Race Report: NEHL Lambton Estate

Race Report: NEHL Lambton Estate

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This race report was originally published on KR Run Club on 4th November 2021! As well as early access to race reports, joining KR Run Club also gives you access to my weekly Training Updates, Workout Library and much more. For more information check out KR Run Club here. Alternatively contact me on email at run5kfasterwithme@gmail.com. Thank you for your support!

Kev

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Following my disappointing run in the first North East Harrier League (NEHL) fixture at Wrekenton in late September (race report here), where I’d almost pulled out on the second lap, I had two simple goals for my second outing in the 2021/22 season at Lambton Estate –

  • Run free and simple allowing my body and mind to guide me around the course;
  • Improve on my finish at Wrekenton and count for my club Tyne Bridge Harriers in the team competition

Looking at my results at Wrekenton, I was 102nd overall in a field of 509 and 17th in the V40 division (36th in the overall Veterans division).

This was very disappointing and someway down on my best ever NEHL result of 26th overall at Alnwick in March 2019.

I’ve always regarded myself as a competitive cross country runner but the fact of the matter was I hadn’t run XC since that run out at Alnwick. I also hadn’t done any training off road having been focused on the Great North Run and the recent Manchester Half.

A couple of factors were at play going into the race –

  • I was still running from Medium Pack which meant I gave 2 minutes 30 seconds to the majority of the field in the Slow Pack but I had a similar time advantage over the Fast Pack.
  • I had also never run the course before so I didn’t really know what to expect.

Footwear choice would turn out to be crucial and the information was that the course was a mix of pavement, road, trail and mud. That ruled out spikes for me. Having thrown out my inov-8 mud claws a while back I actually had no other suitable options. In the end I decided to go with my Nike Pegasus 37s but more on that later.

In addition to this, I had decided to take 4 days complete rest from running prior to the race. As it was half term holidays I had a pre-planned break away. I packed the running gear and decided to just see how I felt. If I wanted to run I would. In the end I was happier just getting out for some nice walks in the Scottish borders. This served as a proper “down week” and the third in total since the Manchester Half.

There was quite a lot of rainfall on the morning of the race so it was expected to be a challenging day. For the men it was 3 full laps and approximately 6 miles or 10km in total. I didn’t have chance to do a full recce of the course but it sounded like there were some tough hills, also described as “brutal”.

There was a good group of Tyne Bridge club mates in the Medium pack and we wished each other well as we lined up. The Slow pack had set off and it was a case of trying to pick them off as fast as possible. It is one of the biggest challenges of cross country running for me, that feeling of just trying to keep on the best line. Unfortunately the most favourable line isn’t always available given the sheer volume of runners out on the course. So you have to be prepared to bob and weave around and it’s impossible to avoid the odd flying elbow! You have to be ultra aware of your footing and I have learned that “Garmin watching” is an absolute no-no.

I’d decided that I was going to set off very steady. As I said, I wanted to build on my poor performance at Wrekenton. I put a lot of that down to going off too hard, trying to run to Power. That was a big mistake. So I wanted a steady first lap, get a feel for the course and then build in laps 2 and 3. Sometimes you have to let others go off hard and have faith they will come back to you.

So I was not concerned about some Medium pack runners moving quickly away including some of my team mates. The start of the course was relatively straight forward apart from a sharp right hander around a tree with some roots sticking out which needed to be avoided. We were quickly onto a sweeping downhill road and the running trainers came into their own here. I made up quite a few places but then there was a quite unexpected sharp right hander onto a very muddy and slippy down hill section. This was my first realisation that my shoe choice was sub optimal. The goal quickly became “stay on my feet” as I saw at least two runners fall quite badly.

I simply couldn’t let myself go on the downhills and had to really focus on my balance. Arms out in “aeroplane mode” helps with this. But the brakes really had to be applied as well. Another short, downhill which wasn’t as dangerous was navigated and then we were onto a relatively nice stretch through woods and then back out into the open.

However, this was very much the calm before the storm prior to the first of the hard hills. The first was long and steep. Again my shoe choice meant that I wasn’t able to get any traction. I had to shorten and quicken my steps to the point where I probably wasn’t going much faster than a walk. Every lap was to get slower on this section as the legs and arms filled up with more and more lactic acid.

What goes up must come down however and luckily it was possible to recover from the hardest climb as we descended back down towards the next tough hill section. Again footing on the downhill was a real concern. I was still managing to pass Slow pack runners and the course was still quite congested as this was a two way passing point. Then came the second prolonged tough climb. It seemed to drag before another pavement section flattened out leading us back to the start of the second lap.

I was already starting to think: “is this definitely 3 laps?”

Rather than dwell on the negative I tried to brace myself for the second go at the steep muddy downhill section.

Getting ready for the muddy descent, Round 2 (Photo Credit: Paddy Hutchinson)

I definitely took it more conservatively this time, trying to avoid any camber that could cause the footing to slide away sideways – I saw another runner take a complete tumble. As tiredness increased the risk of falling increased, all adding to the general slow down.

I think it was around here that the first Fast pack runner caught me – Adrian Bailes of Birtley. I noticed how hard he was breathing. He definitely seemed to be working at a higher level than I was. I was moving into survival mode already. It wasn’t that I’d set off too quick. I just didn’t have the confidence to dig any deeper knowing that I still had over 1.5 laps to go with those hills. The lack of training on the off road and hill work was showing, made worse by the terrible shoe choice!

Still, I was making headway and I got the impression I was catching plenty of Slow pack runners and also some Medium pack runners who were now dropping back. So it was just a case of trying to keep moving forward positively and keeping any negative mental gremlins away.

Approaching the “brutal” hills for the second time is always tough, just the knowing that it wasn’t the last time. You naturally want to hold something back.

I noticed a lot of men were starting to hunch over, walking with hands on knees. The moans and groans were getting louder. This was a proper test.

I definitely went up the hill slower than the first lap but, again, I was able to pick up quite nicely back down the hill. I was starting to get a picture of where I stood overall in the field towards the end of the second lap as I overheard someone shout in the crowd approximate positions. I had a definite sense I was in the top 100. This was encouraging.

As I noticed more Fast pack runners coming by at this stage I told myself the fundamental truth of North East Harrier League – the last lap is where it matters… A lot of places can be picked up, every second counts.

Your choice is either – dig in or capitulate.

It is critical to go with the former. Succumb to the pain and pressure and even finishing becomes questionable. At best you will tread water. Unfortunately I felt a little adrift in the middle…

I knew I was finishing – I had absolutely no reason not to. The only thing that could go wrong was falling over and not being able to get back up! I forced a few very heavy breaths on the final concrete descent to the dangerous muddy downhills, just trying to fill the lungs with oxygen.

I sensed that Tyne Bridge as a team were doing well. And I was very keen to play my part. I didn’t have any clue whether I was a team counter or not.

I managed to successfully navigate the final treacherous descent. I noticed on the approach to the final hills that I wasn’t travelling as well. I also noticed the first sign of a headwind. I wondered to myself where it had come from. Or maybe I was struggling so bad I was imagining it!

The last ascent of the first of the hills felt horrendous. It was barely a crawl and I really struggled to pick up around the tree switch back. Legs and arms full of lactic, hunched over and almost broken.

Gravity alone got me back down the hill. I went by men’s club Captain Alisdair Blain (who started in Slow pack) who gave much needed encouragement – it made me think I might be in the 6 counters for the team. I also heard almost immediate encouragement for Paul Turnbull who had also been running from Medium. We formed an alliance from here on in.

We went by young Fraser Bigg who was having a great run from the Slow pack.

Joining us on the run in to the finish was super vet Richard Tailford who we came alongside just before the final climb. I was almost spent and I could tell Paul was gearing himself for a tough finish. We worked as a team and encouraged each other up the bank. “Come on, dig in” I said. It helped a lot having allies. I think we managed to take more places on that final hill.

Getting back onto the path I felt like I had something left in reserve, helped by my trainers whereas others were wearing spikes and trail shoes. I went by Paul who had dropped me slightly on the final bit of the climb. I shouted at him to pick up.

I was on the home straight, trying to muster whatever was left in the tank. A look round and I couldn’t see anyone closing. A look round again and there was Paul launching a sprint finish. I was able to pick up and Paul let out either a laugh or a sigh! I finished 58th overall and Paul 59th. I was fifth counter for the team and Paul 6th. It was an excellent result for Tyne Bridge, finishing second in Division 1 on the day behind Birtley and moving us up into the top spot in the league halfway through the season and with another three fixtures to go.

On a personal level I hit all of my goals in terms of running free, improving on Wrekenton and counting for the club. However, looking at the results I am still some way off what I know I am capable of. I was 66th fastest on the day and 6th Vet 40. In terms of position against all other male veterans I was 13th.

And so I now start plotting for the 4th fixture at Aykley Heads on 27th November. I have 4 weeks to prepare and my goal is to significantly improve on a course I know well. The new cross country running shoes are ordered and my training switches off road to get the specificity I need to perform as I know I can. More about this in my upcoming training updates!

Thanks for reading!

Don’t forget to check out KR Run Club here.

Race Report: Manchester Half Marathon 2021

Race Report: Manchester Half Marathon 2021

This was the big one. The “A” race. This was week 23 of a training build up since 3 May.

In the build up I’d raced 5k on the track (17.01), 3k on the track (9.48), a 5k in July (17.09 – long course in my opinion, don’t @ me!), the Quayside 5k in a PB of 16.01 and the Great North Run in 1:17:46 (agreed by all to be a challenging course). I’d also sprinkled in some parkruns at target half marathon effort. Most recently I’d suffered in the opening cross country fixture of the season. Overall, and in hindsight, this was a very good training block for me with perhaps the most concentrated series of varied races I’d ever done. And I managed to keep major injuries or illness at bay.

But as I said in my last blog post, it would have been ideal if the GNR and Wrekenton XC races had gone better. And it would have been great if my training had been even more consistent. But I resolved to give Manchester my best shot despite facing the usual gremlins of doubt.

Maybe it is something akin to “imposter syndrome”. A lack of confidence about putting my hat in the ring for masters representation at National level. Maybe I had done the wrong thing? Put too much pressure on myself?

It was my first experience of actually travelling to a race. I have done a lot of travel for work and pleasure so that in itself was not the issue. It was more logistics and ensuring I didn’t enjoy the trappings of the big city until after the race!

