Race Report – Newton’s Fraction Half Marathon – Sunday 5th March 2017

Returning to the scene of my best ever race (I finished second in 2016), the 2017 Newton’s Fraction Half Marathon was an eagerly anticipated affair. Looking at the entry list beforehand I knew the chances of going one better or even equaling my performance were slim as the 2016 winner Adam Holland was back to defend his title, as was 2015 victor Ian Bailey. Still, on occasion, I allowed myself to dream what if they didn’t turn up? what if they had a bad race? Could I possibly win?!

Pre race training was a mixed bag. Beset by a succession of colds and a lingering chest infection that may or may not have been caused or aggravated or prolonged by possible over training, there was a nagging knowing that I went into the race just a touch below 100%. The long runs had been really good, many interspersed with a mid run parkrun, the longest being 24 miles. The marathon paced runs had been reasonable, but they and many of the bike rides I went on felt as though there wasn’t much more to give beyond the Zone 3 HR limits these efforts entailed. Running up hills and cycling up them at any great effort felt particularly arduous.

At least I wasn’t going into the race injured, even if I did try my best slipping on an icy bridge while on an early morning run earlier in the week. The right hip was a bit bruised and sore but didn’t appear to affect my running. I enjoyed something of an easy week, resting up completely the day before the race.

Race day dawned cloudy but the fear was that the weather would take a turn for the worse some time around the planned start time of 10:30am. I enjoyed the luxury of living within a warm up from the race HQ, warming up at home and jogging the two miles to the start. That jog felt easy enough but the heart rate was really high – nerves perhaps. I took that as a positive, proof that I was up for this race. Still dry, if breezy, it felt fairly warm. I opted to jettison the tights, going for shorts, long socks, long sleeved top and gloves combo.

Then, around 45 minutes before the start, the rain began to fall. Icy cold rain. Buckets of it. Relentlessly, driven in by a cold stiff wind. People did their best to seek shelter. It all got quite crowded, so I popped over to the leisure center where I could finish getting changed in the comfort of not that many people being around. I made a last minute decision to add a hat to the apparel. Unfortunately I chose not to put on the tights, a decision I think I came to regret.

Grandstand makes for refuge shelter. Picture c/o Gordon Geach.

Ten minutes before the start and there was no eagerness from anyone to head to the start line, the same with five minutes to go. I opted to run around the track and seek shelter in the grandstand, an option that soon became quite popular. The start time came and went, no sign of the starter, runners making their way in dribs and drabs to the grandstand. As I stood shivering with the rain showing no sign of abating, any pre-race nerves were replaced with apathy, a distinct lack of desire to subject myself to a freezing cold soaking. The only solace was that it appeared that no-one else seemed that determined to race, as no-one volunteered themselves to head to the start line until they were ushered to do so by the race starter.

No enthusiasm to join the start line as heavy rain falls. Picture c/o Gordon Geach.

Despite lack of enthusiasm I was one of the first onto the race track for the start, lining up on the inside of lane one. The pre-race formalities was mercifully brief save for a countdown that the starter insisted on being from ten to zero, much to the mirth of the drowning rats in lycra.

The start of the 2017 Newton’s Fraction Half Marathon. Picture c/o Gordon Geach
The start of the 2017 Newton’s Fraction Half Marathon. Picture c/o Graeme Jones

Finally off,  I made a brisk start and, thanks to being on the inside of the bend, briefly led as we exited the stadium, thankful that the rain that had been lashing into our faces on the start line, was now pushing us along as a tail wind.

The start of the 2017 Newton’s Fraction Half Marathon. Picture c/o Gordon Geach

That brief moment of euphoria leading the race, as I did in 2016 was even briefer than 12 months earlier and ended in farce. Exiting the stadium we were confronted by two young boys wandering across our paths. In a split second decision, I and a few others chose to veer to the right, while the majority veered to the left. Those who veered left thankfully told those who veered right were heading in the wrong direction! I only lost four or five seconds but it cost me precious momentum and several places.

I didn’t have time to rue the lack of marshaling to prevent such an occurrence, I put my head down and tried to make up the places I had lost. The first mile heading to Barrowby was 5:39 which was pretty much bang on what I was hoping for, but already the first two – Adam and Ian, were well out of sight. A quick count up the road saw that I was sixth. On the second mile heading down the Drift towards the canal I passed the fifth place runner. Into the headwind he latched onto my heels and stuck to them. Into the headwind I was a bit perturbed by this but as we headed to the canal path and enjoyed a tail wind and a lessening of the rain, I was not upset that he didn’t want to help with the pace. The canal path was probably the wettest it has ever been when I’ve run along it, more puddles than solid ground it seemed, and I was grateful to have clear line of sight as I attempted to keep the fourth placed runner in check.

Splashing along the canal path. Picture c/o organisers.
Splashing along the canal path. Picture c/o organisers.

What was obvious to me now was that my heart rate was some way short of where I’d expect it during a half marathon, seeming to settle at or ever so slightly above my marathon heart rate. I was struggling to keep warm – my quads especially cold, I was struggling to maintain enthusiasm for the race and, moreover, the signs in recent training that the colds and chest infection were affecting the top 1% of my fitness were being borne out. The splits was between 5:40 and 5:50, which was okay given the conditions, but a little slower than perhaps I would have liked and certainly much slower than in 2016, when I was edging towards 5:30 on the canal path.

After three miles of canal path we exited at the Dirty Duck pub in Woolsthorpe. This was a key moment as the guy who had stuck to my heels failed to negotiate the treacherously slippery muddy exit around the style. I had learnt my lesson from the icy bridge on Wednesday and took extreme care. He went into the corner a little more aggressively and paid the price – a loud groan and soft thud I heard as he went down – thankfully without damage and without too much time lost. I pressed on, knowing that the first of the course’s main challenges – Woolsthorpe Hill lay just ahead.

Knowing the hill and its profile well I adopted a steady pace and went about getting up it with as little energy expended as possible. As in 2016 I didn’t think I was particularly effective up the hill, but I was able to close down the 15 or so second gap on the fourth placed runner and passed him two thirds of the way up the hill. I also managed to aggravate my left hip flexor, which loosened off a touch on the resultant downhill but never felt great for the remainder of the race.

As in 2016, the normal prevailing wind which blows you most of the way from Woolsthorpe to home was blowing in a near opposite direction, which meant that the normally quick run down to Denton was made much tougher, especially as there was little prospect of sheltering behind another runner. The third placed man was someway up the road, All I had to do was consolidate my fourth place with some steady running, which I did with a set of sub 5:50 miles through to mile ten and the approach to the stiffest challenge on the course – Casthorpe Hill.

Not quite as comfortably fourth as I thought. Picture c/o race organisers.

Before the climb itself there was a large ford to navigate as the road had flooded. I managed to get through unscathed, but the feet once again got a good soaking. I had a quick look back at the base of the hill and realised that the gap from me to those behind was far less than I had expected. Given that the climb of the hill felt truly horrible and an effort to even remain running as I neared the top, I felt sure that I would be caught. As it turned out, however bad I felt, it wasn’t as bad as those behind me for I would end up with the fastest time of the day on the Strava segment for the entire hill (most of the top ten are on Strava).

