Friday, 31 October 2014

Masters of the Cross Country Relay

I’d been looking forward to the Masters Cross Country Relays for months. I’ve been training hard and was desperate to make the Salford M45 A team, as I thought I was finally going to re-find some decent form.

October has been a busy time for me. Not only have I tried to continue the greater emphasis on my training load, but I was also due to attend two weddings and a stag weekend. Not quite good enough for a film title but three excellent consecutive weekends of partying for me. First there was my partly British, partly German and now partly American cousin Franny, who got married in Rushton Hall. It was a fantastic wedding, beautiful setting and it was great to meet up with members of the family I hadn’t seen in years. Then it was my old Belgrave Harrier mate, Al Stewart, who had his stag weekend at Burnham and Berrow golf club, followed a week later with his wedding in Pennsylvania Castle, another great wedding, beautiful setting and another chance to catch up with new and old friends, in particular the Belgrave bunch (Al, Paul Coughlan, Bruce Barton and Paul Freary – would make a decent Masters team if they could stay injury free for long enough).
Rushton Hall, venue for wedding no. 1

Pennsylvania Castle, venue for wedding no. 2

I managed to keep training hard throughout the party period, but, inevitably, burning a candle at both ends is going to take it’s toll somewhere along the way. I like my food and this month there’s been lots of it to like. I know it’s far from the most appropriate thing to do as a Personal Trainer, but all health food and no excess makes Rog a dull boy. Though lots of excess and not much health doesn’t make Rog an attractive boy either.

Still everything was going to plan, the morning we left Penn Castle, to head back home, I had a great training run, into the wind blowing past Portland Bill I was flying. That was to be my last hard session before easing down for the Masters cross country relays.

Unfortunately on Wednesday I started feeling like I was coming down with a cold, Thursday I was feeling a lot worse, Friday I was feeling a bit better but still far from well. With the race on the following afternoon I was debating if I should just withdraw, but I held off, improvement from Thursday to Friday night had been significant, and it was only a two mile race….

Saturday, race day, I woke up feeling much better but still not 100%, had the race been three miles I would definitely have pulled out but at two miles I figured, even if I held back a bit, I could still get around without costing the team too much, at least that was what I hoped.

I’ve done this fixture with Salford Harriers for the last two years and each time we’d finished behind a very strong Leicester outfit, in the M45 category. Not by much but enough to make it painful. This year we had our strongest team of the three years and I was confident we would finally defeat the mighty Leicester, or would my cold come into play.

As usual I travelled down with my number one fan, Carole, and club mate Rob Tudor, but joining us this time was Phil Leybourne, another club mate who had never done this fixture before.

I tend not to get nervous before races, unless I’m coming back from an injury and worried I might have come back too soon, but I was nervous here. My resting heart rate was normal but the cold was still affecting me. My mind kept going back to 1996, where I raced the Surrey Cross Country Champs with a cold and I ended up with a heart strain, but I’ve subsequently run with sniffles with no ill effect.

Rob was on first leg and he set out his stall pretty early, getting in amongst the leading bunch. Salford M35 John Lloyd had obviously got up even earlier with his stall as he shot off from the gun and was already gaping the field within the first 100m. Come the start of the 2nd of the almost 1 mile loops Rob was just behind Leicester’s top M45 runner Gordon Lee. At this point I sensed we could pull it off, I was confident that Rob would stick to Gordon and push past towards the finish.
Rob Tudor on his way to fastest M45

It wasn’t to be, Gordon’s a tough man to beat and although Rob was within two seconds of him, he couldn’t quite get his devastating kick going. Off went Phil on second leg and immediately went past Rob Sheen of Leicester. Within half a lap Phil had a big lead on Leicester and things were looking good. At this point I bumped into Rob and he informed me that the Leicester M45s didn’t have a team, the M45s that had made it here were running in the M35 team and we had a big lead already on the 2nd M45 team.

