I had heard stories like this from other runners before but never thought it would happen to me.
This was the first time I had done the Gloucester 10 mile race, a small event taking place on the Sunday between Christmas and New Year. After a couple of weeks of really good training I was looking forward to getting one final race in for the year and hopefully posting a fast time.
Within half a mile I was off the front with Dan and it was becoming increasingly clear that one of us was going to finish first and the other second. My legs felt great and I had just gone through a mile in close to five minutes feeling comfortable. To make up the full race distance, the course does an out and back section on an industrial estate before heading out on to country lanes. We completed this section and at the second time of arriving at a roundabout, were directed my the marshals to go round again. This was surprising, but I followed their instructions as I didn’t know any better. It very quickly became clear that we had been sent the wrong way.
Sadly, the lead car, which had pulled over prior to a narrow part of the course, was nowhere to be seen. Runners were backing up behind me and the marshals had no idea where to send us. Our chance of a fast time already out the window, Dan and I decided to abandon. We both agreed it would be best not to confront the organisers until we had had some time to calm down, so we went for a run of our own and discussed what had just happened. We were both very frustrated by the poor organisation that had cost us the opportunity to run a good time and most likely win some prize money.
The email sent by the organiser later that day did little to resolve the problem. The blame was pinned solely on the one marshal rather than the race director themself, there was no acknowledgment that this had caused huge frustration for a significant number of people (many others also stepped off) and there was no offer of a refund, something I had assumed would be a given in these circumstances. Furthermore, they published results despite an estimated 10% of the field running off course and the remainder covering a variety of different distances. They also gave prize money out, in what can only have felt like a hollow victory for its recipient. A poor showing from the organisers.
I am not annoyed because someone made a mistake; this happens all the time and is completely normal. What bothers me was the way in which the mistake was atoned for – or not, in this case. Dan and I have both contacted the race director asking why prizes were given out and how to claim a refund. We are both awaiting a reply.
Saturday, 13th January 2007 – Wyken Croft Park, Coventry
I don’t remember much about it, but the records show that I took part in my first ever Birmingham and District Cross Country League race for my university. Aged 19 and competing in division two I managed a lowly finishing position of 87. This was probably no more than I deserved given the half hearted nature of my training at the time. Running was, at the time, vying for space on my schedule with maths lectures, travelling to Birmingham to visit my then girlfriend (now wife), playing football, watching football, seeing bands, working a part time job and going out like any self-respecting undergraduate does.
What I do remember, though, is that it was painful and humiliating. My memory of the day is largely in black and white, though I appreciate that this may be as much due to the passing of time as it is to the fact that most Saturdays in January tend to appear this way when I look back on them. I was unfit and underprepared. Eighty six people beat me and I didn’t make Warwick’s scoring six.
Saturday, 1st December 2018 – Warley Woods, Birmingham
Hoping to make amends for some poor pacing that cost me several places in the field and my club the win on the day three weeks earlier, I set off conservatively, allowing myself to drift back to around 50th at the end of the first lap. Division one in this league is a high standard of competition, but I know that a lot of the athletes ahead of me have overcooked it and will come back. On the second and third laps I move through the field, picking one man off at a time. Ahead of me I can see five other runners from my club occupying positions in the top ten. We are bossing the race at the front and I now need to pick up as many places as I can to keep our team score as low as possible. I continue to move up and into the top twenty. I am starting to run out of room to catch all the guys ahead who are coming back to me. I cross the line in 18th regretting not having taken a few more places in the last mile. Those 18 points contribute to a team total of 48, more than enough to take us to the top of the league. We’re going to be hard to catch now.
Sunday, 9th December 2018 – Telford 10k
I stepped off the road in a race this morning, the first time in many years that I have ended the day with ‘DNF’ next to my name. I never really got going and started to struggle with the pace well before half way. I hadn’t felt right all week and took a gamble on trying to compete. Save it for another day; there are more important races than this one.
When I started running eleven years ago I didn’t realise it was possible to run 15:43 for 5k, let alone go through half way in a 10k with that split whilst feeling terrible. I had no idea I’d be able to get to a stage where I’m making the scoring six for the team at the top of Birmingham League Division One. I didn’t know what steeplechase was, let alone think I could rank in the top 50 in the country for it.
