Having never done a Sale Sizzler (5k race in Wythenshawe Park) before I didn’t really know what to expect and as the conditions were expected to be wet I took four different pairs of racing shoes. That might sound a bit over the top but each pair has it’s own properties and this was a proper race after all, I usually run parkruns in ordinary trainers. Not only was this race 4, last one, in the series but it also hosted the North of England Championships.
I’m fortunate to have gained many medals from Championships from the South of England and also Scotland, but I’ve never been in a position to win one from the North, however, due to my ongoing achilles issues, I had no pre-conceptions of gaining my first Northern medal at this race. In fact I didn’t even think I’d feature amongst the old people taking part, all my sights were set on an improvement on my season’s best and trying to dip under 17 minutes. Modest targets, I know, but with almost as much time spent not running as running, this year, and still not able to do absolute speed work, there’s no point in being too ambitious, patience is a better virtue.
A few weeks ago my achilles was so painful I would definitely not have entered this race, but a Southern friend recommended I try the McDavid ankle support. I wasn’t sure at first my achilles was improving and the feedback on the support said that it wasn’t necessarily going to assist my particular injury to recover. But after going through a week of increasing pain I decided it was worth a try and promptly ordered one from Amazon. Amazon promised to deliver within a week but the support turned up within two days, very impressive, though, unfortunately, 30 minutes after I’d already run on that day.
The next day I tried it for the first time, no instructions came with the support and though it seemed obvious I could have benefited from some assistance. What happened was I strapped myself up too tight which gave me some trouble. Once I realised, more by error than judgement, that the support needed to be looser, improvement was rapid. I’m now at the point where my achilles is not painful all the time, sure it’s not perfect and it does throb on occasions, but I’m able to work quite hard, though not as hard as I’d like, with it. With the improvement coming I decided to give the race a go and entered online.
I arrived at Wythenshawe Park quite early, it’s something that has served me well in the past, and went for a recce of the course. Unfortunately I lost the course, I’d quickly glanced at the hand drawn map stuck on the wall but my memory failed somewhere along the way, still seeing as I was just making up the numbers it really didn’t seem to matter that much. I’d jogged around without my ankle support and the achilles seemed to be holding up well. I had intended to race wearing it, but I decided not to, on the basis that if I strapped it up too tight it would require me to stop and fix it, the less you have to do or think about in a race the better, so I left it in the car, along with the three pairs of racers I’d decided not to use.
The race started on the track, I can’t recall starting a road race on a track since I ran a 10k in Battersea Park in 1990, so it was a little strange and, due to the drizzle during the day, very slippery. I slithered around that 1st 500m and was glad to get onto the trails, now I could start making my way through the field. I didn’t get very far before I caught up with Dave Alexander from West Cheshire. I know Dave quite well and we are of a similar standard normally so I knew I was going fast enough. Somehow I missed the 1k marker but at 2k, covered in 6:50, I knew my pace was about right. It had been a while since I’d run at 17 minute pace so I was finding it tough, but using my rhythm I hung onto Dave, who appeared stronger than when I last raced him.
I also missed the 3k marker and know I slowed in that 2-4k, so when I reached 4k I figured I needed to push to get back onto target. Clearly Dave had the same idea as we both seemed to increase pace at the same time. On the way to the finish we passed a few guys and I was determined to keep my pace up, not wanting to relinquish any of my gained places. Dave was running so strong I knew I’d have to push really hard to beat him and, today, I just didn’t feel I had any more.
I finished in 44th position, 4th M45 (but a long way behind 3rd) in 17:02, a season’s best but nothing to get too excited about. Dave had maintained his gap, finishing 2 seconds ahead. What I hadn’t realised was that I was in danger of being caught by a fast finishing colleague, in the guise of Dave Hudson, who was just two places behind me. This proved crucial as Salford ended up with North of England bronze, Joe Bailey, Rob Hughes and myself making up the team. Of course I was so far down the field I had no idea that was the case until I got home. But that was a great ending to my day, my first medal in a Northern Championship, that’ll be treasured with all the others. At my age I don’t expect to get amongst the medals in ordinary competition anymore so it’s quite special to me. But it’s also served to give me a kick up the backside, to make me realise I can still feature in the Salford team, especially if I can continue to improve. Realistically I’m not expecting to hit my best form until next spring, but if I remind myself of the 17:37 I ran on 23 August 2012, following my torn hamstring, and what a good winter I subsequently had, it’s not inconceivable that I may be back sooner than that.
One of the things I enjoyed about the night was being in the company of my Salford colleagues, and meeting up with the many athletes I have become friends with over the years. Delamere parkrun is good but, as I’m shy, I don’t really chat much before I get to know people, to me racing isn’t just about racing, it’s about the social side too. Another good thing was that there were two athletes in the field who are advised by me, both set good pbs.
I’ve been watching the World Championships with interest, some fantastic performances. Obviously Mo is the talk of the town here in the UK and I’ve really enjoyed watching him dominate his races, but I was also pleased to see Chris O’Hare, from my old club Edinburgh AC, do well to make the 1500m final. Unfortunately Chris seemed to run out of steam in the final, but a useful experience which should give him good prospects for next year’s Commonwealth Games.
Just to finish off, I mentioned the McDavid ankle support I’ve been using. If you’re having Achilles problems yourself you might want to consider this option.
Written by Roger Alsop