National Cross (Dressing) Country


Only a short report this week kids as I am about to fly off for a few days skiing, so there won’t be much running next week.

The clear highlight of the week was taking part in my first ever English National Cross Country Championships, staged for the first time on the beautiful Harewood Estate just North of Leeds.

It was a magic early spring day of warmth and hazy blue skies. Harewood is often patrolled by a large wake of Red Kites (yes I had to look that up).  They must have been befuddled by the mass of coffee and burger vans, skinny humans and the booming public address. It was quite a spectacle and I hope that the southerners were duly impressed.

For me it was a day of schoolboy howlers and a rather mediocre race.  My first error was my shoe choice.

I haven’t worn spikes in a race for over a year. I had warmed up in my old yellow puma spikes before the Northern cross country champs back in January, but decided they didn’t fit me so I ran in trail shoes that day.  I donated the spikes to one of my team mates.

Last Monday, I thought it would be a good idea to treat myself to some new spikes so I bought a pair of Adidas cross country spikes:

Adidas spikes.jpg

To make sure I was happy with them I did a slow mile and half jog around the football pitches in the gloom after work. They felt OK so I resolved to run in them on Saturday.

Massive mistake number two was revealed after we had arrived at the club tent prior to the race.

That morning, I had pulled out my club vest from the wardrobe and tossed into my Morrison’s bag for life, together with my other race kit.

I carefully pinned on my number, but as I pulled the vest over my head and down my chest I struggled to force it past my nips…what the f?  Oh dear, I had brought one of Liz’s vests by mistake. She is a petite lady whereas I am a lanky bloke.

I could just about force the vest down past my belly button, but I could barely move my arms!  What a complete plonker I am sometimes. There was no way I could run in it.

Fortunately for me, I had brought a Valley Striders club T-shirt which just about matched our club racing vest colour scheme.  I thought I had better check that my kit would pass muster, so I found the race referee and asked for approval.  After she had stopped laughing, she said “yes, no problem”.

After watching our ladies set off in their race, I warmed up with a few team mates and then just before three o’clock we made our way into our allotted start pens.

The men’s start at the National is something to behold.  The start line must have been nearly a hundred metres wide and after the gun went over two thousand men all sprinted up the opening hill to make the first left hand turn after about 400 metres.  It truly was like a scene from a medieval battlefield.

National 2

I decided to chance my arm and go out as hard as I could. I knew that space would be at a premium for the first couple of miles so I hoped to establish a position in the field and then defend it.

Although I charged up the hill for all I was worth, I still came to a virtual standstill at a couple of early pinch points and I had to be quick with my elbows a couple of times as guys tried to take a few liberties and tried to cut me up.

Even with the argy-bargy, I still covered the first slightly uphill mile in 6:20. I was blowing hard and my heart rate as 159 – which I knew was too high and definitely not sustainable. I calmed down a little and tried to get into a rhythm.  The second mile included a long draggy climb up to the Wike road gate. The gradient meant that I slowed a lot – down to a 7:04 mile.  I was giving up a few places, but not too many.

National 3

(photos Liz Adams)

The third mile was fast – flat along the top of the ridge then a quick descent, which I freewheeled, passing plenty of runners.  My watch flashed up a 6:04 mile split.

Mile 4 was tough, a short descent before a nasty switchback to take us back up the hill, then a drop down into the start /finish area before climbing up for the start of the second and final lap.

National 5

Running up the hill, I realised that my calves were killing me, running in my new spikes had been a very stupid idea.

Because I had run quite aggressively, I think I had been right up on my toes (as you should be in spikes), but I was recruiting completely different muscles to ones that I normally used for running when training in my big squishy Hoka road shoes.

The second lap was just a long sulk really. I was annoyed at myself for making such a basic error, my mood didn’t improve when I was passed by an old bloke wearing Hoka road shoes! I’m ashamed to say I switched off a bit going up the long hill the second time, the gradient made my calves feel even worse.

I managed to get it going a bit on the flat section at the far end of the estate but I was struggling again on the final hill, I was passed by lots of runners and the worst of it is, I didn’t really care that much. I barely even raised much of a sprint in the long finishing chute.

National 6

So, all in all, a pretty inauspicious effort in my first National. My final time was 49:35 which got me 996th place out of 2008 finishers, so I just scraped a top half position.  The Valley Striders men’s team did really well, finishing in 26th. The ladies were 40th – all in all great results for our little club.

After the race I was fairly disgusted with my effort, but when I checked Strava, I saw my average pace had been 6:44, which isn’t that bad – to be fair the course was very firm and fast.

