My ninth consecutive Warwickshire Cross Country Championships ends with a fifth place finish, and I finish 13th in the following week’s Birmingham League. Both of these positions equal my personal bests. A good start to the year.
Despite overestimating the course length and not starting my finishing kick early enough because I thought we had an extra lap to run, I still manage 12th in the final league race of the season. After four races, we miss out on second in the final standings by just two points. Naturally, I blame myself.
Dubbed ‘the Beast from the East,’ an unseasonably heavy dumping of snow at the start of the month causes me to spend a week running on the white stuff and trying to avoid slipping on ice. The Beast’s little brother arrives two weeks later to provide a snowstorm backdrop to the Midland 12 Stage. This is literally the coldest I have ever been during a race.
My newfound inability to keep my left calf uninjured rules me out of the National 12 Stage. Having just run a parkrun PB I was hoping to put in a strong performance. Two weeks of jogging and strength and conditioning work put me back on track.
I race four times on the track in May but only remember one of those. My 14:59.96 at Watford allows me to tick off a significant life goal. And then promptly revise the goal downwards.
It’s turning into a year of firsts. A week after breaking 15 minutes for 5000m for the first time. I have my first ‘Steeplechase Fail,’ to borrow a phrase from the many Youtube videos I have watched in which people mistake the water jump barrier for a diving board. Yes, the summer heat wave gets the better of me and I go for a mid-race swim in the steeplechase pit. I resolve to work on my water jump technique when I get back to Birmingham. Oh, and I do my first ever 400 hurdles, with predictably terrible consequences.
After last month’s resounding success, I comprehensively fail to fall at any of the seven water jumps. Instead I run 9:31, a personal best by three seconds. I end the month by running 8:42 for 3000m at Stretford. A good month.
After one more steeplechase and 5000m I take an end of season break and reflect on a successful and enjoyable track season. Stephanie encourages me to take my trainers on holiday so she can kick me out for a run when the lack of running renders me unbearable to be around. As with most things she is right. My runs along the Atlantic coast of France are stunning and memorable.
I get my first ever taste of B team running at the Midland 6 Stage. My club win the race but there are 6 athletes better than me, leaving me in the B team. I need to get better.
Winter training starts after the National 6 Stage. The regime consists of regular doses of what Dave calls ’10 and weights,’ which is exactly what the name suggests and leaves you walking funny the following day.
I’m not really a fan of this time of year, but the start of another cross country season is just enough to make the darkness and poor weather bearable. I compete at the National Cross Country Relays and help my team make a good start to the Birmingham League season
The final month of the year has the usual highs and lows, the high being a strong cross country performance that helps the team move up to first position in the league, the lows being a DNF at Telford and a laughably bad case of poor race organisation at the Gloucester 10 mile race.
The year begins, as it always does, with the county championships. In fading light and muddy conditions I muster a 6th place finish, enough to get me in the county team for the Inter Counties in March. A 22nd place in a Birmingham League fixture helps the team maintain a good position in Division 1.
In my only race of the month I gain my best ever position in a league race, finishing with only 13 people ahead of me. However I am most proud of finishing the race without getting hypothermia, unlike the corresponding league fixture last year. A fine achievement indeed.
I am given a lesson in race tactics in finishing 2nd in a half marathon I had previously won four times in a row. I apply my new ‘don’t push the pace at the front for nine miles on a windy day’ strategy at the Reading Half Marathon a few weeks later but sadly I overdo it and finish 74th. I run my first ever Inter Counties and make the scoring six.
The track season starts ridiculously early and I complete my first steeplechase of the season without suffering any embarrassing water jump related injuries. A 1500 and a relay leg later I drive two hours back to the centre of Birmingham wondering a. why I do it to myself and b. what I can do to get some more speed in my legs.
I travel to London to compete in the Highgate Harriers ‘Night of the 10000m PBs.’ This is truly one of the best events on the national running calendar, with great organisation, high quality racing and a raucous atmosphere. Oh, and I shave a few seconds off my PB. I want to go back next year.
I somehow manage to finish second in a race where I have a clear lead at the bell at the Midland Championships. I run back from Alexander Stadium to the centre of Birmingham wondering a. why someone of my standard is anywhere near the medals at an event of that level and b. what I can do to get more speed in my legs. I actually manage to win a race a couple of weeks later, setting a new PB of 15:09 for 5000m.
Another journey down the M5 takes me to the next league fixture of the season (who knew Bristol was in the Midlands?). Having traveled all that way I am determined to do well in the 2k steeplechase. I cross the line in a close 2nd only to be disqualified by a hawk-eyed track official for trailing my left leg round the barrier when leading the race. Sorry lad, rules are rules, no discretion here I’m afraid. It’s OK, I’m not bitter; it’s not like I did a 4 hour round trip to go and race there or anything.
As a now fully paid up BMC member I make the most of the free entry to Grand Prix events and enter the Solihull 5000. I am happy with the time, just a few tenths away from the PB I had set earlier in the summer. The following week I pick up win number two for the year, beating a whopping 5 people in a 10000m race at Tipton.
From winning one race to trying to avoid coming last in another, I venture north to compete in the 10000m A race at Stretford. I just about manage to avoid the Lanterne Rouge and better still, set a new personal best. A much needed week off follows.
Autumn wouldn’t be autumn without the National 6 Stage at Sutton Park. Like a lamb to the slaughter I take over from our club’s best runner Jack on leg two. Though it sounds like a terrible run, I am pleased to only lose 12 places.
Another cross country season starts at Leamington, a course that is invariably described as a ‘proper British course.’ I think the phrase ‘world war one trenches’ is more apt, but there you go. Muddy and knackered, I cross the line in 24th.
Win number three comes at the world renowned, highly prestigious and delightfully named Sneyd Christmas Pudding Run. For the uninitiated, this is a 10 mile road race near Walsall where all finishers get, you guessed it, a Christmas pudding. My 52 minutes of work earn me the privilege of a gold one. Perceptive and forthright as ever, my mother-in-law dispenses some useful advice that I intend to take with me into 2016: “don’t take a rest day on Christmas Day, it makes you grumpy. You were much better on Boxing Day after you’d got your run in.” That’s me told.