Monday, 7 January 2013

Planning 2013

I’m not one for making new year’s resolutions, but the start of a new year is a good opportunity to look back over what has occurred the previous year and to decide what I’d like to achieve for this year. I’ve had some loose plans for a while, but now it’s time to start firming things up.

But first lets take a look back at 2012. This time last year I didn’t have much to look back on, despite winning a 10k, at the end of 2011, and 7 parkruns, 2011 had been my least successful year to date. But instead of letting this get me down I was determined 2012 was going to see me back winning medals. Straight away I was in the mix with a respectable 17th in my first race of the year, and first cross country race for 10 months, at the Cheshire Cross Country Championships. I placed 2nd in the M45 age group, which was good considering the depth of Masters talent in Cheshire, but the down sides were that there was only a medal for 1st and I was about 2 minutes behind Ian Wetherall, who took the medal. Consistent training saw me gradually improve as I took more parkrun victories and then, in full flow of training for the European masters 10000m, I took my first medal in 19 months, a bronze at the Masters 5k championships. Still improving I took another bronze in the 5000m at the Masters track and field championships. All was looking good for the Europeans, but then disaster, I tore my hamstring, which put paid to any ambitions in Germany. However thanks to the physio and my own strengthening work I was back in action earlier than anticipated and, although far from my best, I managed 9th place in the European Masters 5000m.

It was while I was injured I had time to reflect on my running over the last few years. I’d joined Herne Hill Harriers when I turned 40 because I thrive on team spirit, at the time Belgrave had no interest in Masters athletics but Herne Hill had a solid team of old men. When I joined it tipped the scales and Herne Hill’s Masters started winning national masters events. But less than a year later my work asked me to consider relocating to Edinburgh. It wasn’t a tough decision to make at the time, but it was tough leaving behind the team mates, other running friends and all the races I was familiar with. Whilst I retained membership of Herne Hill, and won a number of national medals with them, I was also able to represent a Scottish club, Edinburgh AC. This helped me to survive some dark times by using my training and racing as a means of keeping strong when other things weren’t going my way. But then came a further move, back to England, and back to my childhood county of Cheshire. Whilst I was still a member of Herne Hill I was unable to count with a more local club, and I didn’t want to leave Herne Hill because they were my mates and besides, with all the recent upheaval, I wasn’t altogether sure how long we’d be in Cheshire. There followed a tough three years of running very few times for Herne Hill and being the only Herne Hill runner in the races I entered. Despite that I didn’t feel too lonely as I soon managed to make friends with a number of runners from various local clubs. But the team spirit was missing from my life and the other thing I felt I needed to help me to improve was regular cross country. So in Germany I decided it was time to move on, to a more local club, but which one? I looked at Vale Royal, Sale, Altrincham, Salford and Wilmslow but it was Salford that stood out to me as the club I was most likely to settle into, even though they were the furthest away. So I left Herne Hill after seven good and successful years and joined Salford. So far it seems to have been a good decision for not only have I enjoyed being a member of Salford but I’ve been made welcome by a fantastic bunch of athletes and supporters and to cap it all won a BMAF silver as part of the cross country relay team. As we look forward, as a club, to 2013, there is the possibility of much more success for Salford and I want to be part of it.

Finishing off 2012 with half a cross country season and, in particular, tasting success at Derby, has left me feeling pretty confident about 2013. I know I’m not the best runner in Britain, in my age group, but I’ll always give my best and when I’m at my fittest I can be up with the best, also when I’m surrounded by team mates giving as much as me that makes us a strong unit.

The last few weeks of December saw a lack of cross country running for me, probably a timely break as too much can wear you down. I was anticipating a training consolidation period but then I ended up doing 3 parkruns. I’ve already mentioned, in a previous blog, that I turned up for the inaugural Congleton parkrun, well that was intended to be my last race of the year. But things don’t always work out and Ray twisted my arm to go along to week 2 at Congleton. I wasn’t really in the mood but a wet, windy, miserable and muddy parkrun was better than the alternative, a wet and windy hill session on my own. So what did I have to lose? The answer: my 2012 100% parkrun record as local M45 rival Malcolm Fowler turned up and took me to the cleaners. Well I’m not bothered about statistics, winning streaks will always come to an end and I certainly wasn’t going to lock myself up in a room for the rest of my life so I was never again beaten, but it was a bit disheartening to be beaten by another M45, even if it was by one of the best M45s around. At least Malcolm didn’t take my course record, though he sits above me on age grading, due to being a year older than me. The following week I turned up again for Congleton’s 3rd parkrun, again I wasn’t intending to do so but Carole was keen to run one. As it turned out Carole was in bed sick with man flu but as I’d arranged to go with Ray I decided to go anyway. Once again Malcolm was there, which meant I had a challenge on my hands, much better than a lonely hill session. This time both of us got stuffed by a youngster from Stoke, who became the first sub 17 minute runner and took my course record from me. But I ran my fastest time around the course, retaining my M45 record, finishing a few seconds ahead of Malcolm, though Malcolm still retains the top position on the age graded league. Beating Malcolm was a timely boost to my confidence as I saw him as one of my main challenges for the M45 title in the Cheshire Cross Country Championships the following weekend.