Everything went to plan travel wise and I even managed to have a walk from my Airbnb to the Old Trafford cricket ground where the athletes village was. That helped to settle my nerves and also make my mind up that I wouldn’t drop a bag off. I would just run the 1.2 miles from the digs, use the toilet etc. and go straight to the start line. I’d brought an old t-shirt that I could chuck last minute before the gun went off. It would just mean I’d have to carry the Airbnb keys 13.1 miles around the course (and try my best not to drop them!).

Things didn’t go perfectly though and I ate much later than I wanted to. I managed to go to a Mexican in Chorlton where I was staying. A burrito, some nacos and an orange juice. Probably not ideal I thought. It was already 20:30 and the plan was to set the alarm for 4am! I popped to a shop to get 2 bananas and a bag of haribos. I ate most of the haribos on the walk home!

Suffice to say I couldn’t sleep. I was up and down to the toilet a few times and I noticed I was dehydrated probably due to the travel. So I prioritised drinking plenty water over sleep. Actually I’d made sure to sleep well the week prior so I didn’t get worked up about this. Just tried to rest and relax. I was only paying Airbnb for a private room but luckily the owner was away otherwise I would have caused all kinds of disturbance!!! A god send on getting up to go to the toilet without switching lights on was my new Petzl headtorch! So good and charges by USB – highly recommend if you are looking for a new one this winter – link here.

Time didn’t drag despite the lack of real sleep and I was up at 4am for two bananas and about a quarter loaf of soreen. The soreen didn’t go down easily but I knew my stomach handles it well. I had another 500ml of water and took some more back to bed for more rest. I set the alarm for an hours time so that I could have two beetroot shots. Then more rest until 6.45. Up, showered, race gear on and out at 7.25.

I noticed that the conditions were pretty perfect. The temperature was ideal and no wind to speak of. This was my chance I thought, things are aligning to a fast race.

I got to the cricket ground feeling good on my jog and it was already pretty busy. I queued for a toilet and then walked down to the start. The actual start line was a lot further away than I thought.

I had to weave my way through a fair few runners to get anyway near the front and, in the end, I probably wasn’t anywhere near where I should have been. Back to the imposter syndrome, hanging back. In hindsight I should have been up there. But ultimately all I was doing was putting more people in the way than I should have been. I need to have more confidence. That all said it was nice to see some familiar faces from my club Tyne Bridge and also Bryan Potts who I’d met on Twitter recently.

It felt like the race organisers got the all clear to start the race earlier than the planned 8.10 start. Before we knew it the gun went and actually I was over the start line in a few seconds.

The start had a little uphill gradient and then a traverse from the left hand side of the road across a central reservation onto the right hand side in our direction of travel. It was this switch across that had me pass a fair few runners and I could see the elites not far up the road. So I’d already put myself in a handy position. I would say that my position at the first mile marker was pretty similar to my position at the end.

I felt like I was running fast. I was running completely to feel. I didn’t even glance at my watch once. And I was pleased that there were no time clocks until about 20km! I was blissfully unaware of pace, splits, heart rate, power – any of that stuff. My brain and body were on an experiment!

The only real guide I had at this stage was the sight of a competitor up the road – Simon Bennett of Hartlepool. We have had a similar journey to Manchester. I first became aware of Simon at the North East Master track races in the summer. We then had a little battle at the Quayside 5km. We also bumped into each other at the end of the Great North Run where Simon had finished a few minutes ahead of me. We chatted afterwards and I’d asked Simon whether he had registered his interest with England Atheltics. He said he had, so he was my only known V40 competitor. It felt sensible just to track him but he had latched onto a group further up the road and I felt fine where I was.

At this point a small group of maybe 2 or 3 runners were forming including a runner I now know as Tom Dart. Me and Tom were to run together for much of the race and I was very grateful for the company!

As I say, I was completely unaware of pace but I will give Strava splits here. The first mile went in 5:22. A group was forming with me, Tom Dart (Spenborough), Steven Hayes (V45 – Deestriders RC) and Richard Coen (V40 – Wilmslow). The group was running well together but I did feel at my limit, knowing that I was still operating in the first quarter of the race!

I’d took a mental note that the course had a first sharp turn at approx. 5km and the aforementioned group worked as a unit until that point. Strava had miles 2 and 3 at 5:29 and 5:25 and effectively 5km was done in 17:05. Overall I felt like Steven and Richard were looking very strong and me and Tom were maybe just a little more passed the boil. I noticed me and Tom were having more issues around throat clearing and breathing. I put mine down to still not feeling 💯 but, don’t get me wrong, I was feeling good! I just felt like I was having to clear the throat more than I would like. Every now and then I’d consciously take some breaths through the nose if only to remind myself to relax and not panic breathe.

The group with Coen (left), Hayes (all black kit) and Dart (red/yellow kit)

I was enjoying it. This is what you pay the entry fee to races for! All those days training all alone. For this. To be in a group of runners pushing each other on. The camaraderie was amazing. At a drinks station a bottle was passed round. I declined (I didn’t take any water or nutrition throughout the race!) but here is a sport where competitors actively try to help each other – pure sport.

The sharp left hand turn at around 5km did two things to change the complexion of the race –

1. It introduced an intense low hanging bright Autumnal sun which I found pretty disconcerting. Having been in a solid rhythm for >3 miles, for the first time I felt like the momentum was broken. I wished I’d worn a cap or perhaps sunglasses. It was too late now.

2. It meant Steven and Richard started breaking away. Personally I kind of accepted that I wasn’t able to latch on. I suspect Tom made an effort. I was able to keep Tom a manageable distance away and soon we were back pretty much running together. It felt like I’d overcome a slight negative patch.

The next 2 or 3 miles were churned out just me and Tom. Strava has mile 4 as the fastest of the day at 5:21 and miles 5 and 6 slowed to 5:29 and 5:30. The 10km split was 34 minutes dead. My official 10km PB is 34:49 and even my 10 mile PB (55:37) was slower through 6 miles. Not knowing any of this was bliss.

It was around here that I noticed a runner appearing to be falling off up the road. I spoke very briefly to Tom for the first and only time to say that we should work together to reel him in. He didn’t hear so I repeated it. I also said the word “gradually”. This seemed to galvanise Tom and he kind of dropped me!

I was able to get back on. As it happened, the runner in question was never to be caught. Always in sight but never caught. Instead Simon Bennett suddenly appeared and we were rapidly catching.

This brought back memories of the Quayside 5km. I had ran a solid even pace race and I think I went passed Simon around 3.5-4km only to be comprehensively beaten in the end. I started plotting approach.

I wondered things like should I forget about Tom and just stay with Simon? Or should I rattle by as fast as possible?

It actually took longer than I thought to get to the point where I was on Simons heels. I think it was around 7 or 8 miles. We approached a little rise with a right hand turn onto a nice downhill. I took the initiative from Tom and went by Simon at the brow of the hill. I put in a little injection of pace but it was more a shortening and quickening of the stride than anything else. I think Tom was caught by surprise a little, obviously unaware of the V40 competition unfolding…

I honestly felt like I could steal an unassailable march, perhaps on both Tom and Simon. I was feeling very good. I was working hard but in control. But there was still about 5 miles of running left to do.

This was a fast but somewhat “snakey” part of the course. I tried to use the corners to my advantage, getting round them tightly and with fast cadence and then trying to use some momentum to run strongly on up the road. The crowd support was pretty good round here. Nothing like the Great North Run but the support did increase where it was needed.

Unfortunately my lead over Tom and Simon didn’t last. It is a bit of a blur as to the exact order of events but I definitely felt like I had let them both get away on the run to 10 miles. The mental battles had begun by this point. I had noticed the gaps between mile markers getting longer and longer. And I hadn’t got my head around the logic as to when there were KM markers and when there weren’t!

By 10 miles I think I had lost at least 50 to 100yds on both Simon and Tom. 10 miles was passed in approx. 55:16 (faster than current PB). I was slowing but still on for a very large personal best time.

Such were my battles with my negative mental mind leading up to the race, when I had worked out that the course route would be passing very close to my Airbnb in Chorlton-Cum-Hardy, I had actually considered how easy it would be to slip off the course and back into the comfort of the flat if things weren’t going well! I think the last 5km at the Great North Run had hurt me so much – I wondered how I was going to be able to dig it out again only 4 weeks later?

As always I needn’t have worried. The support along the roads of Chorlton was amazing. I think at this stage I was starting to realise I was onto something good and that I was holding a very decent position in the race. So my key thought was to “hold it together” and “keep going”, “see it through”. I was now running down the exact same street I had jogged down that very morning and I now knew the Old Trafford cricket ground wasn’t far away. Although I didn’t know exactly where the finish was I could start to think about running across the line…

It was here that I could still see Tom and I started wondering if there was a chance I could get back on terms? I was hurting, getting a little ragged. But maybe just maybe?

I passed the 20km mark in 1:09:48ish and I immediately thought of the 1km efforts I do in training. First off, I knew I had less than 4mins of running which was galvanising. And I also pictured that distance on the training road I used. Every step got me closer, it didn’t feel like a big deal now. At some point between here and the finish I saw the first time clock of the whole race. I don’t know what distance it was positioned at but I distinctly remember seeing 1:12:xx! This was the first time I felt real joy inside. And there was the finish line up ahead.

I still had probably 400m to go and I finally clenched everything and tried to pick up. There were some race faces pulled in the home straight but I finished off in 1:13:34 which was good for 23rd place overall and 5th V40.

Final push for home
Almost there
1:13:34 chip time – elation!

I don’t want to analyse this race too much here. Suffice it to say that this performance is at least in line with the 16:01 5km back in August. But actually I’d rate it as more impressive for me as I have always doubted my capability over longer distances. And this performance over 13.1 miles has proven to me that I do have the endurance, strength and stamina to compete over further. I just have to believe and trust my brain and body to race on the day.

I have posted a VLOG of this race on YouTube here.

I’ve also just launched my new personal running website “KR Runs” here. Go check it out!

Thanks so much for reading and following my running journey! I’d love to hear from runners wherever you may be!

Race Report: NEHL Wrekenton

Race Report: NEHL Wrekenton

I often try to remind myself that running is a constant learning process. And it demands respect.

Put another way, beware of ever thinking “I’ve got this cracked”. Also, try to never overplay a good race. On the other hand, never be too hard on yourself if you have a bad race.

As I alluded to in the last blog (the Great North Run race report), I’ve not had things go my way since Sunday 12th September. Although I am trying really hard not to make excuses, I’ve had a few unfortunate mishaps come my way.

