The previous few years have only seen me run the opening race of the LWAC 5K Series, held at Yarborough Leisure Centre in Lincoln in the final week in May. This year I decided to run as many of the four held over the summer, which turned out to be the first three races as I was just about away on holiday for the final race in August. I’ve clumped them all together simply because there wasn’t too much to say for each race!
Race 1 – Tuesday May 28th
The overriding memory of the first race was the biblical downpour that occurred just as I was arriving at the race venue, rain that fell during one of the supporting junior races and destroyed the paper results! The rain eased and stopped but it was still cold, warming up to only 10C before the race started and the sun attempted to make an appearance. I’d harboured intentions of taking part in the new supporting Memory Mile race but my heart just wasn’t in to a full out effort just thirty minutes before the 5K race so I opted to mill around for a bit, heading back and forth to the car deciding what to wear.
Racing in my tried and trusted Hoka Clifton 4s I made a typically cautious start as plenty of others around me went off a bit too fast. I sensed that I perhaps didn’t go off quite quick enough. A couple of minutes into the race I had the choice to pick up the pace and attempt to latch onto the group containing club mate Ian Williams or to stick with a smaller group which had at least some big guys I could shelter behind when facing the noticeable head wind. Lacking that killer instinct I went for the easy option and tucked in.
Once that decision was made it was a fairly routine race. I tucked in when there was a head wind and attempted to push the pace when we had a the wind at our backs. On the third and final large lap we began to close down the lead female runner and I targeted her as some kind of motivation to try and pick the pace up / keep it going. I don’t have much luck with my GPS watch at Lincoln, just as with my old model it had me down to finish in around 16:40 which I could tell by feel just wasn’t the case.
Finally for the final half mile I managed to put in some kind of effort heart rate wise that merited a a 5K race. I pulled clear of the group I had been running with and almost caught the winning woman but not quite doing so. Annoyingly my watch and the official timing clocked me at 17:00. Just one second off the sub 17 I’d wanted.
My mood was a touch downbeat afterwards. I felt I could have tried a bit harder and that for various reasons I was enjoying my cycling more than running. I had also a good spot to watch Ian slowly but surely disappear into the near distance en route to breaking my club 5K record with 16:33. Although I was genuinely happy for him there was the feeling that this was the day when my mantle as fastest runner in the club had been handed over to Ian. Part of me had always wanted this to happen as I have championed for years the need to bring in younger more talented runners than I to the club. The other part just wanted the glory to live just a little longer!
Race 2 – Tuesday June 25th
I’d every intention of taking part in the one mile race as well as the 5K at the second race of the LWAC Series. However the stop/start two mile warm up put pay to that idea. With legs feeling super stiff and the right Achilles aching like mad, I sacked off the shorter race and focused as best I could on the 5K.
Actually this focusing was more a case of relaxing and not particularly having any great ambition for the 5K race which turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Wearing this time the Nike Frees that I’ve had for years and were coming to the end of their running life (now worn as the cross training shoe) My Achilles ached for the opening minute or so of the race but then, as often happens, ceased to be an issue as I settled into the race.
Starting steadily I soon opted for a game plan that consisted of making sure I was in a group to tuck behind whenever we were running into the significant headwind then push on and attempt to catch the group ahead when we had a tailwind. This worked well. The Garmin, as ever here, was hopeless at measuring the course accurately but did at least show that I ran the race with good progression – mile 1 5:24; mile 2 5:22, and mile 3 5:16. This tallied with how my heart race progressed nicely upwards: just 165 bpm at the end of mile 1 (Marathon HR); 173 at two miles (upper end of half marathon HR); and 180 BPM at the end of mile 3 (upper end of 5K HR).
If the Garmin had been accurate I’d be on for a big 5K PB. As it was I had another fifth of a mile to run, which I put in a bit of a sprint for knowing at least I had the chance of a sub-17 to bag. This I managed with a 16:54 clocking – my second fastest ever 5K and the best I’d felt over that distance save the 16:36 I ran back in 2015 at parkrun.
Although I was very pleased with my performance, it netted a poorer finishing position, coming home eighteenth compared to eleventh in the opening race and third V40 when I finished second in the first race. That was largely irrelevant though – it was the time I was interested in and I was happy with that!
Race 3 – Tuesday July 30th
This race did not go to plan but ended up with a result that I am pleased and proud of. Driving to Lincoln I knew that things weren’t quite right – my resting HR was 20 BPM up on what it normally is when I am driving. The warm up confirmed my doubts, feeling lethargic and lacking any zip which meant that, once again, I would not try my hand at the one mile race.
