Monday, 17 September 2012

First Time For Everything

This Saturday I put on my Salford singlet and represented my new club for the first time, in the North West Road Relays at Marbury Country Park. It was a low key debut for me, returning from injury and placed into a mixed team with no county qualifications. Compared to some of the relays I’ve taken part in you could look at this event as a meaningless event for me, but you’d be wrong, it was actually very important for me. But more of that later, first some other first representations for me.

My first race since taking up athletics in 1989 – I’d started training around February/March time, my first run with club members being a bit of a disaster where I was run into oblivion by seasoned club runners. After that I was looked after by Alan Painter and Derek Clack, too experienced but aging 800m runners. Needless to say I worked on 800m training and looked towards the 800m as my event. I got my first opportunity to run an 800m in a Southern League match at Norbiton, on 6 May. It was a double header with two Belgrave teams in action. I was taking part in a non scoring event, with Derek. As well as Derek and myself there were three other competitors, two I don’t remember and Jay Busk, a British League sub 50 second 400m runner. When the gun went Jay shot to the front and with the benefit of total naivety I followed. Still on Jay’s shoulder I went through the lap in 59 seconds. Then Jay started to pull away while I gradually started to fade. With 250m to go I hit a wall. Soon after Derek came past me and opened up a huge gap within seconds. I continued to wade through the treacle that the track had turned into and, somehow, managed to finish 3rd in 2:15.2. My head was spinning, my face was red and I was totally exhausted. As I walked away my head was throbbing, a most unpleasant experience. It took me two months before I felt ready to tackle another 800m, where I finished 11th but improved to 2:14.8.

My first cross country relay for Belgrave – Still in 1989 but six months later I was taking part in the Reigate Priory Cross Country Relays. It’s a beautiful setting starting on the playing fields with a long climb into the woods, a narrow path through the back of the woods, another climb to the top of the hill and, after a flattish bit, a steep descent back to the playing fields. I was still fairly fresh at Belgrave and didn’t know too many people but was introduced to the teams before hand. I was on leg 2 of the C team, taking over from Matt Kinane. I’d briefly met Matt before he set off but amongst everybody else I couldn’t remember him. Thankfully he was wearing the Belgrave singlet so he should be easy to spot and we were the C team so he should be the 3rd Belgrave man crossing the line! Wrong, he was running 2nd claim and therefore ineligible, hence being in a lowly team. How was I to know if nobody told me, so while Matt came in and stood fuming with nobody to hand over to I was standing a few metres away awaiting the arrival of the 3rd Belgrave man, until somebody kindly told me, in a non too gentle way, to get my bum in gear.

My first British title – Move forward 16 years and I find myself running for Herne Hill Harriers. I’d ruined my summer season by tearing my hamstring in the spring (sounds familiar) but I’d managed to get myself fit again by September. Things were going well I’d been in the team that won the Surrey Masters Road Relays, we’d then gone on to win the South of England Masters Road Relays and in October I’d become Surrey Masters Cross Country Champion. Then I got the offer of promotion at work, with a corresponding move to Edinburgh. Before taking up this offer I went to Newport for the British Masters Cross Country Relays. The team of Tony Harran, Mike Boyle, Vic Maughn, myself, Keith Newton and Dave Robinson were taking on the might of Bristol, already British Masters Road Relay champions, in their neighbour’s back yard. You’d think they would have the upper hand with a short drive compared to our half day long train journey. However perhaps they were too confident and underestimated us. They did take the lead on leg one but didn’t push to create a gap and at the end of leg two we’d taken it from them. They regained it on leg three and I took over on leg four in 3rd place. I managed to pull us back up to 2nd but Bristol had pulled out another 10 seconds. Keith Newton ran a stormer to bring back those 10 seconds but we were still a little behind Bristol when Dave Robinson set off after Nick Rose, on the last leg. It looked like a fascinating battle, you don’t pull back class like Nick Rose easily, even if he was significantly older, but Dave is a determined runner and inched nearer with every minute. Into the woods and Bristol were still in the lead, but coming out of the woods for the final sprint to the line Dave emerged ahead and held on for the win. A fantastic day and what a brilliant train ride back to London, where we celebrated our victory in Clapham Junction.

