Race Report – Worksop Halloween Half Marathon – Sunday 28th October 2018

The training run following the Great Eastern Run two weeks prior to Worksop very nearly spelled disaster! Leading a Grantham Running Club evening run, I was paying more attention to keeping pace with my watch and chatting to friends then looking at what was heading towards me. I saw the railings protecting a pedestrian crossing too late to avert hitting them full on and with unabated speed (Around 8-9 mph). I missed squashing the boys in the barrack by about a centimetre, instead the pubic bone took the full brunt of the blow. A bit stunned it took a minute or two to regain composure. Sensing nothing was broken but plenty was very sore I continued the run, hoping to run off the injury. Nothing seemed totally amiss but things became increasingly painful in the right hip and thigh, and the left knee (which I think took a glancing blow) as I ran the six miles or so back to the Meres Leisure Centre.

A few minutes inactivity stiffened things up considerably. Thankfully one of the runners offered me a lift home rather than having to run another two miles; he had done something very similar on a identical set of railing some weeks earlier so could empathise with my discomfort.

When I woke the next morning I knew running was out of the question for a few days. The inflammation meant I could lift my leg more than a few inches. Luckily I was able to cycle with a minimum of discomfort and took solace in Zwift for a few days, testing the leg with a brick mile on the Friday with no ill effects.

The next day however and I was pretty sure I was feeling ill with something, a suspected chest infection was the reason why a reasonably routine 10 mile run on the Saturday felt like a slog and a 12 mile run the next day felt particularly arduous. The family and I were heading to Carsington Water on the Monday, I felt too lethargic to consider running. On the Tuesday I forced myself out for a lap of the man-made lake. The eight mile loop was particularly undulating but the return of the quad cramps early on in the run, becoming too severe to run by the end, were surely a sign of feeling unwell rather than unfit. I took the Wednesday off to allow me to run around the water again (this time in a clockwise direction) on Thursday morning before we left back for home). The relatively laboured pace (7:19 per mile) was exactly the same as Tuesday’s; the cramps coming on again but this time less intensely.

Friday saw a 10K effort which, to paraphrase my Strava entry, would have been easy were I not feeling so wheezy. I took Saturday off with the half on the Sunday in mind. Working on the Mexican Grand Prix meant working some late evenings, although the clocks going back on the Saturday night meant I could enjoy a fairly fully night’s sleep. Before drifting off I sensed as if the malaise that had enveloped the body for the past week may just have left the building.

I woke on Sunday morning just after 6 am and made myself breakfast, experimenting with peanut butter and banana on toast after the bad experience with cereal and milk at Peterborough. I left not long after 7 for the 50 minute or so journey to Worksop, finding the same car park I found 12 months earlier and enjoying the same 10 minute walk to the start venue that served to loosen the legs a touch.

I was happy to see on arriving that the race organisers Worksop Harriers AC had clearly listened to some of the criticisms of the race village setup and acted on them in an almost wholly positive manner. The school that they used had been converted into a one way system to avoid all the bottlenecks and congestion with number collection and baggage drop that delayed the start of the 2017 race. In particular the baggage had been moved outside and streamlined and this did wonders in minimising the congestion as best you can with around 2000 runners confined in a relatively small space.

I changed slowly into my running kit at the tables in the canteen, stretched, dropped off my bag and headed for a warm up of just over 1.5 miles. It was an unspectacular warm up – the legs felt okay, I was coughing a fair amount but didn’t feel any of the wheeziness or lethargy of previous runs in the week. Off the back of this I decided that for the race I would take a cautious approach, not going off too hard and seeing how I felt as the race progressed.

Warm up done and with 40 minutes to the start I made one last trip to the toilet which is the only area where I still feel this race could improve, there not being anywhere near enough toilets (But then again I would levee this criticism at almost every race). I ended up using the ones in the men’s changing rooms, queuing for around 10 minutes, which wasn’t too bad. Slowly exiting the school building, I lined up at the start with ten minutes to go and thanked the weather gods that the temperatures were perfect for racing. Indeed, aside from a breeze that was on the moderate side of gentle, the conditions were nigh on perfect with weak autumn sunshine and temperatures around 10 Celsius.

