“Cross Country runners are a different sub-set of the running population”, Bruce Tulloh in The Complete Distance Runner
Coming out of Week 5 the knee was a concern and the focus was to truly get to the bottom of it and make sure it wasn’t going to grow into a monster. The last thing I want is to have a setback in the way of missed training.
As I’ve mentioned a few times I am feeling very strong aerobically. I am running very easy at sub 7 minute miles and the engine is there to go and run fast. That said my legs feel like a key weakness. Running is about confidence. To fire on all cylinders everything needs to be in place.
On the one hand I could get down in the dumps and complain. But that’s not going to solve the issue. I need to “grab the issue round the neck and choke it”. I am excited by the prospect of two legs beneath me that are working properly. It will come with time.
I let my coach Dave know that things weren’t quite right with the knee so Week 6 was stripped back to basics and just getting some easy runs in. Pretty standard Monday through Wednesday – a staple diet of 5 minute warm up, 45 minutes easy and 5 minutes cool down. Then on Thursday a nice easy 5 WU / 30 Easy / 5 CD with some strides to finish.
On Monday I got to the gym to use the Treadmill to avoid the harder impact of the roads. It wasn’t that comfortable but nothing much to report, getting it done.
On Tuesday I had a nice run out on my usual “Kenton Loop”, managing just shy of 8 miles in 55 minutes which included the Warm Up and Cool Down. Again I’d say everything felt good aerobically and I was able to push it up some of the inclines without feeling compromised with my breathing. I know this is an excellent sign as I have always been a runner that has noticed prominent spiking in heart rate and perceived effort at the hint of a hill. I feel much smoother now. I would liken the feeling to a Duracell bunny bizarrely, the legs are turning over at speed and the hill doesn’t lead to a lowering of that turnover speed. A magic feeling I’ve never really experienced. I felt much better about my knee…
On Wednesday I went on a familiar route around the estate, a route I’ve been using quite a lot of late. If honest the run was a bit ragged and I couldn’t help but feel the right knee issue was affecting my gait to the detriment of my running economy. Indeed when I compared my stats in terms of pace and heart rate from the same route a week earlier my suspicion was confirmed. And ultimately the knee was sticking around to torment.
On Thursday I felt very strong and was surprised to tick off some miles in my easy recovery zone sub 6:30 pace. One mile went by in 6:16 without effort. Funny going “yippee” as you look down at a split, barely breathing. Somethings happening. The strides felt strong and controlled, again not having to breath during or on the jog back.
Friday was in as a rest day pre the 3rd cross country race of the North East Harrier League. I wanted to do something about the legs so I booked in for a sports massage for an hour. It was great to get some of the aches and pains dealt with. Overall a worthwhile experience and something I will be looking to accommodate more often in my schedule.
Going into the race I felt good.
I was pleased with how I had opened my Account at Wrekenton and Druridge Bay in the first two races. Although very early in the season still I was lying 17th in the Individual Grand Prix and I wanted to build on that. I am very keen to improve. I feel I belong in the Top 20 and that’s where I want to be in terms of quickest times on the day as well.
My goal overall was to start confidently. If I want to be Top 20 it means I have to be Top 20 at least in the Fast Pack runners and therefore that was my goal from start to finish.
Aykley Heads in Durham has been a thorn in my side to date. Having run the course twice I have never really excelled. It is 3 laps of about 2 miles so 6ish in total. There are a few draggy hills and at the end of each lap an awkward hill that can get pretty muddy.
Therefore the conditions were important but in the back of my mind I went into the race very confident that I had come along way fitness wise since the last race and I just had to believe and be confident…and positive.
On arrival at the course it was clear that it was in excellent condition with no real mud to speak of. I was pleased as it meant the pace in the Fast Pack would be strong which I feel suits me.
I managed a short warm up and felt good. The right leg wasn’t 100% but the rest day and massage had done it some good.
The race was a little late getting off and, being in the fast pack, I waited for the slow and medium pack to get underway. It was pretty cold waiting around and we were finally called over. For some reason the Fast Pack handicap versus the Slow Pack was 5:10 rather than the usual 5:00.
The pace was very hard from the off and I tried to settle in somewhat sensibly. Everything felt smooth and under control and I was keen to get one full lap under my belt to assess things from there.
