Monday, 21 November 2016

Wrapping Myself up in Cotton Wool and Go Pick a Few Daisies

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

Monday, 31 October 2016

One Last Throw of the Dice

2016 is drawing to a close and for me, from a running perspective, it has been a year to forget. I’ve been running since 1989 and in all that time there have only been two years that I haven’t found myself placed (top 3) in a championship race. Those years being 1989 and 2011. Well this year could well prove to be the third year. It is definitely going to prove to be my least prolific race year. So far this year I’ve taken part in 2 parkruns; Delamere in February (18:48) and Portobello in March (17:58) and one proper race, the North of England Six Stage Road Relay in September.

This lack of competition has been caused by an injury ravaged year. Attempts to make it back into the big time frustrated by one thing after another; hamstring, knee or calf, rotating round month after month. It seemed that just as I was getting my fitness back and looking to test my form out at a parkrun something else would go. So it was rest and start again.

The major positive from all this is that I’ve managed to maintain a reasonable level of fitness throughout the year, as I was able to utilise all my knowledge to work out training routines that challenged me but not my injuries. Although that has helped, and given me a much stronger upper body than ever before, it isn’t the same as running. It hurt, I got out of breath, but not in the same euphoric way I feel after a hard fartlek or well won race.

So the year drifted on and all my thoughts were about giving up competitive running. I could still run and enjoy doing it without the pressure of specific training to get fit for a specific race. I got close to calling it a day and vanishing from the race scene for good, but, just as I was starting to get back to some level of fitness along came the call to represent Salford at the North of England 6 stage.

Ok, let’s not get dramatic, it wasn’t a call to represent a potential medal winning A team it was just a call to represent one of the lower teams, I forget which one but probably somewhere around the M area. It gave me renewed focus, as I love running relays and they bring out the best in me. However, after six months without a race I was understandably nervous about how I would do.

As it turned out I had an ok race, nothing spectacular, nothing mediocre, I once again managed to show how I punch above my fitness level when it comes to relays. However the best thing it did for me was to get my body back to running at a proper race pace and over the ensuing week I noticed how much quicker and more confidently my training sessions were.

Unfortunately, at the end of that week I came down with a cold. Not just any old cold like the ones I have most years which reduce my training load for a couple of days and then disappear, this one just kept on and on at me and stopped my training, almost completely for two weeks. For two weeks after that there were still remnants and although I was able to start building up my training again I was still coughing up and finding my breathing all over the place.

It’s only now, though still a bit bunged up, that I’m feeling like my training is flowing again. The speed is up on my quality runs and my steady runs are becoming effortlessly fast steady runs. I feel like a runner again and I’m ready to race.

Having said that, I have this year decided not to run in the Manchester or South East Lancs cross country leagues. I’ve done them every year since I joined Salford and every year I have ended up injured. So this year I decided to give them a miss, and I do miss them, especially Boggart Hole Clough (which would be more aptly named Boggy, Holey and Cloggy), but I think I made the right decision.

So I’m left with one more championship race to go, one more throw of the dice to ensure that my championship medal winning years becomes 16-2 and not 15-3. I’m ready for it but it’s still a little while off. Of course first I need to make selection, and that’s never a given when you’re trying to get selected for Salford Harriers, then I need every member of the team to be as committed to the cause as me, much easier as our team spirit is strong, and, finally, I have to remain injury and illness free, well I’m due some good luck. Fingers crossed I make that start line.

Written by Roger Alsop

Friday, 8 July 2016

Running is Back in My Life

Well it’s been almost three months since I last posted. The last blog was about how I was trying some unorthodox training to try to regain racing fitness. I was aware there was a risk involved but I was trying to manage it carefully. Unfortunately there is a fine line when you’re an elite athlete, and that fine line is still there for us less elite athletes who want to bring the best out of ourselves. I tipped myself too far over that fine line and ended up with a torn calf. Annoyingly it went when I was specifically having an easy run as I was intending to do an event at the weekend.

To say I was frustrated was probably an understatement but, as usual when things don’t go to plan, I picked myself up, brushed myself off and got on with things. I accept that my body is a bit delicate and that it can no longer take the level of training required to race at the top level, as such I feel it is unlikely that I will bother racing again, I just don’t enjoy racing if I can’t give 100%. But not racing doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy running, or keeping fit doing other exercise.

At first I was restricted in what I could do, because I couldn’t use the calf, but I could still do most exercises, including carefully thought out cardio. It kept me sane and enabled me to carry on working with clients.

It hadn’t felt like much of a tear when it happened but it must’ve been fairly deep as it took three and a half weeks before I could begin running again. Annoyingly, a week after the tear I was in Spain, supposedly to do some specific fine tuning before the BMAF Road Relays. I couldn’t run in Spain and neither could I represent Salford in the relays. But I did train in Spain, I PTed myself every morning, by the pool with a variety of exercises from my repertoire.

Eventually I was able to start back on the running and used the tried and tested method 1 min walk / 1 minute run x 10 increasing this every day by 1 minute for the runs but sticking to 1 minute for the walk and reducing the number of runs by 1 each day. That is until I get to the point where it’s not progressing in time on my feet and then I start freelancing the running. Eleven days later I was on my first run, without any walking, and I’ve built up from there. One week of just running and then I started introducing speed work into my running. I started with alternate speed days and steady days but after a week I got back to two days of speed followed by one day of steady. At the end of my first week of this 2 to 1 regime I spent the weekend in London, the aim being to meet up with numerous old running rivals and friends at the Lauriston Garden Party. I was staying with my mate, Rob Tudor, who had promised to take me out running in the mornings, quite a daunting task as Rob is both fitter and faster than I was at that point. Still a nice change from training alone.

The garden party was great fun. It was fantastic to chat to old friends, old rivals, new people I had met through facebook and all the former running greats that I was introduced to. The whole evening was one filled with good chat, fun banter plus a whole load of food and drink. Rob even found a picture of me running on the ‘wall of fame’. But all good things must come to an end and too soon we were heading back to our beds.

Running with Rob was also a great fillip, it added pace that had been lacking from my solo runs and gave me some self belief in my ability to run fast again. The following week I started picking up the pace a little more. Then I was back to Spain for a couple of weeks, this time I could run. I kept to my regime of two hard days to one easy and I was enjoying it, though finding it hard due to the heat. All the little niggles were still there, but to a lesser extent. However by the middle of the second week my achilles was beginning to hurt. I eased back a little and went back to a more traditional 1 day hard, 1 day easy, running through the issue. Gradually, over the weeks the pain in my achilles has started to recede, it is manageable.

I’m still running and this week I started to feel like the confident runner of my past. I know I’m not fast so I’m still not too bothered about racing but one of these days I may grace a parkrun again.

The bootcamps in Sandbach have been going well. Now that the warmer weather has arrived it doesn’t matter so much if it’s raining, in fact it’s quite refreshing. Not that the cold wet and muddy winter weather put off the hardy Sandbach crowd, who kept me company during a miserable winter. They even tell me they don’t mind the weather when it’s bad, they feel good for getting through it. I can’t say I enjoy the cold, wet and windy weather, but then I suppose I’m out in it every day, sometimes twice a day, after a while you just want a dry day. But with the warmer weather comes new recruits and we’ve had quite a few lately. You never know, with newbies, particularly those who haven’t exercised for a while, whether they will enjoy the experience or not, for some it sounds like a good idea but then it’s harder than they anticipated, particularly because all the regulars seem to be so much fitter, but if they stick it out the progression is usually pretty quick. We’ve had a good influx of newbies this year and I’m pleased to say that they’ve all stuck it out. Not only that, the transformation in their fitness levels has been noticeable.