As I got ready to head off on my leg I pondered what Rob had said. It meant I could afford to hold something back and we’d still, more than likely, have the lead, and with two strong runners after me we couldn’t lose. But I didn’t want people to say that we only won because Leicester didn’t turn up, I wanted to show that we were deserving of our victory, so I decided I’d go as hard as I felt comfortable.

Phil ran a great leg, bringing us home 2nd in the whole race, behind Coventry and a step in front of Mansfield. I set off 2nd and was immediately relegated to 3rd as fastest M35 runner, Mark Johnson shot past me. I didn’t make any effort to keep with Mark, all too aware of my frailty, but still pushed as I didn’t want to lose any more places, in particular to the Salford M35 team, who we had a side bet, weren’t that far behind.
Phil Leybourne moving Salford through the field

It was a tough leg, I could feel my chest was in some discomfort but I was sure I could continue at the pace I was going. It was a typically lonely relay leg run, I was passed by Mark in the first 100m and I eventually caught the Coventry runner with 200m to go, giving us an overall net even, went out 2nd came in 2nd. But more importantly I hadn’t lost any ground to any of our M45 rivals, finishing 1 second quicker than the next fastest M45 on that leg, though I had given away 2 seconds to Dave Hudson and the charging Salford M35s.

Happy to finish my leg, make that ecstatic, it began to dawn on me what a stupid thing I’d just done. Without wanting to sound melodramatic I’d just got away with something that could have finished a whole lot worse, I didn’t need to be in the team for us to win today but I’d been selfish to prove I was getting back to form, sometimes ambition just takes over from good sense.
Me getting the better of M55 fastest leg and Salford colleague Stan Owen

Derek Crewe was next out, along with myself and Dave Lockett one of the three members who have featured in each of the Salford M45 medal taking teams over the last three years. Derek’s solid as an oak and usually runs a time similar to me, he didn’t disappoint and with one leg to go we surely had the championship in the bag.
The only bald man in the Salford M45 team, Derek Crewe keeps us in contention with the leaders of the overall race

So often our fastest M45 man Dave took on that last leg with ambition, not saving anything despite the lead we had over the 2nd place M45 team, mind you we were lying in the top three overall at this point. Dave eventually lost a place to 2nd fastest M35 of the day, Leicester’s Mark Powell, but set the 2nd fastest M45 time of the day, just a few seconds behind Rob’s fastest. We finished 4th overall, 1st M45, and 1 place ahead of Salford M35, who were just one place away from getting their own set of medals. As well as Rob and Dave, Phil took 3rd fastest M45 time and, surprisingly, I was 4th fastest. 
Dave Lockett sealing the deal

Appropriate celebrations were duly carried out and off we went with our medals.
The winning M45s

Another successful day for Salford Harriers, though in fairness our least successful of the three years over the age groups.
But the stats still make pretty good reading:
M35 – 4th
M45 – 1st
Fastest Leg – Rob Tudor
M55 – 6th   
Fastest Leg – Stan Owen
M65 – 3rd

A further plus for me was that 2nd M45 team was taken by the club I left to join Salford, Herne Hill Harriers, with Vic Maughn and Mike Boyle, team mates from when we won the M40 championship back in 2005, in the team.

The downside was that this event still doesn’t seem to be supported by as many clubs as it should, it’s a great event, a great venue and always a close race. Having it on the same day as the Scottish cross country relay champs probably didn’t help but we could still do with some more support from the other British clubs. It was mentioned, at the presentation, that they would consider taking out B teams next year, but that would be ludicrous, Salford have so many athletes that want to take part that it would not be in the best interest of the event, this year we had nine teams taking part.

This week, I’m still struggling to shift the cold. It has affected my running, I’m holding back a little and I’ve dropped certain sessions. At the moment I’m also without a race plan. Think I’ll wait until I’m training properly again and then I can start to think about my performance.

Written by Roger Alsop

Race day pictures courtesy of Sid Sacks

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