Indeed I felt so fatigued I very nearly didn’t race the 5K at all. In the end, sensing that this malaise was merely a repeat of how I felt when time trialing and exactly a year earlier and was most likely a bout of hay fever, I decided to take to the start line. The special shoes though stayed in their box and instead I raced in the new Nike Frees that I had bought from The Lincolnshire Runner a few weeks earlier.
From the off it was a struggle. Team mate Joaquim Flash Jeronimo shot off into the distance at a pace I should have been able to match but simply couldn’t. The first mile my Garmin clocked at 5:33, the second 5:32. All I could muster was to slowly catch Flash up as we began the third and final lap. I knew that he was desperate to break 18 minutes but was beginning to struggle badly after his bold start.
Knowing I had no hopes of a quick time for myself I took it upon myself to help pace my Portuguese club mate as best I could to the finish. This consisted of regular verbal encouragement: “You’ve got this!” “No I haven’t – I’m finished!” was the most memorable communication between the pair of us. I also sheltered him from the wind that was, as usual, blowing across the course, carefully placing myself to the left, or right, or directly ahead when required to offer as much protection as I could.
With the third mile clicked off at 5:34 I told Flash I would start a gradual sprint to the finish and he should try his best to stick as close as possible. Picking up the pace a touch I crossed the line in 17:36, with Joaquim coming home five seconds later and twenty five seconds quicker than he’d ever run 5K before.
I was delighted for Flash, one of the nicest and most enthusiastic club mates I have ever had, and proud to have been able to turn my off-day into something positive. As it turned out when race positions were considered it wasn’t that bad, finishing eighteenth again and second V40 (again).
I had tentative plans to take part in the final race in August, but I decided in the end to maximise my summer holiday away and missed it.
And that, for 5K in 2019, in Lincoln at least, was that!
Nearly a month had passed since the Manchester Marathon but all the indicators in the weeks in between suggested that it was taking a while to fully recover from the exertions in that race. I focused more on cycling than running through April, plenty of time on Zwift and a couple of club rides with Witham Wheelers. This was mostly because the sciatica issue in the left hamstring took around 10 days to fully disappear and then the less severe issue with the aching left hip took the best part of the month to subside to next to nothing. Coupled with a couple of runs where I got the weird quad ‘cramps’ that I’ve been afflicted with for years now, I don’t think I did any real speed work at all – save for one brick 5K run following a club ride where I bizarrely ran my fastest ever for the oft run loop (Averaging 5:53 per mile), despite having felt thoroughly exhausted for much of the week beforehand.
I went into the Sleaford Half Marathon with the knowledge that I had managed to finish second there in 2018 in very warm conditions in a pretty quick time. With much better conditions forecast and hopeful that I had more or less recovered from Manchester, I was cautiously optimistic that I could run a half decent time. The pre-race build up was wholly unspectacular, a mile and a half around the rugby pitches which were notable only for feeling a lack of zip and a bit of a snotty nose.
As I lined up for the 9:45 start, there was a bit of nervous chatter on the start line as one runner, who is best described as a novice who perhaps shouldn’t have been up on the start line itself, began happily asking everyone around them what time they thought they would run. I said I wouldn’t mine running around 1:16 but I was tired from Manchester. This prompted a guy in some form of Nike Vaporflys to state that he too had run Manchester, had gotten a PB of around 2:36 and was looking to run a 1:13 PB today at Sleaford. It turned out that was Wayne Lathwell of Lincoln Wellington AC, who when the starting horn was fired, looked true to his word and set off at a pace that was certainly unattainable, let alone unsustainable for me.
With Wayne off into the distance and indeed heading to a 1:13:11 PB which secured a comfortable victory, within half a mile I found myself in joint second place with a runner I recognised having competed against numerous times before – Stephen Dickens of Rushcliffe AC. I had a quick glance around and found that we already had a sizeable gap over the nearest runners, perhaps as much as twenty seconds. I knew then that, barring disaster, second or third position was on the cards.
The first mile was spot on what I’d hoped for at 5:40. Half a mile or so late, feeling comfortable and, to be honest, a little bored in the race already, I began chatting to Stephen – something I very rarely do in races. I commented on his trainers, recognising them to be the Nike Vaporfly 4%s, and asked how he felt they performed. He explained that he was still getting used to them. He’d run a 5K in them the week before and said they felt quick but odd.
A little while later as later as we climbed the biggest ascent of the race (A bridge heading over the A17) it became clear that Stephen had got used to his Vaporflys as he began to slowly, but inexorably, disappear into the distance. Powerless to go with him, I resigned myself to a long lonely run to the finish. There was no-one behind me as far as the eye could see so all I had to motivate me to keep the effort going was the prospect of a quick time and a good age grade at an event that was a round of the club’s Grand Prix Series.