We had a minute’s silence before the start of the race, if memory serves me correctly, for a former chairman (perhaps President) of Worksop Harriers who had recently passed away. After a short countdown we were off. I made a comfortable start, not feeling particularly good for the first mile and sitting well outside the top 20 as we soon hit the first climb less than a mile into the race. I really took it easy up here, the effort made less hard by the steady breeze blowing into our backs.

Mile 1 was clocked at 6:01, which was five seconds down on my opening mile in 2017. The rest of the opening 5k is on the undulating B6034 taking us towards Clumber Park. Mile 2 was 5:51 which was six second slower than in 2017 but mile 3 saw me begin to come to life, 5:36 pretty quick, even if it was wind aided, and three seconds quicker than 2017.

Mile 4 saw us turn left off the main road and head through Carburton. I was beginning to pick off runners now, only in ones and twos as the field was pretty well spread. 5:39 for mile 4 matched my 2017 split. Mile 5 is mostly uphill and was possibly the hardest mile of the race – 6:00 one whole second slower than in 2017. Mile 6 is the first half of the fish as it appears on the Strava map and inevitable Strava segment. This mile saw me tuck in behind a runner for most of this section – the scenery stunning in autumn as we headed into the heart of Clumber Park, the going underfoot a little tricky in places with significant leaf fall.

5:45 for mile six was three seconds slower than a year earlier but I remember feeling particularly good at this stage back then. Mile 7 has the first of two long uphill drags – I felt sorry for the wheelchair competitor I passed who was really struggling at this stage. 5:55 was six seconds slower than in 2017, but I turned things around in mile 8, which was again mostly uphill, 6:02 was four seconds up on 2017 and I passed two or three more runners in this section.

Mile 9 is my favourite of the race, mostly downhill and as we approach a totally unnecessary sponge station (surely an in house joke from the organisers?!) we are bombarded with a plethora of amusing signs, many of them fresh for 2018 and indicative of the clear love and passion that the organisers have for putting on a really good race. As in 2017 I found myself feeling really strong, my 5:36 mile just one second down. Mile 10 had the last real hill of the race and as such I slowed to 6:00 (matching the 2017 mile) but was still catching and passing runners. It was here I saw in the distance the distinctive tri-suit of a runner that looked familiar. Approaching him I realised it was Tom Marshall, the triathlete who had beaten me in September’s Stathern Duathlon.

Catching and passing him gave me renewed enthusiasm, as did my watch which was predicting a finishing time very similar to what I achieved in 2017. Considering I had felt so poor in the build up was greatly encouraging and, feeling relaxed and pain free, I pushed on. Mile 11 was 5:42, five seconds quicker than 2017, mile 12 through Worksop College was three seconds slower at 5:49 but I was running now into a headwind which we didn’t have twelve months ago. This made the slight uphill drag out of the college particularly tough, but I had time to make things look easier for the Mick Hall photographer who I knew would be in the same spot as in previous years.

Mile 13 – Mick Hall Photography in the usual spot!

The thirteenth and final mile is mostly downhill, albeit tempered with a headwind this time around, which made 5:34 four seconds slower than in 2017. Turning the corner into the Outwood Academy Portland and sprinting to the finish I knew from my watch it was going to be a very similar time to last year. I finished matching my time of 2017 to the second, the official results gave it as one second quicker in 1:16:23, the difference being this year my Garmin measured the course 0.05 mile shorter and so the final yards took 23 seconds less.

Whereas in 2017 I finished fifth overall I knew this year I hadn’t done quite so well. The results were not long in being published and I was eleventh and not first V40, despite just about bettering my 2017 time. I was partly relieved as I didn’t feel obliged to hang around for the presentations and after seeing a few club mates after they finished, I headed home to begin work on the Mexican GP.

