A Time For Reflection

Just over a year ago, I sat down and scribbled a few running markers that I hoped might provide some zest and application towards individual achievement. Needless to say, life periodically got in the way. This resulted in missing some targets or others becoming marginalised. A handful bag of new achievements were nonetheless reached.

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Running Away From Home


Do boring routes make you run faster?
My girlfriend had to travel abroad with work and I snapped up her race number* for Snake Lane 10. The race starts and finishes in the red-brick market town of Pocklington, near York. A dull sky hung overhead and a cool breeze filled the air. Everything seemed grey, beige or mint green. To make matters worse, I was full of cold and my throat was as tight as a kangaroo’s jockstrap. The route is, arguably, unattractive and largely unforgettable – maybe this opinion was a combination of illness and weather.

AIM: 10 mile (flat) – SUB 70 minutes TIME: 71:46 (PB)
*Officially transferred with race organisers

Later, in June, I then tried the same distance but over the hilly route of the Otley 10. Importantly, the evening was hot and humid.

AIM: 10 mile (hilly) – SUB 75 minutes/ TIME: 76:15 (PR)

Who the hell is Netty?
I’d long since planned to tackle a suitable road race as a launch pad towards the Three Peaks. Many runner friends had lamented about the Spen 20: cheap, rarely fills and miles upon miles of fairly boring, but hilly Kirklees streetscape; the two-lap route even crosses the M62…twice!

Unbeknown to me, all the drama was unfolding towards the back of the race: A runner, called Netty, was advised around mile 1 that is she continued at her current pace that she’d be instructed to only complete 10 miles. Marshals – the race organiser explained – could not be expected to stay out for longer than would be appropriate. Social media erupted, largely after Netty explained her side of the story and the host club remained silent. Basically, it was a case of poor communication – on all sides, both prior to and after the race incident. National media got involved, everyone had an opinion and little focus was given to the welfare of the marshals or the severity of the course.

And it is a beast. Relentless hills and inclines chop and disrupt any rhythm that any endurance runner seeks over a longer distance. The grey, smoke stained house stone soon blends into one. Corner shops flicker into a haze, and by the second lap delirium – West Yorkshire style – begins to set in. Legs display signs of buckling a few miles from the end, and the final lap of the track (clockwise, and counter to normal running direction) left me feeling a little more than light-headed.

AIM: 2.40/ TIME: 2.37 (PB)

Getting hyper
My principal focus between February and April was the Three Peaks Race. I’d trained better, improved my knowledge of diet and fueling, and prepared with suitable races, such as: High Cup Nick, Stan Bradshaw Round and Heptonstall. I knew that I wasn’t necessarily faster on the hills but that I possessed better technique and awareness – knowing when to ‘conserve walk’ is just as important as a strong climb immediately followed by collapsing on a descent.

Stone steps

The weather, as forecasted, wasn’t conducive to quick times. Rain and wind would halt progress between the peaks, and knocking off a sizeable chunk from my first attempt time in 2014 (5.37) now seemed unlikely. Still, I’d climbed PYG strongly and managed a kit repair to my back pack before starting the slog up Whernside from Ribblehead. Unlike the previous year, I was strong and could feel fuel firing through my body. Here, many were severely affected by the crippling cold. Almost 100 didn’t start or failed to make the necessary checkpoint times – a 3 time increase on the previous year. Some reported symptoms of mild hyperthermia. I really felt the freezing weather on approach to Ingleborough. I slipped on some gloves and sucked on a liquorice sweet. Well, it was sleeting!

By then, though, the hard tests were complete. From there it was all about safety and a steady descent. On reflection, I was perhaps a little too cautious on the return to Horton. That said, I was overwhelmed at reducing my time by nearly an hour. I joked after that the bigger achievement that day was managing at the end to change into dry from wet, cold clothing!

AIM: sub 5.00 hours/ TIME: 4.46 (PR)

Mars: the new god of speed
Only a few weeks after the Three Peaks I impulsively – and, in advance, at considerable cost on the Wallace scale – entered the one of the John Carr 5k races. I’d done very little running and certainly nothing that would be described as speed training. My legs felt good, I felt reasonably fit (despite eating nearly any and every cheesy carbohydrate after the 3Ps) and the warm air all suggested something good.

My Parkrun times were never relative to my effort, I thought. There was always something by way of an obstacle – weather, congested start or buggies to navigate round.

The previous week races (there are three in the series, on consecutive Wednesday nights) were dominated by the misplacement of a traffic cone and cold weather conditions. The cone resulted in a short and a longer course. The weather limited good performance. As you may read from the corresponding blog entry, my tactics were fairly rudimentary. Sections were all broken down culminating in a final kilometer where I’d throw in everything.

I knew the target was on up until the 4km marker. The amazement at the finish line was palpable. I gladly grabbed the chocolate bar memento.

AIM: sub 20 minutes/ TIME: 19.46 (PB)

What’s that Who song?
I dislike having to advance enter races – I may have mentioned this?

I’d entered the Ben Nevis Race in January. In over 20 years, only two club members had tackled the Ben. No one else dared. After entry in January I then trained (and raced through the above), but then obtained an ankle niggle mid-July. Still, a planned month away in France would prepare me with miles – err excuse moi kilometers upon kilometers – of hilly trails and mountain paths on which to train. But I didn’t really factor in the summer heat. Or the cheese and wine.

I decided early on race day to ‘enjoy’ the event. Firstly, I might never return to the steep slopes to attempt the race. Second, I had one-eye on a return visit to the Highlands, only a few weeks later, to attempt the Loch Ness Marathon. And lastly, the weather was untypically glorious sunshine. It was so warm that I was sweating after a slow warm up, around the shinty field, elevation at approximately 300feet.

Ben summit 2015

I won’t bore with every step and stumble, or slurp from fresh mountain burns (stream). Or perhaps obvious words of endless climbing, scree moving like a gentle sea, and the leaders whizzing passed in a blink or single swipe of sweat. The weather was exceptional. The views were outstanding. And, without hesitation, the summit experience will stay with me for years to come, and easily surpasses all previous ‘pea-soup’ vistas from the observatory cairn. Mind, I did enjoy the white-out during the snow blizzard when I last summited in March 2005.

AIM: to complete/ TIME: slow at over 3 hours, but so ‘enjoyable’

Running northwards is all uphill, right?
And lastly, I completed the Loch Ness Marathon: Brilliant event, amazing linear route (from south-north) and gorgeous autumn weather. For a long time I was suitably on for a sub-3.30 time but then hills and heightened jelly legs took over. I simply shuffled over the closing miles to finish.

AIM: SUB-3.30/ TIME: 3.41 (PB…by 20mins)

After briefly pondering on the year passed, it is time to establish some challenging but achievable targets for 2016.

Let me start by stating how much I dislike having to enter race events in advance. Yes, I acknowledge it is exciting to be entered, formulate and execute a training plan, then – seemingly too far into the future – to visualise completing the race. I’d prefer to perform the first task on the day. Ok, I recognise the popularity of running and demands upon race organizers now prevents this, as hundreds upon hundreds could descend on a small village, all hoping to compete at an event suitable for fewer runners.

I’ve already entered a few races and I’ve likely already missed entries for popular summer races. Hopefully, there’ll be substitute village gala races that’ll take their place. TO BE CONTINUED…

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