Thanks to the success of Sandbach, and the prompting of a friend, I decided to start another bootcamp in Northwich. Finding a suitable venue wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be but in the end I managed to secure some space at Sir John Deane’s college and my latest ‘bodyweight’ bootcamp is now being held on Wednesday evenings at 18:30. Of course nothing runs perfectly and it turns out that my first SJD bootcamp coincided with Andy Murray playing tennis and the Wales football team playing Portugal, but, despite these distractions, I was still able to attract a few attendees. And it was a success, based on my success criteria; did they learn anything new, did they find it a challenge, did they have fun, did I have fun and was I out of pocket. The answer to all of these, apart from the last one, should be ‘yes’. Of course the other success criteria is, will they be back, well I’ll find out the answer to that next Wednesday.

As for me, I’m taking a day’s rest today. I’ve run for the last 15 days and over the past 4 days I’ve done a kettlebell session and 3 bootcamps (yes I take part too). I woke up this morning and I could feel my muscles were tired, a day off will do me the world of good and set me up for another week of solid exercise.

Written by Roger Alsop

Monday, 11 April 2016

Unorthodox Rog

I’ve been a bit quiet lately, I’ve been working on a few things, investigating a few future opportunities and catching up on admin. Mind you I’ve not exactly had much to shout about, the latest injury in December, a reoccurrence of the one I had at the end of summer, stopped me in my tracks. It had me thinking that it could be the end of my competitive running life. I still don’t know if it is or not, at the moment I’ll keep trying to come back but there has to be a point where I’ll say no more, and, whilst not totally convinced I’m close to that point, I’m ready to accept it and move on if it happens.

However, whether I competed again wasn’t going to stop me running. I had to find a balance and that’s what I’ve been trying to do since December.

I started running again at Xmas, spending Xmas and New Year in Spain was always going to be an easier kicking off point than in the UK, warm air and sunshine makes such a difference. Starting gradually with the run/walk that I tried last time I was injured, I built my time and distance up on a daily basis until I was up to a reasonable 40 minute run by the end of the trip.

Continuing the build up on my return to the UK I was soon over the hour. I also started a bit of basic speed work. But, before the end of January I was starting to get worrying aches around the knee again.

I was convinced the problem was caused by my longer runs rather than my speed work, though I couldn’t be absolutely sure. So I decided to reduce the time of my runs, to ensure I didn’t go over the hour. At the time I was still thinking I might not race again, I certainly didn’t have a particular appetite for getting on a race start line any time soon, so I wasn’t too concerned about the fact that this was unlikely to keep me as fit as my opposition. However, with a holiday in Malaysia coming shortly, I knew I was going to have to spice things up a bit because steady running in hot countries can be mind numbing when I’m running alone.

So I set myself the following ‘unstructured’ plan. I would aim to run for between 35 minutes and one hour. I would do speed work on consecutive days, for as many days as my body and my mind could take it. I would not run if my body was telling me not to, though I might do some other form of exercise instead and, finally, if I wanted to take a rest day I would, irrespective of the day of the week and irrespective that the previous day or days, or subsequent day or days, were also rest days. There - I was in control of my own destiny and nobody else was going to advise me differently. It may not work, I could get injured again, but what did I have to lose, I was already thinking of taking up gardening instead of running. It seemed like a last throw of the dice to me. If it worked it might just give me a few more races each year.

I was also going to maintain my cross training, and I would also do this to the level I felt my body could cope with.

I started my new regime on 1st February and on the second day I was taking a rest from running. It wasn’t totally required but as I was running with a talented marathon runner on the third day I thought it best to be sensible, so as to not let them down. I pushed through from that with two more quality days before two days enforced rest days, due to travel and the difference in time zones for our trip to Malaysia.

WC 1 Feb 2016
M – am 52 minute run, pm abdominal workout
T – am 40 minutes on the cardio machines
W – am 1 hour run, reps with running client, eve 20 mins PT
T – am 38 min run inc. (1 min/30 sec rec/2min/1min rec) x 6, pm 1 hour boot camp
F – am 37 min run  inc. (1 min/10 sec rec) x 22
S – Rest – travel to Kuala Lumper
S – Rest – still travelling and settling in

Not bad for a first week, three consecutive quality days, but plenty of rest. Now in Kuala Lumper I was conscious running would be tough in the heat and humidity. My first day of running was very much a plod, still feeling a bit jet lagged and it was hot, hot, hot. I also took another rest day when we transferred to Langkawi, but then I was back on it and as you can see, by the following training plan, over doing it and suffering from a bit of heat exhaustion.  

WC 8 Feb 2016
M – am 36 min run
T – am 36 min run inc. (1 min/15 sec rec) x 21
W – Rest – travel to Langkawi
T – am 37 min run inc. (1 min/30 sec rec/2 min/1 min rec/3 min/1 min rec) x3
F – am 38 min run inc. (1 min/30 sec rec/2min/1min rec) x 6
S – am 41 min run inc. (1 min/15 sec rec) x 21, pm squash. Unfortunately this was the day I got hit with heat exhaustion.
S – am 36 min run.

The easy run on Sunday didn’t ease the heat exhaustion so the next day I decided to go to the air conditioned gym. Having such a lovely beach to run on, I just couldn’t bring myself to hit one of the two treadmills so I designed a 30 minute PT session instead. By the Tuesday I was ready to go again, but decided to pare back the running a bit as it was the last few minutes I had begun to suffer on the previous week. And another rest day as we travelled back home.

WC 15 Feb 2016
M – am 30 min PT session
T – am 33 min run inc. 1 min/30 sec rec/2 min/1 min rec/3min/1 min rec/3 min/1 min rec/2 min/1 min rec/1 min/30 sec rec/1 min/30 sec rec/2 min
W – am 34 min run inc. (1 min/30 sec rec/2min/1min rec) x 5, pm squash
T – am 35 min run
F – am 36 min run inc. (1 min/30 sec rec) x 15, pm squash
S – am 35 min run inc. (3 min/1 min rec) x2 (2 min/1 min rec) x 3 (1 min /30 sec rec) x 4
S – Rest – Travel home

Back home I was able to put some solid training behind me. I was starting to feel fit again and my speed was creeping up. Even so I’d only been using this regime for three weeks and that had been disrupted somewhat by the holiday. There was no way I was ready to race yet, nor was I intending to. Though, as you can see, I did a parkrun on the Saturday. Carole really wanted to do one and so I agreed to go along with her to my local one, at Delamere Forest. It’s a great place but I really don’t like the course. Nothing personal, it’s just that the surface is really uneven and with my history of achilles and knee problems not the best surface for me to run fast on. Still, it was a parkrun, not a race, and I went into it feeling about as racy as Garfield the cat. My aim, get around uninjured and use it to see how my sustained pace was coming along. And as you can see by the time I ran, not particularly pacy. But you have to start somewhere and, if I were to be honest, I really didn’t expect to break 19 minutes.

