North East Harrier League – Gosforth Park – Race Report

North East Harrier League – Gosforth Park – Race Report

Cross country has been a focus of my racing diary since I started competing again back in 2012. The months between September and February/March tend to be my most consistent in terms of both training and racing.

Critically this time round, the 2018/19 season, I am aiming to have not only a good XC season but to use it as a spring board to fast times and PBs on the road (and track!) next Spring/Summer.

The last few years haven’t quite gone to plan and 2017/18 was a particularly trying time what with the cracked rib in November and the groin injury in February. So I’m extremely keen to nail the traditional strength and endurance build up through the XC season and translate it to lifetime bests in the classic road distances of 5 and 10k. I’d also like a fast mile on the track.

Unfortunately I missed the two opening NEHL fixtures this season – the first due to a head cold and deciding not to risk it with the Northern 6 stage relays coming the following week in Manchester and the second happily skipped as the fixture came the day after our trip to Birmingham for the National 6 stage relays final.

So my anticipation for the 3rd fixture was pretty high and the plan is to compete in all 4 remaining fixtures to ensure a finishing position in the Individual Grand Prix for Senior Men. I’m also hoping to help Tyne Bridge Harriers in our Division 1 endeavours although at the moment there are plenty of lads picking out the 6 counter spots from the Slow and Medium pack so I wasn’t necessarily expecting to count for the team at Gosforth Park.

Training has been going well. For personal reasons I’ll not expand upon here I’ve had some extra time to devote to increased training and I’ve been able to get the weekly mileage above 50 miles albeit only 1 week preceding this XC fixture. The key will be consistency and I’m expecting another 50+ mileage week this week as well.

I also had chance to travel back down to Doncaster to see Dave Tune. The trip was worthwhile to just get that little bit of focus to my training. As I do the majority of my training alone (personal choice) it’s always good to get a second pair of eyes on things and bounce some ideas off someone as experienced as Dave.

Luckily I survived a nasty fall off the treadmill but the skin taken off my right knee and elbow have taken some time to heel. That said it’ll take more than that to stop me now. One of the positives of the recent injuries I’ve overcome has been to instill some more basic grit and determination that maybe wasn’t there before.

I know I’m not lacking in speed but I am lacking in strength and endurance. A big feature of the training menu over the coming weeks will be simple bread and butter threshold work. And increasing the time I can work in that zone. Although my LT heart rate has come down somewhat, perhaps suggesting a stronger heart, the pace is fairly similar to my test in October 2017. So I have some focus to work on.

Arriving at Gosforth Park I was looking to get a good 15 minute warm up in good time before the start. The rain and snow(!) from earlier had given way to bright sun but the wind seemed to be picking up.

The key decision on footwear had already been made and it was spikes for me and I didn’t regret that choice. In fact, I’d decided last season at Thornley Hall that I would never wear trail shoes for XC again. Reason being I felt liked I’d carried half the course round with me on the bottom of my shoes!

Spikes just feel faster full stop.

The grounds and course setup were perfect at Gosforth Park with all facilities in place. Its important to relax and not get stressed about silly things like parking and toilets etc but all that was taken care of and I was able to pick up my race number and get a 15 minute easy jog in on a road leading up a hill to the outside perimeter of the grounds.

I felt in a good place mentally. I’ve been reading a lot and also watching as many running documentaries as I could get my hands on. I’ve really enjoyed the Team Ingebrigtsen series (even without English subtitles!) and I also found some classic 80s race footage of the Gaymers 10km series from 1985. Finally I also discovered a Joss Naylor documentary covering his 60th birthday “present” to himself of 60 peak summits in 36hrs! The latter being particular inspiration for the XC. I would tell myself to “remember Joss” whenever it got tough!

I suppose I’ve learned to not expect to feel that good physically during a warm up. The mental part is key and to resolve to give 100% of what you have on the day. That said the legs did feel good and I was up for it. Another key decision I’d made was to leave the Garmin at home. I’ve decided it’s a training tool and not a racing tool, especially for XC. Again, watching Joss Naylor “at one with nature” influenced this but also talents like Julien Wanders who always races without a watch. Let the brain and body guide you and don’t be distracted by metrics that don’t really matter.

Getting on the start line it was noticeable that the Fast pack was quite big and generally the fixture was very well attended. This was confirmed as there were over 600 runners overall.

I wanted to start strongly and get into a good rhythm early. I didn’t know the course so the first lap was a chance to learn the best racing line, find out where particularly claggy areas were to be avoided and generally get set for a tough 2nd and 3rd lap.

As always the Fast pack went hard from the off and I probably settled in just ahead of mid div. The first couple of hundreds metres were gravelly but still good to run on in spikes. The course then headed up into a wooded area which I found to be the fastest section. I felt strong here on every lap and there was space wide to get past slow packers later in the race.

There was a water logged part coming out of the woods with a sharp left hander but once the initial shock of the first foot soaking was over it didn’t present any problems other than a bit of congestion on the 2nd and 3rd laps.