The remainder of the race was, frankly, dull. I ran the opening 5K in 17:45, slowed slightly to 17:56 through the second 5K and slowed a little more to 18:10 for the third 5K. I was struggling a little bit on three counts: 1. I felt still a little jaded from Manchester. 2. The winds, although not strong, were troubling in an area on the edge of the Fens. 3. My stomach was cramping alarmingly, perhaps the result of a short return to to experimenting with taking on beetroot juice before a race (I’d also tried this at Retford).
Happy at 9.5 miles that I wasn’t going to be caught by anyone, I opted to dive through a hedgerow and have an emergency pit stop on an edge of a field. I think I only lost 25 seconds or so, returning to the race vowing to never take on beetroot juice before the start of the race again. Feeling more comfortable I ran the final 5K in 18:15 (Sub 18 removing the pit-stop) crossing the finish line third in 1:16:22.
At the time I was pretty disappointed with this – it was around the same time (If you remove time taken by the side of the road) as in 2018 but conditions then were far worse. I think in tip top shape with good weather this is as quick a half marathon course as anywhere in the region and it’s a bit of a mystery why so relatively few runners take part in the race. I got to chat to Stephen at the end of the race who had set a new PB of 1:15:30 and he reckoned that the Vaporflys were worth at least a minute over the half marathon. Given that Wayne too had flown (Albeit I don’t think he was rocking the all singing and dancing model) and I’d seen also Vince at Manchester and elsewhere, plus Jonny Palmer of Bourne/GRC break 2:40 at London a week earlier, both do wondrous things in these shoes, I pretty much decided then that it was time for me to join the arms race and look to get a pair of carbon shod shoes.
Content that I was the winner of the non-Vaporfly race by two and a half minutes, I hung around for the presentation, a touch disappointed that third place wasn’t rewarded quite as well as they had been in 2018. A quick photo with the incredible Tony Johnson, who won his age category with his highest ever age grade a week after going sub-3 at London, and it was time to head home, where bizarrely I opted to totally exhaust myself by doing a 35 minute full gas TT on Zwift, which left me wondering afterwards whether I could have pushed just a bit harder a few hours earlier…
Despite Manchester from Grantham being comparable distance to Grantham to London I’d decided fairly early that I wasn’t going to travel on the morning of the race to Manchester from home. I balked at the idea of paying large amounts of money for a hotel room so opted, for the first time, to use the family caravan to stay close to the race and then stay up in the Manchester area with the family for a few days as the race was taking place during the Easter holidays.
We were staying at a Caravan and Motorhome Club site in Bury, which is in the outskirts of the Greater Manchester district and, crucially, on the tram network that I planned to use to get to and from the race. We left for Bury on the Saturday morning and was immediately grateful for Richard at Grantham Leisure Ltd who was able to immediately identify a terrible sounding (but actually relatively harmless) issue with our tow bar that hit us when setting off on our journey that was remedied with some sand paper and brake cleaner that he very kindly let us keep at no cost.
That drama out of the way the journey to Bury was straightforward enough. The site was pleasant enough, set in Burrs Country Park with constant reminders of the area’s industrial past, including a steam train running on a line just behind our caravan, which bought great boyish pleasure! Once set up and lunch eaten most of the afternoon was spent relaxing as much as possible.
My pre marathon meal of choice is pizza, which isn’t so easy to cook in the caravan so was relying on takeaway. After googling for Bury’s finest pizza establishments I settled on my first ever Domino’s Pizza. I was impressed with the app and collection procedure; less impressed with the actual quality of the pizza and that they are still texting me six months later in the feint hope I may actually use Domino’s Bury while living in Grantham. I washed the pizza down with a small glass of white wine – the habits of caravan lifestyle proved too hard to resist.
The rest of the evening was spent playing the usual parlour games we play with the kids in the caravan before heading to bed at around 10pm. The beauty of staying in the caravan was that, so long as the weather was not biblically bad, I was almost assured a good night’s sleep in a familiar bed – something that I rarely get when staying in a hotel room.
I woke at around 5am and let the legs slowly come to life as I made the short walk to the site’s washroom facilities. I was sure I’d be the only one who’d hatched the same accommodation plan for Manchester but there were at least two or three others who clearly had the same intentions. After a breakfast of 5 small cereal bars washed down with a large mug of black coffee I got the wife to drive me the couple of miles or so to the main tram stop in Bury. The plan was for her to return back to the caravan for a bit before getting a later tram with the kids to watch the race at various points alongthe course.
Again for some reason I was sure that I would be the only one racing at Manchester who would consider getting a tram from Bury but as it turned out there were already many runners on the platform waiting for the first tram to depart at around 7am. They were mostly from local clubs, mostly far too enthusiastic for six something in the morning, but at least the platforms were not as busy as they are when trying to get to the start of London at Blackheath.
