d had a few cheers of support from marshal’s who recognised the Grantham RC vest but not necessarily the runner. Into the final full mile of the race and I passed Scott, who was a marshal with his son. He willed me to push on to try and catch the two in front of me. I tried, and I did manage to close the gap somewhat, but they were seasoned, experienced runners who knew too how to extract that little extra something in the final throws of a race.

Pushing On To The Finish

As we entered the final four hundred meters of the race I pushed fairly hard but not as hard as I could have in better circumstances – I was satisfied with what I’d done. I finished fifth, with my fourth fastest 10k time – 35:36. All things considered a good result, and maybe the last result of any significance for a while as efforts focus elsewhere to things that really matter.

Swiftly recovered, I picked up my memento pale ale and half pint glass (The glass will see use – the ale is up for grabs to anyone who likes beer….) I chatted for a while with fellow club mates who finished, but soon had to leave – there was work at home still to be done. It was a shame I couldn’t enjoy the race more, it pulled off the rare trick of being a slickly run, fully chip timed race with the atmosphere of a small summer village fete.

I hope very much to be able to race here again next year, with the mind all clear. With everybody who I hold dear – here.

Baswell BootBash

This was entered back at the start of the year, a farewell bash to say Bon Voyage! to fellow Grantham Runnning Club club mate Paul. He likes his long off road events; better still if you can throw in some stunning scenery. The Baswell BootBash satisfied all those criteria: principally a 26 mile walk that allowed runners to run rather than walk, the event began on the grounds of Chatsworth House in the Peak District and took in an advertised 26 miles of mostly off-road fun.  There was twelve of us in total, some opting to take part in the easier, but still demanding, 14 mile option.

With eight checkpoints to navigate, the onus was on competitors using their map skills to complete the course. I opted instead to use a bit of 21st century cheating: using a gpx file that someone had uploaded after the event last year to follow a black line on my Garmin Forerunner. As we lined up at the start it was evident I wasn’t the only one to use this tactic, but plenty were opting for good old fashioned paper map. Indeed my running rucksack, which was purchased especially for the event and turned out to be a very comfortable acquisition, was probably far sparser than the organisers had intended – carrying a bare minimum of spare kit and first aid essentials.

We started at 9am prompt and I found myself jogging along in second position. This event was never intended as a priority event, so I’d aimed to compete at all times at a steady/slow pace and try to enjoy the run and the scenery. Being in second place made it tempting to pick up the pace but I resisted the temptation, even when I took the lead on the first of numerous uphill drags.

I had around a 30 second lead a I took on the first lengthy descent at 3.5 miles. Halfway down the hill and my lead had evaporated and I was in third. My non existent off-road descending skills were shown to their fullest by my nearest competitors who, it transpired, were experienced local fell runners. They were also wearing the correct footwear; I’d made a late change from mine to my Nike Pegasus road shoes when told the majority of the course would not benefit overly from trail shoes. This turned out to be more or less correct but I did struggle on some of the muddier sections.

I stuck with the two fell runners through the first two checkpoints to around 11 miles. It was actually more a case of taking it in turns to take the lead – I would pull away on the uphill sections, they’d catch and pass me on the downhill, and we’d run together when there was flat terrain.

Following the second checkpoint where I tried to eat biscuits when my mouth was parched (It was a mostly cloudy day, but very muggy), the fourth placed runner appeared just as we were leaving. I was a little concerned as the two I was running with appeared to be heading in a direction my watch did not agree with, but I bowed to their local knowledge and stuck with them. A couple of miles later we began to head back towards the route I think we should have taken and on a technical descent I lost contact with them. They were just about in sight on a flat section when I tripped on one of the numerous protruding limestone rocks. A high side type of fall, my head was perilously close to taking the full brunt of a fall on rocks before the body’s survival instinct kicked in and ensured that I twisted to land on my collar bone and then elbow instead. Initially more embarrassed than hurt I picked myself up and dusted myself down, no damage done other than some cuts, and road rash on the collar bone.