WC 22 Feb 2016
M – am 38 min run inc. (1 min/30 sec rec/2 min/1 min rec/3 min/1 min rec) x3, pm 30 minutes on cardio machines
T – am 38 min run inc. (1 min/30 sec rec/2min/1min rec) x 6, pm 1 hour boot camp
W – am 37 min run inc. (1 min/10 sec rec) x 22, pm 20 minutes kettlebells
T – am 53 min run with client, would have been reps at her pace, but it doesn’t state what they were, pm 1 hour bootcamp
F – am 50 min run
S – am Delamere parkrun, 18:48. Didn’t feel I was ready yet to test out my race pace, but Carole wanted to do a parkrun, so I thought I might as well get out there and see where I was. Despite always being in the top 10 and finishing 6th I never really got into any kind of race feeling, but at least I did a solid paced 5k run and survived the uneven surfaces intact.
S – am 38 min run inc. (1 min/30 sec rec/2 min/1 min rec/3 min/1 min rec) x3   

WC 29 Feb 2016
M – am 38 min run inc. (1 min/30 sec rec/2min/1min rec) x 6
T – am 40 min run inc. (1 min/10 sec rec) x 23, pm 1 hour boot camp
W – am 48 min run, pm 30 min on cardio machines
T – am 59 min run with client, no details again but would have been reps of some sort, pm 1 hour boot camp
F – am 41 min run inc. (3 min/1 min rec) x 7 plus 1 min
S – am 38 min run inc. (3 min/1 min rec/2 min/1 min rec/1 min/30 sec rec) x 3  plus 1 min
S – am 51 min run

WC 7 Mar 2016
M – am 44 min run inc. (1 min/30 sec rec/2min/1min rec) x 7 plus 1 min, pm 30 min on cardio machines
T – am 44 min run inc. (1 min/10 sec rec) x 24, pm 1 hour boot camp
W – am 50 min hill session with client, pm 20 minute core workout
T – am 35 min run inc. (3 min/30 sec rec/3 min/1 min rec/3 min/90 sec rec) x 2, pm 1 hour boot camp
F – am 30 min static bike
S – am 30 min static bike
S – 36 min run inc. (1 min/30 sec rec/2 min/1 min rec/3 min/1 min rec) x 3

Six weeks in now and things were going well. I’d started upping the reps a little and the pace was definitely getting quicker. But, at the end of the previous week my knee was starting to suffer so I had to take a couple of days off running and get on the static bike. It worked a treat, I was soon back in action.

WC 14 Mar 2016
M – am 43 min run inc. (1 min/10 sec rec) x 25, pm 20 min of kettlebells
T – am 38 min run inc. (5 min/2 min rec) x 4, pm 1 hour boot camp
W – am 59 min run with client, doesn’t state what we did, pm 20 mins on static bike
T – am 39 min run, pm 1 hour boot camp
F – am 45 min run inc. 1 min/2 min/3 min/4 min/5 min/4 min/3 min/2 min/1 min – all with 1 min rec
S – am 39 min run inc. (1 min/30 sec rec/2 min/1 min rec/3 min/1 min rec) x 3 plus 1 min
S – am 47 min run

At Easter we had planned to visit the Scottish relatives. Usually when we’re in Scotland we do the Edinburgh parkrun, so this was going to be my next opportunity to see how my training was progressing. I purposefully took the Friday off running, which meant we could get an early start and enjoy the afternoon in Scotland. The forecast wasn’t great, strong winds, cold and wet, so I decided that we should try the Portobello parkrun instead. Result, still windy but not as strong as I would’ve encountered at Silverknowes and, despite the wind, I was 50 seconds quicker than four weeks ago at Delamere. You could put some of that down to the smoother terrain, but I was definitely more racy this time. I followed that up with a sports massage from Cath Ferry, good friend and EAC athlete. Cath pointed out that my achilles were thickened. Well they weren’t giving me any trouble so I suspected it was down to the achilles injuries I suffered in 2012.

WC 21 Mar 2016
M - am 20 min cardio machine, pm 30 min cardio machine
T – am 49 min run inc. (1 min/30 sec rec/2min/1min rec) x 8, pm 1 hour boot camp
W – am 47 min run inc. (1 min/30 sec rec/2 min/1 min rec/3 min/1 min rec) x 4, pm 20 min static bike  
T – am 33 min run, 8.1k on treadmill, pm 1 hour bootcamp
F – rest, travel to Scotland
S – am Portobello parkrun 17:58, pm massage
S – am 40 min run

Funny really, no issues with my achilles for a long while, until now. Nothing big but I was conscious that my right one was slightly tender this week. Now I’m not a psychosomatic sort of person so I was sure it was nothing to do with what Cath had said. Maybe I’d pushed a bit too hard too soon after the massage or, more likely, because I ran five consecutive days of quality and my quality was getting faster. By the end of this next week I was feeling it again and needed to take a day off running.

WC 28 Mar 2016
M – am 39 min run inc. (1 min/30 sec rec/2 min/1 min rec/3 min/1 min rec) x 3 plus 1 min
T – am 42 min run inc. (1 min/30 sec rec/2min/1min rec) x 8, pm 1 hour boot camp
W – am 47 min fartlek run, pm 30 mins on cardio machines
T – am 45 min run inc. (3min/1 min rec) x 3 (2 min/1 min rec) x 4 ( 1 min/30 sec rec) x 5, pm 1 hour bootcamp
F – am 42 min run inc. (1 min/10 sec rec) x 25
S – am 30 min static bike
S – am 38 min am run inc. (1 min/30 sec rec/2 min/1 min rec/3 min/1 min rec) x 3 plus 1 min

The rest did me some good but the achilles were still hurting during the next week so I had to back off and made some of my reps longer, hence slower.

WC 4 Apr 2016
M – am 38 min run inc. 5 mins x 4 with rec of 2 min/1:30 min/1 min, pm 20 minutes of kettlebells
T – pm 1 hour boot camp
W – am 49 min run, pm 20 min weight session (all body, endurance)
T – am 47 min run inc. (1 min/30 sec rec/2min/1min rec) x 8, pm 1 hour boot camp
F – am 42 min run inc. reps of 10 min/8 min/6 min all with 2 min rec
S - am – 45 min run
S – am – 38 mn run inc. (1 min/30 sec rec/2 min/1 min rec/3 min/1 min rec) x 3 plus 1 min

So that’s where I am now. Slowing down the reps seems to have worked for now but I’m going to have to be vigilant around my knee and now my achilles. Running this way I’m under no illusions that I will once again be able to grace a podium, but if I can enjoy it, and I do enjoy speed work much more than steady running, you may well see me entering proper races again, before the summer is done. Though you may just as easy see me weeding the garden.

Whilst I haven’t been competing, others have, and it was great to see my club, Salford Harriers, win the Northern 12 Stage road relay, they and the B team both qualified for the National 12 stage. I had been asked if I wanted to be considered for the B team, but at the time I didn’t feel my leg was ready to race, and it was good to see I wasn’t missed. The National 12 Stage takes place this coming weekend. It will be good to see how the Northern Champions fare in this iconic championship.

Written by Roger Alsop

Friday, 26 February 2016

The Malaysian Runs

For the fourth year running Carole’s treated me to a fantastic holiday in a country I’ve never visited before. In Kerala my achilles was completely screwed and I could barely walk, let alone run, but I’ve managed to experience running in Vietnam, Cambodia and, now, Malaysia. All offer different opportunities to test my own boundaries of physical ability and creativity. All have been hot and humid places to run in, which does make physical activity more challenging than back home.

This particular holiday was split into two, starting in Kuala Lumpur with 3 nights and then onto Langkawi for 10 nights. It always seems a bit of a drag travelling to these far flung holidays, and so it was again, though not as much a drag as the coming home. We took the Manchester to Dubai, Dubai to Kuala Lumpur route, flying with Emirates. We left early on the Saturday morning, arriving in Kuala Lumpur around the same time on Sunday morning, with the time difference. Bonus: the hotel we were staying at had our room ready, which meant we could have a quick shower, get changed and have a look around. With not much sleep during the journey we decided not to venture far, rather to look at the immediate area and get a feel for the place, and, naturally, suss out any potential running opportunities.
Petronas Towers, look good day or night

The hotel had a small gym and I was quite prepared to use the one treadmill for my daily run. I was also, because my attitude has been changed due to my latest injury problems, prepared to just do an intensive PT session, should somebody else be on the treadmill. However, it turned out we were close to the City Centre park. It still required crossing a few roads, but it looked like a distinct possibility.