The tram journey took around 45 minutes, including a change in the heart of Manchester when I met Jack Dodwell of GRC, who was racing, and his father, who had driven them from Grantham that morning. Once off the second tram it was a few minute’s walk before we came to the boulevard of Portaloos where I stumbled upon quite a few of the other GRC contingency who were taking part in the race. It was then on to drop off the bag at baggage near the finish line. By now the time was around 8:30 and not too long left before the 9am start. There was time for a quick photo with around half the GRC runners before I made my way to the start.
On one of the last unofficial toilet stops I happened to bump into Vince Riviere who I’d first met at the Leeds Abbey Dash. He’d gone on to have quite a winter with a string of great races including a brilliant low 2:37 at the Valencia Marathon. We wished each other well and I dreamed of whether it would be my day to break 2:40 for the first time. Working my way through the crowds of runners starting from slower pens, I finally got to the front pen with around ten minutes to spare. I found somewhere where you could lighten the load in relative privacy (albeit with a load of other runners doing the same thing) one last time before making my way to the start line. I looked up to the skies and blessed the weather gods for providing pretty much perfect conditions – cloudy skies, a light easterly breeze and temperatures maxing out at around 11C. I could conjour up plenty of excuses for a poor performance, the weather couldn’t be one of them!
As the final countdown began and the pre-race nerves around me became almost unbearable it was with great relief that the starting horn was sounded dead on time at 9am. Despite the large numbers running we were able to run unrestricted from the off and some around me clearly were going off way too fast, almost totally out of breath in the opening couple of minutes. Despite swathes of runners coming past me I stuck as closely as I could to the game plan of max 150 bpm for the opening mile, 155 bpm for mile two, 160 bpm for mile three and a maximum of 165 bpm to twenty miles.
This deliberately easy start meant I felt like I was chomping at the bit, which was potentially a good sign as sometimes the opening miles can feel quite laboured. The opening mile was 6:34 which I hoped would be by far the slowest mile of the race. Mile 2 was 6:15 and I went through mile 3 in 6:09, which coincided with the course completing its mini loop east before heading southwest towards Stretford, Sale and Altrincham before heading back to the start via Urmston.
The fourth mile was the first where I allowed myself the luxury of getting to 165 bpm and I was pleased to clock a 6:01, which was right at the top end of what I thought I might be able to hit after all the weeks of training at marathon heart rate. Better was to come in mile five when I ran a 5:58 (the fastest of the race) before I ran 6:05 for mile 6. Thereafter the splits to mile 20 were very consistent with only nine seconds covering the quickest (6:00 – mile 13) and the slowest (6:09 – mile 12). The difference in these two miles could be explained in that we climbed the biggest ‘hill’ of the race (no more than a bridge over a railway) in mile 12 at Altrincham and came down in mile 13.
Given the consistency of mile splits you may be forgiven for thinking it was plain sailing. Alas this was not the case. All was well until around that bridge at 12 miles. I’d already seen my family out once on the course at around eight miles and taken the first of three gels (SIS that I was using in a race for the first time). Without warning I felt a sharp pain in my left hamstring. At first I thought it was cramp but the pain disappeared as soon as it came. Anxious I wasn’t in the mood for high fiving the Altrincham football club mascot as I passed the family for the third and final time before the finish. Indeed the family were worried I might punch him as he generally got in runners’ way – I was very restrained under the circumstances!
I got through the convoluted Altrincham loop – complete with odd run through what looks like the back of a Boots car park without drama and was hoping that the pain in the hamstring was a one off as I passed through halfway in just outside eighty minutes. However at the next left turn where crowds were perhaps at there biggest, I felt a sharper, longer more sustained pain in my left hamstring. This forced me briefly to a slow jog and, assuming it was cramp, I was already wondering whether it would be a good time to consider dropping out of the race.
Mercifully almost as quick as the pain came on it disappeared entirely. This led me to make some quick assumptions that it wasn’t cramp, wasn’t a muscle pull or tear and was almost certainly some kind of sciatica similar to what had struck my calf muscle at the Retford Half Marathon. Considering I had slowed for a period mile 14 wasn’t nearly as disastrous as I feared clocking, 6:07. The mind has a neat way of blocking out painful episodes from the memory bank so I can’t recall how often I suffered a repeat of the sciatica pains, but I estimate I had a couple more in mile 15, then perhaps two or three more up to around mile 18. They must have been still troubling me at mile 17 as there was a photo of me uploaded to Facebook shouting at fellow GRC runner and spectator at the race due to injury Dean Riggall that I was suffering from Sciatica.
