Sunday, 22 December 2013

The Oldest Roadrace in Britain

An early Christmas weekend with the family in Durham was the perfect excuse to run the Saltwell 10k which, at 102 years old, is the oldest road race in Britain. 

Luckily, I was just after a good hard run rather than it being a target race, as my sleep the night beforehand was rather interrupted, initially by Cecilia (my 3 yr old niece). She decided to wake me up at 1:30am by lying on my head and trying to remove my eyes from their sockets. Aleks (her 5 yr old brother) was then sent in to "chat to me" at 6:30am, but at least we managed to play a bit before I headed to Gateshead with my father. 

Trying to warm up at the start

There was an enormous interest in the race and so no entry was available on the day. Numbers and chips were allocated in alphabetical order, and as there were only 502 chips available, I did not get one. The organisers assured me that they would note my time at the finish, but suggested that I start at the front of the field. Unfortunately, I'm not a fast starter, and so thought that I'd get mown down in the rush if I went to the front. I tried to start a few rows back - over at one side - so that I wasn't too far away, but managed to trip over a bollard right on the start due to the sheer number of runners in such a small space. 

The wind had been gusting incredibly strongly all morning, and then, just after I registered, the heavens opened. My dad sensibly stayed in the car while I got soaked on a short warmup run, but luckily the skies cleared just as the race began (though unfortunately both runners and supporters had already got their shoes soaked). 

Alyson leading them off

The course is an undulating one, consisting of 3.5 laps round and through Saltwell Park. When it says " undulating", what it really means is that there are 2 tough hills to climb and descend in every lap, so the race is a tough workout. Alyson Dixon started off right at the front, and disappeared away into the distance, having a great run to finish 5th overall and take 50s off her own course record. 

A lull in the first hill

Three ladies running in Jarrow's club colours all started off pretty fast and so became my targets on the first lap. I passed a couple of them in the first mile, and then started to reel the third one in on the climbs. As usual, I was much stronger on the ascents (always gaining places) than the descents (as I was very worried about slipping on the steep wet paths, mud and leaves). 

Climbing right to the end of each lap

As we crossed the start line again after the first lap, I had managed to close the gap on the final Jarrow lady and so soon moved up into second place, while trying to manage a smile for my watching dad. There were many many marshals out on the course, and it was so nice to hear encouragement for "Dumfries" as I of the many benefits of having your club name written in large letters on your vest. My father had met a friend of his (who coaches at a club in Durham) and they were there at the top of the hill in the middle of the park every lap encouraging me on. Full marks to my dad for his sprinting ability through the park, as he made it between there and the start point to see me on every lap. 

Round the Lake to finish

On the last lap (and even more so on the final half lap) there was the added challenge of negotiating and encouraging other runners that were being lapped. Although I knew that I did not have a chip, and so I would not be recorded passing over the timing mats every lap, I resisted the temptation to finish a lap early, and was actually worried about missing the final turning away from the course and round the lake to the finish. 

It was lucky that there a sprint finish wasn't called for, as the final straight was on very boggy grass and marshals actually caught me twice to prevent me completely skidding over in the mud! 
It was nice to catch up with Alyson and the Jarrow ladies (who also won the team prize) for a cool down jog, before tucking into the cakes and cookies on offer back at registration. 

Run done and it was time to head back home for an early Wigilia.......though I think I wore my legs out more trying to act out "frog" and "rabbit" (don't ask how I acted out "hoover"!!) in Charades for Kids, than I did in the race!

Running Through the Field.....

Last weekend was the 29th edition of Dumfries Running Club's Christmas 5 mile handicap. I wasn't particularly up for it for several reasons - my legs were still tired from the weekend in Ireland and I had just been to see the physio, Chris Jerrett, who brought tears to my eyes with a v painful but necessary psoas release. Still, club events are always fun, and I'm never one to miss out on the chance of some mince pies.

