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!


North East Harrier League 2017/18 – Race #1 Wrekenton

North East Harrier League 2017/18 – Race #1 Wrekenton

My very first memories of running are Cross Country at school.

When I started running again in 2011/2012 I was very keen to join a running club so that I could remind my self of the pleasure and pain of Cross Country.

The mud, the sweat and the tears.

Unfortunately the last couple of seasons have been disappointing and I’m very keen for the 2017/2018 season to be a good one.

With that in mind I turned my attention to the first race following my debut half marathon in the Great North Run. I was pleased with my outing despite a less than satisfactory build up and it gave me confidence that I could get on the start line at Wrekenton in good shape on Saturday 30th September.

The first couple of fixtures can be quite forgiving weather wise and this one was no exception. The weather theatened rain but it stayed away until after the end of the senior men’s race.

I arrived in good time to get to the Elswick Harriers tent whilst the senior women were out on the course.

I had the pleasure of bumping into Jim Alder, running legend and world record holder and still coach to a few at Morpeth Harriers. I was blessed to experience the ongoing passion of a man who has a marathon Commonwealth games gold medal to his name. Very inspiring.

I felt very calm about race 1. I felt good, well rested and raring to go despite a week away in Cyprus with work. I’d only arrived back home late on the Friday but slept well.

The plan was to bank a good hard training run.

Starting in the Medium pack meant I’d give a 2 minute 30s head start to the Slow pack.

Wrekenton was the venue I had last qualified for the Fast pack a couple of years earlier and I felt like I had it in me to do it again.

My plan was to start sensibly and build. No reference to pace, just run hard and try to pass as many people as possible.

As usual with Cross Country the plan quickly goes out of the window as the other runners fly off.

I was probably sitting in the top 10-15 of the Medium pack a quarter mile in and I noticed we passed the first Slow pack runner at the first proper hill.

Wrekenton has a few hills but overall it is benign and almost defenseless with good footing. Indeed there was no mud to speak of and fast times were on the cards.

Lap 1 and most of 2 felt strong and I had made good progress through the field. There was well over 500 runners in the race and I think I heard none other than Jim Alder himself (who was keeping count of runners) shout high 90s as I passed him towards the end of lap 2.

Finishing in the Top 10% of the field from Medium pack would mean a promotion to Fast pack and it was on.

I was currently 3rd team counter for Elswick and I could see super vet Lee Bennett about 20 yards ahead.

I was running well but needed to dig in as things got tough on lap 3. The hills felt harder and the opportunities to pass runners less and less.

I was pleased overall with my attitude and application although I still felt like I was holding something back. I was reminding myself that I was after a hard training run and not a hard race at this point.

I dug in well and getting onto the final straight I was able to summon a strong finish.

Although hard to compare I ran a course PB in around 34 and a half minutes for 5.6-5.7 miles. Overall in the race I finished 49th and qualified for Fast Pack. Ranked on time I was 38th. Looking at my Power of 10 this is my best Harrier League performance which gives me confidence going into the next fixture at Druridge Bay next Sunday.

The provisional plan is to run a decent effort at a parkrun and go into the race slightly tired for another hard training run from Fast pack.

As Jim Alder told me – standard Cross Country fixtures are for training and can be run #2 of a double run training day – “the North Easterns are another story”.

Thanks for reading.

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Sub 17 5k – Week 19 training diary

After the confidence boosting parkrun last week I was fired up for some good final training runs before turning my attention to the last cross country fixture of the season at Wrekenton.

I’ve had my best season yet, this being my 3rd full season. One last good performance would secure my first completed target of 2015 which was a Top 50 finish in the Individual Grand Prix. Going into the last race I was well within the top 30 although it’s always hard to tell how many runners could overtake. Also, Jesmond had a great chance of securing the Division 3 title. Plenty to look forward to.

Training Diary

Plan – 45min recovery

Problems with the heart rate monitor early on which is always a bit distracting but ended with 6.4 miles in 45 mins averaging 7.10/mile. Not much to report. Maybe a little tired from yesterdays long run but nothing major.

Plan – 45min Threshold

I decided to get back into the gym for a controlled effort on the treadmill. I was keen to make it a little bit more interesting and had the idea to do a 1 mile “on”, 1 mile “off” type session. The idea was to have the mile on at the top end of my threshold HR zone and the mile off at the bottom end.

I think it was a great session. The 1 mile on was averaging around 5.42/mile and the mile off just over 6 min miles. The great thing about the session was the top end miles were tough and therefore 6 min miling subsequently felt like a jog recovery comparatively which of course they weren’t (for me)

But for a confidence boost this session nailed it and there was a sense of achievement afterwards certainly.