Now I’ve had time to fully digest my run at the Great North half marathon, and also have had a good look at my training diary since June, I think I can now conclude that things haven’t really gone well in training since my run at the Quayside 5km in mid August.

That consistency that I had in the 4 weeks leading up to that fast race on the Quayside has gone, replaced by an inconsistent see-saw of training as shown in the pic.

Consistency giving way to inconsistency…

As you can see, that nice consistent straight line has become up and down. I am not going to explain it away here. I just want to make the point that I have now realised that I perhaps succumbed to the “I’ve cracked it” syndrome following the 16.01 5km in August. As a result I changed my training and approach and also slipped up on some crucial elements. Add in the unfortunate mishaps and here I am, nursing a bruised ego following a disappointing outing at Wrekenton, the first North East Harrier League fixture of the 2021/22 season. More on that in a bit.

But I think my performance at the Great North was not helped by my patchy training in the final build up. I think I was struggling. Initially I was blaming the course but I think it was that coupled with a sub optimal training period from mid August onwards that led to 1:17.46 feeling like all I could give on the day. It wasn’t supposed to feel like all I could give. The lack of consistency in training was an element of the overall picture.

The question now becomes whether I can pick things up for Manchester with so little time left. Maybe not following Wrekenton but I will still put in place a consistent plan to get me on the start line, perhaps not fully tapered, but overall emotionally and physically ready to execute a strategy that I believe in.

Back to Wrekenton and my plan was to put in an effort consistent with what I would be doing at Manchester, namely aiming to run a half marathon averaging between 360 and 365 watts based on Power. In hindsight running to Power on Cross Country (perhaps the purest form of running there is) was a terrible idea… And I’m planning to also ditch power as an in-race tool for Manchester. More on that in a future blog post. Suffice to say my key focus now is re-calibrating my running “body clock”, to run more on feel.

As it turned out the Wrekenton course was bone dry on what was a hot and humid day for the North East of England at this time of year. Indeed I was struggling on my warm up, sweating up quite noticeably with a high heart rate. I didn’t feel too good. It was about 20 to 21 degrees with humidity above 70% and so I think it was adverse running conditions overall.

Because the course was bone dry it meant that footing was very important. From a safety point of view turning an ankle was a real risk. So the idea that I was going to be referencing my watch to maintain a constant power was not wise.

In addition the Wrekenton course is very undulating with a couple of decent hills both up and down. Again, it was difficult and distracting to be checking the watch.

I tried to delay footwear choice until after my warm up but in the end I went with the general consensus I was hearing, namely that spikes were not the best way to go. I had decided to take my Nike Vomero 15 training shoes as an alternative to spikes but in hindsight I wish I’d gone spikes as a lighter and faster option. A lot of the ground was heavyish grass and I think the spikes would have been fine. They would not have been ideal on the shale sections but they would have been OK with shortest spike length.

Overall I would say my head and heart weren’t in it. It wasn’t the easiest decision deciding whether to run or not. On balance and with hindsight not running would have been the wisest decision. Not only was risking a turned ankle probably the wrong thing to do but my mild chest infection (picked up after the bad allergic reaction to a sting) was also persisting. Given that road half marathons have been my training priority, I have not been running off road much of late. I think I over looked the shock to the system cross country can cause when you are out of practice on the terrain. It doesn’t take a scientific genius to work out that running economy is greatly hampered off road versus road but I think I’d forgotten how important it is to practice off road running leading up to the Cross Country season. By practicing you will do much to offset the reduction in running economy, not completely but more than not practicing sufficiently.

But what made the decision for me to run was the need to race Wrekenton to stand any chance of racking up the required 4 fixtures out of 6 to register for the veteran men’s Individual Grand Prix (IGP) in the 2021/22 season.

I had been demoted from Fast Pack to Medium Pack for the 2021/22 season and so that meant I started only 2:30 behind the Slow Pack. That should have given me a good chance at a decent finishing position overall (usually Top 50 would secure promotion to Fast Pack).

The gun went to start the Slow Pack and I couldn’t help but notice the dust bowl that was whipping up, underlining the dryness of the course.

It wasn’t long before we were lined up on the start line.

I didn’t fight to get up front and I also shunned the possibility of starting on the fastest racing line which I felt was the left hand side. I was almost furthest right.

I deliberately started pretty conservatively and was a bit miffed at the onset of a stitch coming on before the first real climb. I was able to rid myself of that quite quickly and get into my stride over the first lap. I think I was competing quite well tracking vet Sunderland Harrier Chris Auld for the most part of that circuit and into the second.

But I noticed I was struggling to get power above 360w per plan. I noticed I was settling around the 350-355w, similar to what I had averaged for the GNR. Negative thoughts formed as I already felt I was pushing as hard as I could with over 2 laps to go.

I wasn’t dealing with the downhill sections as well as I normally would either. I feel like I can excel on downhills, using my height and stride length to my advantage. But I was putting the brakes on somewhat, perhaps trying hard to recover from the uphills.

Having said all that I think the first lap ticked off in 11 minutes 30 seconds (1.89 miles according to the Strava segment). This was only 1 second slower than my record Wrekenton lap time as per Strava, recorded in 2017 when I went on to run 34m 30s.

Unfortunately this time I felt done and my mind raced back to 2014 when I had pulled out just after the brow of the hill on the second lap.

I vowed this time to push on but I felt my pace fading away. Chris Auld was away. The feeling of reeling slow pack runners in rapidly had gone, making way for a feeling of just running the same pace as them. I think I’d heard that I was already in the Top 200 well before the end of the first lap. But rather than relish the onward battle I was struggling to see how I would finish the race.

I navigated the big hill on the second lap although a few runners I would normally finish ahead of were dropping me convincingly. I would honestly say that did not enter any of my calculations to quit.

Trying to assess what was wrong I would say it was both breathing and legs. I felt weak. Add to that the hills and the lack of training on off road surfaces – it all meant a shock to the system I couldn’t handle. The overall Dew Point of 15°C was also having an impact. Although I’d trained in this type of weather a lot of the summer, the recent cooler weather had had an impact. My race singlet was drenched already and stuck to my body.

I tried to plough on as I approached the location of my other drop out at Wrekenton. That time, running for Elswick Harriers, I’d gone into the race with a right hip injury and decided to pull out to preserve further damage.

I pulled off the right side of the course hands on hips. I can’t really explain what was going through my head. It was disappointment. Maybe embarrassment as well. Runners streamed by, battling on.

I spotted Tom Charlton going by from the Fast Pack.

I continued to walk throughout. Wiping the sweat from my face. Looking up. Looking around. Was I really throwing the towel in again? About 2 minutes of walking had gone by.

For some reason I decided no. I would finish no matter how long it took. I started jogging, looked around so as not to get in anyone’s way and got back on the course.

I took things very slow at first, especially on the uphill sections. Running within myself I was able to take more notice of the spectators that were lining the course – shouting, clapping, ringing bells. The atmosphere was electric.

I was able to slowly but surely pick things back up. Not back to anywhere near “race pace”. But enough just to finish the thing off. The second lap was completed in 14:31, a full 3 minutes slower than the first.

I was conscious of how hard getting up the hills was, but overall I felt ok running sub maximal. I wasn’t experiencing a chesty cough. I just felt overheated and over tired. But there was now no question I would finish the last lap. I took the opportunity to give encouragement to runners who were walking or maybe struggling.

Cross country is tough and there is no place to hide. Of course it’s a physical battle. But the mental challenge cannot be underestimated. All of the North East Harrier League courses are multi lap affairs. There is something about the Wrekenton course that can demoralise you when you are not on your A game. For me I find the drag towards the first big hill hard and the drag before the mini hill before the second big hill hardest. You feel like they shouldn’t be slowing you down. But they do, more and more as the laps pass.

Refusing to give up this time (Photo: Stuart Whitman)

But I somehow enjoyed that 3rd lap. Perhaps it was the feeling of just not quitting. Of continuing. Finishing it off. Not letting the ego rule. Not worrying about what would go on the Power of 10…

One thing I enjoyed was a few little battles I had with runners I went by on that last lap. It crossed my mind that I never try so hard that I am literally heaving. I’m the type of runner who likes to have my breathing under control. I never let go and make as much noise as I like. Hats off to those runners who were giving it everything they had and unashamedly. I really appreciated seeing people give their all. And I resolved to ensure that I give the same commitment the next opportunity I get.

Finishing off the last lap (Photo: Geoff Fenwick)

The 3rd lap was completed in 12:50 for a total time of 39:17. With the 2:30 medium pack handicap I finished with a time of 41:47 which was 174th overall out of 511 finishers. I was 12th counter for my club (only 6 matter) and I currently sit 37th in the Vet men’s IGP table. In effect the race doesn’t count. To have any chance of competing in the IGP I would need to greatly improve in future outings and get another 4 of the 5 remaining fixtures done. At the moment that seems unlikely as the next fixture at Druridge Bay is 10th October – the same day as the Manchester Half.

In theory that would leave Lambton Castle, Aykley Heads, Thornley Hall and Alnwick Castle but I don’t think I will be able to compete all of those due to personal commitments. At best I can probably do 3.

But let’s see. Overall I feel I understand the poor performance and will take the positives in finishing off. Focus now turns back to the roads and getting on the start line fresh in Manchester.

Thanks for reading!

P.S. Special shout out to clubmates Michael Hedley and Tom Charlton for leading the Tyne Bridge men’s team home with the 1st and 2nd fastest times of the day. Class running and great to see!

Race Report: Great North Run 2021

Race Report: Great North Run 2021

Truth be known the half marathon scares me a little. Or maybe it’s the Great North Run (GNR) that scares me in particular?

As a competitive runner you can mention to anyone (who doesn’t really run) about a race you’ve done and chances are you will get a puzzled, slightly non interested look. Tell them you’ve done the GNR and they’ll ask you what time you ran. Tell them and they’ll instantly form an opinion on your status as a runner…

Quite a few people said to me following my 16.01 5k that it really bodes well for the GNR and Manchester Half but deep down I was fighting an anxiety leading up to the GNR that I simply didn’t feel going into the Quayside 5km.

It could be down to a few things…

1. My mileage is still low, even verging on derogatory for the half marathon. As I explained in the last blog, I have only averaged around 34 miles per week in the 14 weeks leading up to the GNR. Many would argue that is too low to be competitive in the 5k nevermind the half. I am in two minds. Better to do what you can consistently and not get injured. Even in Week 14 I tweaked my left hamstring which worried me until the day before the GNR when it thankfully subsided with ibuprofen and ice. I somewhat accept I am relatively injury prone and try to play the cards I am dealt.

