Well almost twelve years, it was 2 July 2006 in Mansfield the BMAF Half Marathon Championship, where I came 7th and 4th M40. Since then I haven’t raced further than 10k on the road or track, with slightly further excursions over cross country. In fact I’ve rarely raced further than 5k in the last two years. So what was it that made me enter a 10 mile road race? For starters I’ve been conscious that I’ve been reluctant to race over the 10k distance, my one time favourite race distance, and I wanted to put an end to that. By going over distance, rather than enter a 10k, I figured it would make an eventual return to the 10k distance more enjoyable (bit of Rog psychology for you). The other reason was that this was a championship race that just happened to be fairly close to home, Rhyl, about an hour’s drive away.
During my peak racing years I would really describe myself as a track runner. I did cross country in the winter, for strength and endurance and I did road relays in spring to bring on the speed and in the autumn to use up any remaining speed from the summer but I tended to steer clear of road races throughout the year. My coach at the time wasn’t keen on me mixing up road and track and I hadn’t really developed a love for the roads at that point so I was quite happy to go along with him. In all fairness I was reasonably successful on the track so I wouldn’t say I missed out.
I did a couple of 10 milers in my early days, 1990 and 1992, but these were cross country races, my club champs, in which I ran 67 and 61 minutes respectively.
My first 10 miler on the roads was in 1999. By now I had changed coach and felt like I was no longer as fast on the track as I had been. The previous summer I had a problem with my back, that, at the time, I wasn’t sure I would come back from. The five month enforced break gave me time to think about my running future and I decided that I’d achieved everything I was going to on the track and it was time to switch to the roads, thus prompting the change of coach. My first race back was in December of 1998, after a couple of weeks return to running I tackled the 7.5 mile Surrey cross country championships. It was tough, Coulsdon always was but they’d changed the course to incorporate a steep hill, four times. With the persistent rain it was almost like an ‘It’s a Knockout’ trying to get up it. I finished 66th, well behind runners I’d only ever seen on my post race cool downs, and, with the tricky conditions, I’d been forced to walk up that hill twice. But I wasn’t down hearted, I always believed I would get fit again, at least my back problems seemed to be at an end.
7th March 1999 I lined up for the start of the Woking 10. I have no idea why I chose this particular race, or distance, perhaps not feeling that I was yet back to fitness I wanted to set a 10 mile marker before it was too late, just in case I only had one more year of running in me. The race was won by Dave Tune, 49:22, I was 9th in 53:54. I’m sure I was disappointed with that, my peer group, from when I was at my best, were running around the 50 mark, but I was also realistic, I was still coming back to fitness and at least I was back racing. By the end of the year I had set my mile pb and won my third Surrey 10000m championship.
Also by the end of the year I was out working in Germany, a place called Herzogenaurach. Herzo, as we called it, was a small town, to me only really a village, but was the headquarters for both Adidas and Puma. I could’ve stayed in Nuremburg, which was an interesting city, but after commuting into London for work for 15 years I plumped for staying in Herzo and the 10 minute walk into the office. Sure I would miss out on the social life but I relished the chance to train in the forests around my work place and, because I had no distractions, other than work, I could train twice a day. It was perfect and I soon started getting into good shape.
I would travel back to the UK every fortnight and try to race when I could. By January 2000 I had achieved my highest position in a Surrey cross country champs, 7th (later promoted to 6th due to disqualification). My third race of the year was the Sidcup 10 miles, I took the lead at around the 1 mile point and won in 51:00. It was a huge improvement on the Woking 10, less than a year before, and a huge confidence booster. I was a little disappointed as we did seem to be going through the mile checkpoints on target for a sub 50 but I think the mile markers were set up wrong as there was no way I ran a 6 minute last mile. And that was my last 10 mile race, 18 years ago.
Once I’d made the decision to enter Rhyl I realised I would have to train a bit harder. My longest run was about 9 miles and my longest rep was 3 minutes. So I started to stretch my training runs, got up to 11 miles before we went on holiday to Malaysia. I also upped my reps building up to 5 minute, 6 minute, 8 minute, 10 minute and finally two lots of 20 minute reps. That 20 minutes session was a tough one mentally but I knew it would help with the race.
