This weekend was English National 6 Stage Road Relay weekend. Anyone who is a regular reader of my blogs will know that I’m a lover of road and cross country relays. Over the years I’ve taken part in many, being part of a successful team on numerous occasions, as well as some unsuccessful ones, and I see them as the ultimate team event. I have many happy memories from the local, county, regional and national relays, however there is one relay that I, unfortunately, have nothing good to say, with regards to my participation in, and that is the English National 6 Stage Road Relay. It’s not that there is anything wrong with that particular relay, in fact it can be a very exciting relay to watch, possibly more so than the 12 stage as it’s less than half of the time to watch and generally a lot closer finish than the 12 stage. It’s just that this is one of the relays that I haven’t had much opportunity to run and on the one occasion I did run I produced my worst ever run.
When I was running my best times there didn’t seem to be much interest at Belgrave for National Road Relays, or even Southern Road Relays, though I was always keen. Following success at the Southern 12 Stage in 1990 interest from the top Belgrave runners seemed to wane and we moved down the positions, still holding onto a top ten spot but nevertheless failing to challenge for the medals. Then when the event moved to Thurrock we failed to deliver any decent results and in 1995 we finished as low as 31st, Belgrave’s worst ever position in the event (I shall not remain blameless in that result, I chose to attend my cousin’s wedding in Derby rather than sample the delights of running though the estates of Thurrock, but it was the only Southern 12 Stage I missed between 1993 and 2004). Thankfully in 1999 the event was moved to Milton Keynes and Belgrave struck silver again, finishing 2nd in the event and starting the upwards mobility of the team which would eventually turn into National gold.
As for the Southern 6 Stage, somehow I managed to find myself in the Belgrave ‘A’ team in 1991. This was two years before I started running well but somehow we managed to turn in a decent performance to finish 17th. Despite this, decent result, it was to be 5 years before we entered a team for that relay again, on this occasion I was the fastest man in the Belgrave ‘A’ team and was still in the team when we eventually won the championship in 2002.
Throughout this period Belgrave, though generally qualifying, didn’t always enter teams for the National 12 Stage, though thankfully I did get my chances to compete on the National Stage and even led the race for most of my stage in 1994. It was 2001 when I next led the race, on our way to losing to Tipton by 6 seconds, after more than 4 hours of racing. But it was the 6 Stage that disappointed, we never seemed to enter a team, how could it be that we could get 12 men to the line in April but not even get 6 in October. So throughout my best years I was unable to compete in this event. In fact it wasn’t until 1999 that Belgrave eventually entered a team at the event and actually finished a creditable 4th, behind Cardiff. I was travelling reserve on this occasion and my mate, Alaster Stewart, was running for Redhill.
I was never to go up to the 6 stage again with Belgrave, I was probably good enough to make the team in 2000, when they finished 6th, but, unfortunately, I chose to get married and was touring Australia on honeymoon at the time of the event. After that, the influx of young talented runners meant that I started to drift down the team list as Belgrave went on to win the event 5 years in a row from 2001-2005 and again in 2007 and 2008. I did finally get my chance to run the race in 2010, at age 45. I’d been having a good year but had lost some early season form with a knee problem in August. Still I’d been selected for the England squad in the forthcoming International Cross Country race and I wanted to prove I was back on track so was looking for a race around this time. Luckily for me there was a place going in the Herne Hill team and I took it, unfortunately for me I came down with one of those 24 hour bugs. I woke up ill and spent a good deal of time in the bathroom before we set off. I wasn’t feeling great but thought I couldn’t get any worse and started my rehydration plan. On arrival at Sutton Park I headed straight for the loos and probably spent the majority of the afternoon there, in fact I was still in there 10 minutes after our leg 1 runner had set off (I was on leg 2). I got to the start area drained but thinking I would be ok, it was here I met Jon James who would be my room mate for the forthcoming International. Jon had a good run, I did not. I felt ok up the first hill but then my guts started jumping all over the place. I was forced to slow down, but even going slow was hard work. I was in a situation I’d never experienced before, being overtaken by almost the complete field and had to dig deep at the end to find some reserves to ensure I didn’t hand over in last place, as it is I’ll always feel bad about handing over 2nd last. I’ll admit to being devastated, I was out to prove my form was coming back and I had a reputation as a good relay runner, it all went out the window in one race and I have a permanent statistic to show what a bad run it was. The team were very supportive but they must have felt bad about being left so far behind and only managed to recover to 60th position. Thankfully it was only a momentary blip and I was back running reasonably well within a couple of days.