The next day we were up and out, we’d decided to give the park option a go. Arriving at the park we found it busy, lots of people were out walking or running, 90% of them going anti-clockwise around the marked running circuit, handily marked out as a 1300m circuit, which enabled me to notice how slow I was going. It wasn’t intentional, but the flight had taken it’s toll, plus it was pretty hot and humid in KL. I shuffled around a few laps and then went back to the hotel for breakfast.

After breakfast we were treated to a Lion Dance, this being Chinese New Year, to wish us on our way with good luck. We spent the bulk of the day walking around KL, following a tour in the guide book. Not the easiest place to get around, thanks to a very busy road system, but we saw everything we had hoped to and returned late afternoon for a dip in the pool, before dinner.
Lots of luck, but no tangerine

The next morning we decided the park was the best option again. I was feeling a lot more awake so decided to try some speedwork, a loosely based term for a session of repetitions that would be slightly faster than the previous days steady run. Having knowledge of how difficult it is to train in the heat and humidity of places, such as KL, I decided to keep the reps short but, as time was a constraint, also keep the recoveries short. So a session of 21 x 1 minute with 15 seconds recovery. This is a tough session any time, if done properly, but it was very tough in this weather. Thankfully the crowd mentality of mostly going in an anti-clockwise direction helped me enormously, giving me loads of people to overtake, even on my recovery jogs. It could’ve been a nightmare if 50% of the people were travelling against the flow.

After breakfast another day’s walking around KL and another dip before dinner.

The next day we were due to leave for Langkawi and we were leaving fairly early, getting up early for a run was certainly achievable, in fact a few years earlier it would have been a given, but I weighed up the bigger picture, including my current fitness levels and current ambition, and decided, for once I’d just chill and enjoy the holiday. So I did and a few hours later we were disembarking in Langkawi.

A friend of mine from Edinburgh, and fellow runner, Stephen Maniam, is travelling round the world, cycling as much of it as he can. It just so happens he’s on a break from travel and currently teaching just South of KL. Naturally, when he heard I was heading to KL he headed to Langkawi, as we disembarked, he was on the other side of a glass partition, waiting to get on the plane we had just vacated. We exchanged waves, he was due back in Langkawi at the weekend so we’d be able to catch up proper then.  
Too much cycling makes you sit funny

We settled in our new accommodation and went for a walk to see what the area looked like, and more specifically where we could run. The gym was pleasant, 3 treadmills looking over the beach, so assuming they were free that was one option. The town was a busy through road and the pavements were both clogged and in a bad state of disrepair, completely unsuitable. The road out of town was an option, but I try to avoid running on the road in most foreign places but, in particular, here I wasn’t that impressed with the local driving skills. The site we were on had some pathways, very likely to be busy but an option. That left the beach. I don’t like running on the beach if it’s soft sand, unless I’m just starting back from injury, even then I can’t take it for longer than 20 minutes, though Carole loves it, so she was sorted. We had a quick inspection, soft sand, and yet, as we got closer to the sea there was a band of firm sand, the likes I’d not come across since training in Whitianga, New Zealand. Yes this could be possible. The beach was reputedly 2k end to end, so it was a pretty good option if the sand was firm all the way. I’d find out the next morning.

Fully bedded in now, having been in Malaysia for 5 days, despite the late night closing at the beach bar, with wailing karaoke style singer, and the heat of the night being very similar to the day, requiring the fan to be on permanently, causing all sorts of weird dreams connected with engines and chainsaws, I decided I’d go for it on the beach and try my trusted 1,2,3 x3 session. The beach was great, surprisingly busy at 8:00am but respectful, i.e. they got out of my way when I was running towards them. The first few reps were good, but then I started to feel the heat on the 3 minute rep, after that it was hard work, but I did just over 4 complete lengths of the beach, that was enough. The rest of the day was spent relaxing by the pool, we were too knackered to be bothered with anything else, plus it was a nice pool, great for shade bathing. 

Back on the speed the next morning, this time it was a 1,2 x 6 (I know it seems a little unorthodox to rep day after day, but I’ll explain at the end of the blog, why I’m training this way). A little easier not having to do any 3 minute reps, but I was still starting to struggle towards the end. And the following day I repeated my 21 x a minute with 15 seconds recovery. Now that really was hard, I was slightly later getting up, it was definitely warmer and I was really struggling from about rep 10, it was so difficult to breathe, the 15 seconds was definitely not enough recovery in this heat.

By now we’d found the squash courts. Carole’s been saying for years that she’d like to thrash me at squash, now I’m no squash player, think I’ve played 3 or 4 times in my life and the last time was about 29 years ago, but I figured I’m much fitter than I was then and it must be easy to pick it up again so I’d always argued that she was talking a load of racquets. Today was the day we were going to find out the truth. Some breakfast and pool lounging first but before lunch we hit the court. Turns out Carole wasn’t talking racquets at all, she had me running around all over the place. Clearly fitness is no match for skill and I had no squash skill. Still I was getting better as I taught myself how to hit the ball back and I never had a 9-0 against me. We finished after 53 minutes, I was tempted to carry on but Carole was bored.

Turned out it was a good idea to stop at that point as the heat had now started to hit me, the hard training of the last three days and constant lapping of a squash court had left me exhausted so whilst Carole went off to eat lunch I went back to the room to have a lie down. I felt a bit rough and lost my appetite for the next two days, really, at my age, I ought to start taking things a bit easier!  

The next morning I was still feeling the effects of those exertions so decided to play safe and just run on the beach, nice and easy, no reps. But, in this heat, it was still hard work and I found it a bit tedious going back and forth four times.

Not wanting another run on the beach the following day I decided to do half a PT session instead. I didn’t feel as energised as I do at home but I managed to string together a good mix of stuff. A welcome break from running, and a timely reminder that you should only run because you love running and not because you feel you ought to. Thankfully, by the end of that day, I was starting to feel like my old self and my appetite had come back.

Back in the groove, the next morning I was keen to get back into my running. I decided that I needed to shorten my session a bit, to ensure I didn’t overdo it, so instead of my 1,2,3 x 3 I did 1,2,3 x 2 and a 1,2. 15 minutes of quality rather than 18. Still hard but that little bit of breathing space gave me both the energy and the willpower to see it through.

I followed this up the next day with 1,2, x 5, plus I took another thrashing in the squash court, though I was improving, just a little.

Having done two days of reps and the squash, I decided to do a steady run again and went for the 8k run along the beach. I managed to catch up with a Dutch guy, who was going just a little slower than me, halfway along the first length. It was nice to have some company for a change, last time I had company on my run was when I went training with Rob Tudor, and that was only for about 100m before Rob zoomed off into the distance, on this occasion it lasted a little longer, about 250m before my new friend decided he needed to stop and stretch before facing the next 2k of beach, so I was back on my Jack Jones. Still it was good to talk.

With two days to go until the end of the holiday I had two more beach runs left. On the penultimate day it was the time of 1 minute reps. Again I reduced this so I was only doing 15 and, conscious of how difficult it had been the last time, with 15 seconds recovery, I decided to give myself 30 seconds, generous soul. It worked, it was much easier and enabled me to have enough energy for a further squash thrashing, though on this occasion I got almost close to taking a game.