As I topped the hill and knew it was pretty much downhill all the way from Barrowby back to the Meres Leisure Centre, it was simply a case of ignoring the headwind and keeping things steady to the finish. The climbing of the hill had doubled my gap to the fifth placed runner, there was no chance of him catching me barring disaster. Last year when I entered the stadium I was also fourth, but the closeness of the race meant a sprint finish saw me come home second just behind Adam the winner. This year Adam had long since finished victorious in a big new PB of 1:12, Ian Bailey second in almost exactly the same time I ran in 2016, and David Greenwood was third forty seconds clear of myself, who finished in 1:18:01, a sub 78 clocking missed perhaps courtesy of waving and smiling a bit too much at my family who I spotted at the finish.

Coming into the finish, not really trying too hard! Picture c/o Gordon Geach.
Coming into the finish, not really trying too hard! Picture c/o Graeme Jones.

So it was not a podium finish, fourth and the solace of another V40 prize courtesy of the real first V40 finishing third. The race was something of a disappointment, it left some questions regarding my form which I hope are just a temporary blip caused by illness. The 2017 Fraction will not live as long in the memory as the 2016 edition, but, in reality third was probably the best I could have hoped for so it wasn’t a disaster by any means. I’m also feeling a lot fresher than I did after the 2016 race which I hope will see me in better shape come the London Marathon, which is the next target.


Race Report – Keyworth Turkey Trot – Sunday 11th December 2016

Unless there is a dramatic change of heart, the Keyworth Turkey Trot half marathon will be my last race of 2016. This is a much hyped race, entries opened one morning in late September and all 1000+ places were filled by the same evening. I entered on a whim, confident I could sell my place if I didn’t fancy racing it after all.

As the weeks went by I felt more compelled to give it a go, and so trained semi-specifically for it. I ran three short interval sessions (pretty much the first of the year aside from one at the very beginning) and a couple of quick tempo training runs before committing myself to base training (i.e. nothing hard or particularly fast) in preparation for the London Marathon in April. I’d done a couple of long runs with a parkrun stuck in the middle, a long run on the hilly Newton’s Fraction half marathon course and three Tuesday evening runs containing the same killer hill at Great Gonerby. This was all done with the knowledge that the Turkey Trot is an undulating race with one stiff climb in particular – at around three miles.

Injury wise I was fairly clear of anything major – the left Achilles is still nagging away but continues to show every indication it is a calf issue. I’ve had a problem with a tendon aching on the top of the left foot – caused by overly tight laces on one run. It’s been tricky, but I’ve been able to continue running with some readjustment of laces and sticking with a couple of pairs of trainers that hurt less than the others. The cramp sensations I’ve been suffering at random periods for much of the past two years are much diminished – all but disappeared since I began having some regular physio to establish the cause of them. Early days yet but the suspicion is it is a significant lack of any mobility in the thoracic spine and other issues regarding flexibility in the hip and pelvis area. A daily dose of specific stretches and mobility exercises have appeared to work wonders. So it was I went into the race fairly confident I would last without cramping up or suffering with bad Achilles pain. I was though fighting the inevitable colds that are flying around town and being brought en masse by my youngest daughter. Come race day however I was pretty much bug free.

A pleasant feature of the Keyworth Turkey Trot is the relatively late start – 10:30am. I doubt this is to let runners enjoy a pre-Christmas lie-in. The reality is more likely to give any overnight ice and frost the chance to melt away. Thankfully after a day of heavy rain on the Saturday, Sunday awoke dry and with fairly pleasant temperatures for running – around 8C – albeit with a slightly annoying breeze. I awoke at the normal hour for a Sunday, had breakfast, the coffee, grabbed as much Match of the Day I could before setting off for the 40 minute journey to Keyworth.

I made it to one of three car parks (all with postcodes provided and walking distance to race HQ on the pre-race instructions – a great touch) with over 90 minutes to spare. This guaranteed a seat in the school hall used as Headquarters for the race. I went about preparing for the race, taking a risk with the Nike Frees as the last time I tried to wear them they were too painful on the foot tendon – but today they felt fine. I had the chance to chat with a few guys and gals from Belvoir Tri Club, who had appeared in huge numbers for this race, before bidding adieu and setting off on an uneventful warm up and a queue for the toilets, which was long, but well managed by race crew.

The plan had been for a pre-race Grantham Running Club group photo but this never quite materialised due to people queuing for baggage, toilets, warming up etc. I’m never a big fan of the pre-race photo, I’d rather be concentrating on the race, so ten minutes before the off and with a last minute trip to the loo required, I declared the pre-race photo postponed until after the race. I joined the front of the race with five minutes to spare, the race looked like it was going to go off early until someone on a walkie-talkie reigned in the enthusiasm of the starter and insisted it go off on time.

The start of the Keyworth Turkey Trot, held on Sunday December 11th 2016.
Lining up for the start. I’m behind runner 1112. Photo c/o John Oldfield.

So at the prescribed time of 10:30 we were off. A key feature of the Keyworth Turkey Trot is the lightening fast start. The opening of the race is downhill and regularly sees runners hurtling off way faster than any pace they can maintain. A sting follows almost immediately with a drag uphill of around the same length before the race calms down on a section of flat before another downhill stretch as the local church is passed and Keyworth is departed. Much of the first three miles is downhill, albeit fairly gently. It is usually time to bank some seconds but at the same time being careful to not get too over exuberant and run faster than the descent allows for.

The start of the race.
The start of the race. Photo c/o John Oldfield.

I had a fairly mediocre start to the race. My legs took a few minutes to come to life and a mile or so before the left Achilles stopped aching. The field soon became quite spread out with a rapid bunch of runners quickly disappearing into the distance. I went through the opening mile in 5:38, which I knew was eight seconds down on 2013, when I ran the race for the first and only time. The second mile saw me employ some tactics. We were heading west, into the not stiff, but noticeable breeze. I had two runners behind me who were clearly taking shelter behind me, so I slowed until they were forced to take the pace. I tucked in behind them. This wasn’t particularly comfortable as I was chopping my stride a bit but I reckoned the protection could help later in the race energy wise. I went through the second mile in 5:45 compared to 5:40 in 2013. Back then I was setting off at PB speed, this year I knew I was already a bit off PB shape, but looking forward to another solid race.

At the two mile point we turned left and the headwind was a crosswind negated by tree cover. Instinctively I pulled out from the two in front of me and put in a little surge. One was able to follow, the other began to drift. I knew from experience in 2013 that there would be a pair of hills just before and just after three miles which would further shape the outcome of the race. Not caring about drafting I pushed on and focused on catching the couple of runners ahead of me.

The first hill came at just before the end of the third mile, I felt strong and clocked 5:57, comparing favourably to the 6:09 I set in 2013. Back then at this point I’d began to feel decidedly dodgy and suffered badly on the second hill – which felt as though it was one of the toughest I’d ever encountered. This time around the hill was a challenge but felt relatively easy, certainly easier than the local Grantham favourites Casthorpe and Woolsthorpe. It seems that the three and a bit years of Granthams’ hills have weathered the legs well in coping with elevation. I passed the two runners ahead of me – but was a little perturbed that another runner passed me as we neared the top of the climb.

Chasing the runner who was quicker than me on the main hill.
Chasing the runner who was quicker than me on the main hill. Photo c/o Neil Rabbitts.

The hill came and ended early on during the fourth mile. The pace for that mile averaged around 6:55, so I knew that I’d have to forget about recovery and put in some effort to get that average down. Thankfully that was made easier by chasing down the guy who’d passed me on the hill. Once I caught him we actually worked together for a bit taking the pace. He appeared to be working hard so I reckoned eventually he would tire, but for now he was useful company. The fourth mile was the slowest of the race – 6:03, but that was ten seconds quicker than in 2013.