Coming to the end of the first lap I felt like I was decently positioned. The hills at the end of the lap were tough but I dealt with them well. I was careful to keep my effort fairly level on the hills and felt like I could pick up nicely once at the top.
The course is tough but it does allow space for recovery where needed. The only issue is how to efficiently pass the Slow Pack runners and that was most challenging on the second and third lap. During the second lap I was trading places with Kevin Connolly of Gateshead Harriers and Rob Walker running for Sunderland Harriers. A runner from the Fast Pack for Sedgefield Harriers (I thought South Shields at the time) was always just slightly ahead it seemed.
It was ebb and flow as we negotiated runners. The hill at the end of the second lap was the first point where my legs started to bite. The calves and thighs started to burn and it’s here that the mind starts to wonder how you can keep the high intensity for one more two mile lap.
Actually once I was up the hill and coming round for the start of the third lap I felt good again. But Kevin started to pull away. I decided to maintain my rhythm.
Working through Slow Pack runners
It was around here that I annoyed a Slow Packer by barging through…
The problem was he was glued to another runner and tight against the race ribbon on the right hand side. I knew Rob was going round strongly on the left and in a split moment I felt I had no choice but to go through the middle of the two of them.
“You fucking prick! You’re supposed to run round” came the cry.
I didn’t feel the need to acknowledge that or indeed apologise. Cross country is a tough sport. I wanted to do my best and that meant making some decisions with the aim of getting to the finish as quickly as possible. Basically I would do it again with no apology.
A rare moment alone…
I was well on my way with 2/3s of the race complete.
The business end to come. I’ve learnt that this is where the best runners excel, where every second per mile makes an exponential difference in placings. Very easy to take the foot off the gas here and coast in. Very difficult to dig in or indeed pick it up. I was very keen to never allow myself to settle behind the pace of slower runners. Keep on passing! Keep on passing!
Rob was proving to be a very tough competitor and I was glad to have him there to work with. We ran neck and neck back out into the undulating fields.
Part of me was wishing it to end and the other trying to focus on some key points I had read the night before in Alberto Salazar’s book.
1. Keep a level effort on the hills and work the crests of the hills;
The first point was actually contrary to how I have always run hills in XC. I always increase my effort. This resonates with me now as I have always felt I have been good at passing runners uphill but then often they would come back afterwards. My plan this time was to maintain effort and attack the very last of the hills on the final lap.
The second point, to focus on staying “relaxed” proved to be dynamite and I was enjoying this. It was all building to the final set of hills.
I knew I had gauged my effort well and I was just setting it up for a kick up the last hill.
The hills leading up to the last were the hardest. Thighs and calves were screaming and undoubtedly this was the slowest I had navigated them. But coming to the bottom of the last hill I had a couple of Fast Pack runners in my sight, one from Sunderland and the other from Sedgefield.
I kicked and was quickly passed them. I also caught a fellow Elswick runner at the top. I also felt like Rob had been dropped but I knew there was a danger he would have more energy if he took it more conservatively.
There was still maybe 200-300m to the finish and it felt a little like wading through treacle.
The thing that kept me pushing was a few runners in front looking around and also some closing hard who I had taken on the hill.
Pleasingly nobody got passed me and I finished strong.
The results are still to be finalised but I think I finished 84th in the field from Fast Pack and also 31st fastest on the day which will be my best ever position if confirmed. Still work to do to get near Top 20 but very pleasing.
What was also pleasing was the fact that I felt quite good afterwards on the Cool down. I had given it a hard effort but I didn’t feel destroyed like I used to. I even looked forward to Sunday’s long run!
Sunday came with a crisp frost.
I decided on another run off road on the Town Moor. I was aiming for 1hr 15 – 25. I left the HRM at home and kept the mile splits switched off. I just wanted to run on feel.
The right knee was still giving me some signs that it’s persisting but overall I felt good. I ended with 80mins around 7:18 miling which was pleasing. Only real thing to report was a pretty nasty trip and fall on my way back for home…
I didn’t see a metal spike sticking out of the ground. It caught on the material on my Innov8 left shoe and I went flying. I was able to shield the fall with my left arm and came out OK with just a few grazes…
Not sure how I didn’t see this?
I’m hopeful I can get a few more XC races out of these yet!
Overall about 50 miles for the week.
Onwards and upwards.
Thanks for reading.