The follow up bursts of discomfort weren’t as severe as the blast of pain that had forced me to slow, indeed they barely caused me to slow at all, they served more to not have me push on quite as much as I perhaps could have, the heart rate veering closer to 160 bpm than 165. One other precautionary tactic was that on all the remaining ninety degree corners, of which there were plenty on this course that uses a lot of residential streets, I made sure I took a very wide, cautious line through the corner, using plenty of road and trying not to force any sharp turns. This may have added a few extra meters per turn but I sensed it would perhaps help minimise any further distress to the leg.
By mile eighteen nearly four miles had passed since the bad pain and I was gaining a little more confidence that I was able to make it at least to the finish. The mile splits were still good, hovering just over six minutes a mile. It was around here I made an adjustment on my Garmin’s race pacer to allow for the distance creep that had built in compared to the official distance markers. The news was positive, I was on course to run just outside 2:40 – a PB was on the cards and if I could muster something special perhaps, just perhaps a sub 2:40 was possible.
The twenty mile marker is a key moment in any marathon, it’s where a race begins if you abide to the famous maxim a marathon is a twenty mile steady run with a 10K race at the end. It’s where at many marathons the crowds are at their deepest and most enthusiastic. At Manchester it coincides with where the race becomes, for a mile or two, its most rural and most sparse in terms of support. For some this is a bit of an issue, to be honest it doesn’t really bother me too much, I quite enjoyed being able to focus on the task in hand of getting to the finish as quick as possible.
Reasonably content that the dodgy leg wasn’t going to get any worse I guzzled down the third and final gel (A double espresso one, which I felt certainly gave a good buzz) and put the gas down at 20 miles as per the best case scenario race strategy. This simply meant I abandoned the 165 bpm max limit and attempted to run as at high a BPM as the body will allow me.
Most times I find this unattainable, today was one of those rare races where I was able to increase the HR to between 166-169 bpm. Having set an alert for the race on my Garmin to let me know when I had exceeded 165 BPM I had planned to switch this off fearing the nagging beep and buzz would get annoying. As it happened the opposite happened and I found the alert a reassurance that I was still able to push the effort.
Because the body was, by now, pretty fatigued the reality was that I wasn’t getting any quicker even with the extra BPM, but crucially I was able to more or less maintain the same pace I’d run the previous seventeen miles at. Three consecutive 6:06 miles saw me pass a lot of runners, many of whom were beginning to see the wheels well and truly fall off.
Mile 23 saw a little blip in the pace as it dropped to 6:14, but this mile contained a quite noticeable climb for part of the mile. Having had no repeat of the sciatica since around mile 18 I’d by now all but forgotten the injury and was giving it everything I could, concentrating on picking off runners and trying to keep my predicted finish time as quick as possible.
Mile 24 was pleasing at 6:03, with mile 25 much the same – another 6:06. The final mile is a bit marmite – some love the ability to see the finish line from nearly a mile away, I found it a bit annoying as it never seemed to get any closer. It became more annoying as I had a runner in front of me who saw fit to have a couple of his friends recording him from a bicycle that was sheltering him from the wind. As I passed him his friends urged him to stick to me and kick past at the finish. This made me doubly determined to ensure it didn’t happen!
More annoying still was a giant screen that showed the finish line that from a distance looked just like it was the finish until you realised there was another slight right turn and around a third of a mile to the finish. This produced a protracted and painful attempt at a sprint finish as I made my way to the finish line. I crossed the line tired, but happy in 2:40:47.
I was delighted to break my PB by nearly a minute and set a new club record; a little frustrated that without the sciatica issues there was every chance I could have broken that 2:40 barrier. I must have recovered quite quick as I was soon having a good old chat with the winner of the women’s race, who had set a big new PB. Then collecting my bag a few minutes later I bumped in again with Vince, who had clocked another sub 2:40 time despite suffering a fall and inflicting damage to his Vaporfly 4%s. I looked longingly at his shoes wondering what I may have achieved if I were wearing those rather than my tried and trusted Hoka Cliftons….
With the race done, medal collected, and repatriated with the family, it was just a case of getting the tram back to the Caravan site, treating it as a badge of honour of sorts that I was at the station at the same time as Steve Way, who had collected a considerable number of fans asking his opinion of the race.
Once back at the Caravan I wasted no time in fulfilling a promise I’d declared on Facebook that I would be back cooking chicken on the barbecue and drinking sparkling wine by 2pm. By 10pm and some drinks later and plenty of hours sitting in a caravan, the hamstring sciatica had turned into a full on case of a locked hip so painful that I almost had to ask to be picked up in the car when I couldn’t get back from the toilet block to the caravan!