The next few miles were fairly unremarkable. We passed through a couple of pleasant villages where there was great support, and a few other places with small pockets of spectators, otherwise there wasn’t much to entertain other than the aim of getting to the finish as quickly as possible. The fifth mile was a quick 5:35 (5:45 in 2013), the sixth was slower at 5:55 (6:00 in 2013), but the constant elevation changes made consistent pacing tricky. The seventh mile was 5:51 (5:52 in 2013) and it was here my mind got a little confused as the rolling hills I’d remembered as being at around 10 miles were evidently three miles earlier than the brain had processed them as being. It may have temporarily forgotten two miles or so, but the memory of a very pleasant gently descending stretch of road came flooding back.

Pulling clear of my hill nemesis. Picture c/o Neil Rabbitts.
Pulling clear of my hill nemesis. Picture c/o Neil Rabbitts.

By now I had pulled slightly clear of the runner who’d passed me on the hill and I was chasing two runners in front of me. Mile 8 was 5:45 (5:51 in 2013) and mile 9 was 5:40 (a swift 5:32 in 2013). As we came to a small village where Keyworth Rugby Club were playing, I feared the sight of a whacking great hill. Fortunately we turned right and along a stretch of flat road I knew would lead to a left hand turn and the final hills of the race. As we did I caught one of the two runners in front of me, just as we were cheered on by his (heavily pregnant) wife sporting a helium balloon for the husband who was celebrating his birthday with a rather swift half marathon. Sadly for him I was offering no gifts and I passed him as we turned left, faced the headwind, once again, and began climbing.

The tenth mile was 5:48 (5:45 in 2013). I now began pushing to try and put a gap on the birthday boy who was proving stronger than his slight fade a few moments earlier had suggested. This last hill was a real pain – not particularly steep and with a brief descent in the middle, but seemingly going on forever. Still mile 11 was 5:57 (6:04 in 2013), and I knew that most of the way to the finish was downhill. I pushed on hard, fearful that I would be caught, but now my left hip and groin were giving a few aches, so I was tempered a touch. The 12th mile was another 5:57 (6:02 in 2013). The first half of the last mile was all downhill and quite steep in places. This though was almost a hindrance as it caused a little cramping in the left quad. Thankfully the descent ended and the cramp desisted and I pushed on, still thinking I had a runner right behind me.

The end of the Turkey Trot was a killer in 2013, an ill-timed hill right near the finish put pay to a chance of a PB. This year I felt stronger and knowing there would be a hill, better prepared. I didn’t know it at the time but I climbed that hill only a few seconds slower than the winner which is fairly satisfying. I logged a 5:37 for the final mile (5:41 in 2013), and with a glance at the watch knew I was going to beat 1:17.

On the finishing straight. Picture c/o John Oldfield.
On the finishing straight. Picture c/o John Oldfield.

I crossed the line in 1:16:45, unaware of my finishing position (It was eighth), but made immediately aware that I had won the prize as first veteran finisher! I knew what was coming! First I received my multi-tool medal from Santa himself. I quickly got changed and got out just in time to photo most of the GRC runners coming to the finish line. Star of the day was SJ who knocked an impressive four minutes off her PB. I had little doubt she’d do well having struggled to chase her down on the way to Belton House parkrun a few weeks earlier!

SJ heading to the finish.
SJ heading to the finish.

With all the GRC runners in there was finally chance for the obligatory group photo:

The GRC Group Photo.
The GRC Group Photo.

Then there was a bit of hanging around for the prize ceremony. Kudos to my team mates for hanging around, even if one had to disappear for what appeared an inordinately long time sorting out their dodgy guts! As has been pointed out I’ve received my share of odd prizes recently. This may not quite have topped the slap of stilton, but the frozen turkey is certainly a prize that would be mostly wholly inappropriate at any other time of year – but at this time was most warmly received – Christmas dinner is sorted!

First the glass presented... Picture c/o Neil Rabbitts.
First the glass presented… Picture c/o Neil Rabbitts.
Me and the turkey! Picture c/o SJ Willis.
Me and the turkey! Picture c/o SJ Willis.

With that the day was done and home we headed. All in all a good day’s work. Very pleased to have broken 77 minutes for the half, especially as the average HR was 3-5 beats lower than it usually was. I didn’t push full gas, that’s for sure, yet managed a respectable time. With Christmas fast approaching it’s back to base training preparing for the London Marathon. Next race (Hopefully) the Folksworth 15.

Race Report – Ikano Robin Hood Half Marathon – Sunday 25th September 2016

Certainly my biggest frustration of 2016 has been my lack of racing – mostly though lack of opportunities through clashes with work / holidays etc.. I had been targeting an autumn half marathon ever since March. Ideally I wanted a fast flat race but all the tempting ones clashed with Formula One races, and I was basically left with the Robin Hood Half Marathon.

If the race was held on the 2012-14 course, I would have had no qualms over entering. The course was fast and, save for a couple of minor rises, pretty flat too. The issue for the organisers, so they claim, is that the race wasn’t pretty enough. Runners, it seemed, weren’t enamoured with navigating their way through Boots HQ so, for 2015, the course was changed so, you were led to believe, to bring runners more of the sights of Nottingham.

Apparently those sights were also not that well received, for in 2016 it was announced the course would be changed again. The 2015 course didn’t go down too well, from what I heard, because the fast, flat course had been replaced with a slower, hillier one. Ominously the organisers didn’t promise a faster, flatter course for 2016, just more sights for the runner to enjoy. A quick scan of the course and it was clear to see that the hills remained – especially in the opening few miles. At the end of the day though, if I wanted to enter an autumn half marathon, this basically had to be it. Plus the race had its benefits: it’s close to home; it was awarded the status of being the British Athletics National Half Marathon Championships; and being the fifth time I’ve entered the race, it is now my second most visited half marathon (only Reading, with six appearances, is more popular).

I trained for this race, but didn’t really train in a structured manner for it. I used the three weeks of holiday runs to get some solid mileage in – there was no interval or hill sessions, but there was a fair amount of quicker running and in some parts of the country, certainly some hills to be run up and down. On my return from holiday I shared the running with plenty of cycling, partly out of enjoyment, but also because my left Achilles was beginning to ache during every run. I’m fairly sure it was a legacy of the blistering that occurred during the holidays. I could run through the discomfort, but was aware that it was, in classic Achilles style, just getting a little bit worse with every run.

I had no pre-Robin Hood races to gauge my fitness, but I had the impression I was in pretty good shape. There was a ‘Straight outta bed’ run on a Saturday morning after a hard spin session the evening before, which was ten and a half miles covered in 65 minutes, with the final six miles run at comfortably under six minutes per mile. There was a club 20 minute distance trial where I ran a part solo 17:17 5k on a canal trail path before getting quicker for the final three minutes, and there was the cycling efforts that showed I was doing well in that discipline. There was though a mediocre parkrun where the Achilles pain was too much to extend the run after, and the unavoidable truth that I had to miss ten days of running after the parkrun in the immediate buildup to the race to rest the Achilles. It was only a late fitness test that made me comfortable that I could race with the Achilles aching, in the knowledge I would have to rest and fix it after.

