Race Report – Oundle New Year 10K – Sunday 13th January 2019

GRC runners at the Oundle 10K.

Up until early December 2018 I was very much under the impression that I would be taking part in the 2019 London Marathon, courtesy of the championship place I earned with my 2017 qualifying time. I was going through the process of entering and making double checks when it dawned on me that the same weekend as London featured the F1 Azerbaijan Formula One Grand Prix, which meant I would be working and there would be no London Marathon for me in 2019. Alternatives were looking thin on the ground, thankfully Manchester on Sunday April 7th was a date free in the diary and so, at great cost, it was entered.

The downside to running Manchester, aside from not being able to run London, was that being three weeks earlier than London it meant that my usual Christmas  and New Year wind down on running which stretched to late January was not going to be a thing in 2019 – which was a pity as I was crying out for a good rest after the Keyworth Turkey Trot! The week following the Trot I was running a marathon in training (2:56 – for no real reason other than I could) in the fen lands of Langrick and Coningsby, the day after finishing first at Boston parkrun. I did at least have a quiet week of running the week before Christmas, doing quite a bit on Zwift instead. Christmas Day I had off before running 17 miles on Boxing Day.

The post Christmas family visits cut the mileage – Minehead parkrun saw me pull off a surprising first place given I was outside the top five at halfway – it also saw a bout of the killer leg cramps which I’ve barely suffered all year, they did again the following day before a pleasant enough last run of the year in Stroud (After an abductor scare) which had me knocking out some sub 6 miles for fun.  And so the first week of January, where I’d normally be running at most 11 miles in one go, had me running 20 miles (with a 17:35 parkrun in the middle) on the first Saturday, in addition to loads of Zwift in a 56 mile opening week.

The following weekend was the Oundle New Year 10K, which was to be my first race of the year and the opening race of the 2019 Grantham Running Club Grand Prix Series. I was the 2018 Champion and so wanted to defend my crown with a good start to the year. It was the first time the Oundle 10K had been hosted but a 20 mile race there the previous March had been well received and I was optimistic of a good event. What I wasn’t doing though was treating it a priority event – I’d run 10 miles the day before including Belton House parkrun at marathon pace. The legs felt okay, I did though have ongoing issues with my left big toe, which would be troublesome for much of the opening quarter of the year (And still continues to be a nuisance).

I think I was the first competitor to arrive in Oundle, although a few others soon followed. Mindful that I was in marathon training I planned to run a longer warm up than usual. As the race was a two lap affair I opted to run a lap of the course, which would give me a chance to see what was on offer. The positives was that it was the type of course I enjoy – mildly undulating with just a couple of short, relatively stiff ascents followed by long slightly downhill stretches. The immediately obvious spanner in the works was that for around a mile we were to have a full on, near gale force headwind on a totally exposed country road, which was also slightly uphill. The real bummer was that as the course was triangular in shape, at no point did we enjoy the full effect of the wind on our backs – at best it was a rear crosswind. The wind was also strengthening all the time, it would be significantly more blowy come the opening lap of the race and even worse on the second!

The start of the race at least was fairly kind, slightly downhill for the opening half mile before a rise and a left turn into the headwind. I soon settled in fourth place – the leader and one other runner pulled out quite a gap, I soon closed in on the third placed runner with club mate Ian Williams a few seconds behind me in fifth. The opening mile was clocked at 5:43, things slowed dramatically as we hit the headwind. Sitting in the third placed runner’s slipstream, I felt the pace slow, I moved ahead and picked the effort up a touch. Feeling the full force of the wind I was unable to pull clear. To try and shake the guy from my slipstream I drifted slowly from one side of the road to the other. Somewhat surprisingly he didn’t follow me but stuck resolutely to the inside of the road. Still unable to pull clear and aware that I was wasting energy,  I then slowed up and went back into his slipstream, hoping he would help take the pace.

I later found out (Because he sought me down on Facebook and messaged me!) that he was a bit irked by my tactics. I had no qualms in doing what I did. Quick times had already long gone out of the window. We were fighting for third place and I was using standard tactics to try and get him to help with the work and to minimise my exposure to the wind.

Anyway, after sitting in and taking a breather in his slipstream for a short while, I sensed again that he was slowing the pace (which is all quite legitimate, or it may just have been getting a greater than usual benefit from tucking in behind someone). I also had club mate Ian closing and so I decided to put in a real surge to pull ahead and clear of both Ian and the fourth placed runner, so they couldn’t benefit from my draft. My tactic worked, although the exuberant acceleration probably didn’t help in the long term. We had a couple more minutes of running into the wind, where I was able to eke out a few more seconds.