The next couple of days were spent recovering and enjoying Manchester. I managed a fairly short exploratory run on the Wednesday morning before heading back home – seemingly with no lasting damage done to the left leg.
Having run it twice now (Once in the infamous short course days) I would certainly recommend Manchester as a great alternative marathon to London – it’s flatter, has less crowd support (Which is a perverse positive) and coming early in April is more likely to have cooler conditions. I enjoyed the pre-race caravan experience so much I have decided to do something similar if I take part in the 2020 London Marathon.
The second of two planned half marathons before the Manchester Marathon and the last race before the 26.2 mile jaunt around the streets of Greater Manchester. The intention for this race was to run it as a 90-95% effort – harder certainly than at the Leicestershire Half Marathon which was run at marathon HR, but not absolutely flat out bearing in mind the need to continue marathon training immediately after the race and mindful that there had been no taper before the Retford Race.
There certainly was no taper, indeed the weekend before saw the biggest weekend of training of the year – the Saturday had me up and running at 6:20am to run 21 miles, including the hilly Newton’s Fraction Half Marathon course, completing that just in time to take part in Belton House parkrun, which I managed to complete in 17:54 before running 2 1/3 tough miles to run 26.4 miles in 2:55:46. Then the next day I ran a half marathon training run in just under the 90 minutes, including a 5:58 final mile to ensure I just ducked under that time barrier. The rest of the week was fairly easy running except two days later I had a 10 mile run with 7 miles at marathon pace, which I found hard going and included a weird spell of tightness in the left hip and glute which soon eased off but, in hindsight, was an indicator of some trouble that lay ahead.
In stark contrast to the year before, winter 2019 training had been relatively mild and dry – the odd bit of short lived snow and the odd cold morning, but nothing too harsh. Arguably the worst weather of the winter / spring actually came on the morning of the Retford Half Marathon, I woke early with the temperatures hovering around freezing and snow threatening. Indeed in surrounding counties snow had apparently fallen and settled, making driving treacherous. Thankfully as I drove up the A1 to Retford the rain occasionally turned to sleet but no snow fell. There had though been an awful lot of rain, which I found when I took on an easy two mile warm up that saw me having to skirt around some very large puddles. Very strong winds were also predicted, although I was mercifully spared these (a moderate to stiff breeze) until an hour or so after I finished.
Arriving extremely early (Over two hours before the 10am start) to ensure that I could utilise the car park right next to the start line and not have to use one some way away, I had plenty of time to kill, so spent plenty of time chatting to a few GRC members, visiting the toilet numerous times and generally killing time. At last the time came to race, I made the very short trip from the sports hall of the school to the start line and waited for the off.
It’s a bit of a weird start at Retford. You run away from the main road for only a matter of 50 meters or so before doing a big U-turn around a roundabout, doubling back on yourself and passing the start / finish line before heading out of the main entrance and taking a left turn to skirt around the edge of Retford town centre. With the tarmac slick it was a little nerve wracking getting around the corner without slipping, but I was safely around and quite soon into my running.
The field was a fairly good quality and I had quite a nice group to run with for the opening miles (the first mile made easier by a tailwind) before it thinned out considerably. The first couple of miles were solid – 5:44 and 5:46. I then had the first twinges of something amiss going on with the left leg. I felt a sharp pain radiate down from the middle of the hamstring down into the calf muscle. It didn’t last long and didn’t particularly slow me but it was unnerving. It happened again a few minutes later and proceeded to do so every few minutes or so for the entirety of the race. I was pretty sure it was a sciatica like issue so tried my best to ignore it and focus on the running.
Mile 3 slowed a touch to 5:48 and I went through 5K in just under 18 minutes. We were running along the old Great North Road, which was pretty straight, just about a neutral side wind and pretty flat aside from a bridge over the mainline railway. The weather took a turn for the worse with cold rain beginning to fall. I persisted wearing the sunglasses as I do tend to suffer with streaming eyes on cold, breezy, mornings, but I did get the odd comment here and there from spectators questioning whether they were needed.
More troubling was that the cold rain and wind with temperatures only around 3°C was that I was beginning to get cold. The upper half wasn’t too bad as I had opted to run with a thermal headband, thermal base layer and short sleeved club top. I was wearing my usual Skins compression cycling length shorts (Bought specifically for such weather after suffering badly at the Newton’s Fraction in 2017) and thick calf compression guards, but this wasn’t enough for the quads especially to start icing up.