Another slight issue was a little bit of illness in the three days up to the race. It wasn’t enough to see me retire to my sick bed, but enough to fell a little sub-par and reluctant to want to exercise (Which is usually a sign of being ill in my books….) I did consider scratching from the race, but I decided to go along and give it a go, happy in the knowledge I could jog if things felt bad, or even pull out if necessary.

The morning was wet after heavy overnight rain, but by the time I reached Nottingham – over two hours before the start of the race, it was dry, but overcast. With time to kill I had a little walk around the race village, before stretching and heading out on a 1 1/2 mile warm up. Warm ups aren’t always the best indicator of how a race is going to go, but this raised a few alarms: the Achilles was pretty good – just a little ache for a minute before disappearing – but the heart rate was high, and the legs felt heavy, especially when I tried to pick up the pace.

With just over an hour to the start, I made a trip to the Portaloo, then found some Grantham Running Club friends, some who were taking part in the half and in the full marathon. We posed for a photo at 8:45 before I got changed into my race kit and headed to another Portaloo queue. Thankfully this trip was just a nice to have visit rather than a dire necessity, because after 20 minutes of queuing it was obvious I wasn’t going to make it to the start in time if I hung around much longer.

Me, Nick, Andy, and Paul, before the start of the race. Robin Hood Half Marathon, Nottingham, Sunday 25th September 2016.
Me, Nick, Andy, and Paul, before the start of the race.

I jogged over to the start – vaulting the barriers somewhere near the start line to be just behind the elite runners. I had no qualms in doing this – the organisers had made the elite field sub 70 minutes (There weren’t that many of them) then made the next pen 74 minutes to 1 hour 40 minutes. I knew that if I started at the back of that pen any chances of a good result would be over, especially as positions for the championship race were to be based on gun position, rather than chip.

It was a long eight minute wait before the start but, on time at 9:30, the horn was fired and we were off. Happily it didn’t take long to get up to speed and dodge the few runners who had no right to be so close to the front. Sadly after less than a minute I knew that my legs were not going to have the best possible day – they were heavy and felt lifeless. Moreover the heart rate was showing some alarmingly erratic figures, some were very high, but not so high as to assume it was a dodgy reading. In hindsight, I think it was just a case of dry, slightly loose strap, as it gave more assuring figures after a couple of miles, but as I went into the race with concerns over carrying a virus of some sorts, it didn’t inspire me with any confidence to want to go out and race hard.

So with less than a mile covered I made the decision I wasn’t going to race flat out. I was to race conservatively and see how I felt later in the race as to whether I would push on. The start of the race was familiar to years past as we skirted the city center. Mile 1 was clocked at 5:46. The second mile saw us leave the course of yesteryear and it degenerated rapidly. We endured a hefty climb containing some wet, slippery, cobblestones where, I’m guessing, we were meant to be enjoying the sight of a castle which couldn’t be seen. The second mile was clocked at 6:04, although Strava GAP states it was worth a 5:44, so steady effort was maintained.

The third mile was quite possibly one of the strangest I’ve ever raced in – certainly in a ‘big city’ race. It was entirely run on residential roads, twisting and turning what felt constantly with no real direction nor purpose. It also did a fair amount of climbing, which dispirited me somewhat, and I know quite a few others too. By now I was past caring what time I was going to run and was just focusing on staying steady and relaxed. The good news was that there was no left Achilles ache at all and the heavy legs were no less or more heavy than when we started. Garmin clicked over through the third mile at a slow 6:12; when Strava adjusts it, it was worth 5:33, so quietly I was working a little harder than I thought.

Mile 4, and at least we were back on wider open roads. We swept mostly downhill in a not particularly pleasing way for someone who was concerned for his Achilles, but still all was good. What wasn’t good was the water that was handed out. The organisers have persisted with the pouches rather than tried and tested water bottles. I think they are next to useless. They are really hard to get any water out of and impossible to pour over your head / wrists / legs etc.. They were lucky it wasn’t especially hot. If Jonny Brownlee were given these at the recent Mexico triathlon rather than water bottles, I fear he may not be around to tell his tale. At the next stop I squeezed the bottle hard to try and increase the flow – it exploded in my hand! Thankfully the runner I was with offered me his.

Mile 4 was a rapid 5:34 (But only 6:01 on GAP). Mile 5 had us running through a university campus and it became apparent we would be running back down the other side of the road in a few miles time. The course was beginning to smack of attempting to minimise the number of roads closed and to use quieter roads whenever possible. This is fine, but when you are paying a premium price to enter a race and it is declared the National Championships, I kind of hope and expect for something a little better, and more interesting.

What also wasn’t good for such a large race was that, had I gone by official splits rather than using my Garmin, I would have covered the fifth mile in a shade under four minutes! When the sixth mile also had us over a third of a mile short, I literally began to question with other runners whether we were taking on a short course. I’d overheard officials before the start stating the course had only just received its measurement certificate and I did wonder with all the twists and turns whether we had been inadvertently sent the wrong way at some point. All this didn’t really help with the concentrating on the race at hand. On my Garmin mile 5 was a 5:42 and mile 6 was a 5:58, but this featured a nice little climb through Wollaton park, which really was pleasant as we were lined by cheering spectators all the way up – cycle race style. The lack of crowd support was a feature of the race, which was a shame, because where there were pockets of supporters, they were loud and appreciated greatly.

I had run the past two miles with just one other runner who was happy to sit on my tail for the most part. We had one more distinctive course feature to navigate in the form of some gates on a path in the park which were locked and we were forced to take to the grass to circumnavigate. Coupled with some low tree branches tree routes, these were obstacles we could have done without, but they were safely passed. The seventh mile saw us leave the park and, thankfully, the official mile splits tallied again with the Garmin, clocking a 5:50. Our group of two caught another group of two and then one more runner so we formed a group of five.

Here I went into full race mode rather than chase a time mode so, when the wind was in our faces I slowed and slipped to the back to take shelter, when we had a tailwind I moved to the front to show that I was helping with the work. Mile 8 was a 5:39, but with mile 9 mostly into a headwind and also with a tight U-turn to tackle, the pace slowed to 5:47. It was here my left Achilles began to ache a bit. It wasn’t enough to slow me, and at times I felt nothing at all. The massage and stretching I’d done since a fairly painful run on the Thursday had done wonders to see no pain at all for 8 miles.

I sat in with the group, running well within myself, the heart rate suggested I was generally around 4-5 bpm below what I’d try and run a full gas half marathon at. Completing the tenth mile (another 5:47) we had another tight hairpin to negotiate.  It was here we could see runners ahead and behind us. I wasn’t surprised to see Adam Holland (Newton’s Fraction half winner (among many other achievements, one of which the Hull Marathon a week before Robin Hood) around two minutes ahead of me. I couldn’t work out if he was running the half or full marathon – it turned out he was running the full marathon, which he won. I spotted a familiar face a minute or so behind me – it was the runner I pipped to second position at the Newton’s Fraction.This actually gave me some encouragement that I wasn’t racing too badly.

What also spurred me on was that, as we began to gently climb, I recognised the new course rejoining the old one. With some mental maths and a little guesswork, I figured that the course would remain the same as it used to, albeit with the loop on the Victoria Embankment cut out. This was confirmed when we hit the top of the rise, ran down a little hill to a familiar roundabout and took a right down Castle Boulevard. Although this mile was actually slightly slower than the past two (5:48), it was sufficient to see me edge away slightly from the rest of the group.

