Cock up at the Cookson!

Things were coming together. I was pleased overall with my performance in the NEMAA relay and followed that up with the Gordon Smith relays and was buzzing to be part of the 2nd placed Elswick A team.

So confidence was high coming into the Clive Cookson 10k.

My plan was to PB, to hit around 35 minutes and possibly sneak something like 34.53. I felt like I was in shape for a low 35 time and my Gordon Smith 2 mile pointed to that.

So I felt quite absent minded about the whole thing. I was going to race with the Garmin and track pace, ticking off 5.36 per mile. I was adamant I would stick to that pace and not worry about anything else around me. The plan gave me comfort.

But the absent mindedness wasn’t normal and led to a series of mishaps leading up to the race.

I left work too late and my phone GPS sent me into traffic and the Tyne tunnel. So I arrived a lot later than plan. I had to park away from the school. I jogged to pick up my number which was in a brown envelope, jogged back to the car and pinned my number on. I didn’t notice the chip timer tag tucked away in the envelope. Having run a couple of relays with manual timing I didn’t even think of checking for anything other than the number.

Needing a quick toilet break I jogged back to the school and got stuck in the queue. That meant no warm up and it was straight to the start line.

So the pre race routine was missed and unbeknownst to me I was about to run a race that was never going to count.

On top of that I felt not nervous but a bit overawed by the group of lads on the start line. It was a good local field up front and, rather than feeling excited, I felt a bit dead. The start of the course was congested to say the least and I was anxious to get some room but not have to expend energy unnecessarily.

Once we were away things settled and I finally got onto pace around 400m in. Even running on 5.36s probably had me not that far into the top 50 and I had to try really hard to resist not over cooking it.

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Trying to keep to 5.36 miles early on

I didn’t feel any of the drag that would be felt on the second lap at mile 4 and the first mile was ticked off on plan. I wasn’t feeling amazing but I steadied myself and was happy to be already working my way through the field.

The second mile was undoubtedly faster and I allowed myself a 5.28. I remember thinking that I might pay for it later but really it was a genuinely faster mile and in that case it’s important to take the time in the bank.

The 3rd mile was also OK and was again on time and took us back to the start line. At this point I’d been running with a couple of lads one of which was Mark Snowball of Morpeth who I’d met at the Hamsterley Forest 10k in April.

That day he was nowhere to be seen out front and it was obvious that today he wasn’t having the best time of it. But it did benefit me as we were able to work together.

I was also joined at halfway by clubmate Jason Old. Ideally I would have been able to work with Jason throughout the second half. He was obviously running well and feeling good as he managed to speak to me. Unfortunately I wasn’t in a state to talk. Having gone through 5k in maybe 17.15-17.20 I was already struggling and the prospect of another lap felt daunting.

Rather than feel confident that I was bang on plan I was looking down at a mile 4 average pace of 6 minute miles and Jason had pulled away. The legs were sore, I was breathing very hard and feeling very negative mentally.

10k is a tough distance to run. This, being only my 3rd 10k, was proving to be the toughest. Mile 4, a repeat of mile 1, was a slog. I only managed a 6.04 and mentally I was gone.

Somehow I needed to pick up. Mark was still around and I was grateful to him for encouragement. We were still working together and mile 5 was easier than the 4th but I still wasn’t back on target pace.

At that point I lost the ability to work out what I needed to do to pb. A bit of mental maths and I was about 18s down on plan and I was sitting on 5.49 pace mile 5 which would put me 30s behind. This was not only putting my plan in the bin but also eating into the buffer between plan and my current pb of 35.37.

Rather than fight to resurrect things I thought more about quitting the race completely. As always I’m glad I didn’t.

I plugged away. Mile 5 did tick away in 5.49. By this point I wasn’t tracking my pace. I kind of knew I wouldn’t like what I saw and felt it was a waste of energy fearing I couldn’t change it anyway. I was just moving my arms and putting one foot in front of the other as best as possible. But as with Hamsterley my leg turnover was painfully slow and laboured.

In mile 6 I think a couple of lads got pased which was disappointing but I couldn’t respond. Me and Mark were still roughly running the same pace. Coming to the last 400-600m I was able to push passed him and we finished quite strongly but I was no match for a final sprint finish from him.

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Not far from home...

I crossed the line in 35.42 and only 5s off my Blyth 10k PB! Strava had the 10k at 35.32 which was by the by.

On crossing the line I felt spent like never before. I felt like I could faint. I struggled to walk in a straight line and had to sit down feeling dizzy. Funnily enough Michael Hedley joined me and I noticed his chip timer on his running shoe, hilariously I wondered why he had that on – still not realising the blunder!

