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!

What a difference a week makes – Druridge Bay XC

So last week I reached new lows of negativity at Aykley Heads XC.

Strange in many ways but not in others.

I’ve always been a glass half full type of guy. But since I took up running I’ve always deep down known how powerful a positive mental attitude can be. PMA got me a long way in those early days running and competing.

At the end of the day, when I started running in 2012 I wasn’t very fit. But my grit and determination always showed through. I wasn’t afraid of “running ugly”.

As I’ve got fitter and stronger and faster I feel like I’ve lost a bit of that edge. And that came to a new low last week.

Maybe it’s the power of blogging, but I was lucky enough to have someone read my blog and care enough to give their point of view. And I really needed it and appreciated it.

Now, last week’s blog was a true reflection of the demons that had been going through my mind. But perhaps the blog was overly dramatic for effect…

That said the person picked up on a number of points and challenged me to think again about my attitude and approach.

The person shall remain anonymous but, long story short, the exchange really made me realise how negative I had allowed myself to be.

Having spent Sunday to Wednesday in Barcelona on a work trip I had some “me” time to write a daily journal and set about sorting out my bad habits.

At the same time I was reading the self help book “The Compound Effect” and a lot of the advice in there was resonating…

So I put in place a positive morning routine –

– get up 6.30am
– drink a pint of water
– think about 3 things I’m grateful for
– complete a 5-10min strength exercise routine
– run
– shower
– breakfast
– write daily journal

I felt better on Monday having merely set about improving my daily routine.

To be honest, running and training wise this week has been nothing to write home about.

On Wednesday I was looking to complete my only harder running session of the week which was to be 4x 5mins at threshold with 1min rest.

Unfortunately the hotel gym had other ideas and the treadmill kept on cutting out above 16km/h!

So I had to finish the workout short.

Not to worry – PMA. One curtailed session is nothing in the grand scheme of things.

Fast forward to Friday night and the usual pre race demons were surfacing…

What’s the matter with my right hamstring? Probably just the squats I’ve been doing for the first time in over a year!

Why have I got athletes foot appearing the day before the race! Who cares, it won’t stop me running well!

Day of the race and the weather warnings come out! Oh no, wind and rain! Who cares, everyone will have to deal with it, I’ll deal with it better than most!

PMA, PMA, PMA

Start line, Fast Pack gathers. Last week’s attitude – “I’m not worthy, may as well cry and not try!”. This week’s attitude – “I deserve to be here, I have earned my place, I am grateful to these guys for bringing out the best in me”

Gun goes off…

I am running with intent.

Last week’s attitude. Don’t feel great. Hold back. Slow down. This week’s attitude – I’m in the thick of it, I’m in the Pack, I’m loving this!

What a difference a week makes.

I really ran properly this week. Yes it got tough. Yes it got very hard in the really muddy sections, especially the back end of the second and third lap.

But I dug in. I stayed grateful for the Fast Pack guys that I was racing against and everyone giving their all competing.

I concentrated on a few positive self talk ideas. The word “compete” was repeated at times. And I tried to focus on my breathing.

I felt like I ran well. Yes I slowed in miles 5 and 6 but…

I just hope I can keep up my routine, keep with the positive thinking, remain grateful, keep believing in the compound effect of consistent endurance running training and fully realise my potential in racing.

But just don’t mention the fact the Fast Pack had to run further than everyone else! It’s the taking part that counts!

Any frustration that I feel on that will have to be taken out on the Norman Woodcock 5 miler next week where I will be looking to smash my PB of 31.16 from 2012.

XC 2015/16 | Training Diary | Week 4

XC 2015/16 | Training Diary | Week 4

Key aim for the week –

My attention turns to the first Cross Country on Saturday at Tanfield. It’s not a course I have ran before and the key focus this week will be to get another solid week in. I won’t be tapering as such as this is only week 4 and essentially the XC fixture is seen as the first hard effort. As the season develops I’ll want to see my strength and fitness increase.

This will be the first time I have run from the Fast pack. So I will be giving a 5 minutes head start to the main slow pack and 2 and a half minutes to the Medium pack. In that regard it’ll be a fact finding mission to see where I’m at. Excited to get stuck in!

Weight on Monday morning –

???kgs

Didn’t check this week. As I mentioned in Week 2, not something that it essential to measure week in week out and overall I feel like I’m getting into race shape.

General mental state –

9.0 – things never get easier, you just get better. And so I feel coming into this week. Last week was a weekly high for me duration and mileage wise and I’m feeling the effects. I’m also walking the tightrope of training / working / living and trying not to fall off! That said I am focused on what I want to achieve – another improvement on last years cross country season and, of course, the sub 17 minute 5k! Mental strength and its importance cannot be underestimated. Giving up is an easy option.

On a scale of 1-10, 1 being exhausted need a break and 10 being 100% motivated and raring to go

Monday
Plan – Easy run, 45mins

Work was crazy today with an all day meeting that didn’t finish til 8pm. I considered canning the run altogether. For right or wrong I got it in. This is where things get stressful, squeezing runs in and feeling fatigued. It’s here that you start asking yourself questions. Why am I putting myself under this pressure etc?