2. The GNR was only my 3rd half and 2nd official half. I’m still inexperienced at this distance. My unofficial HM PB of 1.16.32 in 2019 was done in fine conditions on Newcastle racecourse (7 flat laps) and probably gave me a false sense of what I could do on the tough revised GNR course that still had a large element of the unknown. The Stryd race calculator tool didn’t seem to think the revised undulating course would greatly impact my overall race time, in effect suggesting that the up and downs would cancel each other out. I think all who ran the course would agree there were some particularly tough sections, not least the last few miles when tiredness really kicked in. There was definitely a sting in the tail.

3. I’ve increased my exposure and vulnerability by going more open of late on social media about what I am doing with my running and what I am thinking. Regardless of how few people read my WordPress or watch my YouTube videos I’m out there trumpeting about this and that on the regular. I’m either setting myself up for success or a nasty fall. On balance I enjoy running and writing about it. Doing videos is a new thing and whether I can keep that up remains to be seen but I have to accept it puts me out of my comfort zone. It’s good to have lofty goals and talk about them but if I have widely missed the mark I will call myself out. Manchester will either be a shot over the bow or a sunken ship… Ultimately there are hundreds of very talented Vet 40 male athletes out there who are quietly going about their business waiting for the chance to take the England vest. There are no free dinners in this world and I will have to fight for it and it will depend on how much I really want it, whether I truly have the ability (and a little bit of luck for good measure).

Sunday 12th September

Alarm: 5.45. Up to have 1 banana, 3 slices of soreen and 500ml of water. 2x beetroot shots at 6.15. Purple wee for the rest of the day. Then back for a half hour lie down. Cold shower, ready, more trips to the toilet than I would care to mention. Out of the door at 8am for the 45 minute walk down to Claremont Road…

Bumped into clubmates Sparrow Morley and Chris “Hui” Huitson. Was good to see friendly faces although Sparrow was wearing black leather shoes and I joked, wondering if he was going for some bizarre world record… Luckily he’d packed his running trainers in his bag. He was to be a constant dot on the horizon that was either going too far away or eventually coming back to me. More on that later…

I found the whole walking over the Moor thing to get to the A167 surreal. I felt like I was running late but wasn’t. Just went through with more Orange wavers than fast club runners. Tried very very hard to avoid Alan Robson. Succeeded. Thank Christ.

The warm up was also very surreal. I asked a marshall if there were any toilets on the A167 and he pointed up in the direction of Cowgate. I noticed a handful of people warming up and stretching so I decided to do the same. It was about 9.10. I’d been planning to do my warm up at 9.15 but cracked on. I ended up jogging right up to the fork in the road that leads to Grandstand road. Traffic was still going down there. I can only imagine the drivers were slagging us off… I used to slag Great North Runners off in my partying days.

I got a few little efforts in just trying to get the HR up to the type of intensity I’d be running at the gun. Felt fine. Had a couple of final toilet stops and then headed down to the start. There were a few weird types of number in the pen on the right hand side. Was a bit miffed the Elite men were on the left. Realise now I was stood right next to the Rugby coach who got interviewed on the BBC with Burnham. Dunno what time he ran. Going for a PB apparently.

As always 10 to 20 mins felt longer when you just want to crack on with the run. A lot of nervous energy around.

I’d written my plan on my left inside arm. Basically said “15km @  344-352w / 6.1km @ 356-364w”. Also wrote the word “stoic”. It’s funny I’d seen someone share a piss take on Instagram saying the “Daily Stoic” book by Ryan Holiday is part of the fitness influencers starter kit… I didn’t find it funny on the basis that if more people read the Daily Stoic, understood it and employed the basic ideas the world would 100% be a better place… Just about managed to decide I am definitely not a fitness influencer. Or maybe I am?

Finally the gun went and I struggled to run slow enough whilst seemingly watching 100s of runners (including orange wavers) disappearing off into the distance.

Easy opening miles, me left with Tyne Bridge vest (Official GNR picture)

I will pat myself on the back and say I did a bloody good job holding back. I knew it as I felt like I was jogging and not breathing. Of course down to the Tyne Bridge is very downhill so feels artificially easy. Almost disconcertingly so. Even so my power quickly ticked up to 342, 344, 345, 346w and into my planned target zone sooner than I thought it might…

Was nice to say hello to Patrick Houghton of North Shields Poly. Growing up he lived on the street adjacent to me in Waldridge Park Estate, Chester le Street. Despite our proximity our paths in life didn’t cross that much (mainly because we went to different schools) but still nice to say hello, usually whilst out in a race. We would see-saw back and forth quite a bit in the first 6 miles, mainly because I was deliberately backing off on uphills and slightly working the downhills. This is the essence of trying to maintain constant power. You simply have to slow down on uphills and pick up on the downhills (hitting a power target downhill is very challenging and needs to be practiced cautiously)…

Coming over the Tyne Bridge the support was already amazing. The ramp up after the bridge and my power was already at 354w and higher than plan. I had a choice to make and I couldn’t make it. And so I kept on pretty much at an average of 354 or 355w for the rest of the race…

This intensity had me go through 5km exactly at the sharp end of my plan. I had myself go through 5km in 18.00 or maybe 18.01 (official split 17.59). This was dead on a 1.16 half. Brilliant I thought, this is genius…so comfy.

Suddenly my nerves and anxieties were gone. I was able to just think about getting some water in. I took some sips at the first water station and poured some over my head, arms and legs. I’m not sure why I did the latter. Probably not necessary as it wasn’t warm. I only did this again once. I refused water and also chucked the gel I was carrying at about 7 or 8 miles. The chucking of the gel was over the top. I was almost angry at myself for even considering carrying it. I knew I never had the stomach for it.

Coming to the turn around point at approx 6 miles things started getting very interesting and certainly the race complexion in my mind changed dramatically. This felt like the real start of the race.

I think everyone enjoyed seeing themselves on the big screen here quite a lot. It was my own first loss of concentration and I nearly fluffed the u turn in my desire to big up myself on screen. What a knob…

By this point I was closing on Steven Medd of Gateshead and I was also joined by club mates Tim Kelso and Chris West. Tim said hello and I returned the greeting. It made me think we were both running well within ourselves. I knew I was but, that said, I already noticed more of a head wind going this direction back for Newcastle and we still had 5k to the 15k point where I was due to turn the screws. But unfortunately my 10km split gave me a jolt…

I think I looked down at something like 36m 5xs (official split 36.42)! Dear god, I had ran the 2nd 5k about 50s slower than the first! Although I didn’t panic I started plotting a pick up almost immediately.

The only thing that stopped me was the fact a decent sized group of maybe 5 or 6 or more (including me, Tim and Chris) had formed. I felt a bit of an opportunity to pick up the pace as a group. I perhaps cheekily asked Tim if he had a finishing time in mind. I think he thought I meant what was our current average pace. Chris didn’t know and Tim ventured 5.50s… I didn’t do any mental maths to confirm the 10k split but I knew I was overall down on a 76 minute half marathon. For some reason I didn’t remind myself that a negative split was exactly the original plan! I think I let it get to me. I think I was sensing I was going to struggle to pick up… I had lost trust in the plan because I hadn’t followed it properly!

The course at this point felt generous.

What happened next changed the course of the race for me and maybe others around me too. From what I could gather an Elvet Strider rocketed by our group which seemingly included a club mate of his. He shouted something. That led to his club mate somehow clipping Tim from behind quite badly. I heard the groan but credit to Tim for recovering. The whole thing made me decide I wasn’t hanging around in the group any longer. I immediately took after the Elvet Strider.

Although I think he went onto run sub 76mins (and I didn’t catch him), this move did lead me to a sustained advance through the field to the finish. But critically I had ditched my plan of waiting until 15km for the pick up. Actually, 15km was probably the turning point in terms of course difficulty with what seemed like the toughest of the climbs to get back up to Town Moor.

Strava mile splits

Making the move I could still see clubmate Sparrow down the road and he became the challenge to catch. I picked off some other runners in between (9th mile was quickest of the day in 5:31 but also lost most elevation) but I finally caught Sparrow just after 10 miles (10th mile in 5:56 and probably the hardest of the day. For reference Molly Seidel ran 5:5× this mile). I think the 10 mile split was about 58 or 59 minutes which I was pretty disheartened by. Sparrow seemed to be slowing quite markedly. I probably annoyed him somewhat by demanding he pick up, get on my heels and work together to the finish.

We were now on the fast descent back to the Tyne Bridge. One of the on course entertainment stations was blasting James Brown and it really lifted me as I love James Brown.

The crowds were amazing here.

I knew it was going to get very tough again after the Tyne Bridge. Horribly, coming up the hill I considered giving up, stepping off and throwing in the towel. I don’t know where this came from. I don’t think I’d realised the effort I’d put in that 10th mile before the Tyne Bridge. I’d put in a surge and perhaps it had done me in. I just tried to remind myself that everyone would be feeling very similar at this stage of the race.

Stepping off not an option (Pic: Ben Hall)

Luckily I got through the dooms day scenario of giving up as the crowds in the City Centre were giving amazing encouragement.

Coming up to Earls Grey monument I saw good friend Michael Hedley who gave me a huge cheer.

Pushing up to Earl Grey (Official GNR pic)

I picked up down John Dobson Street and passed the Civic Centre. I passed another couple of runners including a young Jarrow runner. Again I asked them to get on my heels and work together til the end. I should have just focused on myself. Just then the Red Arrows flew across. What a boost.

The Red Arrows were about to go over… (Official GNR pic)

I was approaching the last 800m. My mind wandered back to the 2017 Great North Run. I remembered how long that 800m had felt then. And this felt like one hell of a drag again. But I tried to remind myself that I only had a few minutes of running to go.

I don’t think it helped that I didn’t see the 400m sign as it was on the right as opposed to the left where the 800m sign had been. The 200m sign was approaching. The crowds were great here and I saw the Army line the sides of the road.

Final push to the finish! (Official GNR pic)

I heard the tannoy announcer saying something like “these are the fast club runners, these are elite athletes too, give them a huge cheer!”. That was nice but a quick glance at the watch and I couldn’t help but give a sigh to myself as I knew 1.16.x was now gone…

I just tried to maintain my concentration and work the arms. My main aim now was to not let anyone pass me.