It wasn’t until a day or two later I realised that, such is the generosity of the race organisers, they offer prizes for the first three in the younger veterans’ categories. I was third V40 and, a couple of weeks later, I received a Lincolnshire Runner voucher in the post for £20, which is £5 more than they had quoted in the prize list, which just about summed the race up!

Shy of a few toilets I cannot praise this race enough. They had worked really hard to iron out the issues pre and post race. They worked really well: I had goose bumps as I received warm applause as I walked through the gymnasium to collect my goodie bag, and t-shirt to add to the funky Halloween themed medal I had already received. The good weather helped, but standing around at the finish with cake stalls, coffee stands, music from the local radio station, gave the impression that this was a race put on by professionals rather than a large number of volunteers. I have heard they make very little money out of the race, which makes it all the more praiseworthy. It is one of the cheapest half marathons in the region, and certainly one of the best.

I didn’t have too long to recover for it was the Leeds Abbey Dash 10K in just seven days time!

Race Report – Worksop Halloween Half Marathon, Sunday 29th October 2017

I hadn’t planned on entering the Worksop Half Marathon, I even told several club members as such a week or so beforehand. I’d planned on doing a bike ride with Witham Wheelers to prepare myself for the Rockingham Duathlon, which was a week after Worksop. Somehow though a post on Facebook on the evening after I ran the North MIdlands Cross Country, saying there were less than 50 spaces left for Worksop, I decided for a dramatic change of heart, entering at 00:16 on Sunday 15th October. Thinking back this was after a considerable amount of alcohol had been consumed on a very pleasant evening with family, so the decision may not have been based on sound reasoning.

Because I was somewhat inebriated / tired after cross country, I had forgotten to think about the logistics of taking part in the race and some of the additional reasons why I had originally opted not to race on the Sunday. Fundamental problem number one was that it was the Mexican Grand Prix, one of the busiest weekends of the year for me, even if Lewis Hamilton isn’t winning the World Championship there (which he was) and filled with late nights running into the early morning. I’d already committed to a late night / early morning combo a week before with the Sleaford Duathlon which became a double bill with the Thoresby 10.

Another complication was that I’d booked a few days holiday after the United States GP with the family and had planned to do little other than eat crisps and drink wine. This was unlikely to be ideal preparation for a half marathon.

In the end the biggest challenge was going to be recovering sufficiently from the race efforts of the weekend before, especially as the Thoresby 10 turned into something far harder and faster than originally planned. The Monday after Thoresby I wrote off as a day off. I was working until 2:30 am and was up at 7am, towing a caravan at 10:30am and not finished setting up until nearly 4pm when it was nearly dark and there were crisps waiting to be opened and a bottle of wine already opened.

Tuesday morning and I was ready to join the world of runners once again. I couldn’t drag my ass out of bed at the crack of dawn like I was able to when last on holiday, so the run was limited to just over 10K. It was also the first, perhaps last time I attempted geocaching while running. The first cache was quite exciting, albeit a lot of toing and froing as I relied wholly on GPS in a forest to source the cache.

My first ever geocache found when running!

The next one took me up a hill which was good as it was kind of on the way which I was planning to go. The cache I didn’t find though as it appeared to be in a private garden. The next one I got around halfway to it before I realised that I shouldn’t really be climbing fences marked PRIVATE LAND, so turned back, abandoned Geocaching for the time being and headed back.

A pleasant view on the edge of the Wolds, while attempting to geocache.

Wednesday I was up early and out running, exploring the town of Market Rasen, a town far smaller than I had expected, given I ran most of it in around two and a half minutes. Following Google Maps I got myself a little lost early doors but this actually made for a really enjoyable run across numerous bridlepaths, through woodland and very quite, pretty roads.

A bridlepath used when running around Market Rasen.

Eleven miles was run in total. I do remember early in the run some slight pains in my lower back, on the left hand side. Nothing came of it at the time, but in the days that followed this would lead to bigger issues.

A large ford when running around Market Rasen.