About 5 minutes later I attempted an easy warm down with Lee Bennett, Jason Old and Michael. I struggled to jog and my calves were cramping up quite badly.

I managed 20mins quite stop start (with Iain Hardy also joining for company) and eventually got back to the car to drive home.

I got a message from Steven Robertson on the way home to ask whether I’d used the chip timer. I still had the brown envelope and on looking it dawned on me what had happened… No chip, no time, no race result. A DQ…

At first I didn’t feel too bad as I was a little disappointed with the run but later it hit me that I’d given 100% and to not register was a real shame…

Having had a day to reflect I’m pleased with my effort and know I’m just lacking speed endurance which I will be working on over the next few weeks.

And then I can turn my attention to nailing a sub 17 5k.

Thanks for reading and thanks also to Lee Cuthbertson for the great pics.

A tale of two relays

A tale of two relays

I finally had a decent race schedule coming into May –

Weds 4th May – North East Masters Athletics Association (NEMAA) relays

Weds 11th May – Gordon Smith Relays

Weds 18th May – Clive Cookson 10k

It felt like a good plan as my stamina in training was starting to come back and the two relays would serve well as a couple of good speed workouts leading up to the 10k where I hope to break my current PB of 35.37 from Blyth in April 2015.

I felt great the last few days going into the NEMAA relays and I was excited to make my debut as a “Master”. It does feel strange being 35 and also a “Master”. But it was a good chance to get involved in the local Masters scene and I’ll certainly be looking to compete in more events in future.

Getting to the course on a lovely sunny evening in Bedewell after a long day at work I wasn’t feeling quite so good. I’m not sure why. I put that to one side and had a nice warm up with some other Elswick lads. A short course recce and I knew the area as I’ve ran cross country fixtures there already. But I’d never ran on the paths and I must admit there were a few too many sharp 90 degree turns for my liking.

It was 2 laps and approx. 3k or 1.8m.

The start of the mens race was somewhat delayed so I went on another small warm up before the whistle blew and we were on the start line. It was fairly congested so I made sure I got a decent position and we were off. I was in the top 5 or 6 coming to the first sharp left hander. I put in a little burst to make sure I had a clear line and before I knew it I was in the top 4 or 5.

One lad seemed to be getting away and I was in behind a Morpeth runner and Guy Bracken (super vet). I felt quite good and didn’t feel like I was pushing on enough. Its strange, you always go into these short, sharp races thinking “I’ll just have to go hard from start to finish”. But its easier said than done. Anyway I was quite exuberant and ended up getting past the Morpeth lad and onto the shoulder of Guy Bracken who was undoubtedly comfortable and pacing it well.

So I found myself in 2nd and running strongly. The Crook lad in 1st was away.

I suppose coming to the end of the 1st lap I was starting to breath a little heavier and the prospect of another lap loomed large. Guy Bracken had put me back in my place and another strong vet Chris Auld of Crook had gone with him. I’d like to think I could have taken a pull from those two but it didn’t take long until they’d stolen a march. So I was left to hang on.

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Chris Auld about to drop me into 4th on 1st leg of the NEMAA relays

I’ll admit I was disappointed with myself on reviewing the Strava data later that evening. From having completed the 1st lap in 5.17 I slowed considerably in the 2nd to average 5.45 miling. The tiredness in my lungs and legs was pronounced and the sharp turns took their toll. I tried to hold on to 4th and did so just. It was hard to tell where our team (35-44 year old Elswick A team) finished but we were shown the way by our 45-49 year olds who won a prize on the night. Well done to Iain Hardy, Jason Old and Lee Bennett!

The next few days I was exhausted with a sore throat. I ditched a recovery run planned for Thursday and rested Friday. Come Saturday I still didn’t feel great but made the foolish decision to try to run a half marathon in 1hr 30 (6.50ish miling).

The route I take is easy the first 3 miles and then a fair drag back up for home. It was clear from the outset that something wasn’t quite right as my heart rate was much higher than normal but I pushed on, seemingly intent on doing myself some damage.

In the end I completed only 11.2 miles in around 1hr 16 at a harder than planned 6.44 per mile. Absolute stupidity. I was exhausted for the rest of the day and woke up the next day with chest pains around my left side, the same chest pains I’d inexplicably got when in Berlin for a weekend break in February. The same chest pains that prolonged my return to training.

So I was quite dejected, firstly at having picked up another sore throat and secondly at completely ignoring it and pushing through for what was a needlessly intense long run at this stage.