Probably my favourite first memory is my first run for Edinburgh AC where I unexpectedly became a Scottish champion, but I’ve covered that in a previous blog. So onto my next first, my first run for Salford.

I’d been looking forward to this moment since I started running again, following my hamstring injury in August, but not without trepidation. The injury is still fresh in my mind and I’m still conscious that it’s not at it’s strongest yet, plus I’ve lost a fair amount of fitness so wasn’t at all confident of running anything fast. I’m not one for getting nervous before races but this was an exception, I woke up with only this race on my mind. I was terrified of letting myself and my new club down. The race venue was the other side of Northwich so I drove part way and took Ray, one of my clients, along so that he could experience a road relay. It was a beautiful sunny afternoon with very little wind, perfect weather for a road relay. As Ray and I walked towards the race start I felt good as I spotted the Salford tent and a number of red dressed runners hanging around outside of it.

We went over and I introduced myself to a number of the guys, then got ready to race. The race, from a Salford point of view, went well as the A team finished 2nd but winning the Greater Manchester championship in the process, and there was a C team which came 3rd in the Lancashire championship. Other teams fared well too. My team came 34th. I was on 2nd leg so following my Belgrave experience I made pretty sure I remembered who my 1st leg runner was. This time there were no cock-ups and I set off, a little tentatively, not wanting to pull anything and it was a pretty solid run by me, I never really felt that I could push it any harder as I was nervous about the leg, though I was never really pushed in the cardio department. I did slow a couple of times when I felt twinges in my leg, but I still managed to pass 12 runners during my leg. The main thing was I didn’t let the team down, it was risky putting me on leg 2 but I’m glad I was there as it gave me people to chase.

So how did this experience measure up to the success criteria I set myself last week:
  1. To finish the race without injury – yes, although the hamstring was a little sore the next day.
  2. To run sub 19 minutes – well under, 18:17
  3. To be within 3 minutes of the fastest man – I believe fastest leg was 16:11 so I was just over 2 minutes slower.
  4. To not be the slowest man in my team – I was actually the fastest in the team, this is always going to be one of my criteria but as I get faster this will no doubt get harder as I progress through the teams.
  5. To be within sight of super vet Mike Hatton – Mike didn’t do it, he chose to do a race in Gateshead on Sunday, but I did compare favourably with others in my age group peer grouping.
  6. To enjoy myself and meet my new club mates – I had a great time, it was nice to be back as part of a team and I love relays, hence one of my reasons for switching to Salford, I couldn’t have done this race otherwise. I met a number of my new club mates and they made me really welcome, again it took me back to the days when I would turn up at Surrey Leagues for a chinwag with my Belgrave or Herne Hill pals, before getting down to serious business. I think I selected well, I can see me slotting right into the Salford setup and hopefully I’ll be making a positive contribution before very long.

After the race I had to dash home as I was meeting friends that I used to live with, back in the 80’s, for a night out in Manchester. Unfortunately I couldn’t find Ray. I looked around, asked around and looked around again, but he wasn’t anywhere to be found (though I might have found him if I’d looked in the obvious place). So I assumed, when he was talking to me just after my leg, that he must’ve told me he’d head home, problem is after a run my head’s buzzing so don’t say anything important to me. I didn’t have my phone with me so I just headed home. When I got home I phoned Ray who was still in Marbury Country Park. Thankfully Ray forgave me, he needed a longer walk anyway, he’s in marathon training mode.  

The night out in Manchester was fantastic, though the karaoke proved the point that Carole keeps telling me, I cannot sing.

Here’s to the next run, another relay event. Distance is a little further this time, which suits me fine, but I’ll probably have to memorise another runner for handover.   

Written by Roger Alsop

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