I completed 6.5 miles in just under 47 minutes and an average HR of 153bpm. Despite my tiredness nothing seemed out of order and a “strong” easy run. First run in the dark which felt odd. There are a lot of those to come this winter!

Tuesday
Plan – Threshold run, 40mins

Planned to hit a threshold pace of maybe 6.08/mile which is equivalent to 60 VDOT with the appropriate adjustment for 40 minutes. I measure pace on my Garmin as the TomTom is unfavourable! Lol.

Pretty much completed the run to plan. Had issues with my heart rate monitor but the average was ~170bpm at most and overall my heart rate is coming down on these runs. They aren’t getting easier though! 6.3 miles completed in 40 minutes.

Wednesday
Plan – Recovery run, 50mins

Slightly longer recovery run. Sometimes I feel the lines between these easy runs and the threshold runs become blurred. Reason being I feel strong pushing to the top of my easy zone (163bpm) and I can run sub 7 minute miles at this intensity. Pretty much all my easy runs are around the 7-7.10mins per mile pace now (lower on the Garmin!). When I run a threshold run I usually average ~170bpm and 6-6.25mins per mile. Often I think I need to run my easy runs a bit easier and my threshold runs harder. That said, when the threshold run duration goes above 30 minutes in duration its hard to contemplate pushing harder than I already do.

Overall on this run 6.9 miles were completed in 50 minutes and an average HR of 153bpm.

Thursday
Plan – Threshold run, 40mins

The last couple of weeks have been XC runs but this time I stayed on concrete. Thursday runs can often be testing because it is the 6th run in a row (Sat-Thu). This was no exception. With one eye on Saturdays race I dialed the intensity back to 58 VDOT and an adjusted pace of 6.16/mile (on the Garmin).

Felt tough from start to finish and also felt a little niggle in the outside of the left knee.

Got it finished and overall felt like the heart wasn’t working as hard (as expected due to lower intensity) but the run did feel hard. In my mind I knew this was more than likely because of the impending race and general fatigue. The culmination of 3.5 weeks of decently hard training and the thought of the season coming a bit too soon = tired run + niggles. I’ve been here before. I know I’ll be fine.

6.3 miles in 40 minutes and an average HR below 170bpm I think overall. I pretty much hit the target pace average on the Garmin.

Friday
Plan – Rest

Saturday
Plan – North East Harrier League: Race #1 – Tanfield

I have a little routine on the Friday night before a XC race to get my kit bag sorted. I decided to have a sort through my running box which has all my kit, race numbers, medals etc. For some reason I had it in my mind that this was my third full North East Harrier League XC season. But sorting through my race numbers I realized it was my fourth!

Can't believe this is my fourth full season!

Can’t believe this is my fourth full season!

So I had a look at my performances over the last 3 seasons. I easily forget the improvement I have made –

2012/13

Average mens field size – 399 | My average finish position – 143 (Power of 10)

2013/14

Average mens field size – 487 | My average finish position – 189 (Po10) Note – 1 DNF and running anaemic negatively impacting performance!

2014/15

Average mens field size – 522 | My average finish position – 69 (Po10) Note – started being Coached by Dave Tune Oct ’14

2015/16

????

My progress last year was very very pleasing and I think I downplayed my achievement of getting into the Fast pack in the last race of last season. This finally hit home as I stood on the start line of the opening race of the season at Tanfield. There were some very talented runners still starting from the Medium pack, here I was watching them go with a 2 and a half minute head start.

Without doing myself a disservice I deliberately held back from the start line here. I’d been researching and reading a lot on XC race strategy and I had decided (especially since I didn’t know the course) that I would use the first lap to settle and not worry about most of the fast lads dropping me. After the first lap I planned to build with the knowledge of where I could attack and dig in.

And so the race got underway and it didn’t take long for me to settle in joint last place! A Crook runner who was by my side actually said “so it’s between me and you for last place!”. I couldn’t help but laugh. But strangely it automatically quickened my stride and away I went.

I didn’t feel out of my depth. I didn’t worry about being embarrassed. I didn’t feel embarrassed. I’d earned my place here and I was going to give it my best shot. That said the first lap was tough. I deliberately didn’t wear my GPS as I race better without the distraction. But the first lap felt well over 2 miles. I’d settled in ok but said to myself – this is going to be tough – dig in.

I felt like I made some good progress on the second lap. We’d already started taking slow pack runners and the crowds were getting bigger. The course overall was quite narrow with the odd muddy spot and so picking the best line and injecting extra pace to overtake was essential. This is what I excel at I think. I like taking a few risks. I like putting a bit of pressure on myself at various points.

It was impossible to really tell how I was doing. I was aware that I was in general running with a Tynedale Harrier and a Saltwell Harrier that had started from the Fast Pack. I think about 3/4 through the 2nd lap I managed to drop them both. However, I felt a bit overcooked as a result coming into the 3rd lap and I think I let them go unfortunately. So it was then just a case of hunting down as many slow pack runners as possible.