Mercifully after an interminably long time we turned left and dropped downhill with a crosswind to neither aid nor hinder us. This quicker section saw the mile two split come in at a semi-reasonable 6:06 – the reality was that it had been much slower for much of the mile. The third mile (5:42) was a more standard affair as we headed back into Oundle and turned left again back towards the start.  I pulled a few more seconds clear of Ian who had moved into fourth place and was beginning to close in on the second placed runner who looked like he was beginning to labour as we passed halfway.

I was running fairly strongly but had an issue with the right Nike Free I was wearing in that the laces were coming undone! By 6K they were near completely untied and although the shoe wasn’t going to come off it was moving around a lot and was not particularly comfortable, especially with the laces slapping against my legs. I did though at this point pass the second placed runner – a mobile phone being held in his hands gave a clue that this was a fairly novice runner with plenty of talent but lacking in race experience. The fourth mile saw the best of any help from the wind and being slightly downhill was the quickest of the race in 5:33.

Mile five was arguably one of the hardest I have ever raced! Back into the headwind at the top of the triangle, trying to pull clear of the two runners behind me, the wind was relentless and I think the strongest I have ever faced in a race. Giving it absolutely everything (more effort than running 5:30 pace) at one point it slowed us to slower than seven minute miles. There was nothing that could be done except dig in and work to the corner where I knew there would be respite.

Once at the corner I knew I couldn’t finish with my trainer undone in its current state without a risk of injury. While running I took off my gloves and tucked them into my shorts, choosing to come to a stop at the bottom of the hill where I could come off the road and onto a path. The stop to retie the laces was quite quick considering it came while I was second in a race and the rapidly beating heart rate with adrenaline coursing through the body. Ian came past me and offered me encouragement as he went by, thinking that I had an injury rather than a mechanical mishap.

Refreshed after the impromptu stop and feeling much happier with a trainer firmly attached to my foot, I recommenced running and very quickly closed down the three seconds or so to Ian. As we approached a bit of an uphill drag I wasted no time passing him and attempting to break clear. This I did, but he never dropped back more than a handful of seconds. This was the first time since I suffered stitch in the Summer Solstice 10K a few years back that I had come under pressure from a fellow GRC runner in a race. On the one hand it was great because I want the depth of the club to grow, on the other I was keen to still beat Ian and also to retain second place!

This I just about managed to do. Having run 6:27 in the mostly wind affected fifth mile, I picked up the pace to 5:46 for the sixth mile and 5:16 for the closing few hundred yards. The time of 36:42 was my slowest since the 2015 Langtoft 10K-  which I didn’t race properly having paced others to halfway. I felt as though it was a bit of a rusty January opener but knew the time was not indicative of the form I was in. It was when I looked at the results and saw that the winner John Uff clocked 35:13 yet had run a full two minutes quicker at the Telford 10K in December that the true effect of the wind was apparent and that Ian Williams’ 36:48 PB was a sign of a runner who could, and would, run much quicker in 2019.

With GRC second and third (the first double podium finish for the club) and Joaquim ‘Flash’ Jeronimo eleventh it was a double trophy to collect as winners of the team prize as well as second overall (I couldn’t claim the V40 prize too, alas). We missed most the prize giving as we had just gone on a cool down, luckily we were there to collect the team prize.

The GRC Men’s Winning team (L to R): Ian, Me, Flash.

With the trophies handed out and marathon training in mind I went and did another three miles cool down to bring the mileage for the week up to 66.  This time I ran a clockwise lap of the course we had raced on. My conclusion, having been blown along the windy section at sub 7 minute miles with almost literally no effort was that it would have been a much quicker race had we been able to run it the other way round!

A weird race this – I should have been delighted with second. I didn’t run badly, yet the result seems a little underwhelming, perhaps the slow time (Which didn’t help my GP Series), perhaps the mechanical with the shoe. Perhaps it was just a fairly low-key race in early January and nothing to get overly excited about. I will remember the race more for the wind than anything else – I hope it will never be that windy in a race again!

 

Race Report – Keyworth Turkey Trot – Sunday 9th December 2018

There’s not many Christmas themed races that you can stake claim to having taken part in twice in one year, but the Keyworth Turkey Trot Half Marathon is one such race that I and, I assume plenty of others, can claim to have done in 2018. The 2017 race was postponed to February due to snow/threat of snow in the region and I took part in the rescheduled event, finishing 6th overall in 1:18:06 and recipient of a hamper for my efforts.