I subscribe to Strava premium, which gives a feedback comment based on the data from each run data (heart rate / speed etc). The verdict on my run was “168 Massive Relative Effort”.

Maybe I was really trying, but it’s hard to get excited as you get passed by dozens and dozens of competitors. I think I am just a crap cross country runner, but that’s OK, it was still great to be part of such a massive event.

On Sunday, I was lucky enough to attend the England Athletics National Endurance get together held at a hotel in North Leeds. I was a full day of listening to insights from elite athletes who competed from 800 metres right up to marathon together with many top coaches.  My head is spinning with ideas and I could write reams right now.

However, I am going to go and pack for my ski trip. I’ll think I may as well pack my spikes away for a very long time too.


LM -9 weeks

11 stone 2.8 lbs

34.7 miles, longest run 9.4 miles

Parkrun : None

Aerobic efficiency on at National XC 1,030 beats per mile

RunBritain Ranking 2.7 (+0.1) (MV50 rank 209)



Snowdrops and T-Shirts

Not much to report this week.

The weather has been ideal for running for most of the week – cool and spring-like and a couple of runs were done in just shorts and t-shirt.

It was a step-down week for mileage after the heavy one last week.  I didn’t have any races, though I fancied running hard at parkrun on Saturday morning.  We tried Brighouse parkrun for the first time, so we could meet up with one of Liz’s friends for coffee after.

Its a pleasant flat three-lapper, primarily on stony paths around a small park. Despite giving it some beans I didn’t have much speed in the legs and I was a bit disappointed with my time of 18:55.  It didn’t help that I was unfamiliar with the course and it was one of those runs where I just happened to be almost completely alone for the majority of the run.  It always helps if you someone to chase.

Today we headed back up to the reservoirs for our Sunday long run.  I originally intended to run 22 miles, and I felt brilliant for the first two hours, banging out 16 miles at just over 7:30 pace.  I then bonked spectacularly and limped the last three miles at around 9 minutes per mile.  With my groin muscle feeling tight, I decided to sack it off.

It was great to be out and I enjoyed the first two hours as much as any run so far this year. I stopped briefly to snap the first snowdrops of the year:


Next Saturday, the National cross country championships are taking place at Harewood, just a few miles from my home.  I’m a very mediocre cross-country runner, but I’ll give it a go. Hopefully it won’t be as muddy as last year’s Northerns…


LM -10 weeks

11 stone 1.6 lbs

46.6 miles, longest run 19 miles

Parkrun : Brighouse 18:55 (4th)

Aerobic efficiency on long run 999.2 beats per mile

RunBritain Ranking 2.6 (unchanged) (MV50 rank 204)


Reminiscing ain’t what it used to be


A couple of things have caused me to think back this week.

On Tuesday evening, I was lucky to see my favourite comedian again – the hilarious David o’Doherty  at the beautiful City Varieties theatre in Leeds.

Four years ago, I saw the Do’D in Manchester.  I was extremely single back then and David made an attempt to assuage my lonesomeness by asking me to be his valentine.

This morning I completed my first 20 mile+ long run of the training block around the Fewston and Swinsty reservoirs.

My legs were heavy and tired after a high mileage week and a hard effort at parkrun the previous day.  Despite a lack of speed, it felt great to be out.

It was one of those near perfect running days – a little chilly, but breathless with a watery low winter sunshine.  For a couple of brief moments, I think I even detected a vague hint of warmth in the sunshine.  Spring is not here yet, but it is thinking about getting its suitcase out of the attic.

Two years ago, I did a similar reservoir long run with some Valley Striders pals including Liz.  Fortunately for me, she accepted my nervous invitation to pop around to mine that afternoon to watch “The Barkley Marathons”.  Thankfully, I am single no more and no longer in need of valentines from middle-aged bearded Irishmen.

I have been blessed by a remarkable sequence of luck in the past fortnight.  Amazingly, I won a new laptop in the Old Leos rugby club raffle (my running club is based there).  On Friday night, I won another raffle at a rugby club – a bottle of champagne at a charity quiz held at Sale rugby club.  To round off a pretty fab evening our team, the Loser’s Club, won the quiz.

We stayed over at our friend’s house in Sale, so we decided to run South Manchester parkrun in Fallowfield.  It’s a cracking one-lapper held at Platt Field’s just a couple of hundred yards from my old student house.

One of these pictures was taken in 1987 and one in 2019 can you guess which is which?

I was up for having a right good go for a decent time, but conditions were against that with a brutal wind sweeping across the course. (Although it was as windy as chuff I was surprised that it qualified as a named storm – Erik).