On the way back from that parkrun Ray and I were discussing our goals for 2013, which turned out to have a number of similarities. This led to my thinking about what else could I add to our training to make our goals happen. Then it dawned on me, something I loved doing, was very effective, but I’d neglected for a number of years – fartlek. So the next day I purposefully went out and designed my own fartlek course, which starts close to my house and finishes close to Ray’s. 12 repetitions ranging from 40 seconds to just over 3 minutes, featuring 5 hills (in Cheshire!) and varying lengths of recovery, the shortest just 15 metres. I ran it hard that day and have since used it with one client. I ran it hard again today and I love it, can’t wait to try it out on Ray.

So onto my 2013 goals. Well the first one was to have a good run at the Cheshire Cross Country Champs. I felt I had a chance of 1st M45, but so did others, including Malcolm Fowler, who’s name is listed more times than anyone else I know in the history of medal winning at the Cheshire Champs. The race took place last Saturday, at Reaseheath, a course that was 1/3 suitable for me and 2/3 not very suitable for me. But I wasn’t going to let that get in the way, I’m working on improving my cross country running and little by little I’m improving. I know I’ll never be a Mike Deegan but I can be a better Roger Alsop. Despite making a schoolboy error, thinking the start was 2:30 instead of 2:15 (thanks Ray for the timely reminder) I managed to get to the start line nice and relaxed. As we headed out I was nicely positioned alongside Malcolm, but with James Noakes (another M45) and the possibility of another M45 ahead of me I wasn’t going to focus solely on Malcolm, so when Dave Alexander, an M40 of some repute, went past me I tried to go with him. Into the muddy field and Malcolm came back past me, after that he pulled away to a convincing victory. I struggled to cope with the mud in those fields, during that first lap, and a group of runners containing Graham MacNeill, 1st m50, James Noakes, Tom Bush and a couple of City of Chester guys (one of whom I think was M45 Duncan Harris), pulled a gap on me. I was on my own as I tried to find the best way through the mud.

It was hard work in those fields but towards the end of the lap we were back on firm ground and I got a little respite. Out of the woods I was still looking at a largish gap to the group in front of me. Malcolm was way ahead so it was a certainty M45 gold had gone, particularly with his cross country reputation. Knowing that last year there was only a medal for the age group winner I could easily have given up at this point but I wasn’t about to, I’m striving to improve in these conditions and the only way that is going to happen is if I work hard in my weak area. So I relaxed and pushed. It seemed to work, I was finding it much easier to plough through the mud, I still had the odd moment of instability but I appeared to be gaining on the group ahead. The gap was getting smaller and, upon reaching the firmer ground again, I got some extra vigour. I sailed past 3 of the guys before entering the woods, passed another couple just after the woods and soon there was only Graham MacNeill up ahead. Graham was going well and it took me a while to reel him in but he came in all the same. I had about half a lap to go, I wasn’t going to let anyone come back to me. No looking back, just forwards and push all the way. I maintained position, finishing 14th, a disappointing minute behind Malcolm, but I felt like I’d managed to kick off a demon. With a little more work maybe I’ll make a cross country runner of me yet. Once again I was 2nd M45 so went home without a medal, only to find out, that evening, that someone had decided to hand out other medals and there is a Cheshire M45 silver medal with my metaphorical name on it.

So with my first, almost success, out of the way what are my plans for 2013: I’ve still got a way to go on finding my cross country feet but I’ve some time and a number of races to go before the one that matters, the BMAF Champs. Two years ago I was 2nd M45, what I’d give to beat that, but it won’t be easy (if it was easy we wouldn’t be doing it, is something I keep telling my clients, at least I practice what I preach). I’ve decided against the European indoors (too much going on at that time) and I’ll probably miss the track completely this year (though I might think differently about that later). I really want to help Salford to some national gold medals this year and I’m thinking about venturing into Europe for the non stadia championships. Other than that I think it’s time I did some 10ks and possibly a 10 mile or half marathon. With BMAF championships very much in mind, both for myself and Salford, I think that’ll keep me pretty busy. I’d also like to gain selection for England again.      

But with the hard training comes the possibility of injury and I’m conscious of a little niggle in my left knee, again. So better get those victories in before it goes again.

I should say well done to my Salford colleagues for all the success they had in Greater Manchester, Lancashire and Middlesex championships. Proving we are a great club of great athletes – we just need a few more in Cheshire.

Written by Roger Alsop

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