Whissendine 6ix – Friday 5th July 2019

I had been looking forward to running the Whissendine 6ix (Six) mile race for some time – several years in fact. 2019 was the first year, I think, since moving to Grantham where there hadn’t been a Grand Prix on that weekend so I was able to make the short journey from Grantham to Whissendine for the Friday evening race.

The race marked the debut appearance for my Nike Vaporfly 4% race trainers. This hadn’t been intentional. Although I was curious as to their powers having seen many pro runners in them performing unbelievably and having been beaten by runners in races either wearing them or variants thereof, I had balked at the price of them considering the limited mileage they have before apparently falling apart.

By chance the day before Whissendine The Lincolnshire Runner posted on its Facebook page that they had been able to acquire a few pairs of Nike Vaporfly 4% and one of the sizes they had was mine (a 10). Not only did they have them in stock (A rarity indeed as they are usually only available in a select few outlets) they were selling them at £170, a significant saving on the RRP.

Normally you are just expected to comment on the post to secure your intention to purchase. I took no chances and was straight on the phone and giving them all my details with the promise that I would be there the following lunchtime to collect. The fact Lincolnshire Runner had them was particularly fortuitous as I had a fair amount of gift vouchers from them awarded as prizes in local races. Add to that cash I had also won and it meant that effectively I was going to pick these 195 gram wonders gratis.

As promised the following lunchtime, around seven hours before Whissendine, I was over in Lincoln in the running shop about to try on the shoes. As you are encouraged to whenever trying on a pair of trainers  there the sales assistant suggested I head outside and try them out along the high street. This I did. I took three steps and was sold. No need to push them any further. I could see straight away what all the fuss was about.

While in store I tried on some other shoes I was curious about. The Hoka Carbon X disappointed – they felt less zingy than my Cliftons. The brand new Hoka Rincons however felt great – I vowed to grab a pair when they inevitably come down in price a little. I also ended up buying a couple of pairs of heavily discounted Nike Frees of various vintage. They have for many years been one of my staple training and racing shoes and was pleased to have some pairs to replace my ageing models. With the addition of some new Goodr running sunglasses I was distinctly lighter in the pocket than I had planned but pleased with my purchases and itching to get racing in the 4%s!

I headed to Whissendine with my friend and training partner (bike especially) Stephen. He had, the previous week, completed the insanely hard Wasdale X Triathlon – an Ironman length triathlon held in the Lake District and without doubt the hardest triathlon in the country, if not Europe and the world! Having done brilliantly to finish well inside the top ten but having suffered badly with the heat of what turned out to be the warmest days of the summer, he was happy to just be supporting rather than competing.

Once in Whissendine and having worked out where the start and finish was in relation to the car park, I left Mr Hobday to his own devices exploring the village and its pub while I warmed up and killed a bit of time. I did the mile and a half long warm up in my Hoka Cliftons, my race shoe of the previous year or so and now a back-up to the Vaporfly’s which were to be saved for races only. The first steps in these shoes, other than walking to the start would be when racing! The warm up was unspectacular, the right Achilles needed plenty of stretching before it stopped becoming annoying.

The pre-race GRC photo. I’m wearing the reward of the last and only other six mile race I’ve done – the Stratford Summer 6.

Once back at the car park I gathered the GRC troops for a group photo and then went for one last comfort break before changing into the trainers. Feeling like no other trainer I’ve worn, I walked a little gingerly the 100 meters or so to the start line where I made small talk with several competitors – mostly discussing the weather, which at around 22C and sunny was pretty warm but for me, not an issue other than the (recently found, having been lost for nearly a year) GRC vest received a rare outing! Club mate Chris Limmer pointed out who he saw as my main threat – a 16 minute 5K runner who, as it happened, was also wearing the Vaporflys.

On time at 7:30pm we were sent, with little fanfare, on our way. Having discussed the race several times with another club mate Jonny Palmer (not racing this year, but who won the 6ix in 2017 having finished second a year earlier) he had urged me to start cautiously on the lightening fast downhill start for after around half a mile in the heart of the village the road kicked up for a stiff climb out of the village itself before heading out on an undulating loop with the bulk of the climbs between miles three and five miles before a quick downhill half mile to the finish.

I very briefly took the lead before team mate Chris took the helm and led a group of five us down towards the pub where Stephen was waiting with a load of other supporters basking in the pleasant warmth of the midsummer evening sun. The shoes felt great but, as the second placed finisher at Sleaford told me a mile or so into the race, they were going to take a little while to get used to, particularly the sensation that my feet could burst out of the flimsy fabric of the trainer at any second, especially as the laces felt a little looser than I prefer.

We slowed inevitably up the hill out of the village. I was happy to sit at the back of the group in fifth and make my way up the climb as economically as possible. We turned left not long after leaving the village for a spell of flat before a long descent. Chris lost the lead to the young runner who he had touted before the start of the race, and another runner who took on the pace and began to eke out a gap ahead of everyone else.

Passing the first mile in a solid, if unspectacular 5:38, my fears that the lace on the left shoe was actually coming undone proved unfounded and as we headed gradually downhill I found my feet, so to speak, in the new trainers and began to pick up the pace, passing Chris and another runner to move into third. The second mile may have been entirely downhill but I was encouraged to clock a 5:20 mile, the kind of split usually reserved for a  good mile in a 5K race.

Going into the third mile I passed the touted lad in the Vaporflies which confirmed my hunch that although the shoes were undoubtedly very fast, you still have to have someone doing the pedaling, so to speak. With the leader by now 15-20 seconds down the road I was content to finish second and just focused on running as well as possible. To my delight I actually found myself halving that gap as we hit halfway in 16:34 after a 5:36 third mile.

Taking a left turn I instantly recognised the road as the one I had driven along to get to the race and knew that it would be a test with a set of rollers to contend with. On the first climb I quite quickly closed and pulled alongside the leader. He said ‘Well done!’ and with that I pretty much knew that, barring disaster, the race was won. Without actually realising I pulled out a race winning gap on that climb, which was almost a mile long and saw a 5:45 fourth mile clocked. After a quick descent it was time for a second shorter, but steeper, climb. It was here where Stephen had come out to cheer me on, expecting me to be well up the order but not actually leading. He commented after the race how the ‘flys had made my running form look far more efficient, even on the climbs. All I was interested in was how big the gap was to second which he said was plenty. 