As we took a right into Wilford Street we were hit with another little rise and a headwind. I also had two runners ahead who I was catching. Feeling strong I pushed on again, passing them and setting my sights on some more ahead. Thankfully we quickly turned left after the bridge so we lost the headwind. The twelfth mile was a 5:32, the fastest of the race and what I think was an indicator of the kind of pace I may have been able to maintain had I felt 100% and if the course was fast and flat.

The final full mile saw me pass one more runner early in the mile then it went a bit quiet as we headed back towards Victoria Embankment. As we were guided right to not take the full marathon course I closed on one more runner. He looked a little older than me. I passed him and put some distance on him. I closed on one of the lead female athletes as we turned right onto the grass finish. Mile 13 was 5:45. Happy I wasn’t going to be passed by any runner behind, I held station as we crossed the finish line. I glanced at my watch – 1:16:33. Not my quickest, but as I felt barely out of breath, especially with those who finished around me, I quickly concluded it was probably my easiest sub 1:18 half marathon to date.

My immediate post race thoughts were that I was content with the performance but frustrated with the hilly, twisty course, and not feeling great – especially in the opening miles. I think had these factors been different, a PB could have been on the cards. As it was I quickly returned to my car to partly change, before heading back to the finish to see home my GRC colleagues in the half marathon.

(L to R): Me with Nick and Andy after the race.
(L to R): Me with Nick and Andy after the race.

And with that photo taken I headed home, glad to be missing the traffic out of Victoria Embankment. There was no news of any results until later that evening when the Nottingham Post produced some results – I was apparently 32nd. A little lower than in previous years, but to be expected given it was a championship race.

The next morning and I was just preparing a little piece for the club to send to the local paper. I looked at the official website for the provisional results and they were there. Gun position was an improvement – I was now 29th. Age category: third! That was a complete surprise! I checked the full results to confirm it. The first V40 had run 1:09, the second 1:13. The guy I had passed in the final half mile – he was a V45 and would, I think, have taken my place as third V40 had I not passed him. This made the effort of catching him particularly satisfying! The £50 of vouchers should also be satisfying, if and when I get them!

Future plans? A break from running, likely to be three weeks, to let the Achilles sort itself out. I hope to do at least one Duathlon this autumn and then I’ve entered the Turkey Trot Half Marathon in December. Hopefully I can find one or two other races too, but this is all dependent on fixing the old heel…





Race Report – Newton’s Fraction Half Marathon – Grantham – Sunday 13 March 2016.

Those who have read the weekly training log for the week will know there was a real dilemma over whether to race the Fraction or take part in the Witham Wheelers Reliability Ride. I guess the title gives the decision away, but it wasn’t a clear cut decision.

I woke at 7am and headed downstairs to have a coffee and breakfast as I do when I ride. I had a full bowl of cereal, something I wouldn’t do normally when racing, and headed upstairs to get changed into my cycling gear. As I climbed up the stairs I did a set of eccentric calf raises and drops. Since the massage on Thursday I’ve been doing 100+ of them daily as I was trying to do some of the things I’ve done over the past six months that may have helped ease the pain in the calf and help me run. Through Friday and a lot of Saturday when I was doing them I was getting an intense burning sensation running up from the calf, up the hamstring and into the glute. This to me gave an indication that there was some nerve irritation going on, as I was getting no similar sensation in the other calf.

After parkrun on the Saturday I massaged the right hip and glute with a hockey ball as suggested by my massage guru David. Previous to his massage on Thursday this produced little in the way of relief or sensation, but today, probably as a result of the tear inducing work he performed on Thursday night, I was able to get a real sensation of things moving, shifting, releasing, unsticking. That evening when I did the calf raises and drops there was less of a burning sensation than before.

That set of raises and drops on the Sunday morning produced nothing but a deep stretch – just as they should. No burning, no pain. Wondering whether this would translate into a positive feeling when running, I quickly ditched the cycling clothes, grabbed some shorts and a running top, pulled on my trainers (making sure the Garmin was on and satellites locked….) and headed outside for a quick impromptu jog up and down the road. To my surprise there was little or no discomfort in the calf. I did another couple of minutes running. Still nothing. I did another minute or so to make it a mile, picking up the pace to something close to race pace. Zilch. By now it was too late to ride with the Wheelers. There was no pain. It was written in the stars. I was going to race!

Being a 10:30 start and it being a mere couple of miles from home, I now had an hour or so to kill. I spent the time wisely, stretching and some gentle massage. Plenty of positive vibes coming from the calf and hip. I left the house at 9:20 to allow myself an hour before the race. The venue – the Meres Leisure Center – is where I use the gym so it is like a second home. There was to be no stress before the race. Familiar faces as I collected my race number, some surprise from those who I’d told I definitely wasn’t racing.

It would have been easy to have got too relaxed, so I headed away from HQ and did my warm up alone to focus on the race. A mile and a bit of easy running. A slight ache in the calf, but very slight. I trusted the compression socks and placebo tape would hold everything in place when the going got tough. Spotting the queue for the toilets at the track were long, I took advantage of my gym pass to use the deserted ones in the leisure center. I arrived back at the track for a hasty Grantham Running Club team photograph (I would be wearing their top over the Kenilworth Runners T-Shirt in an attempt to show allegiance to both my running clubs), said my farewells to the family, who had come to cheer me on, then went for one more toilet break just to calm the nerves.

Some of the GRC runners before the start of the race. Picture c/o Gordon Geach.
Some of the GRC runners before the start of the race. Picture c/o Gordon Geach.

I arrived at the start with two minutes to spare – perfect timing. I took my place near the front of the field and waited for the countdown, which were ten of the longest seconds ever counted down.

The start of the race. Picture c/o Gordon Geach
The start of the race. Picture c/o Gordon Geach

The horn sounded and we were off. Full of adrenaline at my home race I went off a little too enthusiastically and found myself leading briefly as we left the stadium. I glanced at my watch and realised I’d set off at sub five minute mile pace. I’m not Aaron Scott so I reduced my effort and allowed the pre-race favourite, Adam Holland, to take the lead. He was joined by James Skinner, a runner I wasn’t familiar with. As we turned left and headed towards Barrowby I sat a comfortable third. The legs, quads especially, began to feel a touch heavy. I lamented that spin / elliptical trainer session I did at the Meres a couple of days earlier. Thankfully after a mile or so the heaviness lifted and I felt full of running, although a little anxious that the watch clocked the first mile at 5:30 pace, more 5-10k sustainable pace than a half marathon.


Adam Holland leading the race. Picture c/o Paul Davidson
Adam Holland leading the race. Picture c/o Paul Davidson

I charged through Barrowby and towards the canal path in third place. The crowds were not exactly huge, more a smattering, but many knew who I was and were cheering me on in person. I cannot express how much of a boost this was. I was the local boy in third place, running for club and town.

Adam Holland leading into Barrowby. Picture c.o Graham Jones.
Adam Holland leading into Barrowby. Picture c.o Graham Jones.

I was running alone, with the leaders drifting ahead. For a minute or two I began to lose concentration, the race appearing as though it would be a typical time trial affair, with wide gaps between finishers near the front of the field. This was reflected in the second mile split – 5:49, although this was mostly uphill.

Heading into Barrowby. Picture c.o Graham Jones.
Heading into Barrowby. Picture c.o Graham Jones.