Miles 4 and 5 remained consistent – 5:51 and 5:49. Up to now we had been running on good quality A roads. Indeed what I took from the race afterwards was how high grade the roads were and what good value the race was at £18 to have such roads mostly closed to traffic. The sixth mile saw us literally take a turn for worse – a sharp left into a narrow country lane just before we reached Toworth. As they had warned us before the start the heavy overnight rainfall had left a section of the course flooded and it was here where we were faced with a stretch of around 100 meters around a corner where we were faced with the choice of either running through ankle deep water or risk ankles and limbs on the grass verge beside the road.
The runner ahead of me opted for the grass. Seeing him struggle I opted for the flooded road after just a few strides myself on the grass. This proved to be quicker as I caught him and soon past him, but it did leave me with soaking wet trainers. The sixth mile was a touch slower at 5:53, the undulating seventh mile was a fraction slower again at 5:54. This part of the course had us back on an A road and featured a dead turn at seven miles where we would head back and past runners coming in the opposite direction for mile 8. It was here at some point I spotted the rapidly improving GRC runner Ian Williams who was running his first half marathon in a couple of years and looking to significantly improve on his 85 minute debut. I did some mental maths and reckoned he was on for something around five minutes faster, which is what we had estimated beforehand.
Going through the 8 mile marker in 5:50 the ninth mile was mostly downhill and was a touch quicker at 5:48. Having enjoyed a mile of watching runners head in the opposite direction I was now running alone, with pretty much no-one as far as the eye could see in front of me and no-one directly behind either. By now I was not feeling great. The cold, wet conditions, the cold my daughter had passed on to me and probably the mileage in the week before was beginning to take its toll – mentally perhaps more than physically.
Mile 10 had us briefly back on the old Great North road before heading right onto the Old London Road. This proved to be a tough old slog. There was a steepish ascent up and over a railway bridge which was followed by a very gentle climb that went on for the best part of two miles. Not being able to push on the pace slowed a touch – 5:58 for mile 10 and 6:08 for mile 11 before the twelfth mile saw me rally slightly with a 5:52, thanks wholly to the last third of a mile being significantly downhill and aided considerably by the westerly wind blowing directly on my back.
This wind and the descent was so much of a help I the pace was under 5:30 for the a fair chunk of the final mile, before it took a hit with the little steep rise I had rehearsed during my warm up. Just as in my warm up we had to run on the pavement here as the busy A road had not been closed to traffic. This wouldn’t have been an issue were it not for a number of pedestrians and their dogs going for a leisurely stroll, most oblivious to the race taking pace, making for some hairy dodging as I tried to maintain the pace to the finish line.
With a 5:44 final mile I sprinted as best I could back to the Academy and the finish line, clocking 1:16:56. Although I would have liked to have gone a bit quicker I was content with this considering how cold, wet, and somewhat miserable I was during the race, with the added hindrance of the leg pains shooting from hamstring to calf. Half marathons in the middle of marathon training are often curious affairs. They can often prove to be the fastest of the year thanks to the mileage volume in the legs or the hardest, sometimes the slowest, thanks to the mileage volume in the legs.
Straight after the finish I headed back to the Academy entrance to see Ian come home in 1:20:41, I hung around a bit longer to see Tony, Holly, Joss and Sam finish before I opted to retire to the gymnasium to warm up and prepare for a warm down. Thanks to some efficient production of results on a notice board I found out I had finished sixteenth, and I had come second in the V40 category, again things I should be pretty pleased with really.
The warm down however turned into something of a disaster! Feeling the left calf tighten, I stopped to perform a hamstring stretch which saw the whole leg tighten enormously with pains shooting down the leg. I then proceeded to hobble the remainder of the mile in over nine minutes before making it back to the car. Thankfully after a lot of massage in the next few days I was able to start running on the Wednesday, although I only ran once more on the Friday – this being more due to working crazy hours for the Australian Grand Prix!
Note: I am writing this in early March 2019 – nearly five months after the race took place. Recollections are already a little hazy!
The RAF Henlow 10 was a race that came to my radar pretty much having finished the Leeds Abbey Dash 10K, To be honest it wasn’t a race that I was that familiar with. A little more digging and I came to recognise that it was a race with plenty of heritage, albeit one with an uncertain future, given that RAF Henlow as a base is due to close at some point in the next few years.
The Henlow 10 was first run in 1952 as a challenge between runners from RAF Cardington and RAF Henlow. In its heyday during the mid 1980s the race took on the mantle of the RAF 10 Mile Championships and a new course was established to cater for the 800+ runners who would take part, including some of the country’s very best runners. It was at this race in 1986 where current GRC member Chris Armstrong, representing RAF Lossiemouth, ran 52:37 to finish twelfth, a time that would have seen him comfortably win in 2018. In 2000 the route was changed again to its current form, beginning at the historic Old Warden Aerodrome Shuttleworth and meandering its way along undulating country lanes through a number of small villages to end at the airfield within the RAF Henlow Military Base.