Unfortunately I failed in this endeavour. One runner who I had passed just before Earl Grey had stuck to task and beat me by 1s.

Nothing really else to give! (Official GNR pic)
Official chip finishing position and time

Making my way back to the finishers village I was spent. I’m not sure I had much more to give on the day on that course. Although I’d not strictly speaking stuck to plan, the end result in my view was the same. I’d averaged 355w for the run and finished in 1:17:46. The Stryd prediction based on 355w was 1:16:40 +/- 2mins. So my result was well within that range. I now see that the course undulations led to the slower than expected time.

There is a tinge of disappointment (even though it’s an official PB) which is perhaps unwarranted but it does sow the seed of doubt about Manchester. I find it hard to remember I was practicing a sub maximal plan. And although it felt far from sub maximal I will get stronger for this race.

Coming 12th in the v40 age bracket reminds me how hard the challenge is that I have set. But all I can do now is turn my attention to Manchester and focus.

As I finish this blog a week after the GNR I have had far from a good recovery week, ending up in the Walk in centre on Wednesday with a serious allergic reaction to a sting (head to toe in hives) and a trip to the Covid test centre for a PCR test having developed a sore throat and cough on Friday following a particularly busy work week. With only 12km of training completed this week I am indeed panicky about Manchester now. But I have to remind myself life is life. Running with a chesty cough is simply not worth it. My best chance is to rest and recover and see how things go. But it has been frustrating to miss the Northern 6 stage on Saturday and now the opening fixture of the cross country at Wrekenton is also in question.

I’ll finish with a shout out to the Tyne Bridge Harriers mens team for an excellent 11th place in Redcar, qualifying comfortably for the Nationals. Also, well done to Tim Kelso for sticking to task so well – looking forward to meeting up in Manchester! I’d also like to thank my partner Jasmine for supporting me with my running and being there at the end of the GNR when my mind was somewhat scrambled, when I just needed a pint!

Much love x

Race report: NEMAA Track and Field Championships 2021 – 5000m

Race report: NEMAA Track and Field Championships  2021 – 5000m

I finally got my 2021 race account opened up with an outing at the North East Masters Athletics Association (NEMAA) Track and Field Championships.

I’ve been a member of the NEMAA since turning 35 back in 2016 but I haven’t really participated (certainly not as much as I would have liked), having only raced a couple of road relays.

So my track debut was very overdue.

As regular readers will know, I haven’t posted a blog since February as I again succumbed to another injury – this time the right knee – mainly through my own over zealous training error.

So it’s been a slow and very patient return to running.

In many ways this race came far too soon in my training return as I have only just begun a 14 week program to take me through to the Great North Run in September 2021. And this race came at the end of week 2(!) and is only my second week of running approx 25 miles per week!

So my running training load is very low. But I was keen to give the track a go and see how things are over a race distance I am familiar with, on the roads at least. I aim to use the information from the race to inform my training going forwards.

I have posted a couple of YouTube videos for those interested in hearing more. The first is here – a general introduction to my Great North Run half marathon training plan.

The second (here) talks about my expectations going into my 5000m track debut. I plan to get more active on YouTube so please watch, like, comment and subscribe!

In summary, I felt I was at best in shape to run 17:30ish. This was based both on my current VO2 max as predicted by Garmin and my Stryd power meter running data, although some extrapolation was required on both fronts.

My current Garmin VO2 Max rating is 58 which predicts 17:43 for 5k.

Now I know a lot of people are sceptical about the VO2 max ratings on Garmin.

However, I’ve now been using Garmin for many years and feel the watch is fairly well calibrated to my own physiology. Critical to this is an accurate maximum heart rate reading. I have mine currently set to 192bpm which I feel is pretty accurate for me.

The only potential issue is that my low training volume means that my aerobic fitness is lower than normal whereas my top end (ability to run a fast 400-1600m) is probably still there or thereabouts. So I have to believe I am fitter than 58 VO2 Max.

Another indicator I am now using is based on power data from the Stryd foot pod which is essentially a running power meter. Power meters are much more prevalent in cycling but Stryd are making strides(!) in this new area for runners.

I like this alternative view as a contrast to Garmin although I feel the pod is still learning about me, given I have been injured and running low mileage recently (the pod needs as much varied running data as possible from the last 90 days to give accurate forecasts).

Going into the race my Critical Power (this is the threshold at which the dominant type of fatigue your body experiences changes) was 332W with a predicted 5k time of 18:58. The prediction was based on a forecast average power for 5k of 342W. You will note that 5k predicted power is 10 watts higher than Critical Power.

Although I’ve never raced a 5k since getting the foot pod in November 2020 I felt confident that I could hold more than 342W for the distance. That said, this race was a chance to wear the foot pod in a competitive situation, give it a good go and see what came out of it.

In preparation for the race I completed some very light workouts (light in terms of volume) on grass wearing my Saucony spikes which I planned to wear on the track.

The key workout was 4x 580m (one lap of Kenton Dene on grass) with rest allowing heart rate to return to 120bpm – Strava link here.

As a general rule this recovery was to last no longer than 90 seconds. If it took longer the workout would cease.

As it happened I completed the workout although the recovery was tight going into the last rep.

The efforts were generally around 3:20/km pace. This was pretty much the pace of my 5km road PB (16:44 ran in 2017).

Usually what this means is I could probably run around that pace for 5km. However, the key to running a good 5km is speed endurance.

That comes from consistent training load, a consistent long run, threshold work and some 5k race pace work to put the cherry on the cake. I didn’t have any of these in my locker really (other than the light session described above) going into this race so in many ways I’d be relying on muscle memory to get anywhere near to 16:44.

I arrived at Monkton Stadium in good time to pick up my race number. The facilities are excellent with a gravel track outside the stadium to warm up.

Conditions were perfect, a little muggy but the sun was starting to show and really nothing to be concerned about.

I jogged about 4 laps of the gravel track, about 2km in 10mins or so. I then ran some 20 second strides (5 in total) with full recovery. Everything felt fine, I didn’t worry about the pace of the strides. It was pretty warm and it didn’t take much to feel ready for the race.

I made my way through to the stadium.

It felt exciting to be running a track race for the first time. I felt nervous which was good. I put the spikes on and waited to be called for the race.

It definitely felt like the sun was coming out stronger just in time for the off. In the end there were only 7 men running the V35-49 race and I didn’t really recognise any of my competitors both in terms of which were in my age category or indeed what they were capable of 5k time wise.

With hindsight this would have been useful to know. That said, my main goal was to experience a track 5000 and find out where I was at with a full effort very early in my training cycle. So I didn’t worry about the competition except for the loose aim to sit in off the front pack.

After some formalities from the officials the gun went and we were underway.

The race gets underway (me second from left)

Quite quickly 3 of the lads were at the front and I sat in behind another lad but we were swiftly a little adrift.

I continued to sit in for a lap or two (maybe 3?) feeling OK until the point I felt like we were losing too much ground too quickly to the front three.

Me tucked in behind #79 Paul Wilson first few laps

I decided to overtake what I now know to have been the 3rd V40 in the race (the front 3 consisted of 1 V35 and 2 V40s). It took a little acceleration down the home straight which was slightly wind assisted. I’m not sure how many laps were to go but I’d guess 8 or 9.

I don’t regret it and I was able to keep a slight advantage over my V40 bronze medal competition for quite a few laps. But I was never able to break away. He was always there and breathing quite heavily. This meant I thought he would drop off if I kept it honest. Meanwhile, my idea of also trying to bridge the gap to the front 3 was all but gone as the distance had grown too great.

Pressing on gamely but not shaking off

I started to notice a slight dread at the number of laps remaining. The officials had a board counting down at the end of each lap. Although the laps were going by quite swiftly I still had 6 laps to go and it didn’t take a mathematician to work out there was still pretty much half way to go.

I managed to maintain my 4th place position and just tried to focus on my breathing and stride rate. I wasn’t referring to my watch at all. I was taking note of the official reading out total race time each lap. He seemed to be positioned at the start line but I didn’t entirely know what the times meant in relation to distance completed.

Indeed it only meant something on the very last lap and aided the push to the end…

Meanwhile my nearest competitor was hanging on gamely and I sensed myself slowing. I couldn’t help but consider I was lacking strength endurance. I didn’t necessarily think I’d gone too hard too soon. But I definitely felt like he was readying to overtake…

The resistance soon became futile…

I did resist this a few times by relaxing a little and just increasing cadence slightly. But I did succumb to the challenge with about 2 or 3 laps remaining.

In being overtaken I allowed myself to reveal the full extent of my tiredness… Letting go of quiet, controlled breathing and letting it be known I was gasping for air!!!

I stayed in touch until the very end but in my heart of hearts I never seriously contemplated getting back in front. I turned my attention to my finishing time and trying to avoid complete capitulation. I knew when I got to the last lap it was in the bag. Yes the last lap would hurt but the risk of completely blowing up would be averted. And I sensed a chance to sneak under 17 minutes based on the times I had heard being read out.

Coming down the home straight I was able to pick up. I simply closed my eyes, holding on, only opening them in the hope that I was closer and closer to the finish.

Getting over the line was a relief and the Garmin watch time of 17.01 was pleasing. I finished 3 seconds behind 3rd place in the V40 race which was a shame and certainly it isn’t inconceivable to think that a bronze medal was possible with a little more fortitude when it came to the crunch in the last third of the race.

I am planning to post a YouTube video with my full post race reflections so I will not go into too much detail here. Suffice it to say that I was correct in my feeling that both the Garmin and Stryd apps were under estimating what I could run.

Very interestingly my Garmin watch kept my VO2 max reading at 58 despite the race registering at 5,080m and an average HR of 161bpm. Unfortunately my heart rate data is unreliable in the early part of the race and only kicked in the second half. But having ran 17 minutes flat for 5km, the VO2 Max rating should be more like 60.

My heart rate topped out at 192bpm at the end of the race meaning I am confident in using that as a reasonable and perhaps conservative figure. This ensures the Garmin VO2 Max reading remains honest and also means any improvement in training should be genuine.

The Stryd data on the other hand has registered the performance with my Critical Power rating jumping from 332W to 371W.

My predicted half marathon time has improved to around 1 hour 18 minutes which is a great step in the right direction this early in my Great North Run training plan.

And with that I move onwards and upwards!

Thanks for reading! If you have any comments or questions I would love to hear from you! Happy running!

