Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Alsop’s Alsager 5s

I didn’t run many road races in my early days. It was track, cross country and road relays that my coach prescribed. So, during my best years, I never made it up to the Alsager 5, despite it being close to where my parents lived. Even when I took up road racing, in the late 90’s, there were so many events going on around London that I didn’t feel the need to travel up to Alsager, even if it did mean I could visit my parents at the same time, or maybe that was the reason all the time. When I turned 40, however, my attitude changed. I was aware of the fast times set at Alsager and I wanted to set one to lay down a foundation for England selection at the International Cross Country.

I made my Alsager 5 debut in 2005. But I was disappointed, my time was only 26:49 and I was hoping for something nearer 25 minutes. That time was only good enough for 28th but, surprisingly, I was 1st Master. For the next 4 years I was based in Edinburgh and for one reason or another, mostly because I was working, I couldn’t make the race. But at the end of 2009 I found myself living about 3 miles away from Alsager so the 2010 race was a definite for me.

Alsager 2010 – By now I’d turned 45, I was training hard but hadn’t raced since November. With this long gap I had no particular ambitions in the race, other than to have a good run, I was using it as a marker for the Trafford 10k. But as it turned out I ran faster than 5 years earlier, 26:33, a time that stood up as the 3rd fastest for an M45 that year. Mind you it was only good enough for 38th place, I was 2nd M40, to Gordon Lee, but 1st M45. 4 weeks later I actually went through the 5 mile mark, at Trafford, in a faster time.

By Alsager 2011 I’d been suffering with a recurrent knee injury since September. I managed to train through it to make my England debut in the November but soon after that I decided now was the time to take a break. The break did some good but it was a lengthy break that kept me out of this race. I did turn up and jogged around the course a little as Carole and Lee Riley were both racing it.

Alsager 2012 – No injury this time but still only a few races over the winter months, I felt fit though and was keen to keep my record going (1st M40 in 2005, 1st M45 in 2010). Unfortunately the weather was against me. I slithered and slid my way around the 5 miles, there were big stretches where there was very little road showing and it was tiring running on the snow. I felt like I was way back in the field and running really slow (mind you everybody was running slower than normal). I didn’t enjoy it at all. Coming to the finish I had enough left to sprint for the line, unfortunately there was only one clear line to run on so every time I tried to go round my nearest rival I had to go onto the ice, which meant I lost momentum. Unable to get past him I had to settle in my position, 49th in 28:01. I thought there must be at least 5 or 6 M45s ahead of me but as it turned out the guy I was just behind was 1st M45, if only there’s been a wider clear line to the finish.

The build up to Alsager 2013 is a completely different story, I’ve had a solid winter of cross country and have been racing and training well. I have a running client, Katy, from Alsager, and we’ve been around the Alsager 5 course many times during our various sessions, so I felt I knew the course (always an advantage, I feel). So far I’ve managed to avoid any illness, despite being surrounded by people with full blown colds, and my body was holding up well, until two weeks ago. That was when I had my back spasm. It felt so small and insignificant that I didn’t think it would keep me out of the race, the same thing had happened to me just before the BMAF cross country relays in November, where a few days rest had me back and running well. I thought the same would be true here, and it was improving every day, but I was in agony getting out of bed every morning. By the Monday before the race it was feeling a lot better, though still a problem first thing. I was going to leave it another day but I had to go to a meeting about a mile away so thought I’d trot there and back. It was ok, the next day it felt much better so I ran for 6 miles, still ok. Wednesday morning I had a run out with Katy and I felt even better afterwards. Another run out with Ray in the evening and things were looking good. Then, as I got out of bed on Thursday, I suffered an incredibly painful spasm. Enough’s enough I thought and tried to get in to see a physio, but no joy, fully booked. Well that was that then, season over, surely this is going to take a few weeks to sort out and I’ve already missed practically two weeks so all my racing fitness will be down the pan.

But I managed to get a quick session on Friday evening, with Ed at www.stretchmassage.com/
Ed had a look and did some tinkering, once again it was caused by a weakness in my glute/piriformis area. The next morning I woke up almost a new man, still a little tender getting out of bed but so much better than the previous two days. The temptation to run was strong but I had my sensible head on. I was going to go to the Alsager 5 on Sunday, anyway, Carole was running, so I’d warm up and if I felt ok I’d race, albeit a bit tentatively.

Race day, a slight niggle getting out of bed, perhaps I won’t be doing the race! But get up anyway and prepare like you’re doing it. We arrived in Alsager nice and early, got our chips sorted out and I went for a warm up. I ran for a mile, around part of the course, and all felt good, much better than earlier in the week. So I made the decision to race, though I was a little anxious and prepared to drop out if necessary. Lining up at the start it was nice to have brief chats with the large number of athletes I’ve got to know over the years, it kept me from worrying if I’d make it to the first corner ok. I was a couple of lines further back from where I would normally start, I wanted a low key start so no point in getting in the way of faster runners. And then we were off, it was closely packed for the first 800m, which meant I was having to pay particular attention to the area just in front of me, lots of pot holes. I was a long way back but turning the first corner, about half a mile in, I decided to start working and seemed to overtake a large number of runners by the 1 mile point. Still conscious of my condition I was holding back just a little but going at a pace which I hoped to maintain to the finish. First mile covered in 5:25, not really fast enough but under the circumstances I wasn’t concerned. Mile two was reached in 11:05, I was still passing a few people but now I was beginning to feel my reduced fitness level. I was now mixing it with a small group of runners, we were all going about the same pace, but I was tired. The benefit was there to be had though as I dug deep to hang onto the group, who weren’t going significantly faster than I felt I wanted. I missed the 3 mile marker but by the time I realised we only had about 1.5 miles to go. I knew I could dig deep for that length, I did, but I noticed my form was all over the place so for the sake of avoiding further injury I decided to hold off, just a little. I made it across the line, no sprint finish for me this year. My finishing time 27:45, not the time I was looking for a few weeks back but quicker than I’d have considered when I set foot on the start line. In fact I was surprised how close I was to some of my peers, maybe they’d had some issues too. The time was good enough for 52nd place, but having observed many guys, who looked like they were around my age, finish ahead of me, I imagined I was outside the first 5 M45s. So it was a surprise to learn I was in fact 3rd M45.

Just past the finish line I bumped into my old Edinburgh AC pal, Matt Bell. Last I knew he was working in Melbourne, Australia, but I think he missed the weather as he’s now back, a little boost to the Edinburgh AC team.

After the race my left Achilles was really sore and my legs have been a bit sore for a couple of days, it was the first time I’ve worn racing flats for some months, but, other than a little twinge as I climb out of bed, my back is feeling a lot better. Still not wanting to risk training at 100%, I’ll have to decide on the day if I’m to take part in any of the next few week’s races. In the meantime lots of rehabilitation work.

Just past the 1 mile mark, with thanks to Bryan Dale

Written by Roger Alsop

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