Running up that Hill… Alone and in first! Picture c/o Stephen Hobday

Heading back downhill and going through mile 5 in 5:33 I must admit I’d forgotten there was a final climb into Whissendine itself before the finish. I was tiring but the predicted finish time on my watch of 33:33 was scarcely believable! This meant around 34:30 for a ten KM when a month or so earlier at Whissendine I’d struggled to break 35 minutes on a flat course! It also represented an 82 second improvement on my six mile PB, set at Stratford way back in 2012.

With this quick time in mind and the stress of holding my lead diminished with the assurance of victory. I relaxed as I made my way to the top of the final hill and enjoyed the lightening fast descent to the finish just as Jonny promised. I crossed the line, hands aloft but barely out of breath in 33:33 – just as my watch had predicted earlier in the race and with a 5:30 final mile to close.

The first thing I did after the race, after stopping my watch and grabbing a cup of water to juggle with alongside the memento beer glass and unwanted beer was remove the Vaporflys! I was determined to not put an extra meter on them that wasn’t necessary! After some congratulations from the officials I was grabbed by a reporter from the local radio station who asked if i could be interviewed live. I reluctantly obliged and duly gave what must have been an excruciating spiel on what had just unfolded.

Heading back to the car after victory – saving the shoes for another day! Picture c/o Stephen Hobday

Keen not to embark on any more media relations I decided to head back along the course back to the car so I could change into my Hokas for a warm down before the prize giving. Taking it easy in only my socks I was given the hurry up via a phone call from Stephen who alerted me that the awards were going to be handed out without me!

Being presented with my winners’ glasses and back in the Hokas! Picture c/o Stephen Hobday
The wine has long since been drunk! Picture c/o Sptehen Hobday

I jogged back down to the finish just in time for the traditional prize of crystal cut glasses to be handed out. With that done and the end of race group GRC photo done there was little left to do but to head back to the car with Stephen and head home triumphant and very pleased with a most unexpected victory!

Grantham Running Club finishers at the end of the Whissendine 6ix. Picture c/o Stephen Hobday
The finishing glass and beer (Still not drunk)  – keeping the race winning Vaporflys company.
The sun setting on a successful day at the races.

Two Counties Half Marathon – Sunday 9th September 2018 – The Race

As is fairly typical I was one of the first to arrive at East Carlton Country Park, venue of the Two Counties Half Marathon, two hours or so before the start. I had a relaxed build up to what appeared to be a fairly relaxed, low key kind of race. Around an hour before the start I went on a one and a half  mile warm up which doubled up as a recce of the infamous hill that we would face at the end of the race. It’s the same hill that many a runner has moaned about in the Corby 5 Mile Race. To be honest I didn’t think that much of it – it was certainly no Casthorpe nor Minnett’s Hill, but I could see that in the final mile of a half marathon it would be a great deal harder to climb than during an easy paced warm up.

The warm up itself felt okay, if a little concerning in the sense that the head cold I had caught was definitely just knocking that 1-2% off my peak capacity. I still felt I could run a good race, I just had to be careful I didn’t push too hard. A final trip or two to the toilet and I was good to go, making my way back to the base of the steepest part of the hill where we would start. A couple more trips to a bush to lose some of the fluid I had taken on board (it was around 19C – so reasonably cool, but warm enough to require good hydration) and I was finally ready to  take my place near the front of the field on the start line.

The start of the race. Picture c/o Adam Brooks.

At just before 10am we were sent on our way. A fairly young runner (the bearded one on the video above) who had lined up just behind me, wearing the oversized Oakley Jawbreaker style sunglasses that have come back into vogue, shot past me and hurtled into the lead. We were running slightly downhill but I sensed immediately he had no hope of maintaining his pace, which I estimated to be well under five minute miles given that my watch suggested I was running at around 5:20 pace for the opening few hundred meters.

A lone figure in green with a sea of Corby blue at the start of the race.
Picture c/o Adam Brooks.

Sitting in fourth I deliberately held off the pace off the runners in front of me for the opening mile, slowing enough to go through mile 1 in 5:49. Shortly after the opening mile came the first challenging climb of the race – I was pleased to see that I could close on those in front of me without having to go full gas, although they did then pull away again on the following downhill section. At a mile and a half we reached the end of Wire Lane and headed into Ashley Road to begin a near 10 mile clockwise loop, shaped rather like a bow tie.

We had a headwind for the near two mile long stretch to the village of Ashley. Mile two was a 5:51, mile three was 6:08, but worth 5:49 on Strava gap once the ascent was taken into account (and perhaps worth a little more given the headwind). By now the gap to third and second which had been around 10 seconds had begun to close down, so that by the time we went through 5K in 18:32 and headed north to Medbourne, I was hot on their heels.

The runner who led the first 3.5 miles. Picture c/o Adam Brooks.

Aided by a tailwind and the adrenaline of running on a road open to fast moving traffic while catching those ahead of me I caught and passed the third and second placed runners in quick succession, running the fourth mile in 5:36. The fifth mile saw us run through Medbourne and it was here where I caught the leader since the start of the race, who was quite dramatically paying the penalty for his over exuberant start.

I quickly put a gap on him but noted that I still had company. The runner who I passed when he was third had moved up the field just behind me and had now closed onto my shoulder, passing me as we went through mile 5 (5:39).  The standard racing tactic would have been to sit on his shoulder and try and hold on but, given that I knew that the hardest sections of the race were still to come, I decided to stick to my own pace and let the gap grow to around 10 seconds as we passed through mile 6 (5:51), running the second 5K in 17:41. The runner at the front of the race was Luke Montgomery of local club. It was soon apparent that he was pretty well known to those supporting the race, cheering him on nearly all by name and clearly giving him that hometown adrenaline buzz.