Luckily the weather was amazing on the Sunday and I had a lovely day chilling in the garden and trying to recover as well as possible. Special thanks to Jasmine (as always) for looking after me!

But it wasn’t ideal preparation for the Gordon Smith relays which I hadn’t ran since 2013 for Jesmond Joggers. I was hopeful that I’d still done enough at the NEMAAs to sneak a place in the Elswick A team and a possible chance of a prominent finish overall in the mens race.

Luckily on the Monday I felt almost recovered and got a decent recovery run in but my Garmin was telling me that my VO2 max was on the decrease from a week earlier and again on the Tuesday I got out for 40mins very easy but heart rate and pace suggesting I wasn’t quite on it.

I was getting quite nervous and as it happened on the Tuesday the Elswick team selections had been announced on the group Facebook page and I wasn’t on any team. I considered my options given that I was feeling less than 100%. I was also on an intense 2 day work training course the Tuesday and Wednesday which was proving to be very tiring. It would have been easy to quietly say nothing and just tick over the training for another week…

But something inside was telling me I had to run so I got in touch with the club and it turned out there had been an oversight and I would be running in the A team with Tadele Gemerew and Lee Bennett. I was really pleased and nervous in equal measure. I was well aware how good a runner Tadele is and Lee is someone I admire greatly at the club – a privilege to run in the same team as those two. I also felt for Jason Old (who was taken from A and into B) who is another Elswick super vet running great following an excellent performance at the London Marathon. The pressure was now on to make sure the change was justified.

I made sure to get over to Cobalt business park in good time for the race. I was pleased to get chance to warm up with Jason and I was able to talk to him about what had happened with the team selections. He was great about it and really supportive.

My game plan for the race was to “run angry”. I had 2nd leg and I knew Tadele would at least hand over in a very strong position. There was a high chance he’d hand over in first. But I reminded myself that this is the type of chance I want to have. Yes I didn’t feel in tip top condition, but I felt a fair amount of adrenaline and I was using it to pump myself up. I couldn’t wait to get going, asking the race organisers where I needed to be even though the 1st leg race only started a couple of minutes earlier.

Quite a few people were saying hello and talking but I didn’t want to talk. I just wanted to gee myself up and get going.

Sure enough Tadele had carved up the first leg, coming home in 9.35 and a long way ahead of everyone else. I was off, chasing after the lead bike! I couldn’t quite believe it. It felt surreal.

I got into stride quite quickly and took the left turn onto the industrial estate. The bike was well ahead and it was just me and the odd marshall shouting support. I was running strong and controlled. But the first mile seemed to go on and on. There were points where I felt surely I’d hear the sound of feet coming from behind – but nothing. I was loving this, a dream come true to be leading a race (even if it had been gifted on a plate!).

I finally went passed the 1 mile marker. My watch vibrated but I managed to avoid temptation to look. I was just focusing on counting 1-2-3-4 in my head with each foot landing. Keeping my cadence high (especially when tired) is a big issue for me and I just wanted to make sure I kept the feet moving quick. I’d gone through the 1st mile in 5.08 and now was the time to dig in and hold onto 1st place for Lee.

There was very few spectators at the furthest point away from the start but those that were out were very supportive. One guy in particular was a great help – “brilliant running Elswick – brilliant stuff, keep it going” or something along those lines. Its words like that that just give you the boost you need when everything gets really hard. I was just focusing on the back wheel of the lead bike and wishing the remaining distance away.

Turning back onto the gravel track a marshall shouted that there was only 600m to go. I knew I had slowed and I needed to finish strongly. I still didn’t feel like anyone was in close pursuit but I knew someone would be eating into the lead Tadele had given the team. I knew in my head I had less than a few minutes running to finish off.

Coming onto the home straight there was great support. I gritted my teeth, swore a bit and finished it off.

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Gritting my teeth and swearing for line to come to me

I’d given 100%. We still had the lead. Undoubtedly my favourite running experience yet.

It was a privilege to run with Tadele and Lee. Unfortunately for us Andy Powell of Sunderland Harriers took 30s out of our lead based on his time versus mine which meant Lee didn’t have enough buffer against Nathan Reed who ran a sub 10 minute time for his leg.

So although I know I ran 100% on the night I also know that I’m capable of improving the 10-20s that was needed to pick up 1st place.

But it doesn’t take away from an excellent 2nd place and the highlight of my running so far since I started again in 2012.

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Lee Bennett and me picking up prize for 2nd place

And it also points to the fact that I am in shape to break my 10k PB at the Clive Cookson next week and I’ll be giving another 100% to do so.

Thanks for reading.