It’s been a while since my last post. A number of reasons culminating in a lack of time to even train properly, let alone write about the races I’ve done. However, I have done a few races worth a mention before I get onto the featured race for this post, including the Blaydon Race and the Gosforth Harriers Club Mile, which I have written about before, so will give a miss this time round.
Wynyard 10k Trail Race
Midweek evening races in the summer are brilliant, taking advantage of the long daylight hours. This one was around the grounds of Wynyard Hall Hotel near Stockton-on-Tees and the organisers used every opportunity to send us up and down the steep hills around the extensive hotel grounds.
The start was surprisingly fast – just over 5 minute mile pace. I was probably down in 30th place which, for a field of only about 200, suggested a good class race. It was way too fast for me and I quickly settled into my right pace on a slightly uphill first mile, allowing more people to pass me without worrying. Almost the whole of mile 2 was a serious downhill on an uneven trail path. You had to balance the risk and reward of the extra pace against possibly turning your ankle, especially when you are following the person in front of you at close quarters and cannot see the detail of the path ahead.
Then came a serious uphill, the first of three on the course. Another runner wearing a triathlon club vest steamed past me going up. ‘Good luck to you!’ I thought. I could tell he was putting too much effort in. From the top of the hill for the next 2 miles, I was overtaking people quite regularly, including the guy who passed me on the hill and a couple of runners I recognised who must have been 100 yards ahead of me after the first mile.
By the time we reached the second big hill, I was in a bit of a tussle with two other athletes. Initially, the challenge was to get level with them and then to stay with them. The last mile was all uphill again. One of the two with me dropped off going up and I was blowing out of my backside trying to stay with the other guy.
Under normal circumstances, I can rely on my sprinting speed in a one-on-one finish, but I could tell it was being run out of me. As we hit the finishing straight, I was two yards behind. Every time I kicked, he kicked. He was quick as well and at least 20 years my junior. Plenty of cheers from the spectators who were enjoying the close finish. He had just too much for me and I finished a yard behind him in 17th place.
Masters Track and Field Series
I hadn’t done any field events since I was about fifteen. The masters track and field series is a perfect opportunity to right that wrong and have some great fun along the way, competing with people your own age. I chose to do the long jump, triple jump, 1500m and 100m on that particular evening. Long jump first and I was relieved to beat my 12 year old daughter’s PB when I jumped 4.56! Not by that much though!
I was put into the B race for the 1500m and paced it pretty well to finish in 5.09. Then the triple jump. The technique learnt from my PE teacher in the second year at secondary school served me well, finishing second with 9.67. Apparently, that’s good enough to be ranked 28th this year in the UK in the V45 age group on Power of 10!
Finally, the 100m. I was really looking forward to this, unbelievably never having had an official 100m time in my life. Once again, I was in the B race and I was a bit concerned when several of my fellow competitors started setting up their starting blocks. I settled down into the starting position. “Set!” said the Starter. ‘Remember, the B of the BANG’, I told myself.
The gun went and I got a pretty good start into the fairly stiff headwind. Into the drive phase. Shoulders down, get that speed up. From what I could see, after about 20 metres, surprisingly, I was first, but not by much. It was very tight. After 50 metres, I was still first. The same after 75 metres. My technique than became a little ragged and I felt a couple of athletes draw level with me.
A dip on the line. Ooof, a blanket finish with several of the field in a row. The results came out with three of us recording the same time of 14.1 seconds, but I was given the victory. Get in!
Castle Eden Wolf Trail 5k
I’d run round Castle Eden Dene a few times as I work quite near there, so I knew there was one hill that any self-respecting race around that beautiful part of the world wouldn’t miss out. And I was right. On Strava, the segment is called Heart Attack Hill and it came in mile 2. However, it was soon apparent that Heart Attack Hill was not the only long, steep hill on the course, both up and down.
I started in about tenth place and was regularly passing people during the first half of the race. You know you are pacing it pretty well when you are not being overtaken yourself.
At the start of Heart Attack Hill, I had just made it into fifth place. Fourth was about ten yards ahead. The guy I had just overtaken was breathing down my neck all the way up the hill. The support was tremendous with applause and shouts of encouragement all the way up the beast. A brief thought of whether power-walking the last bit would be quicker than running, such was the steepness, was swiftly eradicated and I reached the top.
Still a kilometre to go. I’ve trained myself to try to accelerate off the top of any hill, despite the exhaustion you are feeling then. That’s when you can put a few yards in between you and many people behind you as the natural inclination is to carry on at the same pace as when climbing, which, of course, is going to be slower than your pace on the flat.
I finished in fifth place, not being able to make too much of a dent in the ten or so yards between me and the guy in fourth. A really good, testing run though, through beautiful forest and the smell of wild garlic in your nose. I do prefer those to flat road races with little of interest along the way.
Durham City 10k
Organised by Steve Cram’s company, Events of the North, and promoted by Paula Radcliffe, this race promised to be quite large with a 5k, a 10k, some hill sprint challenges and a family relay happening as part of a weekend festival of running in the city. It fell on the hottest day of the year, with the mercury in the Northeast going above thirty degrees for the first time I can remember in my twenty-one years here.
A burst water main meant the race had to be rerouted the day before and that the 5k and 10k races would set off at the same time. I can only imagine the nightmare this would have presented the event organisers.