Final run, it was mind games, which run should I do. If I’m being honest I really didn’t want to do it, I was feeling tired and couldn’t muster any enthusiasm, particularly as we’d be setting off for home at 7pm and travelling for 22 hours with short hops and long breaks. But, it was the last opportunity I was going to get to run on this beach so I gave myself a kick up the backside and decided the best way to get through it was to do the long reps first, whilst still fresh, and increase the number of reps as they got shorter. I did 2 x 3 mins, 3 x 2mins and 4 x 1 min. It felt pretty good.

After a grueling journey home, in which I felt I was coming down with a cold (nose constantly running, regular sneezing) we finally got into our own home early Sunday afternoon. We were both shattered, each leg of the journey home had been too short to get any proper sleep, with 3 hour gaps between flights also unsuitable for sleeping, plus we were 8 hours behind Malaysia so it was nearing bedtime. Some tidying up, washing kept us going but we both fell asleep in front of the TV by 8pm. It was nice to have a rest day, even though I didn’t feel rested.

The next day was the start of the next block of training. Carrying on with the theme I was back doing quality, but it was a real struggle, I really felt rough. Got through it, the next day I felt a bit better and so it continued, day by day, able to go a bit faster, feeling a lot better about my runs and now it’s down to managing my training so I don’t get injured and get the most out of myself. And then, maybe even a race.
My training ground in Langkawi

Not a bad place to see sunset

I mentioned earlier that I would explain my unorthodox approach to training, well here it is: Since last summer I’ve been getting problems with my knees, it comes and goes but on two occasions it’s caused one or other of my knees to seize up completely, meaning that walking is painful, bending the knee is even more painful and running is out of the question for a significant period of time. I’ve seen a physio and constantly do exercises to stop this happening, but at the end of the day I have to face the fact that I’m 51 years old, have been running for 27 years, and it’s now starting to take it’s toll.

The first thing I decided was that I needed to stop racing, for the present. This would allow me to train as and when I feel without the added pressure of trying to get fit for a specific event. That was fine but, obviously, as you start to get a bit fitter you want to push the training more. Ooops problem, I found that as I pushed harder and longer I started getting problems. So I decided to restrict my runs to about 37 mins, if doing quality, and 45 minutes if doing a steady, with the odd exception. This seemed to be working and I was making some progress. However, ever the optimist, if I was to decide I was ready to race again I’d want to be able to compete against my peers and this wasn’t going to get to that position if I was to continue training to a traditional pattern of three hard sessions interspersed with easy runs.

So I decided to follow the method I used to do on holidays, i.e. 2 days hard 1 day easy, only I wasn’t going to restrict it to 2 days. I would run reps every day I felt up to it and only have an easy day or a rest day if I wanted to. It’s a risky strategy but sometimes you have to take risks to achieve your goals. I’m now four weeks into this regime and, despite the setback I suffered on holiday, it seems to be working for me. I’ve currently got no problems with my knees, though every time I say that to anybody the next day my knee starts to ache….

I imagine there will be some of my running pals who will read that and think I’m setting myself up for failure, or injury, but I feel it’s the only way to keep me going, at this moment in time. I’ll adapt if I need to and maybe I’ll even put in an appearance at a road relay or parkrun before the end of March.

Written by Roger Alsop

Friday, 8 January 2016

A New Hope, The Return of the Injury, Rog Strikes Back

Well what a year 2015 has been, after the last few injury riddled years you’d think I was due to have a decent year, even if it wasn’t a very impressive year at least I’d be able to run as I liked. Sadly it was not to be as I suffered major blow injuries in July and August. Following my August lay-off I was gradually working my way back to fitness, indeed, whilst hardly setting the athletic world alight I just about managed to scrape my way into another National medal winning Salford team. Following that silver at the Masters Cross Country Relays I seemed to be running pain free and training was getting better. In fact training was going so well I set myself some winter targets; to win the South East Lancs cross country league M50 championship and to be 1st M50 at the Cheshire Cross Country Championships. It started well, I finished an overall 10th in the first of four SEL races, taking, for the first time in this league, my first age group victory. I was looking forward to my next SEL race, in a much more favourable location for me, Heaton Park……but, just seven days before the race, my knee started to ache in a bog standard 9 mile training run. Later that day it stiffened up, such that I could hardly walk. I took the week off all exercise, hoping that I’d still be capable of a good run on the Saturday, but I was still unable to run on race day. My title chance had gone, but more concerning, was this to be the career ending injury, my knees were in a lot of pain and I could hardly bend my right one.  
Happier Times National Masters Road Relay Silver, celebrating with my pal Rob Tudor, who's had his own fair share of injuries this year

Race out of the way and the rest of the winter season written off there was no rush to get my fitness back but I didn’t want to do nothing so I devised a training plan that would enable me to keep strong and at least keep the cardiovascular situation on it’s toes. I spent the next couple of weeks doing my own PT sessions, avoiding anything that could affect the problem (basically it was clear that it was the hamstring which was the culprit). It was a minimal response, I didn’t do much as I thought I’d take the opportunity to give my whole body a bit of a rest, but I couldn’t do nothing.

21st December was day one of, what I hoped would be, my return to running. My body was feeling good, though I still had an underlying ache in my knee. However, using the easiest of easy running sessions I figured I’d soon know if it was going to be successful or back to the drawing board. (1 minute walk / 1 minute run) x 10, of little acorns… Being an optimist, the next day I was back out (1 minute walk / 2 minutes run) x 9. I was sure I was going down the right track but my knee was feeling a little tired so on day three I just cycled. Xmas eve was a scheduled rest day, we were heading to Spain for what, originally, was intended to be a focused warm weather training period in preparation for the Cheshire Cross Country Champs, but now was going to be a chance to rehabilitate in the sun and warmth of the Costa Calida.

Xmas day, whilst Carole was out enjoying one of her best and longest runs of the year, I was back on the rehabilitation wagon, (1 minute walk / 3 minutes run) x 8, and I threw in a few press ups by the pool for good measure. Boxing day was (1 minute walk / 4 minutes run) x 7 and the following day the pattern continued with 5 minutes running x 6.

Now I get bored with the obvious so the next day I spiced things up with (1 minute walk / 7 minutes run) x 5 and then decided it was time for a rest day. Rest day over and keen to get on with it, enjoying my plods in the sunshine, it was a big advance to 10 minutes of running x 4, with the following day being 15 minutes of running x 3. It was all going so well so the next day was 20 minutes of running x 3 and, on the day we were going to head home to England, 1 minute walking followed by 39 minutes of running. Yes, if I could run for 39 minutes, non stop, now I could dispense with the walking.

Back home I decided I would just run for 45 minutes each day for the first week and then review the situation.

It’s now 8 January, I’m taking a rest day. After yesterday’s run I could feel the muscles around my knees start to tighten. I had a good boot camp last night but I’m ready for a rest. Tomorrow I’ll see how I feel, not sure I’m ready to go beyond 45 minutes but I’m hoping I’ll be able to run an hour, non stop, next week. No plans yet for any speed work, I’m just keeping fit and enjoying being able to run. I’ll be keeping a close eye on things, better to run once a week than not to run at all. Racing is right at the back of my mind at the moment, I’m not even sure if I have the desire any more, but I’m sure that’ll come back once I can run fast.   

Here’s hoping you, and I, have a happy and successful 2016.