Luke Montgomery of Corby – local hero and long time race leader. Picture c/o Adam Brooks.

Mile 7 was was another fairly swift one at 5:38 as we enjoyed flattish terrain and a rear crosswind. Not long after seven miles we began to climb. I’d had information from a club mate who had run the race in 2017 that this was a fairly testing climb. I was quite pleased to see that the Luke was coming back to me quite swiftly. Indeed as we turned off the main road to head south through Bringhurst and the road ramped up again, I caught and briefly passed him.

Feeling the legs start to get heavy from the effort of climbing I looked at my Garmin and noted that my HR had climbed over 175, which is getting towards the upper Z5 levels of my capacity. Knowing it would be unwise to go too long into the red I eased up and allowed Luke to overtake me once again and pull away as we went over the top of the climb and onto a fairly long descent. The gap pulled back out to around ten seconds before stabilising. I didn’t give up hope of a potential victory – I knew that the worst climb of the race was still to come and if I could leave something in the tank it could be expected that I could close the gap again and retake the lead.

Mile 8, which featured the long climb was a 5:57, mile 9 a little quicker at 5:53 but effectively saw a  slight slowing as it was mostly flat. This was also the diciest section of the race as the narrow road, open to traffic, was busier than it should have been thanks to a local car boot sale that was just starting and attracting plenty of somewhat impatient visitors.

As we ran first through Cottingham and which led near seamlessly into Middleton, there was a sharp right hand bend which took us onto a pleasant tree covered road that would take us back to the opening road of the race and the finish. There was good crowd support here for a small rural race – all of it though was for the leader, who appeared to be coming back to me as I clocked the gradually uphill mile 10 in 5:58.

The road was now closed to traffic as it would be to the finish. Mile 11 was slightly downhill for the most part, the pace picked up up to 5:48. Without consciously picking up the pace I had all but caught the leader. Rather than sit with him and run at his pace, risking the possibility that he could rally in the final stages – especially with the local crowd support, I maintained my pace and pulled alongside and ahead of Luke. He tried to stay on my heels, but as we turned left into the long, mainly uphill finishing straight, the gap began to quickly grow as Luke appeared to crack.

Me in the closing mile of the race – looking surprisingly fresh. Picture c/o Adam Brooks.

Mile 12 was 5:49 and the biggest test of the race was about to commence. The first of two climbs, the first was a short, sharp test, which I managed without too much difficulty. I relaxed as I went over and down over the other side, encouraged by what appeared to be the race organisers roadside. Taking a breather as I knew the bigger climb lay ahead, I took a little look around and was relieved to see that there was no one in sight.

Looking not quite so fresh a few seconds earlier.
Picture c/o Adam Brooks.

Knowing that, barring absolute disaster, victory was mine, I could have eased up the final climb and cruised to a win. However, this was a club GP Series race and times converted to age grade is the all important factor, so there was no letting up. My rather brilliant Peter’s (Race) Pacer data field on my newish Garmin had been telling me for some miles I was looking at a low 1:16, which began to drift a little as I began the final climb. Keen to keep it under 1:17 I kept the effort high, pushing all the way to the top of the hill and onto the finishing line inside the Country Park.

There was a little celebration at the finish, the raising of both hands and a big smile across the face. The finishing time was 1:16:52, which was apparently a new course record (The race is only in its second year). The final mile was the slowest of the race at 6:12 but the Strava GAP reckons it was worth 5:37, which makes it one of the quickest of the race.

The winner’s finishing medal at the Two Counties Half Marathon!

As a result of this strong final mile the record books will show that I ended up winning by a fairly comfortable minute and fifty seconds. That won’t tell the full story of the race, how I sat off the pace at the start, took the lead only to lose it, then sat fairly patiently off the leader suspecting that he may not be able to sustain his pace.

It turned out to be a high risk strategy that paid off, especially when I looked up Luke’s Power of 10 profile at the end of the race which revealed he has a  10K PB nearly two minutes quicker than mine. The reason he cracked was that he specialises in the shorter distances (he runs a lot of 3000 and 5000 meter races on the track) and this was only his second foray over the half marathon distance (his other effort was in 2014) and he found his stamina on the day a little wanting.

With plenty of spectators wishing me a warm well done I moved back a few yards down the circuit to see in the small contingency of fellow Grantham Running Clubbers who were also taking part. We had to wait an eternity for the ultimately rather low key prize giving, but it was worth it for the generous cash prize that came my way. With the sense that I had won the race in the quickest possible time with the least possible effort and hadn’t strained myself too much – especially with the cold I was carrying, it was definitely a sense of mission accomplished as I made my way back home.

Trophy and cash in an envelope for winning the Two Counties Half Marathon!

Race Report – Robin Hood Half Marathon, Nottingham, Sunday 24th September 2017

This report comes over a month after the event. This is because I only recently found out where I finished…. More of that later. The reality too is that the race was less interesting than the training that preceded it, so forgive me if this is a little heavy on preparation and a little light on race action.

Mentally enthused after success at Thorney in August, I visioned a good month of training before the end of September race in Nottingham. I had no races planned, other than the club handicap 10K which, on a lumpy course, I ran at marathon heart rate in 36 and a half minutes. Although there were the odd exceptions, the training focused on big efforts over the weekend with easier paced running and cycling during the week. The Saturday in particular became the focal point of the week – the first two of them of them I competed a ten mile ‘straight outta bed’ run which averaged something pretty close to sub six minute miles. The  following week I ran Melton Mowbray parkrun in a slightly disappointing 17:28, but the following Saturday, straight out of bed once again, I kicked off with some Stravalek intense effort before running around six minute miles until seven miles, when I ran Belton House parkrun in 17:30, closing the run with five K in something close to 18 minutes again. It all felt very easy as I ran a half marathon with minimal interruption and effort in 1 hour 19 minutes.

What made me even more enthused is that for all the straight outta bed runs on the Saturday I backed that up with a run of at least 13 miles at 6:40 pace or quicker. I felt like I was running into the sort of form I had when I bagged the 1:14 at the Grunty Fen Half Marathon at the same time of year two years previous.

