Wednesday, 26 November 2014

British and Irish Masters International Cross Country Championships 2014 – My Part In It

I consider myself very lucky, I’ve been selected for this event on five consecutive occasions, which means I’ve raced in each of the Nations represented. Lucky because to be selected as one of the top six runners in your country is no mean feat, and of all the countries to gain selection for England must be the hardest. Having said that it is now four years since I was last selected, although in that time I’ve only put myself forward once, as I’ve just not been performing well enough to consider I might get selected. On those occasions I did get selected I enjoyed every one of them, representing your country in a tough race against fellow internationals. The camaraderie and atmosphere is fantastic too.

During the summer I reduced my race list so that I could increase my training load with a view to being in better form for the BMAF cross country relays. Unfortunately, as you’ll know if you read my last blog, I developed a bad cold before that, though I feel I still acquitted myself well on the day. I seemed to improve in the days after that relay so I decided to enter the Open race, attached to this International meeting, particularly as it was taking place in Nottingham, as a way to show what form I’m really in. Unfortunately, the day after I sent off my entry I developed a chest infection, so bad I had to stop running for a couple of days, and all runs for the next two weeks were plods.

I don’t go to the Doctors very often but on this occasion I had to, I was given antibiotics and a chest x-ray, and eventually it started to subside. So in the week leading up to the race I started upping the pace, still not up to max but a big improvement on the previous two weeks.

I left my decision on whether to race or not right up to the last minute but on the morning of the race, despite a tickly cough refusing to go away, I decided I was well enough to race, though understandably I was still a little nervous.

Even though I’ll happily travel to races on my own, it was nice that Carole wanted to come along to support me, and cheer on her fellow Scots, so we thought we’d make a weekend of it. This meant trying to find something to do in the evening. There didn’t seem to be a great deal on but in the end I stumbled upon James Blunt, so booked us a couple of tickets, and we decided to stay the night in Nottingham.

My intention had been to arrive before the start of the first race, 11:30, but the compromise option (with Carole in tow) was to arrive before the M50-64 race, at 12:30, probably a much better option for my own run at 14:00. As it was we arrived in the park just as the ladies were finishing, so by the time we went along to pick up my number there were only the stragglers finishing. This still allowed me a chance to catch up with old friends from previous events, many I hadn’t seen for four years.

With Carole accompanying me I decided to walk around the course, rather than run around, figuring I’d be better saving any exertion for the race. As we walked around it was clear this was my kind of course, multiple laps with firm going, which just made it more annoying that I couldn’t have been at my peak.

The M50-64 race started as we were half way around the course, by the time they’d reached us it was clear England were going to win this one, with three of the team in the first four. It was a good race to watch, with Ben Reynolds and Guy Bracken pushing the pace to make a break, Ben finally getting the gap on Guy on the last lap, though Guy never gave in and was still close at the finish.

I watched most of the lads finish that race and chatted with a couple of my Scottish pals, Ian Stewart and Andy McLinden, then I went off to get changed for my own race. Then it was time for the start of the M35-49 race, the one I’d have been in had I been good enough. It was a fast and furious race and it didn’t take long before it was spread out. There were many runners I didn’t know or recognise, thanks to my being away from the championship scene for so long. But amongst them were some of Britain’s top master runners. Obviously there were a number of faces I recognised, particularly the Scottish contingent, though there were far less than I expected to see, a sign that I’m not alone in losing form as I age. I watched two laps of the race and then went off to make my preparations for the open race which would be on soon after.

Lining up for the start of the open race I didn’t really know what to expect, the race was truly open so it was likely that there would be local youngsters taking part. All the reserves for the international races were able to run so that would be interesting. I knew Nick Jones, Andrew Whittingham and Alex Rowe and, my Salford team mate, Hayley Kuter, would be lining up alongside me but I wasn’t really aware of who else was there.

My main aim, when entering the race, was to see how I shaped up against those who had been selected as M45s and, as I’m approaching the age group, those M50s selected. Though having struggled with illness now all I was thinking about was to get round without too much trouble, plus I had a side ambition, as it was four laps, of not getting lapped by the winner.

It was an uphill start, a gradual uphill that got ever so slightly steeper as you approached the top, not too difficult but certainly slowed you down a little. Typically some of my good Scottish female friends were waiting at the top to give me some abuse. Turning the corner there was a sharp drop down to the next corner. This is the sort of downhill I used to love when I was younger as I could just let myself go and would invariably pass loads of runners. Now I’m older I’m a bit more conscious of the jarring in my back, but I decided to give it a go anyway and took the brakes off. I did pass a number of runners and I continued to pass or get closer to other runners on every lap. Turning another corner there was a soft climb to the next corner. I was actually a bit disappointed with that, there was an opportunity to switch us back up the same hill we’d just come down and take us around a clump of trees which would have made it a more challenging course, still probably better for me in the circumstances. Being so flat and firm the course allowed for a good pace, already, half way round lap one I could see Nick Jones leading in the distance as I struggled to keep a bunch of England vest wearing runners behind me. Right at the far end of the course was the mud, though in all honesty it wasn’t enough to dip a hippo’s toe into, and then just a firm run back to the start for lap two.

On lap two I did start to struggle a bit, I felt I hadn’t really pushed as I was a bit nervous about my recent illness but still I seemed to pick up a stitch at the top of my abdomen. This baffled me a little as I’ve never had one there before but I wasn’t about to pull up, it’s only temporary pain and the pain of dropping out lasts a lot longer.

Round onto the third lap I had no idea who was winning or where I was in the grand scheme of things, all I was thinking was if I could get to the end of this lap without being caught by the leaders I wouldn’t get lapped, so I tried to work a little harder. I made it, no lapping today, now I wanted to throw in a good last lap, it was only 2k so only about 6-7 minutes of running left. But something was holding me back, the fear of pushing myself too hard too soon. I did pick up the pace a little but I know I could’ve run that last lap much harder. For the last time I climbed the hill to face the barracking Scots, I couldn’t help but smile at them as I crested the hill. A little while later I’d finished. I’d got through it, I was glad I’d given it a go because it was an enjoyable course, now I’m looking forward to  a full recovery and hopefully some good results next year.

I finished 14th in the race, nearly 3 minutes behind the winner, Mark Powell of Leicester. I was 4th M45, but more importantly was beaten by three M50s, though they weren’t actually that far ahead of me. As for where I would’ve featured in the main events; I would have been contending for 25th spot (out of 30) with three Scotsmen, in the M45s, understandably a long way behind the 6th English runner. As an M50 I’d have done a little better, coming 16th (out of 30) but still behind all 6 English runners. However, realistically, once I’m fit I should be able to perform much better than that, I know I’m better than my result shows and I have a year to prove it.

One of the things that I’ve become aware of is that this past two years, whether I’m blogging or just talking to fellow runners, I seem to be full of excuses as to why I’m not running well. Well it’s time to stop it, whether I run poor or I run well it’s time to just get on with it and try to enjoy the running rather than worry about the result. After all there are plenty of people worse off than me. So that’s it no more negativity around my running, I’m still running and I still maintain a healthy weight, which not all of my friends can say about themselves, I’m one of the lucky ones.

Next week one of my friends and big rival, Rob Tudor, shows he doesn’t just beat me in races but he will beat me into the M50 age category. Happy birthday Rob, mines a pint of real ale, not that muck you drink. Of course that means he doesn’t have long to try to beat my best M45 time for 10k, which is a saving face in our relationship.

Written by Roger Alsop

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