Written by Roger Alsop

Monday, 7 December 2015

The Speedway Reunion

It’s been a while since I’ve written a blog, afraid work has kept me busy. I’ve been planning this one for a little while, about a passion I’ve rekindled for a sport I used to watch when I was young. It has nothing to do with fitness, so apologies to anyone wanting to find out the latest gimmick on the fitness front, or what’s been going on in my running world, rather it’s an opportunity to introduce you to a sport that is relatively cheap to watch live, you get to see every inch of the circuit without having to move and it is full of drama. The sport I am referring to is Speedway, have you heard of it? Well it would appear that most of my friends haven’t, as they draw a blank when I say I’m going to a speedway meeting. I find this a real shame because I feel it is an exciting sport to watch and the fans, generally, create a friendly atmosphere. Plus it’s a sport whereby you can actually get to meet the competitors on a regular basis.

For the benefit of those who do not know anything about speedway here’s a quick synopsis:

Speedway is a sport where four riders race against each other on motorbikes that have a fixed gear and no brakes. They race over four laps of a shale/dirt covered circuit, oval in shape, each circuit varying in size but not much different to that of a running track (one circuit). That is a slight generalisation, if you want a more in-depth explanation here’s an extract from Wikipedia

For me speedway was something I was into during the 70s and 80s but when I got caught by the running bug, 1989, that, and the fact that speedway started to disappear in London, it spelt the death knell for my speedway spectating. It’s only this year that I’ve got back into it, prompted by seeing a facebook friend was a member of the ‘Speedway Friends’ group, set up by former rider, Karl Fiala. I thought I’d join and, like a running group I’m in, it features many pictures from the past, and has many ex and current riders on it’s membership. This prompted me to start going along to my nearest track and the rest will become apparent towards the end of this blog.

I don’t have much recollection of my earliest involvement with speedway, my dad would take us along to Belle Vue and I have occasional flashbacks of some of the more stylish leathers that were on show, but as for actual memories of races I don’t have any until the mid 70s. In fact one of the things that sticks in my mind from those early days was a brawl between the Belle Vue and Leicester riders, and fans, hardly endorsing my earlier comments about friendliness. But then it’s a tough sport, riding a motorbike at high speed around a short course surrounded by a fence and riders can, and do, crash frequently. Thankfully, I’ve never seen a fatality, though I have seen some serious crashes. Of course, over the years there have been many fatalities and riders leaving the sport disabled, even recently, despite all the safety measures. But it’s such an exciting sport to watch, and must be even more exciting to ride, that the danger doesn’t seem to put off new riders coming through, just as in the early days of the aeroplane people sought excitement, despite the risks.

Whilst Belle Vue was my first experience of speedway, it was at Ellesmere Port, home of the Gunners, where I grew to love the sport. We started going to watch Ellesmere Port in 1976 and I became an avid fan. I have many memories of watching The Gunners in action at Thornton Road, and on the few times that we travelled to watch The Gunners away. Ellesmere Port were in the 2nd tier, whereas Belle Vue were a top tier team, but that didn’t matter to me, what we may have lacked in household names we never lacked any enthusiasm or commitment. Another major difference in this division was that you felt you could get closer to the riders, who, at Thornton Road, had to walk through the crowd to get to the showers.
My Ellesmere Port Gunners Scarf

Initially Ellesmere Port were quite successful, finishing 2nd in the league, to Newcastle. It was Newcastle who knocked us out of the knock out cup, in the semi-finals. John Jackson, our top rider, was 2nd to Newcastle’s Joe Owen in the National League riders championship, but came out on top, with Chris Turner, in the National League pairs, against Newcastle’s Joe and Tom Owen. Plus we were 3rd in the final of the National League four team tournament. It was also the year that Belle Vue’s Peter Collins won the World Speedway Championship, the first Britain since Peter Craven (another Belle Vue rider) in 1963.

With out and out National League star, Joe Owen, due to move up to the top division in 1977, it was looking like Ellesmere Port could challenge for the top spot, especially as we still had the services of John Jackson, alongside a youthful, but talented team. It was not to be, Eastbourne emerged as the successors to Newcastle, with a very solid squad as the Gunners dropped to 3rd place. Perhaps too much youth was the problem but it was the policy to try to bring riders through the Saturday morning training school, and it did produce some great future speedway riders. Again we were defeated in the Semi-final of the knock out cup, to Eastbourne. Not getting past the first round of the pairs and only to the semi final stage of the fours, and with Jacko only managing 6th in the individual event, it was a bit of a downer compared to 76, but third place was not to be sniffed at and the racing at Thornton Road was always enjoyable. 77 also saw the emergence and rapid rise of the third of the five Collins brothers, Phil. Peter was world champion in 76 and runner up in 77, Les would be runner up in 1982, Phil had tough acts to follow.

With the same solid backbone of Jacko and Steve Finch and the improving Phil Collins, 1978 looked like it could be the Gunners year, but in the league it was once again disappointment. Unbeaten at home but with only 5 away wins we could only manage 5th in the League. We were still good entertainment and I’m sure opposition teams looked forward to our visits. Jacko was again top dog, in the best form ever for Ellesmere Port he was 3rd in the overall National League averages (Steve Finch was 12th and Phil Collins 20th, both showing great improvement), 2nd in the National League Riders Championship and together with Steve Finch he won the National League Pairs Championship, remaining unbeaten on the night, with Steve Finch only dropping a point in one race. We made the final of the National League Fours competition, finishing joint 3rd with Canterbury. Once again we failed to make the final of the cup competition, losing to Canterbury in the quarter finals. Phil Collins really made his mark this year, improving all year, he, like his elder brothers, Peter and Les, before, won the Junior Championship of the British Isles and was promptly picked up by Cradley Heath for the following year, going for a British record transfer fee of £15,000.

Without Phil Collins for 1979, but still with Jacko and Finch what were our prospects going to be? Paul Tyrer, a star at Ellemere Port before my time, had rejoined the previous year but hadn’t shown consistent form and in 1979 he appeared to struggle, it wasn’t long before he retired. The rest of the team consisted of young up and coming riders and it was left to Louis Carr to take over the heat leader role vacated by Phil Collins. Whilst not quite matching Phil’s point scoring, he did a pretty good job. Steve Finch did a great job all season, knocking Jacko off the top of the averages for the first time since Jacko joined, finishing 6th in the overall averages. Perhaps this is where Jacko’s gradual decline started, he was well down on the average he’d achieved the previous year, though still 9th ranked in the overall averages across the National League. Jacko was still the king around Thornton Road, but was struggling more with his form away from home. With Jacko misfiring a little away from home, a third heat leader who wasn’t quite ready for the responsibility and more youngsters getting their first opportunities of team action, understandably Ellesmere Port didn’t have a great season, they could only manage a mid table 9th and were knocked out in the 1st round of the cup competition by league champions elect, Mildenhall. Jacko was once again our representative at the NLRC, but didn’t feature on the podium. On the bright side though Jacko and Finch nearly managed to hold onto their National League Pairs championship, finishing 2nd to Milton Keynes and on a far brighter note, we won the National League Fours championship, for the first time. So not a great season but we had things to cheer and, the racing at Thornton road was always exciting. This was also the year Ivan Mauger became the most successful rider in World Championship history, winning his 6th, and final, world individual title.