That evening I spent too much time looking on Strava seeing I could nab some sections. This wasn’t particularly easy as Market Rasen appears to have one or two pretty handy runners who enjoy sprinting the segments in and around town. There were though a couple I thought I could have and I even mapped out a somewhat convoluted run. Alas a big meal of fish and chips washed down by lots of wine, crisps, and tortilla chips, meant that when the alarm ran at 7am, it was switched off and the body stayed laid in bed, under the covers, not moving, no matter how strong the lure of a segment may have been.

Not even a repeat of this could get me out of bed.

Feeling guilty for my laziness I ran once we returned from our mini break and before beginning my work for the weekend. I was almost relived that the legs felt dead and pained – Strava segments would have been an impossibility. Both hip flexors were ominously tight, and the back was aching too. Friday morning and I was making up for only running six miles on Thursday by running 10 miles. Probably not the most sensible thing to do two days before a half marathon, but psychologically the 6:40 average mile pace feeling really easy was a good boost indicating that I had perhaps recovered from the weekend before. The left hip flexor remained tight but less troublesome than Thursday; the good news was that the right Achilles remained pain free after the brutal massage a week earlier on the calf muscles – it appears that four months of pain may finally be at an end.

Friday night was a 3am effort working, so any thoughts of a parkrun in the morning were soon put to bed as I used the day as a recovery day. I was back behind the desk that afternoon. Thankfully the timetable in Mexico was kinder than the one in Austin and with the added benefit of the clocks going back that evening, I was tucked up in bed by 11:45, late by my normal standards, but positively early in recent terms.

I was up at just before 7am, making a very strong coffee and leaving the house not long thereafter, opting for a breakfast of cheap cereal based breakfast snacks like I had been doing a while ago before experimenting with porridge and breakfast cereal. For the record I think this worked very well in terms of lack of gastric distress during the race.

I left the house at around 7:30am making the relatively short journey to Worksop, not far from Thoresby Hall, not far from Clumber Park, a very easy journey on a near deserted A1 on a Sunday morning. The very detailed Worksop Half Marathon website lists around ten public car parks to pick from, I took a gamble and opted for one not on the list (the first one I stumbled upon), by my reckoning it was around the same distance as the ones listed which were in the town centre and perhaps already filling up given that it was now just 1 3/4 hours to the start. The tactic paid off, a 15 minute walk to race HQ loosened the legs nicely, the car park was free and sparsely populated.

Being early I was able to collect my race number relatively painlessly and use the toilet facilities without queuing too long. I could sense the HQ filling quite quickly though and, having a school canteen as a base I opted to change into my race gear and put my bag into the baggage hold, which was already showing signs of creaking under the strain of runners keen to deposit their bags. The weather was pretty kind for a late October morning, the sun was breaking through the clouds, temperatures were around 10C (Ideal for my prototype GRC long sleeved top!), the only hindrance was a keen, chilly breeze, which would blow us along at the start, but potentially hobble us in the closing stages.

GRC get into the Halloween spirit, well some of us did… c/o Ros Sadler.

I did my one and a half mile warm up around 45 minutes before the start of the race. I had been very concerned about my left hip, having ached loads on the Saturday and not helped by spending the evening sat behind a desk. Thankfully although it ached for around half the warm up, when I picked the pace up a touch, the discomfort appeared to subside. Warm up done I battled my way through the crowds to queue for the indoor toilets, which were strangely not that busy considering the outside portaloos were very busy indeed. The general scene at HQ was one of queues – queues for race number collection, queues for toilets, queues for baggage, queues for tea and coffee, queues to get in the building, queues to get out of the building. It was 9:45, fifteen minutes before the start of the race and very few of the 2500 odd runners looked like they were anywhere near ready to race.

To avoid a mad rush to get to the start and because the start had appeared to assign a ridiculously small space for sub 1:40 runners at the front of the race (And no space at all for any one quicker than 80 minutes) I headed to the start a little earlier than usual. Not long after I got there came the announcement that the race had been delayed by ten minutes due to queues at race number collection. A small audible groan came, but everyone appeared to remain in good spirits. Had it been cold, wet, and especially windy, it could have been a different matter, but it wasn’t too big a deal to keep oneself warm with some strides and the odd trip to some handily placed trees and bushes to ensure any unnecessary ballast was dispatched with.

