North East Harrier League – Aykley Heads – Race Report

North East Harrier League – Aykley Heads – Race Report

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.


Town Moor Memorial 10km – Race Report

Town Moor Memorial 10km – Race Report

When it comes to watching races the annual Town Moor Memorial is up there for me. Living just up the road I’ve made a habit of jogging down to the Town Moor to watch the race and its always a poignant occasion.

Its a race I’ve always wanted to do personally but for whatever reason its never felt right and I’ve always thought to myself – next year.

Leading up to this years race I’d also hummed and harred about whether to enter. But I simply had to this time.

Following a good showing at the 3rd North East Harrier XC fixture training has been going well and I’ve been able to get some decent miles in the legs.

The only issue has been a sore left calf muscle which was entirely my own fault as I overdid it coming down a steep hill in Ilkley, Yorkshire. I had no intention of running fast down a 10-15% gradient but gravity did its thing and I found myself having to apply brakes. Unfortunately the left calf took a battering and got worse Tuesday and Wednesday.

I felt on balance I was ok to continue easy running which I did but the calf was staying the same with no improvement. So I took a rest day on Friday and went for a 30 minute massage on Saturday morning.

I then had a 35 minute shake out jog with some strides on Saturday and felt good to go.

In terms of plans for the race I wanted to use it as a training race and planned to go through the first 5km around PB pace. My PB is 35:23 from a race in February. That said it went down as “Not Official Distance” thanks to Run Nations usual antics of advertising a fast PB course and failing to deliver.

So officially my PB is 35:37.

At the moment I believe I’m in 35 minute shape conditions permitting so I’d be looking to go through the first 5km in 5:40-5:45 pace and then push on the second 5km with a view to averaging around 5:38ish.

The question was whether to use the Garmin or not.

I had the option of trying to run with Aly Dixon and Davey Wright as they planned a similar pace and as of Saturday lunch time I was still undecided.

Part of me wanted to go without watch and focus and another wanted to go full watch and heart rate monitor.

I feel like I can run around 5:38 in my lactate threshold zone of 170-175bpm and part of me felt it would be beneficial to use this race to confirm my condition and therefore use it as a good solid workout with a PB a bonus.

I also felt like if I could go through 5km on plan and feel controlled in my threshold zone it would give me the confidence to push on into more like 176-185bpm to guarantee a positive split.

In the end I decided to go without the watch and avoid distraction. I’m really glad I did.

I didn’t get as much sleep as I’d like and also wasn’t able to carry through my usual pre race eating routine whereby I try to eat my last food at least 4hrs before the race. I therefore kept the breakfast light to a slice of toast, banana and cup of strong coffee.

I was pretty nervous. In some ways “getting the miles” in can create a new pressure. Maybe you’ve used a lack of miles as an excuse in the past. Now that is gone. But deep down there is a sense of confidence. I felt different. I feel fit and healthy and full of endurance.

I cycled down to Town Moor and left my bike next to the start/finish to walk across to the race HQ in Jesmond to pick up my number. Critically I put my chip timer on my shoe so as to avoid the DNS/DNF debacle at the Clive Cookson in 2016!

I was feeling nervous and lost count of the toilet trips but I’m experienced enough now to take that as a good sign that I was keen to perform.

Once back at the start I did a very easy 15 minute jog warm up around the nearby lake. I like to warm up alone with music. I like quite angry, angular music. I want to feel a bit angry overall. I want to feel raring to go.

The sense of occasion was palpable with it being the 100th anniversary of the ending of the Great War in 1918. The two minutes silence was impeccably observed and it was time to go.

I got a nice clear start and the first half a mile was extremely comfortable. I couldn’t feel a breath of wind and I thought to myself “this is perfect”.

I’d also gotten in just behind Davey and Aly Dixon and although the pace felt slowish I convinced myself that it was just because it was still early doors. I held myself back from pushing on. If I felt the same at 5k I would push on. Looking at Aly’s Strava data the first few miles were ran in 5:42ish which was as planned.

That said during the first 3 miles we were discovering that conditions weren’t completely perfect as is the way on Town Moor. The open nature of the land invariably means there is always a breeze of some description. Indeed, coming from Grandstand Road and back onto the Moor we turned directly into the wind. We also had to deal with stoney terrain and single file sections as well as a complete u-turn switch back that led to a complete loss of momentum.

All told I would say the course wasn’t fast. It would be unfair to call it slow but certainly not fast.

I would say around the 3rd mile I realised the Davey / Aly plan wasn’t working out and I pushed on a little. Later I learned that Davey had struggled with stones in his shoes and I assume Aly was very comfortable leading the womens race (doubling up as the NECAA champs) and didn’t need to do much more than maintain the initial pace.

Coming up to 5k I felt strong and I also felt like I’d improved my placings along the way. I now knew where conditions were benign or tough. I told myself I had to push on the favourable sections and be very strong on the tougher sections.

A spectator near 5k was shouting out approx times which led me to believe I’d gone through in about 17:38. That jolted me a bit as I now knew I needed a positive split to end on the plan of 35ish. Really I wanted 34:–.

Nicely though the next section was the best on the course. I know it better than many, having ran this path on hundreds of occasions on training runs. I injected some pace and got passed two competitors in the process. I was also able to get through the gate and onto Grandstand Road much more smoothly now that there was less conjestion.

The path along Grandstand Road is poor with many bumps and cracks but luckily its slightly downhill. I just focused on the ground and placing my feet as efficiently as possible. A Gosforth Harrier was keeping behind me and I just wanted to keep a good rhythm.

I also prepared myself to come back onto the Moor and face the wind again.

At this point I realised we were making ground on a good group of maybe 4. I recognised Rob Walker of Sunderland Harriers and Stephen Schubeler from Heaton. I could also see Kevin Connelly of Gateshead and fellow Tyne Bridge Harier Si Kristiansen just ahead of them. I really wanted to keep making ground. I strongly suspected I was feeling better than a few of those guys who’d obviously gone off a lot harder.

Getting the thumbs up from Sparrow Morley and Si Kristiansen as they came back from the u-turn was encouraging and reminded me that I was running for the team and not just for myself.

It was hurting here and the Gosforth Harrier was back in front and I just focussed on the back of his feet. Coming round passed Wylam brewery it was clear that Rob Walker was struggling. I was audibly breathing hard here but I was moving faster and went passed. Rob is a runner I admire and I found myself offering encouragement. I know Rob never gives up and I felt we could work together. Rob didn’t get back passed me but he was never completely out of the picture and even down the home straight I still feared a late charge.

I still had my eyes on the prize of 3 runners ahead. At this stage I would say I was all out coming through 6 miles. The finish was in sight and I’d made this run in many times at Newcastle parkrun. I found myself closing my eyes and just running as hard as possible and re-opening in the hope that the finish inflatable looked that much bigger in size each time!

What I really needed was a sprint finish which never came. So no places were made up despite a slight pick up in the last 50m.

That was the only disappointment as I finished 21st and a top 20 was definitely possible. My chip time was 34:49 for a large PB and I was very pleased to positive split with the second 5k passed in 17:15 versus 17:34 in the first.

But the icing on the cake was coming in fourth counter for Tyne Bridges winning senior mens team with James Dunce, Sparrow Morley and Si Kristiansen. This has to go down as the best race day I’ve experienced so far and yet it still feels like a beginning as I strongly feel like I have more potential to improve.

Next up is NEHL Aykely Heads on Saturday. Before that I am visiting Edinburgh for a few days. I’m staying near Holyrood Park and the Meadows and I’m looking to continue to get some good training done.

Thanks for reading.