Sunday, 21 August 2011

It's been a damn fine week (I think!)

It’s been a pretty good week this week, with 2 team victories for the Moorlands ladies and lots of excellent performances by friends both locally and abroad.

It was the Vets Cross Country Race on Wednesday evening, and  being the first time I had done this race, I really didn’t know what to expect. It was also going to be my first race for Staffordshire Moorlands and so I didn’t want to embarrass myself by having a really crap run.

The event, organised by Cheadle Running Club, is pretty low key and starts from the cricket club at Oakamoor. The ladies’ 4 ¼ mile route is pretty flat and follows the old railway track to The Ramblers Retreat before heading up into the woods and then back down again and along the track back to the cricket club.

I was a little nervous for a couple of reasons – namely it would be the first time I would meet a lot of the Moorlands team, and secondly, I hadn’t done a race of less that 27 miles since doing the London Marathon back in April! How I would cope with the shorter distance and faster pace, I had no idea.

As it turned out, I needn’t have worried. The Moorlands guys and gals are just like all those other runners I’ve met on my travels – extremely friendly, very encouraging, enjoy their chosen sport, and have great team spirit.

Following a bit of a warm up, the race commenced at 7pm and within the first 100 yards, my legs and lungs were wondering what the bloody hell was happening – after all, it’s been a while since they’ve had to cope with sub 6.30 pace! With the ladies and gents starting together, it was a quick start but it wasn’t too long before we’d all settled into our rhythm and started to relax. In the ladies race, new team mate Kerry was off to a flying start, whilst Ruth and potential new Moorlands recruit wasn’t too far behind in 2nd. I was lying in 3rd, and it remained that way for the duration of the race which I have to say I was pretty chuffed with.

Going through the first mile, I was feeling quite strong and pretty good, and was extremely surprised to see my mile split was 6.21 – what the…???!!! The second mile was a little slower as we headed up a gentle incline through the woods and things got a little muddy underfoot. Thankfully, the last couple of miles saw my legs pick up the pace again, with a couple more sub 6.30 miles, and I eventually finished the race in 28.25 – an average of about 6.40 – not mega fast, but for me I was so pleased that I had managed to keep that sort of pace going. The strength from all the long runs was certainly there, but maybe there’s room for improvement on the old breathing and VO2 max work!

Moorlands ladies and gents did really well to win both the male and female team event, so all in all, it was a great introduction to the new club!

So onto Sunday, when really I should have done the Belper Rugby Rover 30km trail race, but opted for the Leek Half Marathon instead as I felt like I needed a good blow out on the roads for a change. In addition to this, Leek was also organised by Staffs Moorlands AC and was hosting the BMAF Half Marathon Championships.

I felt a little more awkward turning up today, mainly because I felt quite exposed to so many local runners who are used to seeing me in a Trentham vest, and yet there I was, proudly wearing my new gold and green colours of the Moorlands.

I didn’t really know what to expect today. I haven’t done a half marathon in a very long time, and with Leek being one of the hilliest halves around, I knew it was going to be challenging. Add to that the lack of road running over the past 3-4 months, it really could have gone either way!

I guess I started the race quite cautiously as I didn’t know what pace to do. I was hoping to run close to 1.30 (my best on the course is 1.27 about 5 years ago when I was much fitter), but as soon as we hit the first hill, although I felt relatively relaxed, it also felt like I was running on empty. Loads of people were already overtaking me, but I was determined not to panic as we had only just gone through the first couple of miles, and whilst I knew there was a hell of a lot of uphill still to go, I figured that maybe I would catch some folks again later on.

I had no idea where I was in the ladies race, but thought I was about 10th.  A lot of the familiar faces of the local ladies had already pulled away and had put a considerable distance between me and them, so I decided to just run my own race and just try to keep the pace going as best as possible which given the hills and the increasing heat, was going to be a little difficult.

It was so different running today. Wearing the new top, I had so many people shouting me on, people I don’t even know yet but obviously they recognised the vest and gave me some desperately needed encouragement. It was also lovely to have some company in the form of Sue Street from Tipton – we weren’t exactly running together, but our pace was very similar and we kept overtaking eachother from time to time, and offering our support to eachother.

The route at the foot of the Roaches was really fabulous today, with fantastic views over Meerbrook and the beautiful Staffordshire countryside beyond. I was still trying to work hard, but couldn’t help but admire the views before the steep decent back down to Meerbrook.

I’m actually a better downhill runner, and it was at this point that I overtook several of the runners that had come flying past me at the start. It gave me a bit of confidence going past them, but also made me realise how tired I actually felt today for whatever reason. Suzie and I were still close together, and we noticed a few ladies ahead of us and gave chase to see if we could catch them, both of us succeeding and moving us up a couple of positions overall.

The finish to the Leek Half Marathon is cruel, with a climb back up to Brough Park. There was absolutely no way I could muster a sprint finish even if I’d wanted to, and yet I did manage to pass another lady as I crawled my way up. I was nowhere near 90 minutes, but actually finished in 1.35 – much slower than I wanted, but considering how I’d felt, I couldn’t really be disappointed. I heard that Amy Green, the course record holder (1.23) had finished 4 minutes outside of her course record, whilst the 5th placed lady had only just dipped under 90 mins. Putting things into perspective, I think everybody’s times were down today and so I had no right to be disappointed! In addition, I’d actually won the silver medal in the V35 category of the British Masters Half Marathon Championships, whilst the winning ladies team was once again the Moorlands.

So all in all, I certainly can’t grumble about the past few days and am now looking forward to my holiday in a couple of weeks followed by the Commonwealth Trail Running Championships which is something that I probably feel more comfortable about competing in at the moment.

Before I finish, I should also mention some of the other fantastic performances from friends both locally and abroad this weekend. Huge congratulations to Michelle Buckle and Mandy Vernon for winning GOLD in the BMAF championships in their respective age groups, to Paul Gibbings and Rob Tabbanor for winning silver in the BMAF champs, Kerry Marchant for winning the vets cross country earlier in the week and for such a great run at Leek today (despite not having done the training!), Christine Holmes for her first race win at Winsford 10k, Sarah Johnson and Louise Blizzard for their excellent performances at the Birchfield 10k, Ellie Greenwood for her victory and new course record in the Edmonton Marathon, and finally Emma Gooderham on her World Championship win in the 50k over in Holland in a new world age group best of 3 hours 17 mins – fantastic performances by some fantastic people – well done to all of you and it certainly is a pleasure knowing you all J

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