I went into the 2018 proper version of the race feeling distinctly jaded and glad it was to be my final event of the year. With that said I didn’t make a bad start to the race, with opening miles of 5:42, 5:41 and 5:54 before hitting the first big climb of the race which saw me drop to a 6:04 before recovering with a pleasant 5:36 on a quick section of the race.

The first mile of the race. The most people I’d see in a while. Picture c/o John Oldfield.

The race, for me, was a fairly dull affair. I never found myself in a group, for the most part running alone, never being passed by another runner and the only interaction with other competitors when I passed the occasional athlete who was beginning to struggle. I made a point of trying to stick to around 5:50 miles which I was able to do until the second wave of stiff climbs at mile 11 on a constantly undulating course, which saw the pace dip to 6:14, then 6:08 for mile 12.

I did though catch a couple of younger runners at this point. My presence seemed to spur them into life for they drifted away again on the downhill drop back into Keyworth before I closed in on them again on the deceptively tough last half or mile or so back to the school and the finish line. Alas any hopes of picking off a couple of young scalps receded quickly as they both put in  a sprint finish I had no hope of  matching and didn’t really attempt. It was the end of the year, I wasn’t fighting for a place or a prize and I was pretty jaded.

Coming into the final mile of the final race of the year. Picture c/o John Oldfield.

I crossed the line annoyingly just outside the top ten (11th – I did have something to fight for). The time was 1:17:27, just under 40 seconds quicker than I ran in February and the second fastest trot for me. Maybe it was another underwhelming post race memento (Magnetic race pins – soon lost) or the instant realisation I’d not won a turkey (third V40) but I felt very little emotion after the race other than I was glad it was the last of the year. I could have done with a month’s rest or so but, alas, as I was now down to be running the Manchester Marathon (April 7th) rather than the London Marathon (April 28th), downtime was going to be minimal before the whole process began again.

With some of the GRC Gang.

Postscript!

Thanks to a lovely kind gesture by GRC champion of age grade Julie we did have a Keyworth turkey for Christmas dinner! She had won the V65 category but had already planned on something else for Christmas dinner. So it was that a week or so later a trade was made and I had turkey!

Race Report – Nottingham 5K Winter Series, Race 2 – Thursday December 6th 2018

This Thursday evening 5K race on Victoria Embankment was very much entered on a whim a week or so before the race took place. There was no real need to run it other than I fancied taking a look at a fairly new 5K race that had been established in the summer and was continuing with a four round winter series taking place monthly from November through to February. There were also a fair few runners from Grantham Running Club taking part that were looking to get an end of year quick time to try and boost their best age grade performance of the year either for our GP Series or for our race standard certificates that are handed out in February at a Presentation Evening.

I arrived with club mate Penny around 45 minutes before the start, far less than I’d normally allow for a race, but sufficient in this instance for an event that I was approaching with less vigour than a parkrun on any given Saturday. Being a small race I was able to park pretty much at the start line where the registration desk was to collect our number and timing chip. After clarifying where the course went I commenced pretty swiftly on a 2 3/4 mile warm up which basically consisted of running the majority of the course.

Although pancake flat it was soon evident that the limiting factor for blazing quick times was the requirement to negotiate three U turns on a footpath not that wide, which would cost several seconds each. There was also a large volume of detritus in the form of leaves and more concerning twigs and branches courtesy of some hefty winds sweeping through the area. I actually stopped several times to stop and clear the worst of the debris from the course, not particularly wanting to turn my ankle on an errant stick, which were none too visible with the street lighting set to economy barely lit romantic. The low lux levels also meant that the numerous tree roots that were lifting the pavement in places were hard to spot, all in all making the desire to run full pelt unattractive. A saving grace was that the breezy conditions were as a result of some mild air blowing in, making the December race feel more like a September evening run, albeit with the constant threat of rain with the ominous looking clouds covering the sky.

Once the warm up was done there was a short briefing which mainly appealed to those taking part to be aware that runners would be heading along the course in both directions and to stick to the right hand side of the path. We lined up and with the minimum of fanfare was set off on our way. Despite not going full gas from the gun I found myself in the lead and within a couple of hundred metres had just two sitting on my tail.

