Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Contrasting Weekend For Me and Mo Farah

This weekend I was chuffed to see Mo Farah broke both the British and European indoor 5000m records. I don’t know Mo personally, though I have many friends who do, but he seems to be a decent level headed guy. Plus he trains hard, which is always good in my book. I do believe I once beat Mo, but it’s probably not worth putting that on my CV as it’s the equivalent to my 24 year old cousin beating me in a 30 metre sprint when I was 9, though I think Mo was about 17 at the time. I did once pass him when we were both training in Richmond Park, but it would have been more impressive if we’d been travelling in the same direction.

My favourite memory of racing Mo was at the 2002 South of England 6 Stage Road Relay Championships at Aldershot, I was running for Belgrave Harriers and he was running for WSEH, both on the 4th of the 6 legs. At the time there was quite a rivalry between the teams and a lot was expected of Mo as he was coming to prominence in UK athletics. I’m not sure what was expected of me, but as I took off in the lead I considered the least I could do was send our 5th man off in the same position. Mo set off some distance back but went charging after me with some intent. Half way around the first of two tough laps the crowd were getting excitable and I could sense that I was being hunted down. I didn’t look back but gather that Mo made up all but 30 metres. At 37 years of age I was about to show I wasn’t a pushover, I quickened my pace, just enough to show it would take a further effort to bridge that gap, and spent the next lap concentrating solely on maintaining that pace. The support along the route was tremendous, both for Mo and myself as spectators could see this was shaping up to be a great race. With half a lap to go Mo was no nearer and I knew that all I had to do was get up the next hill in the lead and I had every chance of holding him off. I pushed with everything I had, turned the corner into the main arena area, used the downhill stretch to pick up more pace and finally kicked up the hill to the finish. I’d done it, handed over in the lead and Belgrave went on to win the title for the first time. Only then did I look back to watch a dejected Mo coming up the hill, I’d pulled out a little distance on him and WSEH had shot their bolt. It was a great moment for me and a great day for Belgrave, but my time has now passed and I wish Mo all the best for his bid for gold at the 2012 Olympics.      

Bringing us back to the present….Whilst Mo was gearing himself up for his record attempt I was making my way to Alton Towers to make my racing comeback in the English National Cross Country Championships. When I arrived I couldn’t believe my eyes, it was like being at a pop festival, there was so much mud. I was beginning to wish I hadn’t brought my partner with me as we slithered towards the Herne Hill tent. It was definitely the muddiest I’d ever seen at a cross country and that was just the spectator area and inside the tents, not the best to encourage her to return. As I put on my number I hadn’t realised I’d dropped my chip in the mud, the last time I’d run chips were only used on road races. Thankfully I spotted the chip before a huddle of Herne Hill Harriers came in and trampled it deep into the mud bath. Actually that’s a good term for a group of runners, like a herd of cows a huddle of harriers is quite fitting.

With the start of the race approaching we were informed the distance had been reduced from 12k to 10k, due to a number of incidents in earlier races. The race was also to be delayed 15 minutes, then 5 then on time but eventually 15 minutes, communication not at it’s strongest. Thankfully it wasn’t too cold as we stood waiting for the actual start. Finally we were allowed into our starting positions and as I made my way to Herne Hill’s designated starting position I leapt up in pain as some idiot trod across my ankle, spike first. Painful but thankfully not so deep that I needed to worry about what I was about to run through. At least it gave me something to moan about while waiting for the hooter to go off.

Then the start, and a mad rush for some. The initial bit was undulating but not too muddy, but that was short lived and we were soon into the deep stuff. The course was one lap of 2k and two of 4k, and I’d say it was about 90% mud, with the majority of mud free area being on the steep hill we had to climb twice. Those who know me well would know this is not my kind of course and I fought hard just to keep going. I got a stitch at 7 minutes, my first for many years, but I kept ploughing through the mud. I was moving so slow I could even identify the people cheering me on. I’d obviously gone too fast early on as from the start of the first long lap I just seemed to be going backwards. I looked ahead and saw masses over people strung out ahead of me and thought my hopes for a top 1000 place were out of the window. Still I kept plodding forward.

At the start of the 2nd long lap a sense of serenity came over me as I realised I wasn’t going to be lapped, every runner’s nightmare put off for another race. Then the pain, my right foot was aching, I must’ve been twisting it as I was trying to gain any purchase in the mud, both of my 4th toes were sore too as I have a tendency to bend them over claw-like to grip in mud. By now I was absolutely exhausted, moving so slowly and getting passed by so many people that I had thoughts of Andy Lea-Gerrard passing me before the end. Up the hill for the last time and I could sense the end was nigh, for the race that is not me. I dug deep, the vision of Alex Rowe up ahead driving me on and then it was all over, just after I passed Alex I was under the finish line.

It had taken me 47 minutes and 34 seconds to run the most unpleasant 10k of my life, that’s 12 minutes and 23 seconds behind the winner, Steve Vernon of Stockport Harriers. And my finish position….well I was 500th, a full 500 places higher than I had anticipated.

So after all that was it worth it? Well yes, I got to catch up with my club mates, it was great to be a part of such a big race again, I didn’t make Herne Hill’s scoring 6, I was 12th man in but the 6 that scored did us proud by finishing 12th team. Interestingly, I would have made the scoring 6 for Belgrave! Will I enter the BMAF National? I don’t know, I’m clearly a long way off achieving the 2nd place I did last year but if other members of Herne Hill enter I could be tempted to provide the rear guard.  Will I run this race again? Unlikely, but who knows what tomorrow brings. Will I take my partner again, hmm might be better sending her to a spa hotel or shopping.

It’s now 3 days since the race and my legs still ache all over. I know some people would ask why we do it, my stock answer to that is, if we didn’t do it we might end up having to go shopping with the mrs and I’d go through any pain not to have to do that.

One final word before I go, my thoughts are with the people of Christchurch, New Zealand and in particular my good friends and famous New Zealand athletic family, the Coughlans. I hope you’re all safe and well.

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