And then just like two years ago and last year, four or five days before the half marathon I came down with the first of the winter colds the kids brought home with them from school. To feeling fantastic to feeling lousy in no time at all. Just like last year the worst of the cold had past come race day but I wasn’t feeling by any means fantastic.

As I’d been burnt before by the pre-race traffic jams, like last year I arrived over two hours before the start of the race to ensure a good easy parking slot. I took a little walk around the race village, laughed at the insanely high prices of goods on Sale at the Sweatshop tent, used the toilets a couple of times and went for a one and a half mile warm up along the Trent which was wholly unremarkable except for a very pleasant calf stretch which rid me of the niggly Achilles discomfort for the entirety of the race.

Grantham Running Club members taking part in the Robin Hood Half and Full Marathon . Photo courtesy of Stuart Cresswell.

A little fortuitously I bumped into my fellow GRC runners who were having a pre-race photo, and I was able to dive in for one last pic. With that done I returned to my car to have one last swill of drink before making my way to the start. I lined up just behind the elites, of which there appeared to be just two or three – a little disappointing for a race which has the subtitle of the British Half Marathon Championships. I didn’t spot upon the eventual race winner Chris Thompson, who brought a bit of quality to the race as a bonafide worthy recipient of National Half Marathon Champion.

The start was the usual affair of some trying to go off at a steady but brisk pace while those around me either shot off and all around at a pace that would never be sustainable or went so slowly as to strongly suggest they had no place standing so close to the start. The opening few hundred meters are in the heavy shade of tree cover on the Victoria Embankment, it wasn’t long before we turned left onto a wide main road and I could assess the race situation and settle into the run.

In the first mile I closed on and passed the eventual women’s winner Emily Waugh, who looked serene running at 1:16 pace. The Dubai based runner (I soon followed her on Strava) was running with her Rugby & Northampton AC team mate, who shortly after the opening mile (5:42) cruised alongside and past me, wishing me well as he did. He would be the only runner who passed me.

The opening mile and a half is pleasant enough, but as in 2016 it wasn’t long before we were sent off the path of the old course and up past the castle. By no means a savage climb it is nevertheless steep enough to undo all the good work in the opening mile. The second mile was a 5:57 (5:38 on Strava GAP). The next mile and a bit must rank as some of the least satisfying in city marathon history. Of all the comments I read on Strava they all described this section in less than complimentary tones. Rhythm sapping is the most polite I can call it, something like a road based version of a twisty, hilly cross country course, as we tackled numerous short sharp climbs punctuated with sharp descents and tight bends. The course was the same as last year, I had blocked out how bad it is. That said, I fared better than others and picked off a fair few runners en route to a 6:03 mile (5:33 GAP) and an 18:27 first 5K.

As if to apologise for the twists and hills of the past mile and a half, the fourth mile is a mostly flat, fast downhill drop to the University campus. I pulled up to another runner and sat briefly in his shelter before pulling past and clear as the road flattened. A 5:30 fourth mile was followed by a 5:42 fifth mile as the field really thinned out and all I had for company were the odd runner somewhere far in the distance and, it must be said, really good crowd support as they enjoyed the great weather conditions for spectating.

The sixth mile (5:50) was literally a long drag, somewhat spirit crushing as I made my way to and into Wollaton Park and the big hill that I had managed to forget about running last year. I went to take a drink from the pouches handed out, cursing loudly at the uselessness of them as I battled in vain to get any more than a dribble from them. The hill comes after a tight left hand bend, the crowd that lined either side of the climb very reminiscent of cycle fans clamouring to see the suffering on a tough climb. I dug in deep and made my way to the top, happy in the knowledge that, for the most part, the course is much easier in the second half. What was less happy was my stomach, which was rueing the too long queues for the portaloos before the start of the race and beginning to send some ominous distress signals.

I went through 10K in 36:14, laughing again at how the gates for the park exit had again not been opened, forcing us off the path and over some heavily rutted ground thanks to an abundance of tree roots. At least the seventh mile marker was somewhere near accurate – once again the fifth and sixth mile markers were so far out as to be totally useless. For a big city race to not correct on obvious mistakes from the previous year is not acceptable really.

Back on the open road and the seventh mile covered in 5:52, I tried to push on like I did last year. It was made tougher because of the dodgy tummy and the lack of runners to run with (Last year – I got into several useful trains which helped keep the pace ticking). I was though closing and passing runners which kept the incentive to keep pushing high. Mile 8 was 5:37 and now we were running alongside runners heading in the other direction, which I always find inspiring. Mile 9, back through the University and an awkward out and back via a tight hairpin, was a 5:44. I passed a Strava ‘friend’ Craig Taylor, who beat me at the Rockingham Duathlon last year. He would go on to run just under 1:18. Interestingly at the Great Eastern Half a couple of weeks later, he ran 1:14:30 or so. Food for thought as to how slow this course is and what I could do on a quicker course.

The tenth mile has the penultimate drag of the race, I survived that with a 5:45. The last comes when we rejoin the old course. My stomach was at its worse and I went through a little bad patch, but managed to drag out a 5:50. I don’t remember this section last year, but we were pulled off the main road down some quite residential streets to make our way back to Victoria Embankment. Passing another couple of runners as we continued to twist and turn, the twelfth mile was a pleasing 5:36.

The first half of the final mile saw me being inadvertently paced by a car that had found itself on the closed roads (I think it was being guided by an official car out of harms way). I found myself almost on its bumper before it thankfully pulled off the road I was on. Coming into the final stages, like last year, I was reeling in another runner. With the memory that last year I passed the moved up into the third V40 spot with my final overtake, I kept pushing. The last mile was slow at 5:50, but the lure of another position saw me run the final stage of the race (0.3 mile on my Garmin) at 5:15 pace. I left it late but a sprint on the final straight saw me pass the runner who put up no resistance.

