These are two of the wise statements my first proper coach would tell me to do, just before a major championship. It’s obvious what he meant, you’ve done all the hard work now make sure you be careful on the run in to your championship so you don’t get injured, go out and run but run easy, take in the sights, enjoy yourself. It worked, during my time with Arthur Bruce I won plenty of championship medals, 32 to be exact. We worked hard for a set number of weeks and then eased down for important races. I may not have picked that many daisies but I knew how to go out and enjoy myself on an easy run through Richmond Park. That Sunday long run, the week before a big race, was never more than 70 minutes long, compared to a more normal run of 90-120 minutes, which meant I started my pre-race week fresh and maintained that freshness right up to race day, or as Arthur would put it ‘I’d be chomping at the bit come race day’.
But it’s also what I’m going to do right now, though in the current climate I’m more likely to wrap myself in a duvet rather than cotton wool. I have made the decision, after a long tedious year with very little racing but lots of injuries, that I need to take some time away from competitive running. It wasn’t a hard decision to make, after all I’ve only managed to run two proper races all year, but the difference now is that by making the decision I no longer have to worry about trying to get race fit.
Of course I’m very much a club man so making the decision to stop racing couldn’t be done properly without leaving my club. Much as I love being a member of Salford Harriers, and enjoy racing for them, I feel that remaining in the club will only tempt me to race again too soon. So it had to be an all or nothing.
Once I’d made my decision I decided that my last outing, injury and illness permitting, would be at the BMAF Cross Country Relays, which took place this Saturday at Long Eaton. It’s an event I’ve always enjoyed and Salford always turn out in force so it would be a fitting occasion to say my goodbye to the club.
I nearly didn’t make it, training had been going well but two weeks ago I decided to use the treadmill at the gym. I was doing some reps on it but after two thirds of the session I could feel my calf muscles tighten, I stopped the session but the damage was done. I could hardly walk, let alone run, for the next 4 days. I looked and felt like I’d run a marathon rather than 5 miles on a treadmill. I finally managed a proper run a week before the race. If I was going to race though I would have to ensure I didn’t overdo it in this last week. Two light speed sessions and two easy runs and I was hoping that was enough. I knew I wouldn’t set the Masters world alight but at least I would be able to run.
On the day things still weren’t perfect, my left knee ached and both calf muscles felt a little tight, but nothing was going to stop me making the trip to Long Eaton.
It was a nice day in Long Eaton, the sun was out, it wasn’t cold, though there was an icy wind coming in. I was on second leg, taking over from the ever reliable Dave Lockett. I had a feeling Dave was going to run well so I was keen to get into my racing kit and into the changeover area as soon as possible. As the runners streamed in there were plenty of Salford vests to the fore, we had three teams in the M35 race, but where was Dave. I was starting to get worried after what seemed like an age and no Dave. But there he was with his unmistakable style, coming around the built up section. I got into position ready to go and Dave came in.
I should say here that Dave hadn’t actually had a bad run, he ran 10:48 which wasn’t bad at all, it just felt bad at the time, because seconds seemed like minutes as I waited for my turn. Dave had handed over to me in 5th place, though I didn’t know it at the time the M45s were indistinguishable from the M35s to me, they had M45 identifying them on their numbers but it was too small for me to see it from where I was, I thought I was well down the field.
There were a whole bunch of runners just ahead of me and I pictured myself shooting past them as I started my leg. But that’s not what happened next, my running felt cumbersome and awkward, the bunch in front of me appeared to be pulling slightly away from me. As I followed them around the first field my mind started to cave in, I couldn’t live with these guys and we weren’t even in a medal winning position so what was the point of hurting myself. But as quickly as that thought crossed my mind I pushed it out the other side, only 30 minutes earlier I had been describing to a team mate how he should approach the race and that if he wasn’t hurting by the end of the second field he wasn’t running hard enough. How could I say such a thing and not follow my own advice. This seemed to kick start me and I was able to just pick up my pace a little as we entered the second field. This was a slightly longer field, leading to the only bit of mud on the course. I managed to pass about 4 of the guys who had originally pulled away from me and was in hot pursuit of a bald headed guy from Barnsley. As we hit the raised section, which was a long straight back along the two fields I knew I had to push harder if we were to stand any chance of medals. I did and finally caught the Barnsley guy, just as an M45 Dulwich runner came flying past me. I secretly consoled myself that he must’ve just turned 45 whereas I was nearing 52, but I tried to pick up my pace all the same. I kept turning on the pace, the Dulwich runner was pulling away but not significantly, it didn’t matter, what mattered was that I had to keep turning up the pace all the way to the end. I handed over to Charles Foster in 4th place (I had thought I’d passed about 3 M45s and a few more M35s but clearly I hadn’t). Charles maintained our position, running a useful 10:56, and handed over to Trevor Rayner, who lost a couple of places, before Paul Birkett finished us off, taking one place back as we ended the day in 5th place.
We had teams out in all age groups but, unlike previous year, we only got the one set of medals, the M35s won the whole event taking M35 gold. I was, surprisingly, fastest in our team, only 5 seconds slower than last year, with 10:41 which was enough to secure joint 10th fastest M45. Not spectacular but not bad for a man who could barely walk just over a week before.
I said my goodbyes to the team and set off for home. Glad to have played my part and looking forward to a hot shower. And that was it. My last race as a Salford Harrier.
I will still run, but I will be running because I want to, not because I need to. I’ll still do speed work, but I’ll do it when I feel able to, not sticking to a rigid regime. I may even do some parkruns, but not in race mode. I do hope I will get back to racing one day, but if I don’t I’ll be happy with my lot, I’ve lasted longer than most and I’ve achieved far more than I originally thought was possible. I know the door will always be open for me at Salford, should I decide to return, as I’m sure it would be at Herne Hill, Edinburgh and Belgrave, if I found myself back in their neck of the woods, but I’m not thinking about that at the moment. I’m keeping myself away from temptation, I’m going to chill and pay back the wifey for all the support she’s given me since she met me, eight years ago, when she thought I just ran for fun, a misconception that was soon corrected the first time we went for a run together around the Braids 5 course. As she said at the time, it’s a good job I was injured when she met me, otherwise we may not have lasted eight days.
So it’s so long to Salford, may you continue the success for many years to come, and thank you for making me feel welcome and a valued member of the squad. Finally, thank you for the 12 championship medals you’ve helped me to achieve over the last four years.
Written by Roger Alsop