Tag Archives: Mud

Fourth cross-country fixture: maracas & mud 

On Saturday the 11th of February I took part in the fourth and final Surrey XC League fixture of the season with the Advent Running team. Before heading to Lloyd Park to run our 8k race some of us joined the girls at Happy Valley Park to encourage them around what was a tough course, not helped by the snow. Lorna and I met up with most of the girls at London Bridge to get the train to Coulsdon South or as Ben Rajan aptly named it Coldsdon South. We arrived in plenty of time which was good as we still had a bit of a trek to get to the start area and then to the nearest car park/toilets. As I normally run in the same races as Lorna it’s not very often I get to support her, however when I have cheered it’s been great fun. It was nice for some of us to be able to repay the favour as lots of the girls cheered us on at Clapham Common, Epsom Downs and Cranford Park.

I always find cross-country days funny; the first few hours seem to drag on but once you’ve started travelling to the race and met up with the group/team time disappears. The girls sorted their race vests & numbers before doing a quick warm up. With just a couple of minutes to go they shed their warm layers and headed for the start line.

Before we knew it they were charging off at what I would describe as “It’s so bloody cold, let’s get this done” pace. Normally when I’m watching races/supporting I feel left out and want to be taking part, not this time. I was more than happy to be in warm clothes, shouting useless words of support and shaking some maracas.

Photo courtesy of Abi Williams @afloralcrown

We positioned ourselves near a slippery chicane in a bid to get good photos and give the girls a lift before they zoomed down the hill into the second lap.

The girls ran really well in what were horrible conditions, I don’t think they could believe their luck with the bad weather. After their third fixture they all said the conditions were “brutal” and “really muddy and hilly” but apparently this course was a lot tougher due to the long hills and ploughed fields.

As the men’s race started at 2pm we had to depart after cheering the girls around one lap. We opted to jog to the train station to loosen our legs up. With the large snowflakes falling on our faces it felt like we were on some sort of arctic expedition, far from it really. We jumped on the tram from East Croydon to Lloyd Park before sorting our race numbers and vests, using a couple of cars for a bag drop (thanks Matt and Sarah). Claudia and some of the other girls arrived before the start so they showed us where the hilliest and muddiest parts of the course were. It’s always good to do a bit of a recce so you can roughly work out how to pace yourself. With 5 minutes until the start I stripped down to race vest and split shorts and did a few strides to try and keep warm. Luckily the weather was much clearer in Lloyd Park than in “Happy” Valley Park, there was no snow to be seen. As we walked to the start line I was really excited to get going but at the same time I was a little sad as it was the last fixture of the season. Similarly to the third fixture I positioned myself near the front alongside Martin Harris with the rest of the AR team just behind us. After a short announcement from the organisers we were on our way.

The first kilometre was relatively flat resulting in a split of 3:33. Over the four fixtures I’ve found it interesting learning how to pace the races, trying to take the mud and hills into consideration. The pace felt fast for the first couple of kilometres but I was feeling good and I’d decided I would get the first lap done then either ease off if need be or push on. Unfortunately after about a kilometre and a half one of my shoe laces came undone, rookie. I mustn’t have tied it tight enough due to having freezing cold hands. I was in two minds whether to stop and attempt to tie it back up or chance it and hope my shoe wouldn’t come off in the mud. I opted for the latter having weighed up the pros and cons, I figured I’d probably struggle to tie it up again giving my hands felt like icicles and the laces were covered in mud. It would’ve been like taking on a challenge in the cube. Luckily the next few kilometres went by quickly a) because I was thinking about my laces and b) I was chasing Martin down.

Photos courtesy of Claudi @claudi8s & Lorna @lorns_runs

The first lap went by pretty quickly; it definitely helped having the AR lot making a racket (I mean playing their musical instruments to an incredible standard) and cheering the team on. I closed the gap on Martin as we entered the second lap; we were side by side for a kilometre or so. Then came the short sharp muddy climb that we had recced, I think we both knew if one of us could push on after the climb that would be it as the rest of the course was relatively flat.

We both dug deep to get to the top of the hill, my legs were surprisingly feeling ok so I got back onto a quick pace to open up a gap and push on. There was no looking back; I started to think about catching two of the other runners to put myself in with the chance of finishing top of the individual standings in the league. They were a couple of hundred metres ahead of me so they were a good target to chase for the remainder of the race. For a kilometre or so I maintained the gap knowing that within the last 1,000m or so there was a downhill stretch into the finish. Having some energy left in the tank I started upping my pace, I opened up my stride.