North East Marathon Club Newcastle Race Course Half Marathon, 12th May

North East Marathon Club Newcastle Race Course Half Marathon, 12th May

I ran my first Half Marathon in 2017 at the Great North Run.

Although I really enjoyed the experience deep down I was disappointed with my time of 1hr 20m 28s as I had been targetting more like 77-78 minutes.

Having said that, my training leading up to the race wasn’t as I’d hoped and mileage was low and my shins sore.

So I’d had to nurse my way to the start line and in many ways I should have been pleased with getting round in a respectable time and in one piece.

One of the doubts I’ve always had about my running is whether I have the stamina to support my natural speed and I’ve always been aware that my 10km and HM times aren’t in line performance wise with my PBs over a mile (4:49) and 5k (16:43-16:47).

I’ve also ran a 1km time trial in training in 2:42.

These PBs and training performances give a wide range of equivalent times for a Half Marathon of approx 72-76 minutes.

So part of me wanted a very low key half marathon to treat as a hard long run/threshold effort to move closer in line with these predictions and simply test myself and my current form.

Perhaps I could banish the idea that I have an issue with stamina?

I picked out the Newcastle Race Course half marathon as fitting the bill.

The event is put on by the North East Marathon Club (NEMC). I was aware of these events for some time and had been meaning to attend the Town Moor event as it is very close to where I live.

I entered the race late on Friday night just before the deadline and set about coming up with a decent plan. Unlike a normal race where I would be persuading myself to not wear the Garmin at all, I wanted to set a good progressive pace plan and to get faster each 5k and use my watch as a tool quite religiously, also tracking heart rate – I wanted to get into an effort I knew I could hold strongly.

The below photo shows what I came up with –

I was working with both pace development and heart rate development as mentioned.

The last time I had lactate threshold testing my LTHR was ~175bpm at around 6 minutes per mile on a treadmill. To run a good HM you need to be able to hold at or around LTHR (preferably bubbling just slightly above) for pretty much the whole race.

But the plan was to start conservatively at 6:05 pace and go through 3 miles in approx 1:19.45 HM projection time. Although I felt it was conservative this would still be ahead of my current PB pace of 6:07 and therefore felt about right.

I’d then look to ramp the pace by 5 seconds per mile the next 3 miles (improving the predicted finish time to 1:19.15 after 6 miles) and then down to 5:55 pace miles 7, 8 and 9.

The pace increase would then get more aggresive in the last 4 or so miles. I would be expecting to exceed LTHR from mile 10 onwards (where things would start getting tough) and I’d be looking to be running at my current 10k PB pace (5:36/mile) in the last 2 or so miles. I believed this would feel like all out.

Overall this was the only part of the plan that concerned me a little but on balance the predicted finish time of 1:17.20 seemed about right and a planned 3 minute improvement on my current PB.

But I also had in mind the current Tyne Bridge Harriers club record for the mens 35-39 age bracket of 1:16.04. Indeed, something between 76-77 minutes would be bang in line with recent 5k performances of 16:38-16:43.

Although I knew this was not a licensed event, part of me felt that if I was going strong the TBH 35-39 record was in my range. However, I wouldn’t bust a gut to break it as I want this to be a stepping stone to breaking it at an official event in a reasonable time frame.

So it was against that back drop that I woke to glorious conditions on Sunday morning to get ready for the 9:30 start time. I’d made sure to eat and hydrate fairly well on Saturday and just had a pint of water, half a tuna sandwich and some soreen before setting off on the 10 minute drive to the race course (the handy location being another reason I decided to enter).

I picked up my number and completed a 10 minute warm up. The sun was high and quite strong and part of me wondered whether it might be an unexpected factor. I hadn’t applied or packed any sun screen. The temperatures were still comfortable at around 11-13 degrees C. I comforted myself that I wasn’t doing the full marathon or 50k! Maybe next time!

Things were quite relaxed at the start with the organisers and other competitors. The start of the 3 races were staggered with the HM starting behind the marathon and 50k so I readied myself for some grass running to get by those groups.

The 9:30 start was a little delayed but only 5 minutes or so.

Two male runners shot off and within 30s I was looking down on sub 5:30 pace and I’d lost about 10 metres on them. I immediately reigned my own pace in and just focused on the best way to get through the other races. Once done the two guys still had a similar gap and I just focussed on settling in.

The running felt like jogging but I was still sub 6 minute miling and ahead of the planned 6:05.

I moved into second place and focussed on the back of first place. The first lap was only a partial lap and on the first full lap I was maintaining a 5-10 metre gap on first place.

I could hear that he seemed to be working quite hard already in terms of his breathing and perspiration so I felt I could just keep it very easy/steady knowing that I was feeling good and would naturally go by as he slowed off.

That happened shortly after the start of the second full lap and I got ready for a long and lonely time trial.

It didn’t take that long before the sound of second places breathing had disappeared and I only had runners from the other races and lapped runners to chase down.

The first 3 miles were passed in 5:55, 5:49 and 5:58.

I was enjoying myself.

There is something about a longer race that is starting to appeal. In 5k’s the only option is to try to bury yourself as much as possible but for the HM I felt like I was able for perhaps the first time ever to get in a great rhythm with comfortable breathing. And enjoy it!

The only slight issue was my inability to deal with the water cups at the end of each lap. I had decided I would try to take a few sips per lap and get some over my head to avoid any possible dehydration/over heating. The first attempt I struggled to drink what water was left in the cup after spilling most of it and the next attempt I didn’t even feel like trying to drink. So after the 2nd full lap I didn’t attempt to pick up water again.

Those first few miles, the wrist monitor on my Garmin was telling me that I was operating at below 170bpm but in the third and fourth miles there was a sudden correction to around 178-179bpm. I didn’t let this concern me as the effort felt right and I ticked off miles 4, 5, 6 and 7 in 5:48, 5:47, 5:45 and 5:44 feeling very strong and probably bang on threshold (or just above) at 178bpm. Perhaps a little part of me was starting to think “can I keep this up?” after the 7th mile. I had gone through 10k in 35:59 which, according to Strava, is my 3rd best ever time.

I knew I was significantly ahead of my progression based schedule and part of me started to wonder whether I could avoid now a positive split.

Indeed miles 8, 9 and 10 were slower and I was unable to continue to hold my HR just under 180bpm. It fell off to more like 174-176bpm and the miles in 5:51, 5:50 and 5:53.

Depending on where the mile laps beeped dictated whether I could relax a little or had to dig in just a tad. Any one who has been to Newcastle races will know the finishing straight is a little draggy for the horses and so the last third or so of each lap negotiated this, leading to a slight slowing of pace. It was around these miles I think that a new mile clicked and I was looking down on a lap pace reading of 6:12. It gave me a slight jolt and made me wonder if the wheels would start falling off. But pleasingly I was able to get back on track.

So mile 8, 9 and 10 were definitely the toughest part of the race. Incidentally I passed both 15k and 10 miles in PBs of 54:10 and 58:11 respectively.

But mentally things got easier in the last 5k or so. I recall at the Great North Run having an awful time of the last 3 miles (having gone trhough 10 miles in 60:10ish) due to the draggy incline of John Reid road (those who know will know) but I didn’t have this to contend with this time.

What I did have was the continued monotomy of the course, what was starting to feel like a touch of a headwind (although this was just tiredness and the headwind caused by running >10mph for a prolonged period!) and having to pick my line through lapped runners.

My HR continued to fall off a few beats in those final miles suggesting a slight lack of strength and ability to keep pushing on. Don’t get me wrong, I was increasing the effort and keeping the pace there or thereabouts. But with a bit more strength (and confidence in my ability to finish) it could be possible for me to move more towards 15k or even 10k effort/pace in the last few miles of a half marathon.

As it was miles 11, 12 and 13 were completed in 5:54, 5:50 and 5:54. I was starting to want the finish. As I approached the finish line for what I hoped was the last time the time keepers didn’t seem to be aware I was finishing. As I went over the line I looked at my Garmin which had something like 13.0* miles. So I shouted am I finished or do I need to go to the HM start line!? (which I think was another couple hundred metres away). I didn’t hear a reply so I decided to push on until my Garmin said 13.12 miles to ensure the HM was completed! I’d picked the pace up to 5:40 in the process!

I then turned round to see one of the organisers had chased after me to tell me that I had finished! Not to worry, I felt remarkably fresh for having just run a HM in 1:16:32, knocking a good 4 minutes from my previous best!

We walked back to the finish and I received my trophy, voucher and medal. I was pleased to have finished and to have beaten convincingly both my previous PB and race plan.

It also gives me confidence that I can translate my 5k/10k performances to the longer distance. So I can now focus on improving my 5k time to seek to achieve the TBH club record (low 16mins) for the 35-39 age bracket and then try to convert that to the record 10k and HM as well. And, who knows, I may have a full marathon in me yet!

Thanks for reading.

A tale of two relays…

So almost two months has passed since the Northern 12 stage relays on 24th March.

Since then we had the disappointment of not being able to put out a Tyne Bridge Harriers team in the National 12 stage relays on 6th April. I managed to slightly offset that disappointment by running a parkrun PB at Newcastle on the same day instead. That said, I was gutted when I crossed the line and saw 16:43 as I felt like I’d smashed it, not merely taking off 4 seconds from my previous best!

But if you can’t enjoy a PB, no matter how small, you have to ask yourself why you are on the journey…

Unfortunately in the background was an ear and sinus issue which wasn’t clearing and looking at my training diary I was starting to slip into pushing the pace too hard in training, perhaps an unnecessary panic, overreaching.

This came to a crescendo on Monday 8 April and Tuesday 9. Below are my training diary entries for those days –

8/4/19 10 miles easy @ 6:47/mile (1hr 7m 51s) – felt v. strong

9/4/19 TBH session – Pyramid (1min/2min/4min/6min/4min/2min/1min with half recoveries. 4.88 miles in 30mins (6:09/mile pace)

The TBH session was undoubtedly my best ever session where I found myself running just off the fast lads at the club that night. The pace of the efforts were low 5 minute miling except the 2nd 4 minute effort where fatigue and a slight headwind kicked in.

And yet something didn’t feel right – sore throat and run down. I realised it’s no good running PB sessions, I need PB races and I was starting to feel exhausted and not recovering as well as I had been. The left ear got worse to the point where I was partially deaf come Thursday 11th.

A trip to the walk-in centre revealed a completely blocked ear and tonsilitis.

I took 3 days rest and then continued my over zealous approach to play catch up and try to maintain a minimum of a 40 mile week. So on Sunday 14th April I ran a total of 14.8 miles split am and pm with 6.6 miles in 40 minutes part of that. Again, over zealous and unneccessary.