Less than half a mile into the race we made the first U turn and headed back towards the start line. Things got a little hairy here for a fair few of the 100 or so racing had clearly not heard or decided not to heed the advice to stay on the right side of the path and I had to get a bit animated to implore them to move out of the way or risk a head on collision…. Once past the start line this became less of an issue, although we did have regular pedestrians and non racing runners to contend with at times.

I went through the opening mile in 5:31 and made the second U turn to head back past the start line and further out along Victoria Embankment (As far as you can go before needing to cross a road). By now even though we were only a third of the way through the race it was very much a two horse affair. It was abundantly clear that my shadow Patrick Townsend was totally unwilling to help with the pace and was quite happy to stick right behind me. At another race on a different day I  may well have employed some classic tactics to encourage my opponent to share the load – slowing down, speeding up, weaving from side to side, coming to a stop (this happened to me once!) verbal abuse encouragement etc.  I did consider this but given that the path was narrow, the conditions underfoot were not great, and I wasn’t actually that bothered about the outcome of the race, I decided to suck it and lead the race out, giving Patrick a free ride in my slipstream.

The second mile was a bit slower (5:36) partly due to it being mostly into the wind. It wasn’t long before we made our final U turn and headed for the near mile long drag to the finish. I was spurred on somewhat by passing club mates coming in the other direction, offering encouragement aware that I was leading the race. I continued to lead the race until there was around 300 meters to go when Patrick meekly moved out from my backside and onto my shoulder.

He accelerated hard and he disappeared into the distance. I offered absolutely no resistance – I had no interest in sprinting hard for victory, especially as I was running the Keyworth Turkey Trot in under 72 hours time. I just about saw him cross the finish line, arms aloft in 17:01. I came in fifteen seconds later having run 5:34 for the final mile, content with second place and a reasonable finishing time.

I quickly went back to the course to cheer home all the GRC finishers. I eschewed the warm down for the picking up of two bottles of wine at the presentation of prizes – the first for finishing second and the other for winning the team competition. We also received some of the most ridiculously oversized medals in relation to the size of race we had just taken part in. It makes my London Marathon medal look tiny in comparison!

GRC Bring Home The Wine!

With that it was time to drive home, happy to have raced and finished second, not overly disappointed that I hadn’t signed up to take part in the remaining two races in the series.

Race number 12 of the year done, just one more to go!

 

 

Race Report – North Midlands Cross Country League – Shipley Country Park – Saturday 1st December 2019.

Flushed from the ‘success’ of a top five finish at the Lincs League XC I headed to Shipley Country Park near Heanor on Saturday 1st December for the third race of the North Midlands Cross Counrty League and my only participation in the 2018-19 series.

The trip to the park west of Nottingham was nearly as arduous as the race itself, the roads packed with Christmas shoppers on what is apparently the busiest shopping weekend of the year. It meant that I arrived pretty late, struggling to find anywhere to park within half a mile of the venue. The jog from the car park to where GRC were kind of meeting up was my warm up – most of the rest of it was spent queuing for the toilet (note the singular…).  Perhaps due to the length of the toilet queue – women’s especially, the timetable was running quite a few minutes late. I think there were more women in the toilet queue than on the start line when they were meant to be departing!

The weather was threatening rain (the previous round had seen a near biblical storm at the start which produced a front cover photo winning rainbow) , but mercifully the clouds did not open and apart from a noticeable breeze the conditions were pretty good, certainly not that cold. The going underfoot was certainly not for trainers though. Having experimented with cross country spikes I reverted to my tried and tested Walshes, showing signs of wear and tear being 11 years old but still giving up plenty of grip in all but the muddiest of conditions.

My traditional tardy start bit me hard at Shipley Park. As many XC races do the course narrowed not long after the start. This race really narrowed to little more than single file, and I found myself stuck definitely outside the top 100 and behind most of my GRC club mates taking part. I was a bit annoyed but I didn’t panic, I knew that there would be opportunities to make up places later in the race.

That opportunity didn’t take too long, under half a mile into the race the path opened up and I was able to make up a considerable number of places, including all the GRC runners taking part. After that opening drama the race was fairly uneventful for me. I worked my way through the field – I don’t think anyone passed me which I was pleased with. I worked fairly hard but was limited by my lack of prowess on the muddy stuff especially. The course was  honest XC, the two lap course featured some short sharp hills, some twists and turns and variety in terrain.