I finished in 1:16:43. This is 13 seconds down on 2016,but given the paucity of runners to race with, in many ways it felt a better performance. I rushed through the post race medal and goody bag collection as quickly as possible to find the nearest portaloo. With the relief of a calm tummy I managed a mile warm down. The legs felt good, a sign that perhaps, with less of a tummy issue especially I could have gone quicker.

Knowing that the traffic out of the race can be a nightmare, I didn’t hang around and left not long after my warm down. Later that evening provisional results were posted on the Nottingham Post website. Pleasingly I was twelfth, much higher than in 2016 with a slightly slower time. My suspicions that plenty had shunned the race, either due to the new course, or because no details of any prizes had been forthcoming, were borne out.

A day or two later the provisional results were posted on the website. It confirmed me as twelfth and had me as second V40. I was happy with this, one place better than last year. I also noted that the first V40, Alastair Watson, not only finished over eight minutes ahead of me, he finished the race third overall. I know my races well enough these days that normally if Vet runner finishes in an overall prize giving position, the Vet place rolls down to the next runner. I looked forward to receiving my prize!

Three weeks later and with no confirmation of any prize, I emailed the organisers to clarify the prize structure (Still not made available) and the prize winners. I was swiftly emailed back to be told the results were hopefully going to be made official in the next few days due to issues. A week later the official results were finally posted in Athletics Weekly, complete with fairly damning criticism of the time taken to produce results for a race which was called the National Half Marathon Championships, and a race which still had no team results.

Another week later and I was beginning to give up hope of seeing any prize, when an anonymous looking envelope appeared in the post. Thinking it may be a race number, I opened it immediately to find a letter from the Robin Hood Half Marathon explaining I’d received a prize, with a hand written 1st, V40, scrawled unceremoniously on it. Attached to the letter was a cheque, made out to me for £100! So the longest wait for a prize was kind of worth it as it was the most I’ve received for my efforts.

That said, my patience with the Robin Hood race I think has worn a little too thin. I don’t like the course, it’s not quick, and the length of time to produce results is not good enough (Plus the lack of any details of what the prizes would be). Chances are though, depending on my calendar, I will probably be back to defend my dubious title of National V40 Half Marathon winner!

Race Report – Thorney 5 Mile Road Race – Sunday August 20th 2017

After a flurry of races in June, July and most of August was race free, save for some time trials on the bike and, if you call parkruns a race (Which I don’t), I came first at Ashton Court parkrun, which was quite a notable achievement if only because it was done on a not insignificant hangover after night one of my brother’s Stag Do. Thanks to a hefty downhill run to the finish I also clocked my fastest ever mile at 4:48!

My brother’s impending wedding certainly had an impact on my training for the Thorney 5. I’d only entered the race because the Notts 5 in July, which I’d intended to run, had been cancelled, and I needed another scoring race for our running club’s Grand Prix series, of which Thorney was one of the 20 races to available to score from. I had a week or so back home after the stag do to train before heading off for five nights caravanning  in London, mainly to watch the World Athletics Championships.

I managed to get a short run in on the Thursday afternoon on the Green Link of parks in South London,

A structure found during the Greenlink Run by the Thames.

but nothing on the Friday, when my family and I attended the first evening session, thoroughly enjoying the atmosphere when Mo Farah won the 10,000m.

Men’s 10,000m at the World Athletics Championships in London. Friday 4th August 2017.

There was no run on Saturday either as I enjoyed a morning of athletics at the stadium before inviting my brother and fiance for the second of four barbecues we knocked up beside the caravan at Abbey Wood. Sunday saw no run either as I spent a second morning at the stadium before meeting my family to catch the start of the women’s marathon and then sat down in the fan zone area to enjoy the race from the comfort of a deckchair and then the podium from a small grandstand just meters from the newly crowned men’s and women’s champions.

The women’s marathon at the World Athletics Championships in London.
The men’s marathon podium at the World Athletics Championships in London.

Monday at least saw a run – a bit of an epic 20 mile effort as I made the round trip to the first flat my wife and I rented in South East London almost 20 years ago. It was much as we had left it, although the area itself had got itself a whole load posher than when we were residents.

Where I used to live!

That evening we enjoyed one last night of live athletics, seeing Laura Muir agonsingly close to securing a medal. Another night home not long before 1am and I was ready for a good rest. The reality was that we had just a couple of days before heading off to Poland for my brother’s wedding.

The wedding itself was amazing; Gdansk – where we spent three days after the wedding, was a fantastic city, as was Torun – where we’d briefly stayed before the wedding itself. I managed one somewhat hungover run there the morning after an evening of drinking at the bride to be’s parents’ house and, coincidentally the night of the worst storms apparently in Polish history, which knocked down thousands of trees and tragically killed five people.

A bit of Rocky style training at a run in Torun, Poland.

I also managed a very painfully hungover run on the morning after the wedding itself, the first few miles were as hard as anything I’ve done this year as the head cried enough! 

The venue for a great wedding and a very painful run!

Gdansk should have seen plenty of miles and I at least managed to get out three times. There had been gentle attempts before we headed to Poland to sell the idea of me taking part in the Gdansk marathon, which took place on the Tuesday (a public holiday in Poland). Eventually I decided it perhaps wasn’t the best idea to race a marathon in the middle of what was now a family holiday. As it transpired , a severe wasp sting on my right foot on the Monday, left it several times bigger than the left, which made running somewhat uncomfortable and almost certainly impossible to race a marathon.

The finish line for the Gdansk Marathon, which I definitely didn’t take part in.

We arrived back from Poland late on Thursday night with the Thorney 5 on the Sunday morning. I ran an easy ten miles on the Friday morning, then took the Saturday off. I felt tired, lethargic and somewhat unfit having enjoyed the best part of two weeks drinking and eating too much, going to bed too often the wrong side of midnight and waking up not entirely rested. I even considered not racing on Saturday evening such was my lack of confidence over my fitness, race fitness especially, but I thought in the end it would be worth the effort to go along and give it a go – even if I ran sub-par.