1980 – Jacko’s gradual decline continued, no longer the king of Thornton Road as both Steve Finch and Louis Carr surpassed his home average. Steve Finch produced consistently good results away from home, showing further improvement from last year and a near 10 point overall average again placed him 6th in the National League averages, with Jacko slipping to 29th and Louis Carr not far behind in 33rd. Looking through the Speedway Yearbook there were lots of high scores for Jacko, but it was the end of season that saw his average go down, for what reason I do not know but from 17 Aug to the end of the season he only had one double figure score, and that was from 5 rides, plus an 8 paid 10 from 4 rides. His average ended below the 9 point mark. The second stringers and reserves were now more experienced but there were just too many meetings narrowly lost, which meant we finished even lower in the league than last year, 10th. In the cup we were again knocked out in the first round, to a Berwick team that went all the way. In the pairs, Jacko and Finch narrowly missed out on qualifying for the semi-finals and in the fours it was 3rd place in a narrowly contested final. Steve Finch made his debut in the NLRC, finishing a fine 3rd, my brother was working for him at the time and I remember Steve dropping him off, very late, that night. This was also the year Mike Lee became the next British Rider to win the World Speedway Championship.

Having sold off Louis and Peter Carr to Belle Vue, in 1980, for a new record fee (surpassing that of Phil and Neil Collins), it was another case of rebuild for 1981. The sale agreement gave Peter another year in the NL with the Gunners, but would he be able to replace his older brother? Newcomer, loaned from Halifax, Australian Rob Ashton started in reserve and produced some great results from the off, quickly moving up into the team and providing solid work. Peter Carr struggled at first but by the end of the season was scoring well to improve his average. Billy Burton came in from Stoke, as Pete Ellams went the other way, another solid scorer at home. Steve Finch was once again top man, but with a reduced average on the previous year and Jacko, whilst scoring well at home, didn’t seem to travel as well and also seemed to suffer a number of uncharacteristic engine failures at home which kept his average well down on his usual and even led to him moving from his traditional no. 1 position, sometimes filling in the 2nd string role. Phil Alderman, Paul Embley, Pete Ellams (before his Stoke move) and Eric Monaghan were solid riders and there were some big scores at home. But away form and three home losses and a draw meant we only finished 11th, the worst league position since I started supporting. In the cup, now run over 16 heats we were pretty poor, in the first round we lost at home to Wolves, but managed to beat them away to go through but in the second round we were absolutely trounced at home, 30-64, to Mildenhall, before suffering worse at West Row, 76-20, to go out. I went up to watch the National League pairs championship, only to come away disappointed after seeing Jacko and Finch lose each of their three rides by 5-1, and we didn’t qualify for the Finals of the 4s. All in all a pretty poor season, which is why there were some changes coming in 1982.

The league races format changed for 1982, clearly the 16 heats in the cup had been deemed such a success that the league matches were increased from their traditional 13 heats to match this. Teamwise it was still nearly the same team as the previous year for Ellesmere Port, Rob Ashton had moved on and Peter Carr was now in the Belle Vue team. We started the season with Billy Burton, Steve Finch and newcomer Rob Maxfield leading the team. Eric Monaghan took on the captaincy, with Jacko down as a second stringer, due to his drop in average from the 1981 season. The experienced Phil Alderman was back in reserve position, joined by Rob Tate, until Glen Parrott broke into the team and made an exceptional start. It was probably a bit of a kick in the pants for Jacko, starting the season as the 4th best rider in the team, based on averages, and he was soon piling up some big scores, ending the season back in the top position, it was great to see him riding so confidently. Another notable change was Mike Lohmann taking over the team manager role from long term manager Joe Shaw.  As the season went on Jacko seemed to relish being no1. Again and was scoring solidly, though he still encountered a few gremlins with his engine along the way. Ably backed by Steve Finch and Rob Maxfield and with Eric Monaghan, Phil Alderman and Glen Parrott scoring well we were generally able to cope with a mid-season misfiring Billy Burton, who found himself relegated to reserve. We suffered uncharacteristic home losses against Mildenhall and Newcastle, but it was a much better season for us, finishing 3rd in the league. We made it to our first cup final, but lost to the mighty Newcastle. There was another cup, the Super Nat Koc, we reached the semi finals of that and rode against Mildenhall, but then my stack of programmes comes to an end so I don’t know what happened next and I have no recollection of how we fared in the pairs or fours that season.

Little did I know that this was the beginning of the end, not just for Ellesmere Port, but for my own speedway watching. Ellesmere never made it to the tapes for the 1983 season. The loyal, but dwindling crowds just didn’t make it a viable option for the promoters. So for the 1983 season we found ourselves watching our local rivals, Stoke Potters, though it felt a little like home with Jacko having joined them.

Jacko seemed to start well but, if I recall correctly, seemed to lose his spark a little and ended the season on an average around the 6 point mark. He was there again at the first meeting for the following season, was on paid 5 after two rides, came last in his next ride and didn’t take his 4th ride. For some reason I didn’t go back again until the 6th meeting by which time Jacko had retired. I went to Stoke a number of times that year, they had a great team with Tom Owen and Nigel Crabtree leading the way and it was good to see Paul Thorp starting to make his way in the speedway world. It’s also interesting to see that a young Tony Atkins was emerging in the junior races, I would come across Tony many years later when I got back into speedway after my break, he remains a Stoke asset and will ride for them in 2016, a the age of 50, I think (I know how that feels).

At the start of 1985 I moved to London, the beginning of a 20 year stint. By the time the speedway season started I was living in Ealing and working in Aldwych. I went a few times to watch Hackney, but of course the big news for me was that Ellesmere Port were back, had a great team and had changed their body colours to gold and blue. I couldn’t afford to go back up north to watch Ellesmere Port, I was working for the BBC and they didn’t pay me very well, so I had to keep in touch via the Speedway Star magazine. I managed to catch them at Rye House, my first and only visit to Hoddesdon, which I can’t remember much about other than one of the Rye House riders playing silly begger trying to upset Louis Carr, something to do with his tyre. Anyway that particular tactic didn’t work but I can’t remember the result. The only other thing I remember about that meeting was meeting up with a small bunch of travelling fans, who were great fun. The only other meeting I can remember was the National League Pairs, which Joe Owen and Louis Carr won in a spectacular final race, though Louis came off on the run in to the line and was unable to parade his trophy. I actually lost my voice that day, shouting for Louis and Joe, I said I was passionate about it, and it was such an exciting meeting. Ellesmere Port won the league that year, the first and only time. Unfortunately Joe Owen suffered paralysing injuries in the last match of the season and Ellesmere Port closed down for good. There was one final meeting at Thornton Road, a benefit meeting for Joe, held on Boxing Day, I was up for Xmas so went along. It was a strange atmosphere, and the track was too slick for decent racing and that was it. Ellesmere Port Gunners were no more. The track has remained but there has been no speedway racing since, this year the track was sold for housing development.

After that I lost interest in speedway a little, too busy partying with my new found friends in London. I did go to Wimbledon once, with my landlord, but then I started having proper relationships with girls and I was hard pressed to find one who was interested in speedway. I moved to Wimbledon in 1988 and went to a meeting at the Dons stadium in 1989, but, despite the great weather, it never took place because the St. John’s Ambulance man hadn’t turned up. I’d also discovered running by now and the Rosenheim League took place on Wednesday nights, same night as Wimbledon speedway, so that was the final nail in the coffin for my relationship with Speedway.

Years later, 2005, I moved to Edinburgh. I was interested to see that Edinburgh still had a speedway team, albeit operating from Armadale.  But with the shifts I was working I couldn’t muster up the interest to go along, plus I was still racing at a high level so put all my energy into my running.