As a teacher, I often encourage my students to reflect on how far they have come in their lives and in their education. Stopping to look down the mountain at everything beneath you gives a great sense of accomplishment as well as the motivation to continue your ascent of it. Now I need to do just that. I had an awful run this morning but I am in great shape and need to remember all the progress I have made. I have improved so much since I started and will continue to do so.
On Saturday my club won the Midland 6 Stage Road Relays for the first time in a decade with a dominant victory over all our local rivals. No one got within a minute and fifty seconds of our time and our athletes occupied the top three slots in the list of fastest legs for the day. We led from the very first leg. It was a crushing win.
And I wasn’t part of it.
Despite my best efforts in training and our unoffical trial race at the parkrun the week before, I didn’t get selected for the A team. As the seventh best runner on paper there was no room for me in a team of six. It was a bittersweet victory for me; I was absolutely thrilled that my friends and training partners were rewarded for their hard work and had the chance to taste success, but at the same time I was frustrated at myself for not being among them.
I need to remember that this is the exact reason I moved club last year, though. I wanted more competition and I wanted to be surrounded by other athletes who were going to drag me along with them. Sometimes that means being picked for the B team. Now I need to use this as motivation to improve. Next time the road relays come around I want the gold medal hanging round my neck.
Monday: AM 9km easy / PM 11km easy (20)
Tuesday: AM 9km easy / PM 9km easy (18)
Wednesday: rest (0)
Thursday: 10km easy (10)
Friday: 8km easy (8)
Saturday: Midland 6 Stage, 8th on leg 1 in 18:30 (14)
Why, one might ask, is this a noteworthy or remarkable occurence? After all, I have not broken 15 minutes countless times. I am an expert at not breaking 15 minutes. I am reliable and dependable and if you ever need someone to not break 15 minutes, I’m your man. My failures at breaking the barrier outweigh, by some margin, the number of times (one) that I have.
Yet despite my impressive aptitude for failing to get round twelve-and-a-half laps in under a quarter of an hour, I was very pleased with yesterday’s run. In fact, my near miss was almost as satisfying as the time I actually did it. It confirmed my belief that I have taken another step forward this season. Backing up a PB with another time in the same ballpark is reassuring and shows that you are on a new level; it shows that the performance was no fluke.
I also feel that yesterday’s run was intrinsically better than my 14:59. It rained constantly throughout my race and the track was soaked. I went for it, stringing together a succession of 70-second laps in the middle of the race in the knowledge I had nothing to lose, and paid for it later on when I got dropped from the lead group I had fought hard to get on to. Despite this, I had decent strength and didn’t completely blow up having gone off at 14:45 pace. I learned that I am not yet in that kind of shape but also learned that I’m really not too far away. With even pacing I would have run a personal best but wouldn’t have learned anything about where my limit is.
Last night’s race has made me excited and hungry for next season, and in the shorter term, motivated for the cross country races that winter brings. But first a break…
Monday: 10km easy (10)
Tuesday: AM 8km easy / PM 13km moderate, weights (21)
Wednesday: 10km easy (10)
Thursday: AM 10km easy / PM 12*100 on grass (20)
Friday: rest (0)
Saturday: AM 6km easy / PM BMC Gold Standard B race – Milton Keynes, 6th in 15:00.71 (17)
Last week I took 5 seconds off my personal best for 3000m but felt like I could have gone quicker. Under instructions from my coach not to throw away time in the first few laps of a race, I went out hard and hung on; my splits were 2:51, 2:54 and 2:57. Although this probably isn’t the optimal way of doing it I was pleased to have held on well after starting quickly. Having strength is reassuring given that my final two races of the season are a steeplechase and a 5000m. Despite leaving the race feeling like I could have knocked a few seconds off with better pacing, my overwhelming feeling was one of confidence in my fitness.
Monday: 10km easy (10)
Tuesday: AM 6km easy / PM Stretford Open 3000 – 15th in 8:42.21 (15)
Wednesday: AM 11km easy / PM 9km easy (20)
Thursday: AM 10km easy / PM drills and hurdles, grass session – mile, 2 miles, 2 miles off 3:00,5:00 – 5:01,10:11,10:11 (28)
Friday: rest (0)
Saturday: grass session – 10*60s hill reps, 4:00 tempo (14)