After getting through muddy sections and up sharp hills it was great to be on the home straight and to let fly. I closed the gap on the two runners but unfortunately couldn’t quite catch them.

I crossed the finish line in 5th place (2nd in Division 4) in 29:41.


Martin finished in 7th (3rd in Division 4) claiming the top spot in the individual standings. If you’re reading this well done mate you were so strong and super consistent throughout the season, it’s been great fun racing with you. The whole team smashed it again!

Division 4 champions!

Team results


Our 10 scorers

2nd: me

3rd: Martin Harris

5th: Mark Parry

7th: James Poole

11th: Ben Rajan

14th: Adam Lennox

15th James Brewster

22nd: Rory Campbell

30th: Matt Hanson

32nd: Robin Davies

Here’s how the girls got on:

Team results


Our 10 scorers

12th: Claudia Schroegel (ADV A)

19th: Svenja Espenhahn (ADV A)

21st: Melanie McKay (ADV A)

23rd: Alice Milne (ADV A)

28th: Lorna Elliott (ADV A)

36th: Sarah McCarthy (ADV B)

62nd: Julia Mitchelmore (ADV B)

71st: Emma Finch (ADV B)

78th: Nikki Rees (ADV B)

80th: Claire Weustenraed (ADV B)

I’ve really enjoyed the cross-country races with the Advent Running team; I can’t wait for next season. A massive thank you has to go to James and Claudia for organising everything. It has been great to see everyone enjoying themselves racing around on the mud.

See a lot of you soon

Steve

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The Southern XC Champs

On Saturday the 28th of January I took part in the Southern XC Championships. After watching the race in 2016 I decided I wanted to get involved, mainly because of the challenging course and standard of competition. In recent months I have been taking part in the Surrey XC League with Advent Running, it’s been a lot of fun and I’m glad I’d got a few cross-country races under my belt ahead of the 15k of mud on Parliament Hill. Having only recently started training more seriously for the Boston Marathon I knew I wouldn’t be in great shape to place highly but I wanted to race to gain some strength and enjoy the experience.

I had been looking forward to the race since signing up in December. In the week leading up to the race I was keeping a closer eye on the weather than normal, I was wondering whether the course would be super wet and muddy. On the morning of the race I got a bit of a lie in and relaxed, the few hours flew by and I was soon making the trip up to Parliament Hill.


With a few friends taking part in the women’s race I arrived at around 1:30pm that gave me time to pick up my race number and chat with the rest of Team Run-Fast. I also met up with the Advent Running group and had a quick catch up before watching the start of the women’s race. The men’s race started at 2:50pm so James Poole and I headed to the registration tent to sort our race numbers and put on our spikes. It was a shame we missed the majority of the women’s race but we did catch the sprint finish from the first four runners. Hannah Walker representing Run-Fast ran well and came third, it’s amazing how quick she is and how she can pull a result like that out the bag after not racing cross-country for a while.

James and I ran to the start line. It felt as though I had been looking forward to this race for ages and then all of a sudden it was upon us. I was really excited; it felt as though it was FA Cup final day (I used to get excited about that). I definitely prefer taking part in races with friends and having people around prior to the race to distract me from thinking about every eventuality. We positioned ourselves a couple of rows from the front knowing that there were some seriously quick club runners around us.


The gun went off and the herd of over 1,000 runners stampeded up the first big hill. There was so many people lining the course and the noise got louder as you made the climb. It is rather quiet at the beginning near the athletics track but soon the cowbells are ringing in your ears and you’re trying to listen out for familiar voices. With the first hill conquered at “start strong but pace yourself as you’ve got 15k to go pace” you take a sharp right before winding your way down through a particularly muddy section to then tackle a steady longish climb up through some trees. Due to the tough climb a lot of supporters and coaches positioned themselves there to encourage their runners. Some of the AR lot were there to cheer myself and James on and take photos.

Having not raced the southerns before I decided I was going to take it relatively steady over the first 5k and then up it if I could for the final 10k. I also figured that being three laps of 5k it would give me a chance to work out which lines were best to take and where you could push the pace and where you had to work hard up the hills. The fact that there was such a big field forced me to take it steady over the first lap; it was especially busy around the first few corners. I really enjoyed the first lap, my legs were feeling good and I was enjoying the variety of the course. 

