For the second race in succession, the final decision to take part in the Nene Valley 10 was made very late in the day – this time it was made the morning before rather than the morning of the race. Once again the dithering and non-committed attitude was as a result of niggling injuries that have plagued me ever since I passed the 19 mile mark of the Chester Marathon.
A few days after the first Belton House parkrun I was out for a six mile run when, after four miles, my right calf tightened to the point of it being very painful and barely able to run on. I took a couple of days off running and things felt much better, so I headed to Belton again for another stab at parkrun. There was little amiss in the calf for the opening mile – I ran a 5:28 and was in the lead. I then let a guy behind me take the pace as we approached a section of headwind. Passing Belton House itself, I suddenly felt a sharp pain in the right calf as it tightened again. I stopped at the start of the second lap and massaged for a couple of minutes before jogging the second lap and jogging home. Running on the calf was painful but bearable. Still, fearful of something serious amiss, I took two weeks off running and hit the elliptical trainer once again.
Two weeks later I began with a two mile run and over the next week gradually built up the distance, running eight miles on the Friday, two days before Nene Valley and the day after one of the most painful massages I’ve ever endured. The upshot was there were numerous parts of my right leg that was very tight. My right calf was more or less okay after the massage and the run; the bigger pain was in the left groin which appeared to be suffering courtesy of issues with the TFL and most likely the lower back.
My Nene Valley 10 place had been given to me courtesy of fellow GRC runner Scott, who couldn’t take part as he was lead singer at a Christmas party gig on the Saturday night. To add to the dilemma of whether I should race, Scott offered me a ticket to the gig. I was sorely tempted, but a good stretching session on Saturday morning and I decided I’d give the race a go. That said I hardly prepared in the most diligent manner – an hour on the elliptical trainer in the morning, then a few glasses of red wine in the evening and a much smaller pre-race meal than usual. All that and Storm Desmond was sending battering winds through the area that would make racing all but impossible.
Thankfully in the morning the wind was still strong but nowhere near as bad as it had been on the Saturday, and nowhere near the worst I’ve raced in. It was a relatively relaxed affair pre-race – cereal rather than cereal bars for this non-key race. I arrived well ahead of the race start and firstly went about changing my race entry from being a 16 year old to a reluctant veteran runner, courtesy of an administrative issue. I then went for a short warm up run where it was obvious the left groin was going to be a source of consternation during the race. I spent much of the next 40 minutes or so frantically stretching, trying to put off the inevitable pain in the race for as long as possible.
Some welcome relief came in the form of meeting by chance fellow Kenilworth Runner Martin, who I’ve known since I first ran with the club back in the year 2000. A few years older than myself but a consistently fine runner, Martin was my favourite training partner for his innate ability to churn out metronomically paced miles. Having not seen him since moving away from Coventry over two years ago, it was great to catch up with him again.
The Nene Valley 10 is very much a race that would be a good example of how races were put on in the 1980s and that is mostly a good thing. A no-nonsense, few thrills, good value race with the vast majority taking part being club runners. The two lap course is something of an oddity though, for although it is classified as a road race, only around 400 meters of the entire course is run on road.
The remainder utilises footpaths, alleyways, underpasses, parkland paths and pavements. A fair amount of the race even uses trail through woodland. The one section of road at the start and finish was open to traffic, so you had racers in the middle of the road dodging cars (and buses) coming in all directions. This would have been perfectly normal 25-30 years ago but is a more unusual occurrence these days. There are plenty of twists and turns and finding a rhythm is hard work. That said the course is flat and fairly fast – my 57:20 PB for ten miles was set there two years ago.
The start was a curiously slow affair – perhaps influenced by the man holding the official clock, who nonchalantly strode to the start and plonked it down by the start line with twenty seconds to spare. Despite the field featuring Aaron Scott – one of the quickest runners in the area (and by my reckoning winner of every race except one that I have taken in within a 50 mile radius of Grantham in the past two years) we appeared to almost jog the opening 200 meters or so. Either that or I was feeling remarkably strong – for a moment I thought I may try and take on the pace – just as Aaron remembered he was in a race and buggered off into the distance for yet another victory.
The adrenaline of a race start meant little ached for the opening mile. For the majority of it we had the strong wind blowing us along, so although the 5:33 was quicker than planned, it wasn’t alarmingly fast. I soon found myself isolated and as we turned slowly into the headwind I decided it would be pointless to try and fight the elements alone and so eased up a touch to allow a group of four runners to close. Through mile two in 5:52, we hit the twisty stuff through the woodland and I slowed to allow a runner past, tucking immediately into his slipstream to take shelter from the wind. The third mile was hard work: 5:57 was scant reward for our efforts.
The fourth mile saw us turn and head back to the start line and we had a tailwind again. There were two short climbs as we firstly tackled an underpass, then a footbridge over a busy road. I was the strongest of the four of us on the second climb and decided to push on – breaking decisively the group. The fourth mile was a 5:45; the fifth, despite some severe twists and turns, was exactly the same time. I passed five miles in 28:40, which with my dodgy maths I calculated would mean a PB equaling time if I could match my performance over the second lap.
I knew within seconds of starting the second lap that that would not be possible. One of the runners who I pulled away from a mile or so earlier had passed me and eased away, to be followed half a mile down the road by another. I was able to keep them within spitting distance (with the tail wind, that is) for the rest of the race, but didn’t have quite the muster to reel them back in. It was a combination of lack of running miles in the past couple of months coupled with a left groin that by now was really aching quite a lot and enough to take the edge off my running. The right calf too was now just starting to ache and, unbelievably for December, I was feeling quite dehydrated thanks to it being a balmy 14C and the two drinks stations being all but useless thanks to having no one handing out the water and the drinks tables being literally no more than 50-60 cm off the ground.
The sixth mile (wind aided) was a solid 5:38, but as I turned back into the wind, the seventh mile was 5:55 and the tough eighth mile was a pedestrian 6:08. I rallied for the final two miles when the wind was again a friend, I dragged my tired body through a 5:52 ninth mile and finished with a 5:48 final mile, where I caught and just held off another runner in a sprint finish.
My finishing time was 58:08 which I was really rather pleased with considering the lack of preparation put into the race and the niggles I carried through it. I could though barely walk though after the race with the groin pain and so settled myself near the finish line to watch Martin finish. We chatted for 10-15 minutes before I headed abruptly back – I had a narrow window to collect an eBay auction win.
I found out later I was third veteran finisher, a frustratingly short amount of time behind the second placed vet and the prize money that would have netted me. More pleasingly I found out three days later that the time netted me an age grading of 80.01%, which is most satisfying for a race I all but forgot about hours after racing it.
A possible parkrun or two aside, that’s it now for 2015. It’s been quite a year!