Between myself and Jim, we might get our knees straight
Handicapped races are a good chance for everyone to pit themselves against each other, and there is usually a different winner everytime. I decided not to worry about it, but just to go down and run a sustained effort. 
I set off in penultimate position, along with Jim Buchanan. Jim is running really well, and so I thought there was a chance of him coming through the field to finish high up and also to run the fastest time of the day. We initially ran together swopping many pleasantries, but when he started moving away after the first mile, I knew I had to let him go. Backmarker Alan had started to close up on us (he started 15seconds after us) but surprisingly we had already caught and passed a couple of runners. 
It was nice to say "Hi" to others as I worked my way up the field, and is noticed that Jim didn't seem to be moving and further away from me. I actually narrowed the gap and caught him with a mile a go. Unfortunately, when I encouraged him to push the last mile to get a fast time, he replied that he'd just developed a stitch 😥 
Somehow I reeled in some more runners that initially appeared to be specs in the distance, and actually sprinted for the line to finally finish only 1 second behind the 2nd placed runner. 
Mo & Tubby with the best fancy dress!
A new club member, Nicola Allan was a very worthy winner (with a good margin), and what makes her win all the more impressive, was that she actually had to stop running mid race to let another club member drive down the course. 
It turns out that even though I didn't run particularly well, I recorded the fastest time of the day, probably because it was after the end of most people's racing season. I never expected to come through to finish near the front, when I'd started penultimate, but it turns out that I shouldn't have done so. A slight timing error of the starters meant that we 3 back runners were accidentally set off a minute too soon (which is why we caught people after a mile or two). Apart from this, most of the field finished very close together all sprinting for positions on the line, which shows what a good job the handicapper did. 

.......and yes, the warm mince pies were great.......

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Come in Number 4....

It seems that 2013 has been the year for the number "4".......well certainly with respect to my running. I started off with a 4th place in the Barcelona marathon, next a 4th place in Comrades, and guessed it....4th place in the World Trail Champs. Bearing this in mind, it seemed fitting to pop over to Cork for my 4th marathon of the year.

I was initially invited over by my friend John, who was hoping to run the Clonakilty Waterfront Marathon in about 4 hours. I thought it would be nice to run with him, and provide support/encouragement en route. Unfortunately John had some problems with injury, which significantly interrupted his training. Bearing this in mind, he had to re-evaluate his goal, so it seemed more sensible for me to use the race as a long fast-paced run and then be there for him at the finish.

As I generally run alone, I thought that if I aimed for a time of about 3:00-3:15, then I would have some company all the way round. I got a shock when I checked out the course profile a couple of days before heading over there. There was about 1300foot of height to be gained over the course of the race (with concomitant steep descents), and most of the hills were in the second half. Looking at previous year's results, people generally ran significant positive splits (ie the second half several minutes slower than the first half). In order to get the maximum personal benefit from the run, I needed to be sensible and hold back in the first half, and build at the end if I was feeling good.

John picked me up at Cork airport on Friday night and we headed down to Clonakilty to register. Registration was quite funny, as I was told varying start times, and also different positions (and contents) of the 3 feed stations. When I seemed surprised at this, John just answered "This is Ireland"!

In order not to miss the start (which turned out to be 9:08am) we got down there nice and early..... The weather seemed ideal as it was about 9 degrees, the sun was just coming out (after a shower of rain as we jogged down) and there was little wind. The full and mini-marathoners (I learnt that a mini marathon is a 10k)  mustered in a carpark while the half marathoners headed to their start line 800m down the road.

About 5 minutes after the half marathon started, we were off, winding out of the car park and down the road along the shoreline. I was trying to take it easy but found myself running alone about 10m behind a group of men, so I made the decision to catch them up for some company, as long as they weren't going too fast. 

We started catching the half marathon tailenders after about a mile (half a mile into their race) and so the next mile passed really quickly as there were lots of people about. When the routes divided we settled into a nice bunch and clipped along at a steady pace chatting as we ran. I found myself not thinking about my running as I was concentrating hard on deciphering some of the stronger accents. One man said he thought he was in 3 hr shape on a flat course, and another was aiming for 3:05-3:10 so the group seemed to be a good one to stick with. We chatted about marathons, track running (one of the men - Gary -said he was a 1500m runner as I had noticed his distinctive "up on his toes" running style) and various ultras (another man had plans for his first ultra in the spring of 2014). 

I was loving it, as the miles just seemed to tick by easily, with the company and the banter - it's just that I hadn't expected it to be at the head of the race. In fact, I actually led us up some of the inclines as I was trying to run a relatively constant pace. Although no cyclists were officially allowed on the course, the roads were open, and at least 2 of the men had their partners providing cycle-support. In a way, it was a relief when I realised this, as I had thought that the female voices I'd heard on my shoulder a few times were from other runners.