Things continued in the same vain the following week.

By now I’d had my ear syringed which felt like literally a weight off my shoulders. But I was still over training at least in terms of pace and was forced to take 2 rest days that week. On Saturday 20th I ran 10 miles in 1hr 7mins with two 20 minute segments based on HR, building to just under threshold. Although pace was thereabouts where I would expect (based on my Newcastle parkrun at the start of the month) it felt over taxing for less than LTHR. I put it down to the unseasonal hot temperatures that day (>20 degrees C) and the fact I was still flushing out some kind of an infection.

Coming into the last week or so of April I finally realised something needed to change – I needed to slow down.

The final straw came on Thursday 25th April with an attempted threshold. Although I managed 3.5 miles in 20mins (5:46/mile) pace it felt insanely difficult. Admittedly I’d gone through the first mile far too hard (5:3x) but I was barely hanging onto 6 minute miling in the last 5 mins. And I felt like collapsing in a heap on the ground, not how you should feel after a “comfortably hard” effort. I recalled floating around the same course without a car in the world only a few months earlier, running a 16:3x 5k unplanned.

At this point I was kicking myself and licking my wounds. Why had I ended up in this position when I’d already found the real key to my training in November 2018?

So the entry in my training log on 26th April stated *Bring back Van Aaken! Inspired by Ed Whitlock! If in doubt, slow down! Run to time. Aim is to increase Heart Rate Reserve.

Since that day I’ve been training to heart rate and time, keeping HR below 140bpm where possible. This has led to training paces in the range 7:30-8:45 and a solid 56 mile week coming into early May. To be honest, however, I was still feeling throaty leading up to my next race at the North East Masters Athletics Association (NEMAA) relays on 1st May.

I wasn’t feeling “thirsty” for a race and, making my way on the metro from Newcastle to Jarrow, I felt over tired after a day at work. To be fair I’m yet to feel good before a race. I find it very hard to avoid negative thoughts and the only real way of ensuring fight rather than flight is to just say to myself “just do your best”.

My lack of confidence had led me to turn down the offer of running first leg and with the benefit of hindsight I regretted it as I believe it would have enabled me to run faster as there was a decent race on.

As it was I picked up 2nd leg in a decent position from Paul Turnbull. I was able to pick up two positions in the first half mile but the rest of the race was solo.

Unfortunately the course doesn’t suit me as there are too many sharp 90 degree turns which kill momentum. Looking at my Strava data post race I felt I was able to run well on the long straights but lost too much time on the corners.

Coming into the 2nd lap I felt good and picked up as much as I could. The position in front was too far ahead but I received some welcome support from the TBHers out on the course and finished very strongly.

Pleasingly my time of 10:07 was 16s faster than my outing on the same course for Elswick Harriers in 2016 and 15s quicker than the 10:22 in 2017. So I had to take the positives and to top it off our third leg Justin secured a bronze medal for the team in the 35-44 age group.

But waking up the next day I felt wasted again, with the sore throat flaring up in the afternoon. So another forced rest day whereas I would have expected at least a little recovery run.

The throat persisted on Friday so I kept it very easy with just over 6 mile at 8:30 pace.

Then came Saturday and it will go down in legend for the strangest but most satisfying (and enlightening) day of training I have ever partaken in.

Ideally I wanted to at least repeat my 2hr+ long run of the 27th April, admittedly only covering 16.1 miles in the process. But given I hadn’t felt great the previous two days I put that to one side. As it happened I had a completely free day and night and knew I could rest up with no plans until Sunday lunch time.

Anyone who has read Ernst Van Aakens book will know well the chapter titled “Training for the future” where he envisages the training a young student runner would need to do to run incredible times from 5k (12.45!) through to the marathon (1.55!). It includes multiple outings spread across the day and into the night, and totally around 40km for each day!

Although I didn’t want to repeat that, I did manage the following –

  • Run 1, 9am – 4.2 miles in 36:05
  • Run 2, noon – 5.1 miles in 42:09
  • Run 3, 3pm – 4.7 miles in 36:08
  • Run 4, 7pm – 6.2 miles in 46:30

A total of just over 20 miles for the day and unbelievably I felt remarkably fresh with each run feeling stronger and stronger. I felt bloody good for a change!

I also got out for a 4 mile jog on the Sunday to round off a 57 mile week. I felt like the tide was turning in my favour and thoughts turned to the Gordon Smith 2 mile relay on Wednesday the next week…

On Bank Holiday Monday (6th May) I decided to get some speed into the legs without taxing the cardiovascular system overly. So I completed 4x downhill 800m reps at 2:30, 2:23, 2:23 and 2:26. Felt strong. This was advice taken from Dr Phil Maffetone – it is possible to get some speed work in without killing yourself on the track. Only word of caution is it can bring soreness to the quads if you are not used to running hard downhill. But this session came into play well at the Gordon Smiths in the second mile.

On Tuesday I ran an early 5k slow (8:19 pace) and a PM 5 miles slow (8:00 pace).

I decided against an early morning jog on the day of the race like I had done a week earlier, taking an extra hour in bed instead. Unfortunately the weather was grim all day and showed no signs of improvement, if anything getting worse (wind and rain) as myself and fellow TBHer (and team mate in the B team) Michael Hedley arrived at the course.

Yet again I felt less than tip top and felt pretty cold having not really prepared kit wise for what felt like a wet winter evening. The benefit of racing a bit more often is to get used to feeling a certain way. I am a negative thinker pre race, coming up with every reason available as to why tonight may not go well. But I’ve come to know that when I get on the start line I will be ready.

Running the last third leg it was a little difficult to judge when to get on the start line. I’d ran, for me, a nice long (>20mins) 2.7 mile warm up but it was completed before Michael had even gone off in Leg 1. So I was starting to cool down again quite quickly.

I trotted about a bit bumping into our 2nd leg Vet runner John Hurse and former Jesmond Jogger team mate Scott Armstrong (now running for Heaton Harriers). Finally I decided to get on with it and stripped down to racing gear and made my way over the starting pen.

The atmosphere was quite pensive and I heard utterances of “this is going to hurt”. I even heard Morpeth running legend Jim Alders telling the Morpeth lads “its going to hurt” and to “take the best racing line”.

I was standing in some very good company – as well as about 3 or 4 Morpeth lads, young running sensation Sam Charlton of Wallsend Harriers was limbering up as well as the likes of Zack Wylie (Gosforth) and James Meader (Heaton). I felt the adrenaline starting to build.

It felt like a very long wait, just trying to keep warm as the rain continued.

The TBH A team came in right up there in the mix for medals, then Lewis Timmins of Morpeth set off in front of me and then in came team mate John and I was off. I missed the start button on my watch which was a bit of a distraction but I was quickly into stride and gaining ground on Lewis.

Getting to the first left hander I was right behind Lewis but Sam Charlton had already gone by seemingly running about 30s per mile faster(!) than we were and Zack Wylie was on my shoulder as well. Before long Karl Taylor of Morpeth was also in the group and I tried to just focus on being competitive in this company. It would have been easy to feel somehow unworthy but here I was heading towards halfway and competing well.

Shortly after the mile Lewis had picked up somewhat and had opened up a gap which Zack had filled and Karl Taylor also went in front. I tried not to panic just yet but the pace was picking up up the slight incline. I was glad I knew the course here and so I knew we were close to a prolonged downhill. I cast my mind back to the aforementioned downhill 800s I’d done on Monday and just tried to replicate that feeling of 4:45-4:50 pace downhill. It felt light and attainable on Monday and, although I wasn’t aware of my pace here, I felt pretty strong both in my breathing and in my legs. Could I push on?

A little earlier, just before the brow of the hill, I’d received some much needed support from Michael and Tom Charlton that helped give me some impetus that put me back ahead of Karl Taylor and felt like I could also get back close to Zack and Lewis.

At the bottom of the hill the positions were unchanged and I knew the end was drawing near. I was sitting in 6th with a chance of 5th or 4th but also the continued risk of 7th. Of course it was hurting but I also felt strong (I believe) from the recent focus on easy, aerobic running in training.

There was a sharp left hander to contend with and footing was slippy due to the conditions. The ground into the finish was less than ideal. The four of us were running a similar pace and as I rounded the final corner into the finishing straight I tried to summon a sprint finish.

The crowd was loud here but it took me a while to pick up to top effort. I couldn’t close down on the lads in front and Karl had gotten into full flight a bit sooner. I afforded myself a quick look over my left shoulder and his proximity pushed me to an even greater effort, maintaining 6th place.

I crossed the line in 10:21 which was a 13s improvement on the course from my 2016 run for Elswick Harriers where we finished in second place.

Overall it was great to feel the racing adrenaline again and I think this is the first race I’ve had an opportunity to actually compete with a really good group for a prolonged period (albeit 10mins of running), each of us encouraging the others to keep pushing on.

And it makes me hungry for more race experiences like this…

Thanks for reading.

Northern 12 Stage Relay, Birkenhead 24th March

Having experienced the Northern and National 6 stage relays in 2018 I was keen to get involved in the 12 stage relays in 2019 for the first time, especially given I was forced to miss them last year due to my groin injury.

Such is the strength in depth at the senior mens division at my club Tyne Bridge Harriers I wasn’t assured to get an automatic spot in the starting 12.

The club did plan on entering two teams but as it transpired that didn’t happen and I was pleased to get the nod from captain Alasdair Blain to run a short Leg in 6th position.

That sounded ideal for me and I had hoped for a short leg and in the back of my mind I felt like I could use it as a chance to test my fitness over a distsnce I could attack hard – approx 2.5 miles.

My target remains a sub 16 5k which is around 5:08 miling and I’d want to be in that ballpark although admittedly I wasn’t familiar with the course and who knew whether conditions would be favourable.

Training had been going well in terms of mileage as I have now locked in a good routine of regularly run commuting which is ensuring approx 40 miles Monday to Friday. I completed a strong 15 mile long run in awful conditions the week before the race and also got an excellent 5k session in on the Tuesday in the week of the race.

That said I struggled for the rest of the week and had to pull the foot right off the gas to feel fresh for the race. Unfortunately even as late as the Saturday I felt as tired and rough as a dog. I’d taken a rest day on the Friday and had to force myself out on the Saturday for a 30 minute jog plus strides. I’m glad I did as if I hadn’t I think it would have played on my mind somewhat and led to an even further increased feeling of lethargy.

