This week I finished first in a race and last in another but second across the line in both.
On Tuesday, fellow steeplechaser Jonny and I travelled to his home town of Kettering where his home club had agreed to put a ‘chase on for us. The third of our party, Matt, had pulled out at the last minute leaving just two of us on the start line. It was intended as an early season warm up race but there was nothing warm about it. By the time the gun went it was 9pm and a cool day had turned into a very cold one. The back straight was windy and the water in the pit was ice cold. Not steeplechase weather at all. We ended the race with respectable but unspectacular times; I was only 6 seconds outside my target for the race, suggesting I am in decent enough shape.
Sunday was the opposite, a 5000m run in intense heat. My club mate Omer, who is from Ethiopia, charged off at the front. Knowing that I would not handle the heat as well as him I let him go, imagining that he would come back to me at some point later in the race. He never did. Fortunately for me, though, the rest of the field suffered just as much as I did and I managed to hang on for second, and first ‘B’ runner, in a time of 15:29. It was an uncomfortable race and if I had known a week in advance what the weather would be like I would have asked to do a 1500 or a steeplechase instead.
Unfortunately, as I have learned this week, you can’t control the conditions, especially in this country. The one thing you can control is your training, however. If I keep up the hard work the good results will take care of themselves eventually.
Monday: 8km easy (8)
Tuesday: AM 8km easy / PM Kettering Open 2000m steeplechase, 2nd in 6:16.28 (16)
Wednesday: 16km easy (16)
Thursday: AM 10km easy / PM track session 8*200 off 200 jog (21)
Friday: 10km easy (10)
Saturday: rest (0)
Sunday: AM 8km easy / PM Midland League 5000m, 2nd and 1st B runner in 15:29.1 (18)
I took over in the lead, a 59 second cushion separating me from the chasers. No one in sight in front or behind. I ran a controlled effort up the first hill, not wanting to put myself in the red so early in a leg that would last nearly half an hour. The only indication I had that I was actually in a race were the shouts from the odd spectator I knew. It was bitterly cold, by far the coldest I have ever been in a race. Had the snow started falling any earlier I am certain this year’s Midland 12 Stage Road Relay would have been called off.
By the time I reached the flat section after the first hill the snow was coming down heavily; by the time I reached the out and back section I was in the midst of a full blizzard. The motorbike that normally leads the men’s race was nowhere to be seen; this was a surreal experience. This is a desperately quiet part of the course. Being the furthest section from the finish, it is rarely visited by spectators. I started passing runners from the women’s race. The presence of other humans awoke me from the lull of concentration I had found myself lapsing into. I pushed on, struggling to gauge my effort in the presence of athletes running much more slowly. Shortly after the turn I saw one of my competitors for the first time in the race. And another. And another. It occured to me at this point that it was impossible to end the day with a positive number next to my name. There was no one to pass but plenty of people trying to pass me. The gap to second had shrunk significantly and I made it my goal not to relinquish the lead that my team mate had worked so hard to set me up with. I listened for shouts of encouragement behind me that might indicate that I was about to get caught. By the time I started hearing them I was in the last mile. Having raced on it for years I know the Sutton Park course like the back of my hand and knew that if I could get up the short hill before the finish with a few seconds in hand I could probably hang on. Lungs and calves burning, I gave one last big effort over the hill and launched my finishing kick as I rounded the last corner. The gap was not getting any smaller by this point and cheered on by my teammates, I hung on. By two seconds.
This was only part of the day’s excitement though. Behind us, Bristol were slowly making their way through the field and setting up one the best races I have seen in Sutton Park. They took the lead on leg 7 and extended their lead to around a minute. We had three strong runners on the last three legs though, and started clawing back at the deficit. At the start of leg 12, they were half a minute ahead. By this point, I was out on the course, running between different points to offer my support. 20 seconds by the top of the hill. The gap was closing. Sadly, however, it didn’t close enough and we ended the day with silver medals for our efforts. After over four hours of racing, the first two teams were separated by a mere 16 seconds. One hundred metres after 47 miles of running.
I was cold, tired, hungry and was losing feeling in my fingers, but I was happy.
Monday: AM 10km easy / PM 13km easy (23)
Tuesday: AM 10km easy / PM road session 10*500 off 90s, did not complete session (22)
Wednesday: 12km easy (12)
Thursday: 8km easy (8)
Friday: rest (0)
Saturday: Midland 12 Stage, Leg 2 – 28:10, team were 2nd (18)
This week, whilst idly waiting for the clock to tell me to leave for my latest cross country race I listened to Steve Magness’ latest podcast. This episode, entitled ‘Everything You Need to Know About the 5k’ was a fascinating conversation about preparing athletes to race 12.5 laps of the track. One of the most interesting comments made was to do with athletes’ tendency to want to have a great session a few days before a race as a confidence booster. However more often than not, they argue, the confidence boosting effect is negated by the damage, both physical and mental, that such sessions can do. The two coaches discussed some of their athletes’ best races and how the training that immediately preceded them was often unimpressive on paper. The real work came not days but weeks and months before the target race. The ‘going to the well’ sessions designed to create large adaptations were planned to take place at least 10 days before the race, with everything between then and race day a matter of maintaining fitness rather than trying to increase it.
I found this interesting as it echoes my own experience as an athlete, albeit one at a lower level than those described in the podcast. Maybe I need to stop looking for clues that I am going to race well in the days leading up to a race and trust that all the work done prior to that will pay dividends.
Yesterday I finished 13th in a Birmingham League race, my highest ever finishing position. It feels like the training I did a few weeks ago is starting to take effect!
I decided to adopt a new strategy yesterday at the Warwickshire Cross Country Championships. With no team points at stake and with the race solely about individual performance I decided to just go for it. I won the race to the first corner, I won the race up the first hill, I even won the first lap. It’s just a shame the finish line was at the end of lap four.
As it turns out, the top three would have beaten me whichever way I had chosen to race. I probably would have hung on to fourth had I raced slightly more conservatively and sat in the pack for the first two laps, but sometimes you just need to get out there and go for it to really know what your limit is. Mine seems to be 5th in Warwickshire at the moment.
Next week we’re back at the same course for the third Birmingham League of the season. I might try this strategy again; I might revert to type and try and pick people off in the second half of the race, such is my normal cross country strategy. Either way, I am looking forward to it.
I nearly didn’t race. Unable to sleep any later than 7:30 on Saturday morning due to the lingering effects of a cold, I picked up my phone to let my club I wouldn’t be competing. At this point I realised it was far too early to be trying to get in touch with anyone and decided to give it an hour or two. Four slices of toast, two cups of coffee and one hot shower later I actually felt reasonably human again and decided that I probably wasn’t going to do myself any harm by running. So I did.
That I came 19th in a Birmingham League whilst feeling under the weather says a lot about how far I have come. I got dropped on the steep climbs and lost places and had to run hard on the less aerobically demanding downhill sections to make them back up. Now I wonder what I can do in better circumstances.
One more race this year – Telford 10k next week.
Monday: AM 8km easy / PM 12km easy, drills and hurdles (20)
Tuesday: AM 10km easy / PM road session 10*500 off 60s. 6*30s hill reps (26)