Thorney is a 50 minute or so drive from Grantham, a small village northeast of Peterborough. I was one of the first to arrive, around 90 minutes before the start of the race. I collected my number and began to prepare myself for a warm up. Usually I do two miles maximum for a warm up – often due to time limitations, but with some more time to kill than usual I decided to opt for a 5k warm up, interspersed with some deep calf stretches on a conveniently placed kerb stone to try and alleviate a niggly Achilles that has been troubling me on and off for almost exactly a year now (It’s actually a calf issue that is resolved with the regular stretching I sometimes neglect doing).

By coincidence I’d actually managed to run a good chunk of the race course. It was a simple out and back affair largely on the old A47, which is now a road vastly over sized for the volume of traffic it no longer carries thanks to a bypass built twelve or so years ago. The warm up felt fairly comfortable, and I was able to run the last mile at around 6:20 pace with little difficulty. It also served as a useful guide to how the wind would affect the race. The course is all but pancake flat and would be a guaranteed PB course were it not for the winds that usually afflict this fen land part of the country. For the fens the winds on the day of the race were not too challenging, but strong enough that they would determine the pattern of the race. They would be a tail wind for much of the first half before becoming a cross wind, then a head wind for the closing stages.

I still had nearly half an hour to kill so I headed to somewhere with a carpet to do some final stretches. The race physio was there, and with no-one to treat, he asked if I’d like some help with any thing. My right hamstring was quite tight, mostly thanks to having done a few too many squats, so I took him up on his offer. I was only there for about five minutes or so but i must say he worked wonders loosening off not just that hamstring, but the left one too, and my glute muscles.

With ten minutes to go before the start of the race I was totally ready to race – last toilet stop done, final stretches carried out and laces tightened for the final time. We lined up on the start line with a few minutes to kill. I scanned the front line of runners for recognisable local talent. The big names were clearly not there but there were some runners who looked lean and talented, so mentally I assumed it would be another race where I watched runners disappear quickly off into the distance.

The race started promptly at 10:30 – the opening 100 meters or so actually on the only incline of the race, although in any other race it wouldn’t actually register as an incline, it was so shallow. I set off comfortably, but fairly briskly, yet I was well outside the top ten for the opening couple of minutes of the race. One runner quickly broke away to form a gap over a group of three and, around three minutes into the race, I found myself a few seconds behind that group in a larger pack of around six or seven runners. Feeling a little better than expected I put in a little effort to break clear of that group and catch the group ahead. I then sat at the back of the group as we went through the opening mile marker in 5:18. This is a fair few seconds quicker than I’ve run in the opening mile of the recent 10K races but because we were aided by the tail wind it actually felt fairly comfortable.

The second mile saw one of the three runners in my group break clear and attempt to catch up with the lead runner who, having established a gap of around 10 seconds appeared to be slowing. Indeed it wasn’t long before he was indeed caught and passed, not just by the leader, but by our group of three too. I remained at the back of  the three strong group, the two ahead of me seemed to know each other fairly well and I was the interloper. The fact that all three of us were able to talk to each other suggested that maximal pace had not yet been reached. The runner ahead of us continued to pull away but at a reduced rate. Indeed as we turned right off the main road and onto a small country lane, the gap became static, and if anything began to reduce slightly.

We went through the second mile in 5:20, again largely wind assisted. The right turn meant we now faced a cross wind. I played a tactical card and drew alongside the other two (who were Robert Brownlee of Nene Valley Harriers and John Pike of Peterborough AC), but made sure I was by the gutter on the left hand side of the road, being sheltered as much as possible from the wind.

Kieran White leads the Thorney 5 at around halfway. Picture c/o Thorney Running Club

At just over 2.5 miles we made a dead turn to begin our return back to the start. I immediately placed myself in the middle of the road, to the right of the other two so that, again, I would get as much shelter from the cross wind as possible. It was at the dead turn that Robert Brownlee made the first surge of the race in an attempt to break the group. Both John and I were able to keep up with him and as we did I drew alongside and just past as the pace slowed back down.

(L to R): Robert Brownlee, John Pike, and myself, at around halfway. Picture c/o Thorney Running Club

The third mile was clocked at 5:28, which meant we went through 5k in approximately 16:42. Had I known that I’d run comfortably inside my official 5k PB (and just outside my parkrun best), I may have scared myself into easing the pace. As it was I wasn’t really paying too much attention to the watch and instead enjoying the race and the tactics that were unfolding.

This surge meant we quite quickly closed down the gap to the leader and before we even hit the main road again, we had passed Kieran White of Hercules Wimbledon, who would go onto finish fourth. Just before the main road, John put in a surge, running close to 5 minute mile pace before we slowed again to something around 5:40 pace. Once again I was able to stay with the surge and again I just allowed myself to drift towards the front of the group, giving the idea that I was helping with the pace and pushing on, when in reality I was keeping the pace steady and avoiding any kind of surging.

We turned left and back onto the main road, where we hit a near full on head wind. John made another strong surge in a big attempt to try and break the tow of Robert and myself. I had to dig quite deep to catch back up with him but I managed it, and once again, the pace slowed as I once again pulled alongside to co-lead the race. At a slight dogleg right we hit the four mile marker with a 5:35 mile clocked and Robert put in another strong surge. This proved too much for John and he began to drop back. I dug deep again and was able to pull alongside Robert. This time, rather than let the pace slow, I maintained the effort for a few more seconds, long enough for Robert to firstly drop behind me and tuck in, then to slowly, but inexorably, begin to drop back.

My HR was pretty high, not far off maximal, but I felt that I could have maintained the pace, even perhaps gone a little quicker. The limiting factor was a bit of tummy trouble which deteriorated the quicker I ran. Halfway through the final mile and fully into the headwind I was able to maintain a pace that saw me continue to slowly pull away but not feel like I was about to imminently about to have an unfortunate accident.

As we returned into Thorney village the realisation hit me that I was in the lead and on course for a very unlikely victory. I tried to relax as much as possible, but continued to nervously look behind to see if Robert was closing on me. Taking a right at the crossroads I knew I had less than a minute of running left and put on a semi hard sprint. I looked once again behind and was relieved to see that Mr Brownlee didn’t have a Farah like finishing kick and so victory was assured.