I was hoping to make up for last year, in this year’s race. I haven’t been in the form of last year but I’m just starting to string together some good training and feel like I’m on the way back towards that form. And it seemed I would have my chance at redemption as Geoff informed me I was highly likely to make the team, unfortunately the team couldn’t make itself as we were short of runners so didn’t make it to the race. It’s not good, we have some very good runners and they should be looking to make an impact in these National competitions, I know what it’s like to miss out on these races because others can’t be bothered and I also know that a little commitment can turn an ok team into winners so that’s the direction Herne Hill should be looking to take. Herne Hill probably won’t win next year, but if they don’t turn up it won’t happen at all.
So what’s the point to this blog. I don’t have many regrets but one regret is that I didn’t always get the opportunity to race against the best in Britain when I was at my best. Ok that’s not strictly the case as I did race in a number of National Championships during my best years and I acquitted myself well, however there were times when I wanted to run but I wasn’t able to. Now there are two ways of looking at that, there were times when I was at my best but simply not good enough to make the team I was in, which is fair enough and you can be sure I went away and looked at what I could improve to make the team on another occasion, but the other times I was denied the opportunity because other members of the team or the management couldn’t be bothered to enter and on these occasions I went away disappointed at a missed opportunity. So if you’re wanting to run at your best, look for your opportunities and get your team and team management excited, after all, I’d rather my team finished 60th in a National Championship and I got my opportunity to shine than stay at home and have a good training session that, in the ultimate scheme of things, is meaningless. Of course another way of looking at it is that by not turning up you are not only denying yourself the opportunity to compete against the best but you’re also denying your team mates that opportunity and the opposition the opportunity to compete against you. Well enough said on that, we all have our own priorities.
So what else has my week had in store for me? This week it’s been a really hard week of training. I was planning on training hard anyway but easing back a bit at the end of the week, if I was needed for 6 stage duty. When I found out I wasn’t going to compete I obviously didn’t ease back. Come Saturday morning I was pretty tired but still managed to get the legs to deliver one more tough hill session before I relaxed on Sunday, readying myself for another tough week of training. I’m feeling good off it and think I’m running well, I just need a race to prove it. I had my weekly run with Rich (not to be confused with my training groups which go under the guise of Run with Rog) and decided it was time to push his mental barriers as well as his physical ones by getting him to run hard for 5 minute reps. It was a good session and Rich came through well, he’s still got a lot of work to do to get him fit for running the Edinburgh Marathon next year but the purpose of these four weeks has been to up his training level to get him 10k race fit. We have our final session this week, it’s a shame because I’m really enjoying having to run hard to produce the best session I can for Rich, but at least it will end in the knowledge that Rich will have a good background in running to enable him to continue to train effectively. As one door closes another two open and Rich has asked me to consider doing some group training from his own gym plus he may well benefit from some additional training nearer the marathon and consider using my schedules. And the other door….well I’ve been talking with Lee Riley, who you’ll know is attempting to break the World Mile Record, carrying a 40lb pack, on 12 November, and he has asked me to work with him to get his pacing right, so that begins next week and I’m looking forward to getting involved with another World Record attempt. The not so good, but not unexpected news, is that I haven’t been selected to represent England in this year’s International. To be honest I didn’t think I had much chance as I really haven’t raced enough against my peers and whilst I feel I will be good enough by November, that’s just a personal view. Well, good luck to the guys who did make the team, I’ll be looking at what I can do to gain selection next year.