Lap 2 lapping up the mud! Picture c/o Adrian Royle

My mile splits don’t make for exciting reading – the opening was a 6:21, mile 3 was the quickest at 6:06, and the slowest mile  was the fourth at 6:34 (This was also the hilliest). I finished 51st overall (8th in my age category) which I was pleased with given how much this is not my cup of tea. I met at the finish occasional training partner Jake Richardson who I was pleased to see won the race (and was pleased to have won the race) averaging 5:29 a mile – which is…. impressive. I could only manage a paltry 6:22. There were others who I have battled over the course of the year ahead of me too – Will Tucker of GAC and Luke Montgomery of Corby, who I beat to win the Two Counties Half Marathon. Both comfortably better than me once you take me off the road. Still I was glad to have taken part in a proper decent XC League race, well organised and with good levels of competition.

That was cross country done for 2018!

Race Report – Lincolnshire Cross Country League – Belton House – Sunday 18th Novemeber 2019.

Just three days after the Henlow 10 came the third round of the Lincolnshire Cross Country League. I have something of a reputation for hating cross country, it’s perhaps no surprise that in the five years of being a Grantham resident this was to be my debut in the Lincs XC League. It would probably not have happened either were the weather not fairly glorious for mid November and the venue was Belton House, just a couple of miles from home and very familiar to me as the host of Belton House parkrun.

Talking of parkrun, I warmed up for the cross country race by taking part in the parkrun on the Saturday morning. Running with my brother Joe I pleasingly had no ill effects from the 10 mile of racing at Henlow, finishing surprisingly fresh, first, in 17:25.

Sunday morning was sunny and breezy, the race kicking off at an early (for cross country) 10 am. As I do for parkrun my warm up was jogging the 2 1/2 miles or so to Belton House. I arrived not long before the start, no need to strip into kit for it had been warm enough to wear my GRC kit. No need either to put on spikes or trail shoes for the going underneath was good to solid, I wore my Hoka ATR Challengers – Clifton’s with the minimum of trail sole for a bit of grip. Truth be told I could have comfortably worn the regular Cliftons. This was the type of cross country course I liked – a bit lumpy, twisty in places but fundamentally mud free and more akin to running on road!

I haven’t run a Lincs League XC before but I’ve followed them closely enough to be aware that the depth isn’t quite at the levels of many (perhaps any) other cross league. With the odd exception the big players in the local running scene don’t take part. This does give the opportunity for a fairly high finishing position (as not that many take part) for even the most moderately talented cross country runner.

I’m known for making conservative starts and this race was no exception. I let the inevitable stampede gallop off into the distance safe in the knowledge I would pass most of them a minute or two up the hill on the course – a 90 second or so affair just steep enough to shatter the thresholds of most of the field.

The start of the race – I’m there somewhere. Picture c/o Penny Hodges

By the time we reached the top I was sixth. I settled in running the opening mile in 6:01 which took in running around the back of the Old Wood and plunging back down the other side of the hill onto the level, joining the parkrun course by the golf course, but running it in reverse. There was some confusion when we turned off the parkrun course through a section more regularly used at the House’s horse trials cross country course. A marshal gave confusing signals which briefly had us heading the wrong way before we were sent in the correct direction. This briefly boosted adrenaline levels – I quickly made up the little distance I lost to the fifth placed runner and passed him.

With the second mile covered in 5:47 I reached Lion Gates and headed on the lesser travelled footpath of Belton House. Here I could see the fourth placed runner someway in the distance but clearly slowing suffering an overly exuberant opening to the race. Mile 3 (5:48) saw us begin lap two. I reeled the fourth placed runner, a 20 second or so gap closed to nothing by the time we reached the hill for the second time. This young runner attempted to go with me up the hill but his effort was short lived and I soon pulled clear and into a safe fourth position. I could see the third placed runner in front of me – around 20 seconds ahead. He looked fairly strong. I could have given my absolute maximum to catch him but a lack of desire and ability meant that the gap only diminished slightly come the finish.

Mile 4 was another 6:01, mile 5 was 5:43 and the final 3/4s mile slowed a bit to 5:52 as I lost interest in catching third place and had the other issue of catching back markers in the men’s race, the junior races and the leaders of the women’s race (they like to have as many races taking place at once in Lincs League….)

I crossed the line a contented fourth, which is hilariously my best ever cross country finishing position since I won my sixth form school cross country title way back when I was young enough to be in school. Young Will Tucker of Grantham AC was the winner, Iain Bailey, who I beat at Henlow on Thursday, got his revenge over me by finishing second here, followed by Chris Cope in third.

I cheered home a few of my club mates then jogged home. As races go fairly uneventful!