Queues to retrieve baggage at the end of the race.

Thankfully there were no further delays and at 10:10 someone official looking had us on our way. It turned out that when I first ran the Worksop Half back in 2015, it was the 34th and last time the original course had been used. The 2016, course, retained for 2017, was much the same as the old course, but began and ended a little further up Sparken Hill than before. The old first mile I remember being particularly tough, nearly all uphill with the steepest, hardest section, coming at the end almost into the second mile of the race. Now the start moving only a few hundred meters or so up the road made the start feel much easier – the steep part of the hill mostly tackled in those early euphoric moments in a race when everything feels much easier than anything that follows thereafter.

As is my wont, I went off at a steady pace, not exactly jogging, but appearing more comfortable than those around me. I made a point of trying to take it easy up the hill, knowing that an early trip deep into the red could lead to major ramifications further down the road. I clocked the opening mile in 5:56, which Strava GAP has optimistically called 5:31. A quick summary of the race positions had me around 12th, but only around 20 seconds down on the lead group, which weren’t pulling away as rapidly as a group of runner would were they running at 70 minute pace, for instance.

The next couple of miles are something of a means to an end. A mostly straight road over some rolling hills to take us to Clumber Park that set the theme for the rest of the race – a course with barely a stretch of flat to be found, but little of it particularly steep. I was in my Nike Frees for the race, they are probably the quickest trainers I currently own, the downside is you do tend to feel the indentations in a worn B-road such as this one. That though was the least of my worries, for not long after the opening mile passed I began to feel what felt like a side stitch on the right side of my stomach. Nothing too severe but a pain that was increasing in intensity to the point that, when we dropped down a hill not long after 3 miles, I did begin to question whether I’d be able to continue running.

Looking back and seeing how my body has reacted since, I think this may not have been stitch but a tight Psoas muscle – a legacy of the tight hip flexors and sore back I’d been suffering for much of the week. Once again I could be thankful, that although annoying and disconcerting it wasn’t really slowing me much. I ran the second mile in 5:45 and the third mile in 5:40, going through 5K in 18:06. I think in the meantime I had picked off a couple of runners to perhaps sit in around 10th position. The fourth mile was 5:39 as we initially dived downhill before turning left into a road I spotted as being the exit from Clumber Park when taking part in the bike leg of the Clumber Park duathlon.

Mile 5 was a real struggle, probably the hardest of the race. The stitch was bothering me, we had turned into a headwind, we were running uphill and one or two runners had begun to overtake me. The Garmin clocked 5:59; I feared a gradual slide in times and positions. I was going  through what Brendon Foster would definitely call a bad patch.

Salvation came in the form of a tight right hand bend which took us off the road and onto the paths in the heart of Clumber Park. The head wind was forgotten and as we ran a fairly twisty section of the race, the pain in my side began to subside. With that I appeared rejuvenated. I swiftly passed the two runners who had just passed me and set about the runners ahead, two of whom I passed before I clocked through six miles (5:42), going through 10K in 35:57. The seventh mile took us back onto the road where I had struggled, but I remained strong, clocking 5:49, despite beginning to climb uphill.

That climb continued for much of mile 8, which I distinctly remembered from 2015 as a bit of a killer. We also had a headwind this year to make it doubly tough. I settled into a rhythm, put my head down, metaphorically speaking, and ploughed on, catching another two runners by the top of the climb, passing mile 8 in 6:06 (the slowest mile of the race). Turning right into a tree lined road I recognised this as my favourite part of the race when I ran in 2015. Slightly downhill for around half a mile before a drinks station there is a succession of around 12 signs stuck roadside, nearly all of them humorous, such as Sheffield AC recommend this race as a fast flat PB course, and birthday wishes to all those who celebrated their birthday on the day of the race. Like many of the race touches it makes the event stand out as one which clearly has a lot of time and effort put into it – I noted that the signs were definitely all different from those that were erected in 2015.