As we came down the drop at The Drift and onto the Canal Path I was caught and passed by Robert Windard and another runner. Robert was looking strong, especially on the downhill sections.

Robert Windard and others chasing me down. Picture c/o Graham Jones.
Robert Windard and others chasing me down. Picture c/o Graham Jones.

Oftentimes I would let other runners pull ahead and run my own race, often to heart rate. However today, as I glanced at my heart rate and saw it was in the right zone for a HM, I made a concerted effort to pick up the pace and stick on to the heels of Robert. Once there things magically felt easier, we had another Robert – Robert Scothern join us (This reminds me of the Not The 9 O’Clock News Skit about a car factory full of Bobs). I rarely get to run quick in a group, this was my chance, and it felt great! What was even greater was that the lead vehicle, replaced by a lead bike on the canal path, rather than disappear slowly into the distance as I had expected, was appearing to ever so slightly move closer to us.

Adam Holland by now had been caught by James Skinner and they were running together. Adam is a phenomenal talent – especially as an ultra runner. He holds the record for the fastest ten marathons in ten consecutive days, the youngest runner to have raced 100 marathons (He has since raced 244), he holds a treadmill endurance world record, and last autumn he embarked on a 2000 mile continuous run in 20 days, during which he ran a 2:28 marathon at Chester (where I saw him running hours after on a main road as I was driving home!), and later took victories at the Bristol to Bath marathon and the Newcastle Town Moor Marathon.

James Skinner leading the race ahead of a relaxed Adam Holland. Picture c/o Gordon Geach
James Skinner leading the race, ahead of a relaxed Adam Holland. Picture c/o Gordon Geach

I’ve run with Adam at a few parkruns at Newark. I noticed two things about him. One he is the slowest looking quick runner you will ever see, his form is very deceptive as he barely appears to be trying. Second, I get the impression in a race type situation he will typically do just enough to win or finish highly. This may be an incorrect assessment but it appeared to be happening again at the Fraction, he was toying his opposition, waiting to pull well clear at any moment.

Still, as we ran along the three miles of canal path – very familiar to me on my training runs – he was still well in sight and a great rabbit to focus the mind and ignore the pace we were running. I don’t think I really looked at my watch much in that section other than to clock a 5k split and a 5 mile split, but miles 3, 4, and 5 were run in 5:28, 5:31, and 5:34. I passed 5k in 17:11 and 5 miles in 28:10 or so.

Behind Robert in 4th on the Canal Section. Picture by yourraceday.co.uk
Behind Robert in 4th on the Canal Section. Picture by yourraceday.co.uk

It was just as we were leaving the canal section and into Woolsthorpe where the right calf began to ache. It was the typical gentle ache, not enough to slow me, but enough to make me wonder if at any moment it would develop into something rapidly race ending. I rehearsed what I was going to say to the guys I was racing with if and when it did happen, something like that’s it boys, I’m done, go get ’em! 

Leaving the Canal Path, the right calf giving cause for concern. Picture c/o Gordon Geach.
Leaving the Canal Path, the right calf giving cause for concern. Picture c/o Gordon Geach.

We had a short section of flat before the first of two big hills on the course at Woolsthorpe. The race by now was clearly developing into a highly tactical affair, developments were likely on this half mile plus climb which Strava states averages 6% but is signposted at 12% average. The climb began as we passed six miles, the sixth mile showing little slowing in pace with a 5:37. There was a drinks station where I failed no less than three times to grab a cup of water, to the mirth of Robert Scothern, who received an impromptu shower. On a different, warmer, day I would have been concerned about taking on no liquid. But conditions were perfect for racing at around 9C with early mist and fog gently clearing to reveal blue skies later in the race (Once we topped Woolsthorpe Hill, to be precise). I also normally take a gel during a half marathon but, probably as this is a training route for me, the thought never occurred to carry one. I didn’t seem to miss it.

I’ve had plenty of times to rehearse Woolsthorpe Hill. Right from the foot of the ascent I took to the front of the pack and eased gently ahead of the two Bobs I was running with. I’ve climbed the hill quicker but today I had to pace it carefully, one because I didn’t want to push the heart rate too high, two because my calf was giving worrying aches when I tried to lengthen the stride on the steeper sections, and three my guts were beginning to churn a little with the increased effort – a legacy of the roast dinner the night before no doubt.

I noticed ahead of me the lead vehicle was definitely getting closer. James had pulled a little clear of Adam who appeared to be labouring a touch, but I appeared to be marginally the fastest of the lead five climbing the hill. I reached the summit in third and pushed on without delay. The Lincoln Bob (Robert Windard) was chasing me as we gently drifted clear of RAF Bob (Robert Scothern). I heard a shout out from Grantham running legend Chris Armstrong, who was a very fine runner back in the 1980s and I recalled the clip he posted of his victory at the 1986 Kinloss to Lossiemouth Half MarathonI didn’t much fancy being greeted at the finish by bagpipes but I was inspired by the thought of perhaps finishing in the top three. We were halfway through the race, I was third, and, barring injury, there was a chance I could stay there.

The run down from Woolsthorpe Hill to Denton is all downhill, mostly gradual with a fairly steep descent to finish. Adam had retaken the lead of the race but wasn’t really extending the gap – the lead vehicle sometimes coming very close to us as it struggled with some traffic. There was more support from friends – this time on bike and I was beginning to feel very racy. I was fully switched from chasing a time mode to how best to tactically race mode.

The first decision was to let Lincoln Bob catch me and to let him take the pace – we were running into a very slight breeze and I wanted to conserve as much energy as possible. As we dropped into Denton he pulled five seconds or so clear as I couldn’t live with his downhill prowess. He used this skill to catch second placed James. As we turned left in Denton onto the Casthorpe Road I was cheered on in name by some of the council guys in charge of closing the roads. The sense of not letting them down spurred me on. I made a concerted effort to close the gap to James and Bob who were running side by side. On the slight rise out of Denton I managed it and for then next two miles sat firmly in their slipstream.

Miles 7, 8, 9 and 10 were covered in 6:15 (Woolsthorpe Hill included, so 5:33 with Strava Gap incorporated), 5:34, 5:33, and 5:38 – my watch showing ten miles covered in what would be a PB time of 56:44. Adam had not pulled into the distance but I reckoned he had enough of a gap to comfortably take the win.

My strategy was to implement local knowledge and try to break the two I was running with on the second and hardest of the two climbs in the race – Casthorpe Hill – before putting in a flat out last two miles towards the finish back at the Meres. It was a plan I had rehearsed at the culmination of a long 20 mile plus run a few weeks earlier with some considerable success, a pair of Strava segments my reward.

Strava again lists the climb at half a mile long and with a 6% average gradient. In reality it is, in its entirety, a little bit longer, and although may average 6%, the steepest section in the last part of the climb averages 12% with a short section of 14%. I let the pair drift a few yards ahead as we dropped briefly before the start of the climb, recuperating myself for the upcoming effort. There is a long gentle drag uphill where I pulled alongside them, dropped back, then pushed on again, harder and with more determination.

The attack had almost the desired effect and an unintended beneficial consequence. Lincoln Bob couldn’t quite live with the pace as we pitter-pattered up the steepest section of the hill, covered in rain water still cascading down from the surrounding fields after the recent heavy rainfall. James remained on my heels, resolutely unwilling to be broken (Following the race it turned out that he had finished third at the race in 2015 – so was well aware of Casthorpe Hill). We nearly, very nearly, caught Adam. I reckon the gap was down to around 8-10 seconds at the top of the climb.