I’ve been having an issue with my left ear with tinnitus type symptoms but recently its worsened and made me feel aggravated if not a little dizzy at times. I’ve finally booked a doctors appointment to get it looked at.

So the alarm of 6:30am on a Sunday morning was pretty unwelcome for the long bus trip from Newcastle to Birkenhead. Indeed the bus journey involved no comfort break at the usual Wetherby services (meaning no much needed coffee was had) but luckily there was a toilet onboard!!!

Arriving at Birkenhead the course looked great although a bit of a wind seemed to be picking up. The race was off at midday prompt and Finn Brodie ran a great first long leg putting our team in 13th position overall.

I’d roughly worked out that I should be starting around 13:30 so I had time for a double espresso and started my warm up at 12:50. I just did a very easy 15 minute jog. I felt like everything was in order despite the previous worries about feeling bleurgh in the previous days build up. The sun had shown itself and it felt warm. The wind was definitely against in the 2nd half of the short leg so I felt on balance that it was best to bank as much time as possible in the fast first mile and then just dig in and hang on to the finish.

Legs 2, 3, 4 and 5 were completed strongly by Marc Fenwick, Terry Scott, Kieran Reay and Michael Hedley. A little nervously I’d gotten myself to the starting pen far too soon and I waited around 15 minutes for Michael to finish his long leg. In that time I had got a little anxious but just tried to not waste too much energy worrying.

As a team we had improved to 10th place as I got underway and I could see 9th place (Rotherham Harriers) ahead but had probably more than 100m to catch up.

I felt like I was moving well as the course gently descended and arrived at a small climb before a more pronounced descent and gentle left hander.

It was at this point I could feel the wind in my face and I just focused on getting to the wooded section which a few lads had said was a bit slower. I’d only been passing lapped runners and runners from the womens race and I was no longer aware of the Rotherham lad ahead. So my focus was to not be overtaken and to just keep plugging away.

Coming out of the wooded area there was a hard left hand turn and I tried to keep the feet quick to get the momentum going up the long gradual climb to the finish.

It was here that I tried to go as close to all out as possible and I was reeling in a lapped runner finishing leg 5. So I just kept my focus squarely on him with the aim of getting in front. I was consciously driving the arms and just trying to keep the form solid.

Unfortunately the runner looked round and responded with a sprint finish and just pipped me on the line but it served the purpose of getting something out of me.

Driving hard for home…

Ryan Holt then set off for the 7th leg.

Looking at the Garmin data later it was odd as it had given me a mile record of 4:52 for the first mile but then Strava had it registered as 4:57 and a slow down to 5:34 for the 2nd mile. I was disappointed with the 2nd mile and felt like there was maybe 5 seconds in there if I’d handled the head wind a bit better and also ran a bit more confidently through the wooded area. That said, overall I think 12:36 for around 2.3 or 2.4 miles is solid and looking at the results I’m in excellent shape for this time of year, especially when compared to previous years. So I need to bank the positives.

I really enjoyed the day and the run and the lads were able to maintain 10th position which is a great result that qualifies us strongly for the Nationals in a few weeks time. So hats off to Ryan, Paul Turnbull, James Dunce, Tom Charlton, Davey Wright and Captain Alasdair Blain who brought us home in spectacular fashion!

And to top it all off the bus trip back involved four cans of Kronenburg and a stop off at the aforementioned Wetherby services for a Greggs steak bake and coffee!!!

Next up for me is a little cheeky 1 mile race on the track next Saturday and I’m excited to see what I can do compared to my road mile PB of 4:49.

After that its back on the bus to Birmingham for the National 12 stage.

Thanks for reading.

North East Harrier League – Alnwick – Race Report

North East Harrier League – Alnwick – Race Report

For one reason or another I decided not to race the fifth NEHL XC fixture at Thornley Hall which meant my goal of achieving my highest ever placing in the Individual Grand Prix was no longer achieveable, having only completed two previous fixtures in the 2018/19 season so far at Gosforth Park and Aykley Heads.

So I was in two minds whether to attend Alnwick even though it is probably one of the most enjoyable courses on the circuit.

Overall my key aims at present are to achieve a new 5k PB and then tune up for the Northern 12 stage relays at the end of March. After that I’m aiming to run some quick times on the track at a range of distances from 400m up to maybe 3000m.

I feel my strength as a runner could be on the track over maybe a mile and I also feel like I’ve proven some decent potential in training by recently running 2:42.3 for 1km on the road which predicts a 4:33 mile and 15:39 5km equivalent performance. That said I know I need to progress in stages as my current PBs are well shy (4:49 and 16:44 respectively). I meant it when I recently posted a comment on one of my Strava runs that “I hate all of my PBs” as I know I am better than my Power of 10 suggests but running is a journey and patience is key.

Overall training has been going well despite a few minor blips in January due to a couple of illnesses and some usual shin issues caused more by over excuberence in training than anything else.

Just after New Year I picked up a heavy head cold and then at the end of January I had a strange stomach bug. The shin issues were caused by me starting a new run work commute routine which suddenly had me doubling up Monday to Friday with a total of 8 miles per day. That flared up some shin pain which is more neural than boney and is a common issue for me when I run too much too quickly.

Training load has been much improved in February and I’d hazard a guess that it was a record mileage month (233.5 miles in total) despite it being only 28 calendar days. That included a 66 mile week which is a weekly record although I try hard to avoid focussing on a fixed 7 day block and prefer to monitor training load trends on Training Peaks.

I feel like I’ve matured somewhat in my overall approach to running and training. I’ve adopted a simpler approach whereby approx 90% of my training is easy with the new work commute forming the basis of those miles. Having a backpack to carry forces a slowing down of those bread and butter miles but it also establishes a good routine and ensures I get a good 30-35mins run in before eating breakfast which I have found to be key in achieving and maintaining a consistent and healthy race weight. Having a backpack and running slow (avg. 7:45-8min miles) also provides a good cardio workout. Running twice a day teaches the body that running is fundamental and the benefits of this are clear – I believe if done correctly the body learns to adapt and repair more quickly. Running tired and sometimes hungry builds strength and endurance and the body responds well.

The remaining 10% of weekly training volume is spent running at goal race pace. I mix this up quite a bit. Sometimes I’ll run say 2k at target 5k pace or 3k at current 10km pace. I’ve also ran some longer runs at more like HM pace (I recently ran 10 miles in 60mins which is faster than my current HM PB and felt comfortable overall). I’ve also ran some trials like the aforementioned 1k in 2:42.3 which are very much confidence boosters and confirm my potential.

I must state this program is inspired by Ernst van Aaken, the real father of Long Slow Distance (LSD).

All of this means I feel I’m in the best shape I have ever been in and I believe I could pretty much PB at any distance at the moment. So the key is to keep my feet firmly on the ground and carefully put together a race plan over spring and up to June.

It was against this backdrop that myself and Michael Hedley arrived at Alnwick castle to do battle in the last fixture of the NEHL. In the back of my mind I wondered if I could try to tag onto the back of Michael in this race although I knew he had ran well the previous week in the National XC and would probably come on for that.

As usual I didn’t feel that great in warm up and the wind had gotten up and the temperature had dropped somewhat. I have gotten used to feeling a bit “dead” before a race and just stuck to the routine of 15 minutes of gentle jogging and trying to focus on positive self talk.

Before we knew it we were lined up on the start line with an ever increasing Fast pack eagerly waiting to chase the slow and medium packs that had already got underway.

The first 5 minutes is always fast and furious and although I was keen not to burn matches I was also determined to get a good early position. My original plan of tagging to Michael was quickly put to one side although I felt like I could do worse than tracking fellow TBHer Cees van der Land. I could also pick out the likes of Matthew Alderson and Daniel Alexander who I’d battled it out with at Aykley Heads albeit some months ago now.

The 1st lap felt strong with my only issue being on the long stretch on the far side of the course which had been overlayed with large stones which were difficult to run on in spikes and it would have been very easy to roll an ankle. So I found myself alternating between that and the softer uneven ground on the left hand side. This was far from ideal and I quickly noticed I lost some ground on Cees and also a couple of fast packers I knew I was stronger than went by. So I had to tackle that section better on the next few laps. On balance I felt I’d have to carefully negotiate the stones.

The key feature of the Alnwick course is the steep downhill section which can be tricky and again I found myself not taking it as smoothly as Cees but to be fair on myself he is an experienced fell runner! Overall I felt I was travelling quite strongly entering the second lap.

The long draggy uphill section which is more a series of inclines felt naturally harder second time round and frustratingly I still didn’t feel like I had gotten through the stoney section as effectively as I needed to. I was still weaving about between the stones and the edge. I think it was at this point that I badly stubbed my right second toe. Fortunately it didn’t really adversely affect my race but I did feel like it was broken immediately after the race! As I write this on Monday the toe is still very sore as is the arch of my foot. This could mean missing the TBH winter grand prix 5k PB attempt tomorrow which would be a real shame.

I threw myself as fast as possible down the steep hill for a second time and started trying to mentally prepare myself for the last lap. I know from experience that the last lap is all important. The majority of the field will be slowing and just by maintaining a good pace exponential place gains can be made. I wasn’t really aware where I was in the field but my target was a top 62 placing to maintain my Fast pack status next season.

Photo credit: Stuart Whitman

The easy pickings have been had by this stage and the key really is to keep a steady tempo and pick the right racing line. Its important to not get lazy and allow yourself to settle in with a slower group of runners. The challenge is to continue to overtake and not to be overtaken.

I felt like I was sticking to task well and I could also still see Cees and Matthew ahead, maybe I was reeling them in?

Getting to the stoney section for a third time I felt a hint of a side stitch coming on but mentally I felt very strong. My legs also felt very strong and the only concern was my right foot, especially the toe which was sore. Spikes on the large, hard stones were far from ideal.

Coming off the stones and onto the nice slight incline I felt very, very strong and I made my move for a powerful finish. On the lead up to the last downhill I made some key place gains and arguably my last descent down the steep hill was my best yet.

On the final straight I mustered a sprint finish and remarkably I was thinking I would have preferred another half a mile to make up more placings!

On reviewing the results this is definitely my strongest ever XC result, finishing 58th overall in the field and 26th fastest on the day.

I feel like my current approach and improved consistency in training is paying off and I now turn my attention to the roads and track. Fingers crossed my right foot will resolve itself quickly although the TBH WGP probably comes too soon.

Thanks for reading.

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.