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:
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.
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.
(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.
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.
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)