Yes Malaysia, it really did get in the way a little bit….I love my running but I also know that it isn’t the be all and end all of my life and my fiancée will, hopefully, be part of my life long after running has abandoned me. So if she wants to go on holiday to exotic locations and take me with her, who am I to say no. My training was going great, three weeks before the race and we head off to Malaysia. Two days off training as we travelled via Doha and Kuala Lumpur to Penang. The first morning I was down to the beach to start my training. I knew it would be tough in the heat and humidity but I’d done it in Langkawi a couple of years earlier so I knew I could train hard. But the beach was unforgiving, it was very thin, very soft, and on a camber. Great strength work for anyone but I wanted to achieve flowing speed in my runs and this really wasn’t suitable. I covered about three miles, sinking, slipping and sliding all the way, it was worse than cross country at Boggart Hole Clough. The next morning I was on the treadmill and after a 39 minute 10k I was off it again, my calf muscles had reacted badly and were stiffening up. I hobbled to breakfast and for the rest of the day. The following morning I was back on the treadmill, 200m later I was off, my calf muscles couldn’t take it. I hopped onto a cross trainer, which at least gave me a workout. Cross trainer the next day and then a day off, we were heading off early on a trip and I probably needed to give the calf muscles a break. Next day I was back running, loops of the car park, each loop took about 5 minutes, I did 6. Success, I was a bit slow but my calf muscles didn’t react negatively so I would continue running on the road for the rest of my holiday. I ran every morning on the roads by the hotel, they were relatively safe, one major road junction to survive and then just the odd moped rider on the wrong side and the rest were relatively quiet. Every day, as my muscles recovered, I got a little faster. With two days of the holiday to go I was starting to move at a good pace and then out of nowhere three dogs came charging at me, barking and snarling. As the first one snapped at my toes I did the expected, checked my watch, I was only 8 minutes into my run. Then I realised this wasn’t a particularly good situation to be in, I was in a street full of houses so it was unlikely that these were wild dogs, but a bite from one of them would still require a visit to the hospital and I still had 32 minutes to run. Somehow a combination of shouting and some nifty footwork extricated me from a bad situation and I was soon on my way, agreeing with a local who pointed out that the dogs were chasing me. Luckily my persistence was stronger than theirs and a few houses on they stopped and returned to laying on the ground licking their genitals, whilst I continued on my run. The last day I couldn’t face risking crossing the junction or spending hours in hospital so I ran 7 loops of the car park and only nearly got run over once. That was it training done, we were off home the next day.
We arrived home at 5:30 in the morning on Friday, 8 days before the race. We were both completely exhausted but I decided I needed to get out there and run off the fatigue. It was so nice being back on familiar territory. The run did feel odd, but I’d done enough post night shift runs in my past to know that my body could take it and 8 miles later I felt good about my running. The following day I met up with my mate Rob Tudor and we did a session together, 8 x 5 minutes with 1 minute recovery. I still felt a bit washed out but it was a solid run and the day after I managed a nice paced 8 miler. I was going to gradually ease down for the race, on Monday I did 8 x 4 minutes with a minute recovery, 6 miles on Tuesday, 8 x 3 mins with 1 minute on Wednesday, 6 on Thursday and rest Friday. I couldn’t really gain much in that last week and I knew I wasn’t going to have a fantastic race but I would give it my best shot. I realistically expected to finish between 4th and 6th in my age group, though I was aiming for a medal and deep down I didn’t see why I couldn’t win my age group, if I could just pull something miraculous and surprising out of the bag (I’d done it before so never say never).
This was the start of what was to become a nasty cold spell. On a positive it does seem to be a dry cold spell here in the North West, normally it’s cold and damp which goes right through you, but the dry cold is much more pleasant. I set off for Rhyl in 0C conditions, but no ice on the roads. I arrived in Rhyl, no warmer but there was a bit of a breeze and that made it feel even colder. I’d brought with me a variety of kit to wear, depending on temperature, and decided on a merino long sleeve tee under my club vest, good decision, I was never cold.