Move on a few years and I found myself back in Cheshire. Living near Sandbach we were ideally situated to pay another visit to Loomer Road. I took a risk, last time I took a girlfriend to speedway she dumped me a few days later, what would happen with Carole? We’d been together two years and I’d moved down to be with her (though I tell my parents it was so I could be closer to them), surely she could cope with one meeting! Turned out she liked it, it was an exciting match Stoke vs Sheffield, but, for some reason we didn’t go back.

This year, as I already mentioned, I decided it was time to have another go. We, Carole (still with me), myself and my dad ventured to Stoke on May 9th, to see Stoke Potters vs Buxton Hitmen. The track wasn’t in great shape and it brought back memories of 1977 when Louis Carr and John Williams both fell in a heat two and took no further part in the meeting. This time it was Stoke reserves, Ryan MacDonald and Shaun Tedham who fell, Shaun in the rerun too. Both reserves were out for the rest of the meeting, leaving Stoke with only one rider in six of the heats. They fought well, but went down 44–45 in a last heat decider. Who should be involved in that last heat decider, scoring the 2 points for Buxton that sealed their win, only Tony Atkins, who I saw riding at Stoke back in 1984, at almost 50 he’s definitely stood the test of time. That was it, not hooked, but we were going to come back for more. The meeting with Buxton was a Sunday afternoon, which suited us more than a Saturday night, so it was a few weeks before we did make it back for another Sunday afternoon meeting, against Mildenhall. It was a dry and dusty track this time, and more fallers, visibility got so bad that the meeting was abandoned after heat 14’s original run saw three riders go down. With the result at 50-27 to Stoke, there was no point continuing.

The idea of Sunday afternoon racing was becoming quite appealing so the next speedway we went to was at Buxton, the Hitmen vs Kent Kings. This was a meeting full of surprises. For starters the track, whilst not difficult to find, is in the middle of nowhere, down a long lane. Secondly, there was bangor or hot rod racing going on at an adjacent track, at the same time, which surely reduces income for both as some fans would surely watch both. Thirdly, it was the most open circuit I’ve ever visited, not much shelter from the elements at all, but the view was pretty good. Fourthly, the track is on a slope so the back straight is lower than the start/finish straight and finally only four members of the team I’d seen at Stoke were still in the Buxton team, in fact one of that original team was now riding for Kent. One of the best things about it for me, was that you can get up really close to the track, no greyhound track between you and the action. Of course this does mean that you get a bit muddy at times but you do really feel like you’re part of the action. I got talking to a few fans and introduced to former rider Ken Eyre, which was interesting but I didn’t really know what to say as he was slightly before I started watching properly. We thoroughly enjoyed ourselves but it left us debating where we should watch our speedway, Stoke is nearer and less exposed, but Buxton you feel much more of a part of it.

I went to a few more matches, we couldn’t get into a pattern because we had other commitments and the British weather meant there were a number of cancellations, Stoke had at least 5 home matches postponed and Buxton 2, but as the season went on we were getting more into our speedway, not quite to the level I used to be at, and I still don’t understand all the new rules, but then I’ve not really had the inclination to research them. By October it looked like the season was over, but by now I had something else to look forward to. I’d come across an Ellesmere Port Gunners reunion in October, 30 years after the last speedway took place at Thornton Road. Well I couldn’t resist it, even though I was a little unsure about what it would be like. I didn’t really know any of the fans, I just happened to be one. Who of the riders would be there and what would I say to them anyway! But I bought a couple of tickets, I thought it might interest my dad and would give me some role reversal, taking him after all the years he’d taken me. It also turned out that a couple of local friends used to go to Thornton Road so they took a couple of tickets too.

And then, because of the postponements, there was more speedway. Initially there was Buxton vs Kings Lynn on Sunday 11 October, the day after the Ellesmere Port reunion, and then, Stoke popped in a meeting, against Rye House, on the Saturday afternoon (had it been the usual evening I would have missed it as it clashed with the reunion) and also they were due to take on Kings Lynn at home the day after, after Kings Lynn had competed at Buxton. With Buxton originally going to be the last meeting of the year, that was my original focus, but I decided I’d also go to Stoke on the Saturday. It turned out to be one of the best matches of the season, another last heat decider, which Rye house won to take the lead for the first time in the meeting. Stoke were a bit unlucky, but that’s speedway.

That evening I went off to the Ellesmere Port reunion. I felt a little out of it, not being a local and knowing any of the fans, but I settled down a little, had a look at all the memorabilia and got talking to a few of the riders, though I was disappointed more didn’t turn up, I would’ve particularly liked to talk to Steve Finch. However I had a couple of good chats with John Jackson, such an ebullient rider and yet such a quiet and modest man. A brief chat with Colin Goad, who had been and gone from Ellesmere Port before I started watching them, I left my dad to chat with him, as they were more of the same era, and went off to chat to Eric Monaghan, another quiet and unassuming guy. Finally I chatted to Chris Turner, who, along with Jacko, had won the National League Pairs in 1976.
NL Pairs Champions in 1976, still holding the trophy with pride 39 years later

The next day was a bonus, we (Carole, myself and Carole’s mum, hit Buxton for the meeting against Kings Lynn. More speedway bad luck, on both sides, and another last heat decider, in which Kings Lynn prevailed for a win. Two meetings and a reunion in one weekend, I couldn’t justify the evening meeting at Stoke. So that was the end of my season, as far as I was concerned.

However…..I got wind of what really would be the end of season meeting, a double header at Coventry against Eastbourne and Mildenhall, two weeks later. Carole and I were doing nothing so I somehow managed to persuade her that we should go. I’d never been to Brandon before, the closest I got was living in the same village as Coventry legend, and three time individual world champion, Ole Olsen. As a child I remember going round the back of his house to look at all his trophies, which were displayed in a shed of some type. So this was going to be interesting.

We arrived and managed to find a seat, there was plenty. Interestingly Coventry is one of the clubs that hosts teams from both the top division (Elite League) and the third division (National League). The crowd wasn’t big and it made me wonder how big it would be for an Elite League meeting. The first match was against Eastbourne. I hadn’t seen Eastbourne during the season, but they were clearly a top side, finishing 2nd in the league and winning the Gold Cup, National Trophy and, the night before, the KO cup, so I was expecting a close meeting. Unfortunately, despite good performances from Bradley Wilson-Dean and Ben Hopwood, Eastbourne never really seemed to get started, struggling with a number of engine failures, and were defeated by a large margin of 57-32. The second meeting against Mildenhall was also a big win for Coventry, 55-36, where guest Danny Ayres was top scorer for Mildenhall.

Buxton’s Liam Carr had guested for Coventry, scoring well, and it was only a few weeks later I was to find out he would be a Coventry rider for 2016. The rider I was most impressed with, on the night, was Coventry captain, Martin Knuckey, he’ll also be back at Coventry next year.

So that really was the end of the season, a season which saw me rekindle my love for speedway and a season that gave us another British World Individual Speedway Champion, in Tai Woffinden, having won his first in 2013. I’m hoping to be back watching speedway next year, but I’m not yet sure where I’ll go, Stoke, Buxton, Belle Vue or even Cradley Heath (who ended up being the only team I didn’t see in 2015). With the introduction of IoW and Belle Vue to the National League it should be an interesting season, but who to support, I really don’t know, I miss not supporting a team but I quite enjoyed being a neutral, a supporter of speedway rather than a supporter of a team.

I’d recommend you try it, if you haven’t before, or even if you haven’t for some time. Compared to some nights out it’s relatively cheap at £10-12 entry for National League speedway, going up only slightly for the higher divisions. With a, usual, 15 races, that works out at less than £1 a race. 

Written by Roger Alsop