7.7 miles were completed in the time at an average HR of 171bpm.

Plan – 50min recovery

This is always a tough run after 4 days of running but I did feel like I handled it better than usual and with much less fatigue towards the end of the run. A good sign then that my stamina is improving and I’m handling the mileage.

Problems with the HRM again but 7.1 miles averaging 7.05/mile.

Plan – 40min recovery

Coach switched the usual threshold to recovery to taper for the race on Saturday. Felt strong with 6.2 miles averaging 6.50/mile.

Was looking forward to a rest day and move focus to a good run on Saturday.

Plan – rest

Did as planned and just got mentally prepared for the race tomorrow.

Plan – North East Harrier League race #6

I was really looking forward to this race. I’d never really ran well at Wrekenton but deep down I knew the course suited me.

On the morning I had my usual meal at 10am which is now 100g of white rice and a tin of tomatoes! A tad strange some might say but works well. I was sick of porridge! I also decided to pack a flask with an espresso for 1hr before the race. I’d tried it last week at parkrun and I’d felt it had helped.

I got to the course early. It was still very cold but the course was in great condition with not much mud to speak of. I wanted to run hard and fast so I was pleased.

Walking the course I familiarised myself with the layout. It’s a good course. There are a few hills but plenty of chances to attack as well. I don’t know why but I felt excited and raring to go.

Coming to the start time I was focused. I’d decided to leave the Garmin and HRM at home. I just wanted to run, no distractions. No pre conceived ideas of what was too fast or too slow. Just run and race.

I had a loose plan to try to track the new Spaniard runner from Derwentside who had won the last race at Alnwick from slow pack but actually hadn’t finished with a time much faster than me from medium and I knew I was a little off in my performance. Chasing him would hopefully provide a challenge to perform. This was a plan formed on the line as I was stood next to him and seemed like a decent idea.

The gun went and the Spaniard flew off. He had about 10 yards on me coming to the first hill but I just kept eyes glued to his back. I would say this was my focus for the first 1.5 laps. It wasn’t until about lap 3 that I’d probably let him go. That didn’t concern me. I’d gotten into a decent battle with a Sunderland Harrier and there was a bit of ebb and flow there which was good.

I was conscious that I was making very good progress, working my way through the field. I felt like I never really let up until about half way through the last lap. I wanted to finish strongly and I probably just slowed a little to keep something in the tank for the last incline and then go full throttle to home.

I was really grateful to Dave Appleby of Tyne Bridge Harriers who gave me some great encouragement. I knew it was a good sign getting past Dave and he shouted “cracking run, fast pack run” or something along those lines. It galvanised a strong push for home.

Getting to the last two straight sections before the finish I was in a small group of 3 or 4. I felt like I was in a quality group. The Sunderland Harrier, a Gateshead Harrier and a Morpeth Harrier. They were all running strongly and I was getting pulled along. This is what its all about for me. Feeling like a proper runner. I had no idea what position I was fighting for…

Coming into the home straight I pushed past two of them and went full belt to the line. Weirdly crossing the line I didn’t have my usual struggle, heaving and gasping for air. I felt pretty good!

There was a great atmosphere post race. As a team we felt like we’d done enough to win Division 3. I’d finished first team counter which was nice and the 3rd time of the season I had done so.

I was a bit gutted not to have a beer but I was driving and we went over to the school for the team trophy celebration. It was confirmed that Jesmond had won Division 3. This was great news.


Getting my hands on the NEHL Division 3 trophy with Scott Armstrong

I also found out that I’d finished 28th in the race and qualified for fast pack for next season. I’m delighted. I have to make another step improvement to compete from fast pack but I’m ready for the challenge and feel like I have more to give. Really excited to get in even better shape to give it a shot.

I also finished the season in 29th place in the Individual Grand Prix which smashed my target of Top 50. Really pleased with that.

And, finally, to top it all off I was given male XC runner of the season for the club!

Plan – 45min recovery

Got out in the afternoon and felt really strong. Just enjoyed the run and thought a lot about what I’ve achieved this cross country season. Starting to dream about how much more I could improve and excited to see what I can do on the roads in the next few months.

6.5 miles in 45 minutes with an average HR of 155bpm.

Weekly Totals

Running ~40 miles

Delighted with another great week of training and racing. Off on another work trip next week so will look to tick over and look forward to a trip to see my coach the week after to see where I’m at and plan the road races over the coming months.