I was on somewhat of a high coming into my second XC fixture of the season at Aykley Heads having run a big 10km PB of 34:49 the week previous.
To ensure a good placing in the Senior Mens NEHL XC Individual Grand Prix I need to race in all of the remaining fixtures as the top 4 results out of 6 count.
So I was full of confidence and also knew I’d put in a nice week of training up in Edinburgh, running 40 miles Monday to Thursday including a decent threshold workout on Tuesday.
I completed a bread and butter 20 minute threshold around the Meadows in Edinburgh averaging 5:45/mile pace and bottom end of my heart rate zone at 170bpm. A good marker. It didn’t feel comfortable as I’d foolishly eaten too soon to the run but that was a bigger positive as I felt I would have run even smoother if I’d prepared properly.
I’m noticing a feeling of aerobic fitness and I am especially benefitting from regular morning runs before breakfast and also a second run on some days before dusk.
Although the Aykley Heads fixture was important the real target and “A” race is the Northern Counties XC on 8th December. So the plan was for a good hard effort here and then move into a final 2-3wks of training to fully tune up for the “A” race.
The trip to Durham is one of the longer drives on the schedule and I ended up getting to the course a little early. The weather was perfect and the course was expected to be pretty firm which suits my style of running.
As has become my routine I went for a 15 minute jog at around 13:20 with the senior mens Slow pack due to start at 13:50. Being in the Fast pack I was planning to get on the start line around 13:55.
As I have become used to I didn’t feel too good during the warm up. I felt a little tired and lethargic and my legs a bit dead. You have to sort of stop the mind drifting to thinking “how am I going to tough out 10k” today.
Aykley Heads is a testing course with a few decent inclines and hills each lap. It’s quite easy to go off too hard and then pay a little for it on the second and third laps. In addition I personally felt that the course had been narrowed unneccessarily in certain key sections. I feel this made the course slower than previous years as I was unable to get passed slower runners at critical moments on the second and third laps.
I decided to continue my strategy of not wearing my Garmin, it’s definitely not worth the temptation of looking at it in a XC race.
The race got underway on time and I was able to settle in quite nicely. The first lap was spent trading places with Matthew Alderson of Blaydon and we started passing a steady flow of Slow pack runners.
I felt controlled and just tried to focus on keeping an eye on my footing. A lot of the ground is uneven and it’s easy to completely lose momentum with one badly placed foot fall.
Overall I felt like the pace was good and as we got into the second lap the congestion of runners increased. I still felt like I was negotiating the inclines efficiently. I was gliding over the ground nicely until we got to the key hills at the end of the lap. I felt noticeably slower here and Matthew Alderson got away.
I tried to gee myself up for a strong last lap. At this point I noticed I’d gone passed a Gateshead Harrier who beat me convincingly at Gosforth. That gave me comfort that I was going quite well and it gave me a second wind.
That said I found the last lap even more frustrating than the second due to some antics by one or two slow pack runners who took it upon themselves to deliberately block me coming up a narrow hill. It annoyed me but also added a bit of determination to get by and gave me the desire to finish the thing off.
I was hanging onto another Fast pack lad from Gateshead (later confirmed as Daniel Alexander who went on to run 2:44 at the Town Moor marathon the following day) who had also beaten me at the last fixture. I also noticed I’d made some ground back on Matthew Alderson and fellow Tyne Bridge Harrier (and Fell runner extraordinaire) Cees Van Der Land.
I reminded myself of my strong finish up the final hill in the 2017 race. Although I was unable to muster up anything near that turn of pace I was gearing up for a good final straight finish (Aykley Heads has a lovely long slightly favourable run in) and there was a number of runners to aim for.
Thanks to a runner from Ashington Hirst who I felt was veering in front and blocking me out deliberately I was able to put in a final kick and I managed to get passed about 3 or 4 others in the final 150m and finished just behind the aforementioned Matthew Alderson, Cees Van Der Land and Daniel Alexander from Gateshead who I’d ran much of the final third with.
Looking at the provisional results I was 31st fastest on the day and 7th male 35-39. My time of 38:02 was slightly slower than last year. Its difficult to analyse in detail due to me not having any Garmin data but on balance I felt this was a stronger performance overall. It may be that the course ran slightly longer and I feel the narrowing of the course next to the railway definitely played its part as I recall flying on that section last year whereas this year I was slowed considerably on both the second and third laps.
That all said I am still some way from my target of breaking into the top 20 fastest in the field and more work is needed on my application of effort in the second third of the race.
I now turn my attention to final preparations for the Northern Counties at Wrekenton on 8th December.
Thanks for reading.