It was a combination of the signs humouring me, the slight downhill, the urge to pull clear of the runners I had just passed and the remote prospect of catching the two runners in front of me, I found myself really putting the hammer down, clocking a 5:35 for mile 9. Mile 10 was another long drag before a left hand turn, where I clocked six minutes dead. This led into another long straight, gently rolling, tree lined road. I remembered this road as the last real test of the race, so pushed on as best I could. I overtook one runner at the start of Old Coach Road, I caught and passed the other at the end of it, this runner being dressed in Halloween inspired garb – an impressive effort to be running at that pace in ill equipped attire.

This is a long road – mile 11 (5:47) only took us half way along it. The twelfth mile saw up peel off the road and into Worksop College. I had been wondering where the race was going to make up the distance that it lost with the new beginning and end. It turned out that a good chunk of it was here. In 2015 we ran in front of the college and straight out. This year we doubled back on ourselves and ran around the back of, and then around the front of the rather grand looking college before rejoining the straight road out of the school and on to the last leg towards the finish. The headwind was much in evidence here as was the rather pleasant autumnal sunshine which made for a pleasant pleasant official photograph. He was in the exact same spot two years ago. I purchased one then, and I purchased another after the race.

Passing the 12 mile marker, photographer in the same spot as last time. Picture by Mick Hall Photography.

MIle 12 was a 5:46. The gap to the ghouish looking runner behind me was safe; the runner in front was nowhere to be seen. With finishing position all but ensured, I left the college grounds fairly relaxed, made the sharp left and immediate right back onto the road we began the race on. The long uphill reversed would, of course, be a long downhill. Usually this would be the source of much joy, but I was mindful that at this race I cramped up badly on the downhill stretch, and did something similar at the Turkey Trot last year. So it was with a little trepidation I made my way down the steepest part of the hill, before relaxing, taking in the applause of the generous crowd, turning into the finish straight and towards the finish.

The last mile was the quickest of the race – 5:30. Strava GAP reckons it was worth 5:31. I reckon the new Strava GAP is broken… I made a sprint of sorts to the finish, crossing the line in a season’s best 1:16:24. I was well pleased with that, considering the lack of sleep, the volume of racing, and the niggles I carried into the event. I immediately made my way back along the course to cheer the next few GRC runners home. By the time I’d gone down to collect my t-shirt from Paul Davidson and Nettie, the results had already been published. I was fifth and second V40! This was a really good result on a course that tends to have a fairly strong field. I was also just over three minutes behind the winner, Harvey Speed of Coventry Godiva Harriers, not a bad effort!

A few yards from the finish. Picture by Mick Hall Photography.

This success meant I had to hang around for over an hour and a half for the awards presentation. I spent some time chatting with club colleagues, fellow Duathletes, and anyone else milling around. Most were trying to get their bags from the baggage hold that was sadly proving woefully inadequate for the volume of runners in the race. This is a really good race but it needs to urgently do two things – 1. Post out its race numbers beforehand rather than insist on collection on the day. This works in smaller races, but they took on the best part of 3000 entries and had over 2400 finishers. This is too much to handle on the morning, as is having baggage reserved to a very small space near the main entrance and exit, manned by a small number of well meaning, but inexperienced volunteers. If race numbers were posted they could use the entire sports hall for baggage and have it much better, more efficiently laid out.

Me with Chris, Peter and Robert, at the finish.

The presentation was an odd affair on the back of an empty Wilkinsons truck, with two who I assumed to be the Mayor and Mayoress of Worksop – but may not have been. First I collected my prize of £40 vouchers for finishing fifth. I thought that would be it but the race decided you could collect more than one prize, so I collected another £30 vouchers for finishing second vet. A good return on a very last minute entry, and better still when I cut a deal with the second placed finisher for his Hoka Hoka One voucher, allowing me to get a pair of brand new Clifton 4s at a very good price.

Collecting my prize!

With that it was straight home, straight to work, finishing work on the Mexico GP at around 3am. Another very long, but successful day!

The hard earned objects won at Worksop.



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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