108th North East XC Championships

At one point it crossed my mind that my race number would be ripped off by the wind and blown away into the distance. What then I thought? Would I get disqualified? Would I need to run after it?

A welcome distraction during lap 2. This was the longest race I’d ever done at 7.5 miles. It’s not a marathon but for me it’s progression. I’d deliberately gone off really steady. Maybe too steady? Maybe too much respect for the race. I promised myself it was about the experience. But now I was aware a few runners I’d usually be up competing with at 5k and NEHL were well ahead. It felt like there were at least 500 runners ahead.

But the race seemed to work out well overall. As the course thinned out I noticed I was able to make up places on the various uphill (maybe Kenton Lane is my friend?) and downhill sections. Shorten stride, increase turnover, drive arms, keep effort approximately the same on the uphills. Raise arms for balance, lengthen stride on the downhills – just let go…

The plan was to let go on the last lap. But there was a fear of the exposed windy sections that held me back. At this stage I was counting over and over from 1 to 30 in my head on every left foot landing and I managed to get the counting in sync with my breathing. Helpful to maintain a pace, and not start dreaming it’s all over.

I’d got into a bit of a match with two running for the same club. Well supported they were and it struck me how lonely it was running for Jesmond with no support and three team mates completely strung out on the course, unable to work together. No tent for us we’d ditched our bags between a few others and hoped it wouldn’t rain. But that’s me all over, a preference for the underdog. As another incline approached something came over me. It was my equivalent of “sticking the boot in” McCleod style. Didn’t see them again.

Less than two miles to go. Don’t let anyone get past is the main thought. Trying to spot people ahead coming back to you. A Gosforth Harrier clutching a hamstring but hobbling on came and went.

As I got to the final windy section I was neck and neck with another runner. I love going shoulder to shoulder and seeing whether they go or keep pace or drop back. Almost always they glance at you, sizing you up. I’m able to breath really quietly for that moment, something I read in the Goater book. The last thing you want to do is show how hard you’re working or show you’re as tired as them. Leave them feeling demoralised. Truth be told I had something left so I pushed one last time.

The last two straight sections were something of a relief. The wind dropped to nothing, complete silence. At last a word of encouragement, a stranger shouting “go on Jesmond” and then on the final straight the familiar sound of Michael Hedley – “go on Kev”. Unfortunately this time there was nobody left to hunt down. The race was over.

154th of 361. Something to beat in 2014.

North East XC Championships Eve

I’m genuinely excited to be running the North East XC Championships tomorrow. I don’t feel nervous at all, just excited. Usually I’d have spent the week worrying about the race, tactics, where I should aim to finish, this that and the other. This time I’m just excited. Maybe it’s because I have no expectations of myself. I think I’m just proud of having entered this race, proud of how far I’ve come in less than two years. Put it this way, if someone had told me a few years ago that I’d be running this race I’d have thought they were silly.

I’ve never raced further than the 6.5 miles at Wallington Hall a few weeks ago. So it’s a bit of a step into the unknown. But I’m not going to worry about anything. I’m going to run and enjoy it.

Once I’ve finished the race the foots coming off the gas somewhat into Christmas and New Year. I’ve found these last few months quite tough both physically and mentally, mixing stress and hard work in the day job with hard running training on top. I’m not going to moan, I’m still only doing low mileage and that’s something I’ll be looking to build and manage more effectively in the new year.

I’m hoping some nice down time and some easy running will reinvigorate me ready for training to start again in January.

I feel quite clear about my key targets over the next 6 months (more about that in another blog).

In the meantime this will probably be my last blog of 2013. I was planning on doing a “year in review” but it’s simple –

May, 5km pb of 18.23
June, race of my life at Blaydon
December, NE XC Champs (TBD)

Happy Xmas and New Year to my readers.

Keep safe out on the roads!

Ding dong battles

The beauty of a cross country running series like the North East Harrier League is that you’ll get better through the experience. One of the reasons for this is you will envitably find yourself in some ding dong battles with runners of similar ability at that point in time. If you can win these your confidence will grow. Conversely if you give up and lose them you may be mentally weakened in future. Or you may have resolve to come back even stronger. The choice is yours.

Yesterday at Wallington Hall was one such occasion. About 2 minutes into the race I had a runner come alongside side and cut right in front. Maybe it was my mind but I swear he cut in front then promptly slowed down, maybe even deliberately. I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt I thought. But, anyway, I’m not having it! Almost immediately I glanced over my right shoulder, pulled out, accelerated past, job done.

Not so. A pattern emerged throughout the rest of the race. As each lap passed the runner would appear at the same few sections, passing and sitting on me too close ahead. Must of been five or six times at least.

It wasn’t until the last lap that my patience finally went. But I was too tired to find the words. I uttered something, cleared my nose and worked out how I was going come out on top? I was spent. I still had about 3/4 of a lap to go. This time when he “sat” in front I wasn’t keeping pace. He got about 10 yards on me and I was licking my wounds.

But I’d noticed a pattern. He was weak on the inclines. So I gritted my teeth, stared at the back of his ankles and hung on waiting for the small incline after the steep downhill section.

As it happens I stole a march on that steep downhill unplanned. I literally threw myself down it and almost tripped myself up in my haste. Just as I thought “take your chance now” he was back, cutting in front once more on the flat.

Annoyed I accelerated at the incline. Cue an audible moan from my thorn in the side for the day.

Again, take your chance now I thought. That was a fleeting thought. I was heaving for air. Shit, I’ve over egged it. I literally felt like I was running on a backwards conveyor belt up the inclined steps into the woods. Legs burning.

I was convinced he’d come past again and this time I felt like giving up if he did. He didn’t. Not until we made the turn out of the woods. Fuck. I’m beat…

Head down, I struggled through the boggy section just before the final left turn to the end. Just getting through on my feet I looked up. He had at least 20 yards on me. But was he looking round? Anyone looking round is tired, hoping for the line to come to them. Also, I knew the finish straight was slightly uphill into the breeze. There was still a chance.

As I came to the last 200m I gritted my teeth but I felt like I was wading through treacle. And the usual spark of a sprint finish wasn’t there. Until shouts of support for another runner obviously closing me down lit the spark. From nowhere a sprint. I was closing down my nemesis on his right hand side rapidly. About 15 yards from the line I was just about on his shoulder. It maybe a miracle but for some reason he looked over his left shoulder by which time I was past and he couldn’t react.

What a feeling. What a confidence boost.

Win your battles and move on to the next ones.