As I turned into the finishing straight the clock ticked 27:15 and I realised a healthy PB was the reward for victory. I raised my arms in triumph as I crossed the finish line in 29:27.7 (with a 5:28 final mile), clocking a new five mile PB by 32 seconds. I waited for 10 seconds for Robert to cross the line, congratulated him and then, a few moments later, John on a good race. I recovered quickly enough to head back down the course a little to cheer home fellow GRC runners, accepting the congratulations of a few runners and spectators who recognised me as the winner.

With 40 minutes to kill until the prize giving ceremony I went on a rare post race warm down which was nearly another 5km long. This felt surprisingly easy – normally I struggle to walk properly after races! I went into the Village Hall, and after 10 or so minutes of winning I collected my rather impressive winners’ trophy. It later transpired I would have also been the Cambridgeshire 5 Mile Road Race Champion, were it not for the fact I don’t reside in, nor was born in, Cambridgeshire.

With my trophy! Picture c/o Robert McArdle.

After a quick photo with the aforementioned trophy, the day was done and I returned to my car for the journey home, still not quite believing I had won. As the local Grantham Journal pointed out, when I made it onto the back page for the first time, if I recall correctly, If the recipe for success is eating, drinking, and partying to excess, then maybe I need to holiday more often!

Infamy on the back page of the Journal!



Race Report – Holdenby Duathlon – Sunday 23rd October 2016

Following the unexpected success at the Stilton Stumble I had just seven days to recover and prepare for the Holdenby Duathlon, a race I’d been targeting for some time, but only entered a day or two before the Stumble.  The left Achilles was pretty stiff and sore following the race so I opted to spend as little time running as possible to give it a chance to recover.

Monday saw an hour on the elliptical trainer then a spin session in the evening operating at half gas. Considering the efforts of the day before that felt pretty good. Tuesday saw an hour on the elliptical trainer and an hour on the turbo following an easy program on TrainerRoad. These felt somewhat harder than Monday’s efforts.

Wednesday I headed out on the bike using the summer road bike I had planned to use with the addition of tri bars. This ride was something of an alarm call – the quads had absolutely nothing to give as soon as I went into the TT position. The HR was really low, but not in a good way low, more a something is not quite right low. It was a two hour ride that felt longer and harder.

Thursday saw two hours on the elliptical trainer, which wasn’t too arduous but felt as if I was fighting a cold trying to erupt. By Friday I had changed my mind over what bike to ride for the duathlon. A tip off by Hywel Davies on Strava who had recced the course on Wednesday, he suggested that a TT bike was definitely the way to go, even if the first half of the course was a little lumpy, and the second half had road surfaces of dubious quality.

This change of mind meant I needed to head out on the TT bike which I hadn’t ridden outside since the end of July. Riding the Witham Wheelers TT course the bike felt fine, save the Garmin mount which was somewhat broken, but the legs, if anything, felt worse than they did on Wednesday. I had little choice but to ride easy, rest up and hope for the best. That I kind of did, straight after a one mile brick run – a test of the Achilles and a test of the Hoka Hoka Clifton 2 trainers I’d bought a couple of months earlier and hadn’t got around to trying. They felt pretty good and the legs felt more lively running than when cycling.

Rest should mean rest but I read somewhere over lunch that Achilles problems can be caused by issues in the hip / glute area. This part of the body has been giving me a few issues recently, probably because the weekly core strength and conditioning programme has, let’s say, slipped over the past few months to not really doing anything at all save for some planks.

Friday I did twenty minutes and felt no ill effects. Saturday came and  I was still feeling the effects of the ‘Stumble and by now suffering the consequences of being on Austin, Texas time covering the F1 by night and being on British Summer Time by day (i.e. being awake most of the time). Nonetheless I was keen to put in another S&T session, focusing on the glute medius muscle. All was going well until a set off crossover crunches saw my right hamstring tighten alarmingly near the glutes. The session was quickly abandoned for half an hour intense massage and stretching before needing to start work. By the evening and still walking with a little limp I considering not bothering to take part – the lure of a lie in was strong. Only the fact I had parted with a sum of hard cash persuaded me to set the alarm for 6am as I headed to bed shortly before 2am on Sunday morning.

Knowing that I would be pretty much comatose while staggering around the house Sunday morning, I had prepared as best I could to ensure an easy departure. This was achieved, leaving just a few minutes later than planned, but then 10 minutes into the journey I had a panic that I’d not remembered my trainers! I fretted all the way to my doorstep before remembering they were safely packed in my rucksack! Annoyed I went in anyway and picked up my rain jacket – a token gesture to suggest the return wasn’t entirely wasted – it was after all raining quite heavily in Grantham. Thankfully I was able to make up a little time en route to Holdenby and the rain was a distant memory when I pulled into the field to park. While the right hamstring was happily almost pain free I did manage to complicate matters by finding a tender spot in the right quad while poking around bored on the A1. This caused quite a deep long lasting pain which forced some frantic quad stretching on my arrival.

It was immediately apparent this was no World Championship event, this was a fairly low key relaxed race, albeit still with proper transition areas, chip timing and the like. I had just over an hour to get prepared. This is not as straightforward a task as when running – there is a bike to set-up and check, things to put in boxes, things to keep and not keep in transition. I must have fretted away 30 minutes before I made my final trip into transition shortly before the start and was satisfied I was ready.

The warm up was a token mile jogging slowly back and forth. Thankfully there was just a subtle ache in the Achilles, the right hamstring was fine, the right quad felt a little fuzzy, but bearable. I joined the rest of the field for an organised warm up session. I normally baulk at such an undertaking, but after a minute or so I realised that they were doing pretty much all the same exercises I was doing, so joined in – and felt better for it.

The final instructions were more important than normal to listen to. There was to be a foot down rule at a junction we had been warned about. There was also some temporary roadworks on the bike route covered by traffic lights. This was clearly not an ideal state of affairs. The thought of being unjustly held up by a costly red light already had me seeing red before the race had begun. Still there was nothing that could be done and there was always the chance this random luck / bad luck generator could play into my favour.