I arrived at the race HQ and was looking at the revised route map, glanced up and there was Paula Radcliffe, right next to me, collecting the batons for the family relay. Also with her was Alison Curbishly, Steve Cram’s other half and former British 400m champion, with her marshall’s hi-viz vest on. They were quite happy to pose for photos with anyone who asked. Then, on my course recce, Aly Dixon, current British Olympian, passed me on her warm-up. Steve Cram, as Race Director, was at the start line making sure everything was in order. I can’t think of any other major sport where the world’s elites and former elites are so comfortable rubbing shoulders with the public.
There was plenty of local media attention, with the local radio station playing music at the start and at another point on the course. Photographers from the local paper were there as well. With all the road closures, it was quite a major event for Durham.
Onto the race. Durham is a beautiful city, the city’s cathedral, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, sits on top of a steep hill that plunges down to a U-shaped meander of the River Wear. It promised some spectacular views and an exceptionally challenging finish, going all the way from river level up to the finish line in front of the Cathedral. A rise of more than 30 metres in only about a quarter of a mile.
It was hot, even at the 7.30pm start time. My heart rate was close to 100 just standing on the start line for the 20 minutes before the off. I say on the start line. I was about twenty yards back, such were the crowds. Even though there were time-based guide boards indicating where you should stand, the number of people who were obviously too close to the front was just annoying. It made for quite a crowded uphill start through the narrow streets of Durham with both the 5k and 10k races starting together.
That didn’t last very long though and we were soon heading down a steep hill to river level and crossing a bridge to the other side. Running along the river bank path then provided us with one of the best views I can remember in a race. I looked right and there above us was the majestic facade of Durham Cathedral. Stunning.
The main thing I remember from the race was having to prevent heat exhaustion. We’re not so used to running in these temperatures in Northeast England. At the first water stop, at 2 miles, we were given a new type of pouch. Not as much plastic as a bottle. Less spillage than a paper cup. It took a bit of a knack to suck and squeeze to get anything out, so the jury’s out on that one at the moment.
We got to the point where the 5k and 10k races split, not far from the finish of the 5k. I looked to see how many of those I was running alongside peeled off to the right for the 5k and was disappointed to see absolutely none. They were all 10kers. This probably has something to do with parkrun. Why pay for a 5k race when you can do one for free every Saturday morning? Although, of course, parkruns are timed runs, not races!!
We then headed across the 800-year-old Elvet Bridge and onto a part of the course I knew well from the Durham Cathedral Relays held on the same grounds. There were quite a few out and backs, probably to do with the course re-routing. On one of them, I was going out and passed Aly Dixon coming back. This was a training run for her, having already run 20 miles to get to the race. She encouraged every person she passed. ‘Well done guys, keep going.’ That support from fellow participants is one thing I love about running.
I was with about 5 other athletes for much of the middle part of the race. It was strange. There was a lot of overtaking. One person would forge ahead and I would pass them back a few hundred yards later. Then someone else would go and then fall back. It was probably the conditions. I tried to maintain the same effort level throughout.
I didn’t look at my watch much, but when I did, I noticed my mile splits were a lot slower than normal. By 8 miles, I was feeling very lightheaded, despite the fact that I was consciously saving something for the brutal last hill to the finish. My legs felt fine, but I was concerned I may pass out if I went any harder. The second and last water stop came none too soon and we started heading for home. I had recced the last mile on my warm-up, so knew what to expect. We crossed the river for the last time and went past two pubs. I wondered what they thought of us suffering as they sat leisurely supping beer or wine in the evening warmth with the odd polite bit of applause.
Then came the board telling us there was a ‘VERY STEEP INCLINE’ ahead. It wasn’t lying. We went through a tunnel, on possibly the steepest race path I have ever run, coming out through an archway onto the cobbled streets of Elvet Bridge again. That was about half the hill done. ‘Drive those arms!’ I told myself. One man I had been having a decent battle with the whole race passed me. I had been gaining slowly on a woman for the last mile or so and had just about caught her up.
A hairpin left and then something I hadn’t accounted for. Along the narrow street heading up to the Cathedral were a large number of the slower 5k runners. Some walking, some running, but all at a much slower pace than I was going. Several times I just couldn’t get past as they were two or three abreast and had to slow down. ‘Excuse me! Sorry! Coming through!’ The woman I had been catching got a better route through and was now 15 yards in front. At one point, there were two women 5kers in front of me. There was a gap in between them. I went for it. Just as I got into the gap, it closed. Profuse apologies from me. They both apologised as well.
The last hundred or so metres were flat, looping around the square in front of the Cathedral with a wider path. I had almost had a rest going up the last bit of the hill due to the traffic and was able to put on a sprint finish. I overtook the man who had overtaken me going up the hill, but not the woman I had been chasing down. I crossed the line in 43:27 in 67th place out of 1,529. At about 4 minutes slower than normal, I think that’s my second slowest 10k race time ever.
Kudos to the organisers, the re-routed course was spot on 10k as far as my Garmin was concerned. Another of those pouch drinks was available at the finish and I got the knack of it in the end as I wobbled round the finish area to collect my T-shirt, medal and goody bag.
Looking at the times, most people were several minutes down on their normal 10k times. Not surprising in the heat and with the hills, but a good test nevertheless. Holiday time now and then I’ll be trying to get back into regular training with my club before the Great North Run and then cross-country season. The summer is coming to an end before you know it.