The lead vehicle at the top of Casthorpe Hill. Me and James just behind it and Adam. Picture c/o Graham Jones.
The lead vehicle at the top of Casthorpe Hill. Me and James just behind it and Adam. Picture c/o Graham Jones.

At the top of the climb James pulled alongside me and we ran together briefly before he edged ahead and Lincoln Bob remained in the wings just behind ready to pass if I faltered at any moment. I had plans to attack immediately at the top of the hill and give it full gas, as I had done on my long run a few weeks earlier. However the cumulative efforts of the race and the subtle, but noticeable headwind we had in the final miles meant the attack never quite materialised (I ran 6:29 (hill included, 5:32 with Strava GAP), 5:33, and 5:41 for miles 11-13, around 10-15 seconds slower per mile than on my training run). As we ran through Barrowby I was pretty regularly being cheered on in person or by come on Grantham! by local supporters and that was enough to keep the desire to ease up and settle for a comfortable fourth at bay.

Me and James Skinner heading towards the finish at Barrowby. Picture c/o Graham Jones.
Me and James Skinner heading towards the finish at Barrowby. Picture c/o Graham Jones.

This year alone I must have run down from Barrowby to the Meres Leisure Center ten times or more yet, weirdly, this last section of the race appeared to be the least familiar. Maybe it was because I am usually running very comfortably along this stretch, but right now, all I wanted to do was stop. The legs were heavy, the calf more than a little achy, the tanks beginning to run empty. James pulled around 5 seconds clear as we approached the Meres, Lincoln Bob a little more behind, Adam still strangely close to us in the lead.

Approaching the finish at the Stadium. Picture c/o Gordon Geach.
Approaching the finish at the Stadium. Picture c/o Gordon Geach.
Approaching the finish at the Stadium. Picture c/o Gordon Geach.
Approaching the finish at the Stadium. Picture c/o Gordon Geach.

As we entered the stadium a lady who had helped volunteered at parkrun the day before shouted Go on Matt, you can catch him! I didn’t believe I could but was alarmed when I looked around to see that the gap to fourth had shrunk from over five seconds to less than a couple! I was determined to finish in the top three. My strategy as we entered the final 300 meters of the race was to attack for second in the hope that if Robert passed us both, at least I would still be third.

As we hit the back straight I picked up the pace. I could hear the shouts of encouragement from the spectators gathered at the finish line. They spurred me on. The gap to James and I melted. At the top of the bend I decided not to wait and went for all out for the sprint finish, the aim being to catch James unawares and leave him unable to close any gap. It appeared to work as I passed him and eked out a small gap. However, at the start of the home straight, with only around 80 meters remaining, the early sprint took its toll and I began to tire badly. I looked around anxiously, as Mo Farah does at the end of a race, and swore that James and Robert were catching me fast. Willed on by the support at the finish and sheer bloody mindedness not to lose my recently gained second place, I did what Mo does – gritted my teeth and kicked and kicked again – hard all the way to and just past the finish line – not forgetting of course to stop my watch at the finish line (Old habits die very hard).

Sprinting for second place at the finish. Picture by yourraceday.co.uk
Sprinting for second place at the finish. Picture by yourraceday.co.uk
Sprinting for second place at the finish. Picture by yourraceday.co.uk
Sprinting for second place at the finish. Picture by yourraceday.co.uk
Sprinting for second place at the finish. Picture by yourraceday.co.ukSunday 13 March 2016.
Sprinting for second place at the finish. Picture by yourraceday.co.ukSunday 13 March 2016.
Sprinting for second place at the finish. Picture by yourraceday.co.uk
Sprinting for second place at the finish. Picture by yourraceday.co.uk

No one passed me. I was second!

Crossing the finish line. Picture c/o Penny Hodges.
Crossing the finish line. Picture c/o Penny Hodges.
(L to R): Matthew Kingston-Lee, James Skinner, Robert Windard – second, third, and fourth, at the finish. Picture c/o Penny Hodges.

As I crossed the line there was a broad smile and a small fist pump. Then as I stopped running, the euphoria mixed with a little bit of pain and I looked to the sky before sinking to my knees to catch my breath. Moments later I recomposed myself and was quick to congratulate those I had just beaten.

Genuinely more thrilling than the second position was the manner in which the race had panned out. I’d forgotten about times – it turned out I’d run 1:15:30, my third fastest ever, one second slower than my Power of 10 PB set at Nottingham in 2014 – and run a race full of tactics, changing of positions and uncertain in its conclusion literally until we had crossed the finish line. For the record, I was one second ahead of James and three seconds clear of Robert. Adam had finished fifteen seconds ahead of me, which meant the top four was covered by less than twenty seconds!

I spent a longer than usual amount of time chatting with the guys I’d just raced, including Adam, who was typically unassuming in his victory, totally unaware of his finishing time. I slowly walked to meet my family and then the large contingency of GRC, Belvoir Tri Club and Grantham Athletics Club members and supporters who had congregated at the finish. The number of people coming to congratulate me was heartwarming as was the pleasure of seeing many of my friends coming home with new Personal Bests.

Unfortunately I had to miss some of them as there was the small matter of receiving my prize for finishing second. Still a rare occurrence for myself, I smiled a little uneasily as a small ripple of applause erupted around the room as I collected my wares (A trophy, £60 voucher towards a pair of Brooks trainers and some seeds), proud to have my two daughters alongside me. A virtual tear welled up the next day when my eldest proudly told all she could at school and sports club that daddy had finished second in the running race.

Collecting my prizes. Picture c/o Gordon Geach.
Collecting my prizes. Picture c/o Gordon Geach.

Having had a couple of days to reflect, I don’t think I could have done anything differently on the day to change the result. Had I not the calf issue it is possible I may have attacked a little harder on the hills and perhaps closed and caught Adam. But I firmly believe he would have found a little extra to make sure he would have been the deserving winner.

I am more than delighted with my second position. I ran well in the face of a little adversity and uncertainty. Tactically I played all my cards correctly. I was spurred on by the local support of friends, family, and just locals who recognised the Grantham vest. All in all it’s right up there in my top three best races ever and I really hope the calf injury clears up so I can enjoy some more races like that again soon!


Race Report – Worksop Halloween Half Marathon, Worksop, Sunday 25th October 2015.

The weeks following the Chester Half Marathon were not an incident free, painless period of post race jubilation and recuperation. The supposed cramp in the right calf was in fact a calf strain that was impossible to run on for two weeks and was only tested, with a brief one mile run three days before the Worksop Half Marathon.

The days were not spent entirely idly however, plenty of hours on the elliptical trainer, a few spinning sessions at the gym where I worked on maximising my watts per kg figure (now up to 3.7 for a 40 minute session), a ride spent in one gear with Witham Wheelers thanks to a cable failure, and a couple of short sessions on a recently acquired Nordic Ski Machine.

The injury woes were compounded a week after Chester by a bizarre late night feinting incident – caused by low blood pressure – saw me fall awkwardly, killing a few more brain cells and wrenching loads of muscles in my neck and shoulders. Although you don’t run with your arms, the upper body plays a surprisingly important role in running, and I found on the short runs before the Worksop Half that bio mechanically things felt not quite right and the left hip especially was giving some cause for concern.