I’d lost a stack of time and was not enjoying the terrain so opted to take it easy for a spell, stopping to tighten my shoe laces. Worse though was to come a couple of miles later when I came to a National Trust Car Park and took a slight wrong turn which saw me basically at a dead end with the option of running through some trees surrounded by plants. Whether I’d hit my head when falling I’m not sure, but the folly of deciding to run through this 50 meter or so long stretch was fairly instantly apparent when my legs began tingling insanely with multiple stings from what were chest high stinging nettles. Fortunately (and partly for this very reason) I was wearing my compression socks so the shins and calves were fine, but the knees and thighs were on fire. With no time to stop and lick the wounds I had a five foot high wall to scale and jump off…. Thankfully this unnecessary commando style action saw me back on the right route and with no lasting damage done (although the thighs are still stinging and scarred three days later…)

Fourteen to twenty one miles saw some of the most pleasant running – especially a section on a converted railway line which I loved as I took on some simply stunning views. It was though mostly uphill, and this meant that I was able to make gains on those ahead of me – passing the initial leader of the race on one particularly long hill. I was expecting to be repassed on the subsequent descent but he must have been tired as there was no further sight of him until I reached the finish. Unknowingly as well I’d passed the second placed runner (He was fourth but took a better route after the second checkpoint to take the lead briefly). He had slowed to a walk and wished me well as I passed.

I, conversely, was feeling good and strong. There had been a stack of climbing and descending but it was all done well within my comfort zone. There was one final sting in the tale at around 25 miles – an off road climb far too steep to consider climbing. At the final checkpoint I’d caught plenty of the 14 mile walkers, some of whom I followed on to the road, where I was taken slightly the wrong way back into Baslow – sticking to the road rather than taking a footpath. My main concerns were dehydration – causing a headache and a little disorientation – and the Garmin saying I’d covered nearly 28 miles, rather more than the advertised 26!

Into Baslow and with the finish somewhere in the village, I mentally lost it – unable to work out what the triangle and the black line on the Garmin meant in relation to making it to the finish.  Finally, several minutes wasted, I worked out which road to take and I was soon at the end – 29 miles covered in 4  hours 22 minutes – a new personal distance and time spent running record. I also finished second, five minutes behind the winner, although there was no official results.

An enjoyable run in a stunning part of the world. Not enough to convert me permanently to the joys of fell running, but enough for me to want to try a similar event at some point in the future.

Slowly Getting Back Into It

It’s been a few weeks since I last posted. I’ve still been training, albeit not as much as a few months ago. I kind of made an unconscious conscious decision to ease back on the training for a few weeks before picking it up gradually this week with a mind to go full beans again nearer the end of June.

The decision to ease back on training was made easier for two reasons. Firstly the annual two month bout of hayfever has begun to hit me, which in the early days does little more than raise the heart rate a bit and make the breathing a bit more difficult, but will get progressively worse until the middle of July (Weather permitting).

Secondly after a club hill session a week last Tuesday (Where I put in one effort to gain a Strava segment 1st place, then cruised the rest of the reps, happy that the legs felt fairly good) I was off with my brother to the Isle of Man to experience my first taste of TT action. And that was an awesome experience, everything I expected it to be and a little bit more. A place where H&S has barely scratched the moral compass of an island that appears to embrace a bit of healthy danger.

Amongst the four portions of fish and chips; three pizzas, two cooked breakfast; several egg baps; and more pints of cider (most of it rubbish, sadly) than I care to remember, I did actually manage to squeeze three runs in. One was a sightseeing run taking in the promenade of Douglas and the fearsome (on a bike anyway) Bray Hill – where a Strava segment was attacked in moderate anger). The next run was a 10 1/2 mile affair where I found a relatively quiet country lane (Which turned out to be an A road, albeit not an A road like we know it on the mainland) and enjoyed the peace and the challenge of some tasty hills. The legs were feeling quite good, with just the pelvis nag to bother me.

The final run was on (Not so, if you don’t have a bike) Mad Sunday, where me and brother Joe began with a pretty quick assault back up Bray Hill (which Joe led me up to my chagrin) and then a 10k tour of the town, stopping for juice and nuts at Tesco (The joys of camping).

I returned home on Monday evening, feeling decidedly unhealthy and a fair few pounds heavier than when I left. A resolve to put in a good week of running was born out of necessity and it began with a good club intervals session, putting in 10 reasonable 800m efforts, the best of which was sub five minute miles and at approximately 2:25, was only seven seconds or so outside my 22 year old track PB.

Wednesday was a steady seven miles; Thursday a shorter than planned six because of work; Friday 13.4 miles and some of which off road looking ahead to next week’s Baslow Bootbash. This morning saw another six miles, the groin and pelvis a bit achy but otherwise clear signs that the injury ridden past few months were hopefully coming to an end and the post marathon malaise beginning to leave the body.

On the back of this I entered the Summer Solstice 10k, which I may or may not (Depending on work) be able to run in a couple of weeks. If I break 37 minutes there frankly I’ll be happy; it’ll show I’m better off than I was at this time last year. If not, I’ll just be happy that I am currently running mostly pain free.