I set off aggressively and was struggling quite badly at halfway into the block headwind. With around a half mile to go,  on a cinder path before the final 250m section to the finish around a boating lake, I could sense another runner, a young lad, sitting right on my shoulder.  He was no doubt lurking and looking to take the old man in the sprint.

I am nothing if not slightly competitive so as we hit the asphalt, I fired the rockets and sprinted for all I was worth.

I managed to burn him off, and I was later delighted to see there was a Strava segment for that final section to the line and I had bagged the 4th fastest time ever – out of nearly 5,000 recorded efforts.  It probably helped that I had Storm Erik up my jacksie, but Strava doesn’t record that so I can do a little stravawanker gloating…

I should have run the final Peco cross country race this morning, but I really wanted to get my 20+ done – opportunities to fit in enough proper long runs are limited.

Valley Striders always have a strong turn out at the Peco events and given that my legs were shot, it is highly unlikely that I would have counted for the team.

My long run of 20.6 miles took me nearly three hours, i.e. very slow, but it was on tired legs and was more about time on my feet than pace.

I’ve run 293 miles so far in 2019. If I can stay fit, that should be good base to build on.


LM -11 weeks

11 stone 1.0 lbs

68.6 miles, longest run 20.6

Parkrun : South Manchester 18:53 (7th)

Aerobic efficiency on long run 1,031 beats per mile

RunBritain Ranking 2.6 (unchanged) (MV50 rank 209)



Right Up My Strasse

After two weekends of cross-country racing, I was back on familiar turf today – well tarmac – for the Dewsbury 10K.  Flat tarmac is much more up my street.

There was nothing even vaguely rude on the finishers’ T-Shirt this year.  This was somewhat disappointing to me.  After the phallic emblem last year, I had hoped that they would double-down for maximum shock value; but alas it was just a simple black long sleeved job with a few adverts on it.

I’ve had a lazy week, due to tapering down for the race today and also to my attendance at a boozy black-tie dinner on Thursday evening.  Drinking copious amounts of alcohol and talking boll***s until 3 in the morning isn’t very conducive to run training.

I didn’t run the Valley Striders interval session on Tuesday evening,  instead I went to see Clem Burke and Bootleg Blondie at the Brudenell Social Club.  Once I got past the fact that one of the World’s greatest rock drummers was playing in his own tribute band, I just marvelled at being the presence of an absolute master.

I felt fresh and quite perky on the start line at Dewsbury.  When my mate Al asked me what I hoped for, I went with 37 minutes.  I actually hoped to go a bit quicker than that, say 36:45, but I like to sandbag a bit.

I got squeezed a few rows further back than I wanted to be at the start, meaning that I didn’t manage to run unhindered until about 1K into the race.  I didn’t look at the watch much, I just tried to find that sweetspot of moving well without tripping into the red.

I have raced Dewsbury on numerous occasions, I knew that the fourth and fifth kilometres were the toughest (though still only marginally up hill); but after the turnaround I can usually crank up the pace and come home faster than I went out.

I made halfway in 19:01, which was a little disappointing.  I chided myself and then picked it up for the run back.  I recognised a few of my usual rivals in the field and focused on picking them off.  The run back was into a blinding low sun, so it wasn’t easy to see what was up ahead, I stared at the tarmac 12 feet in front of me and powered on as best I could.

Dewsbury 2019 1

photo Matt Blakeley

I passed my club-mate Nobby at about 6K, he normally beats me easily these days, so either he was having a bad one or I was flying…it turned out to be the former.

I really enjoyed the gentle downhill of the second 5K and was moving steadily up through the field.  With just over 1K to go, I saw that Joseph Kwallah from Wetherby was just ahead – he’s a fellow MV50 runner whom I often finish close to at local races.  I was hurting, but I resolved to try to bridge across to him and to try to take him in the sprint.

I managed to catch Joseph in the shadow of the viaduct and then launched my finishing effort, just managing to maintain my advantage at the line.

I finished in 37:01 chip-time, 37:10 gun-time, so the second 5K took me 18 minutes flat.  I finished 5th out of 127 in my age category, 15 seconds off an age group podium position.

My prediction of 37 minutes made to Al at the start proved uncannily accurate.  I was satisfied rather than delighted.  I felt I nailed the second half, but perhaps I left a few seconds out there, due to being asleep at the start. My time was about 40 seconds slower than 2018.

Many of my Valley Striders team mates had great runs and there were lots of PB’s being celebrated in the chilly post-race de-brief.

It is back to bashing out mileage next week, hopefully completing the first 20 mile training run of the block next Sunday


LM -12 weeks

11 stone 4.0 lbs

22.2 miles, longest run 9.2

Parkrun : None

RunBritain Ranking 2.6 (unchanged)