The warm up over we were greeted with a loud buzzing noise and the somewhat off putting sight of a drone hovering somewhat unsteadily just above us. We were encouraged to wave; I felt more inclined to duck for cover. Thankfully we were promptly given the countdown from five to begin and once off we were soon we were clear of the flying camera which, I presume, wasn’t seen again. I felt a little conspicuous to be taking part in my Team GB tri-suit. This wasn’t bragging, more the reality of only having one tri-suit. Hopefully soon I can get hold of a less conspicuous one.

As with the Stumble I instantly found myself at the head of the field from the off, but this time there was two or three who were quickly keen to take the pace, passed me and pulled out a small gap chasing the lead vehicle which would accompany us for most of the first lap only. I wasn’t overly concerned, but was a little bemused when after around three minutes of running we came down a short sharp descent and was swamped by five or six minutes hurtling down as if the finish was at the bottom of the hill! Admittedly I was taking it fairly gingerly here – I didn’t want to stress the quads, already showing signs of fragility and which have form for cramping up early in races on a descent.

Early in on the opening run.
Early on the opening run.

Thankfully the quads and all the other aching bits survived and, lo and behold, it wasn’t too many yards later where I began to pretty much all of the runners who flew past me a minute earlier and were now already beginning to show signs of paying the consequences. The first mile was swift – 5:41 but it was mostly downhill, so a 6:05 according to Strava GAP. The run was off road but the kind of off-road I’m agreeable with – firm underfoot and, for the most, part fairly even and not rutted.

The second mile was where i established my position in the race. I found myself moving up to third as we tackled the big steep hill on the climb. The lead two were around 20 seconds ahead but as looked at them I began to wonder whether they were actually competitors. I remembered that as well as the standard distance Duathlon with its 10km opening run leg, there was a sprint Duathlon with a 5k opening run leg, and also a 10km standalone running race. This explained why one of the lead two was wearing a baggy vest and shorts, which would be awfully casual attire for the lycra obsessed multi-sport world.

As I struggled with a section of hills and hollows coming in to complete the first lap the lycra clad runner peeled off to collect his bike in transition. I was now at worst second and likely to be leading the Standard distanced race. I very nearly ended up throwing it all away at the start of the second lap when I was confused by a poorly posted direction sign (It pointed left when it should have been straight ahead) and a gate that had become partially closed suggesting we should indeed turn left. This I did, but after a few seconds guessed that we hadn’t run through a farmyard on the first lap and had probably taken a wrong turn. I lost around 10-15 seconds but no one had passed me.

The run was proving to be hard but sustainable in terms of effort – mile 2 was 6:14 (5:50 GAP), mile 3 6:26, mile 4 6:13 and mile 5 6:02. There was no problem with low heart rate today, if anything it was a struggle to keep it down – the weeks of running inactivity beginning to show. The penultimate climb of the big hill was a struggle but I was pulling well clear of those behind me. Mile six was the slowest of the full mile of the run at 6:32 and there was a another 3/5s of a mile tackling before the the pesky hollows approaching transition to complete. It was here I received confirmation via the PA system that the runner ahead was indeed a runner and not planning on taking to a bicycle.

My transition to bike went really well and was commented on by a couple of spectators watching intently. As we were on wet grass and with the start of the bike leg tricky, I saw no point in attempting to run barefoot with bike shoes attached to bike. I calmly put helmet on first, took off trainers, put on bike shoes, unracked the bike and headed off to the mount point.

The bike leg was largely uneventful and played somewhat to my strengths. A two lap course, the first half of the lap was mostly uphill with two long descents. It meant that although I was on my TT bike there was little benefit of spending too much time in the TT position and I could put power through my quads in a more upright position. Also to save the quads I pedaled at a fairly high average cadence. I got myself in the TT position on the few flat sections of the course and on the gentle descents where the poor road conditions allowed. It transpired the road that had traffic lights had some of the most appalling road quality I’ve encountered – so rough that my bike mount broke and I had to hold onto the Garmin for dear life to avoid losing it altogether.

It was tricky to know how I was fairing on the bike as I was soon passing riders taking part in the sprint event. What I did know was that no-one passed me and no-one was in sight for the entire ride. I was fortunate in that on the two laps I was only held up for a few seconds at the traffic lights, and then again for 20 seconds or so coming into the village near Holdenby where parked cars were wreaking havoc.

An hour and nine minutes or so and the bike leg was over. I opted again to leave the bike shoes on when dismounting rather than get the socks wet. There was a little drama when the left calf wanted to cramp when taking the shoe off (Just as at Aviles) but again I was able to quickly stretch the calf and the pain passed. It wasn’t the quickest transition of the day but by now I was relaxed, confident that as long as the legs wanted to play ball on the run I was going to win.

Thankfully despite a little hip discomfort from the bike ride, the legs were soon up to speed, even if they didn’t feel like they were. The first mile was a 6:06 and half a mile later I was able to take a look back where I could see for nearly half a mile and I could no-one behind me. I relaxed as I settled to 6:16 for the second mile and almost allowed myself the luxury of walking up the last hill as mile three was a pedestrian 6:48 (6:15 Strava GAP).  The last 0.3 mile was a little tortuous on the hollows but I was receiving congratulations from the Sprint athletes as they came to the finish too.

Crossing the finish line - 'overjoyed' with my victory!
Crossing the finish line – ‘overjoyed’ with my victory!

As I crossed the line there was a small celebration but little in the way of elation. I’m not sure why I wasn’t happier, I think it was sheer relief that I managed to get around largely in one piece. There was also the matter of not being able to hang around too much as there was work at home to be done. I quickly changed and packed the bike in the car before a short podium presentation, minus the trophy I am still waiting for, which apparently hadn’t arrived and will be posted.

Top spot on the podium - minus trophy!

And that was that. My second win in as many weeks! They will be days I look back on with affection, for these victories are unlikely to happen very often. In the end I won by over three minutes – fastest on both the run legs and, pleasingly second fastest on the bike leg. The field may not have been the biggest or strongest, but, as they say, a win is a win is a win!