Monday, 25 October 2010

Worcestershire Beacon Race

We make our way up the earthy path that switchbacks through the autumnal woods and I'm aware, despite the odd runner coming past, of having got away to a good start.

"Be careful at the start to be RIGHT up the front - calling the opening mile a bottleneck would be an insult to bottles," Ed had told me beforehand.

Jamie had said much the same, describing the start as a bit of a stampede as 200 and more runners charge the short distance over the grass of Great Malvern's Rose Bank Gardens and onto the narrow footpath beyond, "I've seen people fall and get trampled," he'd said with glee.

It's a bit alarming, not to say an unaccustomed feeling, therefore, to be in the first five as we race out of the park, elbows jutting.

The 'Race Plan' was simple and based on the principle that a Morris Minor is always at the front of the queue on country lanes.

I lose places steadily until I feel that I can go with the pace. Seem to have the edge on the roadrunners I'm with whenever the gradient dips a bit. After the Woodchester Park, I'm taking the tactical approach, sticking to others and pacing with the group.

As the track breaks out onto the spine of the hills, an overclad walker turns to his mate and says, "Absobloodlylutely mad" as we pass.

The training the Jamie feels like it's paying off. I'm running apace with Dave (Beardie Green Vest Man), short strides but a fast cadence. It's like being in a very low gear on a mountain bike - pedaling like mad, moving slowly but steadily.

The wind on the cloudy top is warm. We're steered past the summit itself, and then I open it up on the grassy descent that follows, arms windmilling, legs somehow keeping pace with gravity. I open up a big gap, but then Beardie Green Vest Man (BGVM) catches me up on the levelling stoney track that contours aound the back of North Hill. We chat intermittantly, taking it in turns to push on. It's hard work. It hurts a lot. He tells me that his half marathon best is 1:20...

But my new approach to training and pushing the pain barrier seems to be helping. On the final level section before the descent to St Anne's Well BGVM and I run side by side: competitive, focussed and in the zone. Spectators clap us by and I'm aware - despite the discomfort - that I'm managing to run with some strength.

The descent that follows is manic and I open up a gap again. Flailing arms, slapping footfalls and all the while looking for the next best spot to jump the drains that cross the path.

Past St Anne's Well and the clapping spectators, down through the earthy zig-zags (staying on route and resisting the temptation to just charge straight down through the wood) and finally back onto tarmac.

"Good running", the marshall says as I drop down through the trees and onto the final home straight. "It's only pain", says the advice of Mike inside my head, and I just concentrate on keeping going as hard as I can. As I cross the line someone says, "That was a strong finish..."

My best also ran result of the season: 51:28 and 16th overall in a field that included a lot of pretty competent runners. It turns out that BGVM (aka Dave) was a MV50 - as ever, there's some room for improvement.

Next up is my favourite race of the calender: the Cardington Cracker in Shropshire.

Sunday, 24 October 2010

Best fell running birthday present - ever

Oh yesssss!

Woodchester Park race

Late again, the family-harried and tight-lipped dad had risked the safety of the wife and kids in order to make it to the race on time... At 10.01am, his good lady wife levelled a stare laced with wordless fury that said:

"You knew it was going to start at 11."

Bugger: it must have been advertised wrong on the Stroud AC website. Nevermind, the boys enjoyed the extra hour of pre-race build up. And, it was good to catch up with Chris Midge and Ed, as well as meet some other Almost Athletes for the first time.

It's a short trail race - only 7.5m - that repeatedly climbs and descends the wooded sides of of an incised valley near Stroud. It's a lovely event, on this occasion enhanced for me as a family experience.

It's a while now since it happened and I'm writing it up from memory. I wasn't fully fighting fit for it and as soon as the track left the cover of the trees the heat and humidity of the day was strongly felt. I pushed quite hard making use of gravity to speed the descents. I overtook some runners and others overtook me.

I remember the delight of seeing ace Stroud runner Martin Humphries' kids chipping in and marshalling in their yellow vests.

I also remember tanking along as best I could in my own little world and looking over my shoulder to see five other runners all pacing off of me. They all overtook shortly afterwards. It made me realise that a tactical approach is important sometimes.

Anyway, it was a good run and I was pretty knackered be the end. Thought I was the first Almost home but was beat by over a minute by Russell.

Sat with Rach and the boys clapping in the other runners as they came in. They boys did well but their lasting memory of the day seemed to be the big tractor in the next door field.

19th overall. 7th MV40. 57m36s.

Sunday, 10 October 2010

Catch up and running reflections

Well it's been a while since I got around to doing the blog.

I've done a couple of races that I still need to write up - the Woodchester Park and the Worcestershire Beacon - and been getting out running with the headtorch now the darker nights are drawing in.

Been going out running with Jamie and Mike whose styles compliment each other very well. At one end of the spectrum there's 'Diesel' Mike with the ability to carry on chugging away mile on mile. At the other end, there's Jamie who's an 'AS' man if ever there was - lightweight, fast but with a tendancy to fade as the distance increases. I'm enjoying their combined enthusiasm for Julian Cope.

We're all fitting our running in around our family committments and there's been more of and emphasis on shorter, more intensive runs as opposed to just going out for a couple of hours and doing a longer undulating circuit. Keeping up with Jamie is - murder.

What I'm begining to appreciate is that both of them have the capacity to really dig deep and push themselves when they want to. For example, Mike can run over a hundred miles in 24 hours or conjure up a balls out sprint in the final stages of a race. Jamie, who is also pretty good at cyclo cross, knows he's not really trying unless he's got, 'an agonising pain' across his back and can 'taste copper' in the back of his throat.

Me - I'm lazy by nature. I'll ease off the gas when it starts to hurt.

But now I think that improving my running performance is less about building physical strength and much more about trying to accept a familiarity with discomfort.

In my imagination, I push the image of a weight. It's the embodyment of the pain barrier. Every time I push it a little further it stays put and my threshold increases...

... in theory