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.