The calf, after a four mile effort the day before Worksop came through with an ‘okay’ rating; the hip would be reviewed in the evening. Working on the United States Grand Prix (or not working as much as planned on Saturday with qualifying washed out) I packed Saturday lunchtime for two eventualities: race at Worksop or cycle with the Witham Wheelers.

I certainly wasn’t taking the race as seriously as others, my Saturday diet was distinctly risky compared to my usual fare of Margarita Pizza – a mild curry was the dish of the day. Sunday morning awoke with more non-racing dietary habits, a full bowl of cereal rather than cereal bars. At 7:30 am I was still undecided, but by 7:40 I decided to risk the body and head to the race and, if necessary, treat it not as a race but an easy Sunday morning run.

I arrived in Worksop 90 minutes ahead of the 10 am race start and followed all the others to collect my race number. I queued briefly for the first toilet trip of the morning, then changed in what seemed to be the town hall, before dropping off my bag and heading out for a warm up. My warm ups are rarely a dynamic affair, this one was among the all time greats in lackadaisical efforts. A half mile jog out, a stretch to try and loosen the tight left hip, and a slow half mile jog back straight to the lengthy Portaloo queues.

With nothing better to do for 20 minutes in the queue other than pick out the runners who’d gone to the trouble of dressing up in ghoulish Halloween inspired paraphernalia, I proceeded to quite vigorously massage my right leg and IT band in particular. The reason for such vigour was I felt a tender spot that referred pain right to the point of the calf where I’d continued to get nagging pain. The downside was that when I finished the massage the right leg felt a bit like it had been hit by a truck!

I left the Portaloo with five minutes to the race start, which is a good effort by some recent standards. It did mean though I couldn’t actually get into the start pens and had to join a large number of runners hanging around the side of the barriers hoping to jump in when the gun went. It took quite a while for the gun to fire – the chip timers seemed to be fretting a touch and then the mayoress gave a lengthy and largely inaudible speech before giving a five second count down to the start.

We were off and as I eased my way into the mass of runners I quickly got up to a comfortable speed. The first mile at Grunty Fen and Nottingham a year ago was around 5:40, I started off at 6:30 pace and as the first mile and half was so all uphill it remained at that pace. The good news was that the pre-race massage had eased the calf ache significantly. The flip side was that the IT band and thigh in general felt distinctly sub-par for the first few miles.

I’d still no real intention to race hard even when I found myself easing past tens of runners up the steepest section of the opening mile. Indeed I think I would have resigned myself to a gentle training run were it not for an unfortunate incident which had a positive (for me) outcome. At just before two miles I pulled alongside and past a group containing the lead female runner. Running in the middle of the wide road I unintentionally drifted slightly to the left, perhaps as a result of the neck injury mentioned earlier affecting my running stride.

The incident would have gone unnoticed were it not for a rather irate runner muttering something along the lines of ‘why did you f***ing stop in front of me for? Incredulous I pointed out in a rather blunt manner that I hadn’t stopped nor had I even slowed down. I may have inadvertently chopped his stride in drifting across the road (Something that happens a lot in races) and would have been happy to have apologised had he not decided to call me a c**t.

I replied a little ashamedly in a similar vernacular before the surge of adrenaline from the unwanted encounter saw me quite rapidly leave the potty mouthed runner, with a final retort from myself along the lines of ‘come on then, keep up!’ (He couldn’t and didn’t, which left me with a smug sense of victory in a rather regrettable affair). This incendiary encounter certainly stoked the fires within. The first mile was 6:28 . The second mile (Mostly adrenaline free) was 6:06, the third was 5:41. In reality if you believe Strava GAP the third mile was actually slower with hills taken into account than the opening two, but I now felt as though I was racing and not going through the motions.

The reality of this race was that it was barely quicker than my marathon pace for the most part at Chester. It was though, thanks to the injury niggles and fatigue, feeling much harder than most of the Chester Marathon. What tempered the discomfort was the glorious surroundings of Clumber Park in Autumn and the perfect autumnal weather conditions for racing. As is usual I overdressed in long sleeved top and gloves, but it was cool enough to not overheat but not too cold as to see muscles struggle to keep warm.

Running through glorious Autumn scenes.  © Mick Hall
Running through glorious Autumn scenes. © Mick Hall

As we hit Clumber Park the runners I passed began to thin out, but was probably still averaging one or two a mile. We passed some fantastically dressed marshals who I couldn’t help but thank for their support, and along a long straight road in the ninth mile (Following a near mile long drag uphill) there was the most extravagantly celebrated sponge station I’ve ever witnessed.

I’ve posted before the lament I feel for the almost total demise of the sponge station. It is as though the organisers shared my fondness for them. There must have been five signs warning us of the impending station then another 5-10 warning us of the dire consequences of stealing one of the sponges. These were interspersed with around a mile’s worth of humorous messages that certainly provided a welcome antidote at what is often a difficult part of a half marathon. Some may say it is ironic that I decided not to take a sponge after singing their praises for many, many years. Part of me thinks the organisers including a sponge station at a race that is more than likely going to be held in cold and / or wet conditions, is a work of irony in istelf.

Miles 4-10 were run at pretty consistent pace given the constant undulations, peppering six minutes per mile. By the eleventh mile at a race I wasn’t going to race, then was going to take part in with no consideration of time, was now an effort to break 80 minutes. My basic arithmetic said it was going to be close, but a 6:06 mile didn’t help. I doubled the effort to run a 5:55 twelfth mile, which Strava reckons was the fastest of the race if you take the hills into the equation (5:46).

Hanging on at 11 1/2 miles. © Mick Hall
Hanging on at 11 1/2 miles. © Mick Hall

The final mile was a repeat of the opening mile but in the opposite direction, so a long uphill drag became a swift downhill descent to the finish. This would normally be a fantastic way to end a race but my legs are still seemingly susceptible to cramping on such gradients and, sure enough, halfway down the hill the quads and hips began to cramp.

I wasn’t going to let a bit of cramp stop me though, especially as I had another runner in my sights just up the road. There is many a race where I would not have chased down a runner for one position. Now at the race I wasn’t going to race, then was going to take part in with no consideration of time, which became an effort to break 80 minutes, was now an all out effort to beat a runner for twenty-fifth position.

Ignoring the cramps waving up and down my legs, I surged past the 25th placed runner with 400 meters to run and continued to ramp up the pace before putting in a full sprint for the final 100 meters. The thirteenth mile was the quickest of the race (5:37), the last 0.1 of a mile a shade under five minute mile pace. I was rewarded for my efforts with that cherished 25th position, not only a sub 1:20 clocking but a sub 1:19 (1:18:59 chip) and hips that refused to respond to my requests to walk….

I was also rewarded, as was everyone else who finished, with a rather snazzy Halloween themed technical t-shirt, a medal and a lengthy wait as the well-meaning volunteers at baggage struggled to find my small rucksack (not helped that I described my black and yellow rucksack buried in a sea of similarly small rucksacks as grey and blue…)

With F1 deciding to run qualifying at 9am Austin time I had no time to hang around and watch others finish. Instead it was a walk as fast as the failing legs allowed back to the car, a quick chat with new Strava friend Matt and jumping in the car back to Grantham just in time to witness Lewis eventually crowned World Champion, which meant a marathon slog of a work stint that saw eyes closed finally at 4am. By that time the legs were so stiff the stairs were an effort, but all in all, with seemingly no long lasting damage done, it was a long and relatively successful day.