The Tyne Bridge Harriers men qualified 2 teams to the National 6 Stage Relays for the first time in it’s history at the Northern Relays in Manchester. It was a great achievement and I was keen to take my place in the B team in Birmingham.
And so it was back on the bus for an early morning drive to Sutton Park.
This was going to be my first time running in a top quality national field. In many ways out of my depth but certainly guaranteed to be an excellent experience.
We arrived at the park in good time and luckily the worst of the rain had passed and the wind also didn’t seem too bad.
The club tents were set up cross country style on the grass and before we knew it the race was getting underway at 2pm.
I was due to run 3rd leg for the B team and I figured that I would be setting off around 14:40. So I made sure to get my warm up done around 14:00-14:05. Like Wednesday at the mile race I didn’t feel great. I’ve gotten into the habit of doing my warm ups in a lot of layers which is probably unneccesary and leads to excessive sweating.
My warm up was just a jog and I decided to leave strides until nearer the off.
Getting to the start it was fairly crowded with both men and women and I didn’t get a proper set of strides done. As I approached the pen I saw our mens A team coming through with Carl Smith handing over to Mark Fenwick.
With the benefit of hindsight I should have done a more thorough recce of the course and as it was I only had info from chats with a few of the guys who had already ran the course. The main message I took on board was to not go too hard on the early downhill section as this would be promptly followed by a decent drag. I had been told that this could be made up later in the course with a decent downhill section. However, I wasn’t sure how close that downhill section would leave you to the finish which was a slight drag. That said, when you can see the finish line it’s always possible to pull something out of the bag.
The officials told the men to separate from the women to help smooth the handovers and no sooner had I got across the other side of the road I saw Paul Turnbull who was running 2nd leg coming up the final stretch to the finish.
I got into race position and waited until I was given the good to go.
Rather surreally, as I looked up to settle into my rhythm I recognised Rotherham Harrier Hayley Carruthers who has made the headlines in running circles for her excellent recent performances – most notably finishing first British lady at the Great North Run.
I decided to settle in behind her down the opening straight but then, after a left hander onto an even steeper downhill, my natural momentum took me passed her and to the sharp right hander which had to be very carefully negotiated due to the wet leaves on the course.
I felt like I was getting into my stride and then came the main uphill climb. I was pretty conservative up that knowing I didn’t want to burn too many matches.
I could still hear Hayley following and at this point I’d forgotten that the ladies don’t run the same course as I was thinking to myself she could be a good person to work with. Having recently run a time at least 5 minutes faster than my HM PB I would not be disgraced running with Hayley. Before we knew it we had reeled in Elle Baker who seemed to struggling somewhat.
Part of me wondered where the men were until I was taken by one (Sale Harriers I think?) who promptly cut in sharply in front and seemed to be surprised when I clipped his heel.
That broke my momentum a little. I tried to stay on his heels but he picked up. I heard the Rotherham coach barking encouragement to Hayley behind and it was shortly after this that the men went onto the out and back section and the ladies back downhill for home.
I was able to take a struggling male on the downhill section of the out and back but truth be told I was starting to feel the effort even on the downhill. I couldn’t help but notice the men coming back the other way, working hard up the hill with pained expressions. This was clearly a tough part of the course.
I started to wonder how long this downhill section would go on. The further it went down the further we had to come back up!
Approaching the traffic cone turnaround I hadn’t made that much ground on the struggling runner I’d passed at the top of the hill! He’d obviously dug in on my heels. However, he was gone not soon after as he failed to match me going back up.
I was quite pleased with how I dealt with this section. I gritted my teeth and got it done. I had reached the downhill section and now I know the course this is the section where you simply have to try to “bury yourself”. Apart from a short “false flat” it is all downhill taking you to the final straight.
I was working hard but I was struggling to keep the cadence consistently high. I needed to get the cadence up and the stride length opened up in unison. But I just couldn’t seem to do it. Although I was passing a number of slower female runners I wasn’t making ground on any men.
I’d checked my watch just after the turnaround and I’d only been running for about 11 minutes. This panicked me. Not only because I felt like I’d been running longer but also because it made me think that there could be more uphill stretches that I needed to conserve energy on.
I was grateful to receive some support at this point from the TBH ladies and also Coach Dave Tune. I was looking for signs of the finishing straight and I finally got there with a sharp right hander.
Coming round the bend I spotted a male runner about 5-10 metres ahead and I tried to summon something to get passed him. At first I felt like there was a strong chance of doing so but then he picked up somewhat and I felt like I was wading through treacle. I tried to put every last bit of energy into it and finally got across the line in 20:23.
I was instantly disappointed with the time and felt quite angry at myself. I felt like I hadn’t ran a smart race and certainly hadn’t capitalised on the fast downhill sections. Overall the very undulating nature of the course didn’t suit my style of running although I do feel like I could improve next time on the course simply by knowing it better.
My disappointment was compounded by the initial results showing an incorrect time for my leg of 20:30. Although only 7 seconds difference I was annoyed at that but fortunately it was corrected to the 20:23 as per my watch timing.
In terms of the team results the A team finished an excellent 23rd and the B team 63rd out of 76 teams. This was a great result for the club and with the benefit of hindsight I was able to reconcile my own performance as being decent enough to take heart for the future. I certainly cherish the experience and put it in the bank for future races. It was a tough race both physically and mentally. And if someone had told me back in May that I’d be running the National 6 stage relays in Birmingham in October I would have laughed out loud! So I have to stay strong and patient.
Next up for me will be the first XC fixture of my season which is the third of the NEHL 2018/19 campaign. Indeed I need to complete all 4 of the final fixtures to count in the Individual Grand Prix.
The race is in a couple of weeks at Gosforth Park which gives me some time to focus on a couple of good training weeks. I will be keen to complete some quality threshold running and also some 10k/5k pace interval sessions as well as getting a regular long run of around 90 minutes done.
Thanks for reading.