I was assured that, despite its status as the RAC 10 Mile Championships, civilians were welcome and encouraged to take part. Given that I was also offered the opportunity to travel down on the RAF Coningsby coach with GRC club mate Andrew Pask and that I’d been unable to take part in a 10 mile race through 2018, the temptation to race on a Thursday proved too great to resist and I signed up.
Having arrived at RAF Henlow and gotten hold of my race number I met up with fellow GRC runners Ian Williams (who, like Andrew, was representing RAF Coningsby) and Peter Bonner who, like me, was a civilian competitor. We hung around in the gymnasium until the briefing took place, at the conclusion of which we were ushered to the coaches that had been laid on to take us to Shuttleworth Aerodrome. Once there I put in a mile or so of warm up, enjoying the unseasonably mild, sunny conditions, but noticing that there was a stiff breeze that appeared to be a southerly , which was unfortunate given that the point-to-point course ran in a mostly southerly direction.
Having analysed my disappointing Leeds Abbey Dash performance compared to the positive Worksop Half Marathon run out, I’d noted that the big difference in the two was that I went out hard from the gun at Leeds, whereas I eased myself in to the Worksop race and benefited as a result. I decided to opt for the latter tactic here, so wasn’t unduly concerned when i found myself somewhat swamped at the start by a swathe of overly exuberant runners pushed on by the very opening section of the race out of the Aerodrome enjoying a tailwind.
We turned left out of Shuttleworth and up a short climb which soon shuffled the field into something like its natural running order. I quickly moved up from somewhere near the outer periphery of the top twenty into around seventh place. The opening mile was steady at 5:47, the second mile was mostly flat and was relatively quick at 5:39. I’d moved past a couple more runners to lie fifth and sharing the pace with a big tall runner we were able to close in on a runner who readily became familiar to me, being Iain Bailey, who I battled with at the Woodhall Spa 10K and had finished behind on many occasions at parkrun especially. I’d heard that he had only turned 40 the day before, and was wondering if he’d maybe be suffering the excess of celebrating that milestone of being a Veteran athlete.
We caught Iain at around 5K, a long uphill drag slowing mile 3 to a 5:51. Feeling good and knowing that we would soon turn left and hit a headwind, I wasted no time in taking third place and quite quickly moving clear of Iain and the other runner. With the second placed runner literally just visible in the distance I knew that the best I could do was third (which I was very happy with) and was facing the prospect of a fairly lonely race to the finish. Miles 4 to 6 were 5:49, 5:43, and 5:44 respectively, most enjoyable too on quiet country lanes, some surrounded by woodland in full autumn hue. I was pleased with these miles, especially as the vast majority of the mileage was directly into the headwind. Mile 7 saw quite a big downhill drop in the small town of Shefford, netting me my quickest mile of the race at 5:36.
Racing through Shefford was quite surreal. We were running on entirely open roads on a early Thursday afternoon, the residents and vehicle drivers clearly blissfully unaware that there was a race taking place. Given the history of the race I imagined that this kind of scenario harked back to the races of the 1970s and 80s which nearly always took place on open roads with little or no traffic management in place. In someways it was a pleasing throwback; when forced to take my chances at busy roundabouts or junctions.
Mile 8 through Shefford itself was a 5:46. Mile 9 was a tale of two halves, the opening quarter of a mile up a stiff little climb made doubly hard with the ever present headwind. It was then a long gradual drop down back towards RAF Henlow, this allowing the overall mile split to be the equal slowest of the race at 5:51. With around half a mile still to run I turned 90 degrees left into the base. I didn’t have a tailwind here, but the lack of a full on headwind felt like I had a 20 mph wind directly on my back! This, alas, was short lived as I turned again into the headwind for the final couple of hundred meters before turning left into a gloriously understated finish, welcomed home by a small splattering of applause from a handful of spectators.
A 5:39 final mile meant I clocked 57:49, finishing third. A little analysis suggests I ran the quickest second half of the race and it was a real pity so much of it was run into a headwind, otherwise I think I could have gone the 30 seconds or so quicker required to claim a PB. I cheered home the other GRC runners and those from RAF Coningsby too. I hung around with them to pick up my trophy for third place overall (And unofficially first civilian) and celebrated their well deserved winning of the RAF Team Competition and the splendid trophy that goes with that honour. My trinket to keep was definitely one worth keeping too – sitting currently with pride of place on my mantelpiece.
The future of the RAF Henlow 10 is very much uncertain; it is quite possible I took part in its last ever edition in its current guise. That I was able to take part in a race and win a prize at a race with so much history makes me feel a little bit proud of myself! The good race / bad race / good race streak of autumn 2018 continues!