Despite the cold it wasn’t that unpleasant waiting for the start, at least the sun was out. As we set off I tried to keep the leaders in sight for as long as I could, reaching the first mile marker in 5:41. I felt ok and I was starting to think I should be able to beat the 60 minute mark. Somewhere during the 2nd mile I lost sight of the leaders, I also lost some pace as I did a 6:11 mile, ‘oh dear’ I thought ‘maybe that sub 60 isn’t going to be so easy’. It was definitely breezy heading out, I consoled myself that at least the wind would be behind me on the way back. A few people came past me, I tried to latch onto them but they eventually got away from me. I managed to hook up with a couple of M45s, every time they got a little break I dug a little deeper and managed to hang onto them. I had been reading some social media comments from Eddy Lee, a great runner from the past who would tough out his races, in the back of my mind I was thinking to myself that if I let these two guys go I would let Eddy down. Mad thought I know but clutching at anything that would make me run harder (more Rog psychology). Just after 4 miles we turned off the promenade and did a little loop.
I reached 5 miles in 30:00. Not bad I thought, considering my last race, in November, was a 5 mile race just up the road in Abergele, where I’d finished in 29:54. If I could just do a negative split! Andy Peet, one of the M45s I was running with obviously shared the same thought, he’d been a few seconds ahead at 5 miles, at the end he was almost two minutes ahead of me in 58:45. I just couldn’t match his pace, but luckily I still had Peter Mallison to hang onto. We ran together for a little while, he, at a discrete distance in front getting cheered on by the South Cheshire Harrier ladies running the other way, me just gritting my teeth. Back onto the promenade for the long run back home he seemed to hit a dodgy patch and so I went past him and pushed on for home. At this point I wasn’t really thinking about beating Peter, he was an M45 what did it matter, all I was focussed on was running as fast as I could to try to break that 60 minute barrier, or at least not slip to far away from it.
Running down the promenade I felt like I kept my pace up, I was pushing it, lets not forget I’ve only recently got over 9 miles in a training run and certainly not at 6 minute mile pace. I thought I’d got a gap but with 400m to go I could hear footsteps. I didn’t care who it was, I had assumed Peter had slipped back as he did seem to slow as I passed him, I knew I was lying 4th in the M50s but if I wasn’t going to get a medal so it wouldn’t matter too much if two M50s came past me. But another burst of competitiveness took over and I upped my pace, just a little, as if to say ‘you can beat me but you’re going to have to work for it’. A couple of little rises and a long looping corner and I was through the finish line 1 hour and 34 seconds after I’d crossed the starting line. Five seconds behind came Peter, it had been him all the time.
I felt ok, I knew I’d worked but I wasn’t exhausted, though I couldn’t muster any enthusiasm for a cool down jog further than 200m. I was disappointed with my time, I really hoped I could get under 60 minutes, it is really hard to try to accept your limitations when you’ve been so much better.
I went back to the car to get changed and just as I arrived I sneezed. A rather innocuous sneeze, I thought, but for the rest of and the following day my nose wouldn’t stop streaming and I felt coldy. The next morning I went for an easy run and my hamstring went, oh no it didn’t just go it went at the furthest point from home, about 4 miles away. Clearly, despite not running a spectacular time, I had pushed my body beyond it’s current physical limit.
I’m recovering now, I thought it was a tear, but it may just be a pull. I probably won’t run for the rest of the week, but who knows. Then I’ll be getting on with some more longer runs and longer reps, I have my first half marathon for 12 years coming up.
Incidentally I finished 24th in the race and 4th M50, I’m currently ranked 9th M50 in the UK, over 10 miles. I know that as the year progresses I’ll slide down the rankings but it’s nice to have a sniff at a top 10 again after so many years.
|After the event, Craig Pearson, David Smith (3rd M50) and me. Don't be fooled by the smile, the medal is just for running the distance.|
Written by Roger Alsop