Not a flat profile then!
We crested a hill at about 12 miles, but must've looked quite funny going down the other side. It was a fairly steep descent and one of the guys just ran away from the group. I took it steadily (with my girlie arms) trying not to land too heavily on my right heel, as the fat pad is still not happy, and Gary also dropped back as he had a hamstring niggle. Soon afterwards we started a 2mile steady ascent, and we bunched back up again, passing through the halfway point in about 1:25. 

The second half of the course was much more testing but, as always, I preferred the ascents to the descents - and we were rewarded with amazing coastal views. Some small rain showers led to some amazing rainbows, and luckily the breeze wasn't strong enough to cause much of a chill factor (I'd even taken my gloves off by halfway). As one of the lads cheerily told me that we'd reached the highest point at the 17mile marker, another brought us back to earth by saying that we had the hill "from Lord of the Rings (the "hill to end all hills")" still to come........eeeeeek!

In fact, it wasn't that this hill was much steeper (though there was a kick-up at the end) or longer than any previous one, it's just that it came after you'd already run 20miles, and so it whittled away our group to just 4. We had now started to pass the back runners of the half marathon, but after we'd descended again, the Garda helped the marathoners cross the traffic round a sharp corner to the left, while the half runners headed straight on towards the finish.

2 miles to go - go on Rory!

With only 4 miles of relatively flat running left, the guys turned on the gas. The front two ran away at a fair lick, while myself and another guy (Rory) stayed together for another couple of miles. We started to increase the pace but were still able to converse. He had finished 7th the previous year, and told me that his aim was to finish in the top 5 in a sub 2:50 time. With two miles to go, the Garda helped us cross another main road and we were back overtaking the same half marathoner runners again. I urged Rory to push on ahead of me, as I felt I was probably slowing him down and didn't want him to miss out on his goals. The sun was shining as we wound along the coast road that we'd started on, and my last few miles were my quickest of the day.

With Gary at the finish!

I was over the moon to run the tougher second half in about 1:23 for a big negative split, finishing (yes, you guessed it) in 4th place overall in a time of 2:48:41. I was rewarded by a big hug from a friend from Kerry (who'd run the 10k with his daughter, had a second breakfast and then watched his partner finish the half), and then later on, saw John finish strongly with no recurrence of his injury. 

A great day all round - and for those of you wondering, Gary won in 2:46:06, Rory made the podium with 2:48:36 (just in front of me), the guy aiming for sub-3 was 5th man home in 2:52:37, and the man aiming for 3:05-3:10 finished in 3:08:57.

Monday, 2 December 2013

Not Racing....

It's always nice to win a race, but sometimes it is almost as hard to lose a title, especially when it is not due to an injury or a lack of fitness.
This past weekend featured 2 races for which I was the reigning champion - one a 5 mile road race, and the other a 10.5 mile "fell" race (lI remember last year's race as being part road, part trail, and lots of sheet ice) - both of which I have mentioned in previous posts. Although it was very tempting to go and defend my title on each day, I realised that I would not be doing myself any favours. With a rare use of my "sensible head", I realise that too much racing doesn't help you with your longterm goals, and indeed can leave you with injuries, both physical and mental. I am trying to make sure there is a reason for me entering races (and yes....because I want sometimes a valid reason) as you can only get yourself in the right mindset so often, and racing does interrupt training - unless you factor it in with a specific purpose. Last time the 5 mile race was at a perfect time in my pre-marathon taper, and the fell race was in a "fun running" spell and I had to drive past it on the way home from my parents' house. 
It was not a dull weekend even though I didn't race, as I did suffer from a nasty dog-related incident. An out of control dog was "just playing" a long way away from its owner, and managed to trip me up and wind me - how scary is it being curled up on a path unable to catch your breath, while people just walk by? I soon recovered from that, and found myself sneakily checking the winning times of the 2 races. The mens' times were quicker in both races - and hats off to Ricky Lightfoot for setting in a new course record at the "Hobble" - but just quietly, it was nice to see my times from the last events were not pipped!!!