Starting to build on the 2nd lap

Starting to build on the 2nd lap

On the 3rd lap I got a definite second wind and felt really strong, especially on the little down hill sections. Wow, some strength and confidence at the business end of a XC race! This was not normal. I like to think I got my tactics right. It was still tough on the inclines but I kept my technique in check and just dug it out, keeping the feet quick.

On each lap there was a water crossing which had proved quite easy on the first two laps but low and behold on the last lap it felt like my feet were weights coming out the third time! Not to worry the end was in sight…

I was fully focused on just keeping moving as smoothly and efficiently as possible. Every part of you is wanting it to end and with that you naturally tighten up and fight. The best thing is to relax and just push from the core.

Coming onto the final straight a few lads were finishing very strongly including a couple of team mates from Elswick. Getting over the line I was spent but overall I was really pleased with the effort.

I finished 171st out of 590 runners from the Fast pack. I was the 38th fastest on the day which is my best finish ever, my previous best being 43rd fastest at Wrekenton at the end of last season. Pleasing and I know I will come on for this run.

Sunday
Plan – Long run, 80mins

On my warm down after XC yesterday the niggle in my left knee was noticeable so I wasn’t overly looking forward to a long run. So I went out a little later and kept it very easy the first half hour. Actually got into it quite nicely after that and was pleased to complete my usual Sunday route pretty much on pace as per previous weeks. 10.8 miles in 1hr 18 at an average HR of only 152bpm. Very pleasing I don’t feel tired.

Hoping this little niggle which wasn’t an issue really today will not feature next week.

Weekly totals and Summary

Duration – 4h 55m

Mileage – 43.1 miles

Reduced duration / mileage versus last week but natural to take account of the first race of the season. Reflecting on the performance I’m pleased and hoping to build as the season progresses.

This week I have been listening to –

SLEAFORD MODS – I owe my run on Saturday to the song Fizzy from the album “Austerity Dogs” which is their first album. This came about by complete chance. I had been conscious of the band but not really aware of how much I like them. I was out on Friday night for a catch up with mates. We were sat in a bar when my mate noticed the two blokes from Sleaford Mods walking past! They had a gig in Newcastle that night. My mate had waxed lyrical about them so when I got home I listened to the first album. Wow! The tune Fizzy stuck out like a sore thumb. I listened to it about 50 times on Saturday morning. It was lodged on my brain and accompanied me all the way round the course. Whenever I got tired I just had “FIZZY” shouting in my brain. Thank you SLEAFORD MODS.

This week I have been thinking a lot about –

Am I cut out for this? Yes, the negative thoughts have come into view this week! What a surprise – it took until the fourth week to start wondering why am I doing this and can I do this? Mental strength is essential here to keep going. I will keep going. Running is my passion, it slept dormant from the ages of 12 to 30. I won’t let it go now. I’ve given up too soon too many times on too many things. Not this time, my opportunity is now.

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Week 2 training diary

The plan for Week 2 was to pretty much repeat week 1 but with slightly increased running mileage. Having zero bike maintenance skills the cycles out of action this week. Hoping to get it back on the road for some light cross training soon.

Week 2 diary

Monday
Plan – 35mins Easy (grass)

Notes – change of plan here what with it being a Bank Holiday. Got out early and hit the pavements. Was feeling the weekend exertions and ended up running over 6 miles in around 50 odd minutes. Took in Cow Hill on the route which got the heart rate up.

Tuesday
Plan – 3 miles threshold

Notes – decided to run 20 minutes threshold on Kenton Dene which is a flat XC type course. I’m looking to see my heart rate controlled at 175-185bpm and for average pace to improve week on week. I was really happy with the session and felt full of running. It turned into an acceleration type session with each mile getting slightly faster from 6.33 in mile 1 to 6.18 mile 3 and although I was working harder towards the end I was at or around lactate threshold throughout.

This will be a key session each week and I’ll be looking to increase time up to around 40mins (average length of XC races). In terms of pace, if I can operate at around 6 – 6.15 minute miles at lactate threshold I’ll feel in shape to really challenge to qualify for the medium pack in the North East Harrier League which is a key objective this season. So I’m really pleased with where I’m at given its only August.

Friday
Plan – 35mins Easy (grass)

Notes – felt like a run on the pavements so just had a look round the streets of Kenton. Annoyingly my HRM has been playing up and I don’t feel like I can trust it so just tried to run on feel, monitoring my breathing. Felt great, as if I didn’t need to breath. Ended up with 4.5 miles in the time allotted, so sub 8 min miling.

Saturday
Plan – 30mins threshold

Notes – got up and pottered around the house. Got a few social things to do so didn’t want to do a full 30min threshold so broke it up into 5min on 5min off, 15mins total at pace. Very windy on Kenton Dene but felt fine, again running on feel and each 5 minute effort got faster from 6.34 average to 6.01 so happy overall with the session.

Weekly totals

Running ~20 miles
Cycling zero

Busy week next week with the Jesmond Joggers club champs on Monday and GN 5k on Saturday. Haven’t quite worked out how I’m going to structure my training between the two but I’ll work it out on feel. I might even restrict my running to the two races and 1 other easy run midweek as I want to feel fresh for the 5k. Looking forward to giving it my all.