The course had maybe 2 or 3 inclines per lap but nothing you could really call a hill and that suited my style. The inclines were no tougher than what I would train on around Kenton Dene. I was cautious to keep my effort steady up the inclines and I noticed this led to me losing some ground on a couple of the Fast pack lads I wanted to compete with. On the second lap I was able to make up lost ground through the woods but on the third lap they were gone. This is my only slight disappointment from the run.

What was pleasing overall was that I had very few negative thoughts running through my mind. Usually I will be combating many. As my legs started to weaken on the third lap there were moments where perhaps I was losing a bit of momentum but “the engine” felt good and there was definitely a feeling of more robust endurance.

I felt strong and competitive and it reminded me of my run at Aykley Heads last season. Given that run was in November I’m happy that I’m feeling in good shape in late October.

Its very difficult to know where you are position wise as the end draws near. The great thing about the handicap pack system is that you always have runners to aim for. I did feel like the rate at which I was overtaking runners reduced in the last half of the last lap but there was still a number of scalps to take on the finishing straight.

Unfortunately I wasn’t quite able to muster up an all out sprint this time but again I took this to be a positive as I felt like I’d applied myself much more evenly throughout the whole race.

Overall I’d finished 143rd out of 623 runners. I think I was around 33rd quickest in the field (if the race was a scratch start) and 4th Vet 35-39. As I mentioned earlier this is very comparable with my previous best performance at Aykley Heads last season.

Critically though I’m 12mths older and wiser. As I sit and type this on Sunday I remember well that after my best ever performance at Aykley Heads I went out on Town Moor and tripped on the metal spike that led to the cracked rib.

So as I embark on my Long Run today I’ll definitely be sticking to the roads and keeping my concentration on my footing high!

Thanks for reading!

Pic credit – taken from a video by George Routledge

National 6 Stage Relay, Birmingham 6th October

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.

Life is about seeing what you can do…

Tonight I raced the classic mile distance for the first time.

My goal was to tuck in behind the leaders and then go as hard as I possibly could the last 600-800m.

With about 35mins until the off I had a recce of the course.

Although there wasn’t much breeze the first 400m was a little draggy and into a slight headwind after all.

The backstraight was into a slight headwind as well. The pavement was also pretty uneven and with the dark nights descending that would require some concentration.

But then hallelujah. With about 600m to go there was a sharpish right hand turn to a downhill ramp maybe 100-150 metres and then leading onto the finishing straight. I was convinced that should be with a tailwind but I couldn’t feel it.

So the plan was set – to follow the leaders and then give it everything down the ramp and into the finish.

I was keen to post a good time to build on the recent Northern relays and also as a tune up to the Nationals in Birmingham. I was disappointed to withdraw from the first XC fixture of the NEHL season on Saturday but I felt it was the right decision. And I still felt a bit throaty from the head cold.

Indeed, during my 2 mile warm up I was sweating up somewhat and overall didn’t feel great. I persuaded myself that was normal and I always feel groggy before a race. I knew what the effort would feel like but overall I think the shorter the distance the better for me.

Getting underway I found myself in 4th with two Tyne Bridge clubmates in the top 3. We negotiated the early ramp and headwind. Sparrow Morley (who knew the course well) took up the lead and injected a bit of pace leaving me and Leodhais Macpherson trailing. Jevan Robertson was just behind.

I was keen to not let Sparrow get away too far and so put in a 50m effort to keep him within a decent gap. That had me running at a pace that felt more honest for the mile. I refrained from checking the watch for another minute or so and felt like I was keeping the gap in check.

I finally glanced at the watch approaching the right hander to the downhill ramp where I planned to go as hard as possible. I didn’t really register what I saw and so definitely it was counterproductive.

Coming down the ramp I felt I was closing somewhat on Sparrow (but not going eyeballs out yet) and coming into the last 400m or so maybe I could at least breathe down his neck a little.

I think he sensed that and was able to pick up quite rapidly. At this point I had noticeable heaviness in both arms as the lactic had built up and I would say I started to panic somewhat. This manifested itself in me looking at my watch on at least two occasions and, perhaps worse, looking round to see not one but two runners finishing stronger.

Unfortunately I would describe myself as tying up and looking for the line. I didn’t have another gear or the will power to grit and pull something out of the bag. As a result I gave up two places finishing 4th in 4.49. Sparrow won in 4.41.

On reflection I am pleased overall and my time represents a 61.9 VDOT (VO2 Max) rating and predicts perhaps 16:35-6 shape for 5k.

So in my mind this is a good first line in the sand for the mile, especially given that I haven’t really completed any specific mile workouts. That’s something I plan to work on as I want to nail a mile in 4:37 which is an excellent proof point for my ultimate target of a sub 16 minute 5k.

But first up onto the bus to Birmingham for what will be an excellent experience running in the National 6 Stage Relays for Tyne Bridge Harriers.

In the meantime I’m pleased I just got out to see what I could do…

Thanks for reading.