Having raced a couple of club races I recognised quite a few faces. It was good to have some friendly competition, I knew if I could stick with them or go passed them I’d have a good race. Whilst on the first lap I was really focussing on where I was placing my feet, there were a few really muddy sections which were tricky to negotiate. Some runners would take a slightly wider route to go around the wet patches whereas other would fly straight through and trust their balance. I was still finding my feet and working out which was the best approach for each section of the course.

Despite focusing on foot placement I remember thinking “I can’t wait to see Lorna and the Advent Running guys!” They always make so much noise. The group had positioned themselves just before a downhill section to finish the 5k lap.

 Photo courtesy of Claudia (@claudi8s)

This part of the course was a lot of fun because of the support and the adrenaline from running fast downhill through the mud. It was the perfect position for supporters to be in because it acted as motivation to get round the lap quicker. As well as having the AR guys cheering there was a handful of Run-Fast runners/supporters on the first hill. It was great to have them at that point offering advice and cheering me on, they let me know I was “coasting” and that I should pump my arms and get up the hills quicker. I’m not sure I was coasting but maybe I was holding a little back for the final 5k or so.

As everyone had spread out I found the second lap a lot easier than the first. I had locked onto a good pace and could break the lap up into chunks mentally; I worked harder up the hills and let the legs do the work on the nice downhill sections. I was moving up through the field and started to pin point certain runners to catch. This is what cross-country is all about, there is no point wasting energy/time worrying about the pace or distance you need to knuckle down and race the course and try to finish as highly as possible. After completing the second 5k I was still feeling strong and ready to chase people down. I was making small gains on the climbs but slipped back on some of the downhills. One of the runners I was tracking down was Neil from VPH; we have finished close together on a few occasions. He is really strong in cross-country/fell races in particular and has run the Comrades Marathon on numerous occasions. I knew if I could finish near him or pass him I’d had a decent run. There was a bit of toing and froing as I went passed him on a couple of the hills and he flew passed me on one of the downhill boggy sections. With 2k or so to go I started to increase my pace and then passed Neil with about 1k left, knowing the final section was downhill and then on the flat to the finish I opened up my stride and sprinted to the line overtaking a couple of other runners in the process.


I managed to finish in 58:20 in 235th place, which I am happy with. Hopefully over the next few years I can take part in more cross-country races and improve, I think some specific hill training and more trail running is required. After crossing the finish line I caught up with Lorna and the AR crew and put on some warm clothes.

 

Thank you so much for the support everyone, you made my race really enjoyable. Over the next couple of weeks I’m going to be back running on the road the majority of the time in training for Boston; however I do have the last Surrey XC League fixture on the 11th which I’m really looking forward to.

I hope those of you that ran the Southerns enjoyed it as much as I did and I hope everyone’s training is going well for the busy race season ahead.

See a lot of you soon 

Steve

Third Cross-country fixture: flat as a pancake

On Saturday the 14th of January I took part in the third Surrey Cross-country league fixture. It was held at Cranford Park, not too far from Heathrow. As the race start time was 2:30pm I had the morning to relax and I travelled with Lorna to Blackfriars to meet the girls before they headed to Lloyds Park for their race starting at 12 o’clock. I killed some time by grabbing food and reading some of Like the Wind mag issue 11.

I travelled to Paddington to meet a fair few of the lads, this included Dean and Alan, they were taking part in their first cross-country fixture with the AR team. It just so happened they’d done the Run Through Victoria Park 10k & Half Marathon respectively, so they were well warmed up. Initially when I found out the race was at Cranford Park I thought it would be a mission to get to, but it turned out to be a 15 minute train journey to Hayes & Harlington followed by a mile walk. The walk took us over part of the route; it was good to see what the terrain was like.

I always get excited about cross-country races. I look forward to seeing what the course will be like, will there be really muddy/boggy sections, and large hills etc to contend with. Simon Hazel had done some research for the team; he ran the route a couple of days prior to the race so we knew the route was flat as a pancake. We all sorted our race vests and numbers and then jogged part of the route to loosen our legs. I was feeling in good shape, I had completed a good track session on Tuesday, a quick ten mile tempo on Thursday evening and a good shakeout run commute on Friday morning in the lead up to the race. After the warm up we de-layered and made our way to the start line for the pre-race briefing.

With the knowledge of the course being flat and having finished highly in the previous two fixtures Martin Harris and I positioned ourselves on the start line with the rest of the team just behind us. Despite knowing there was a section that was firm and included stones through some trees I opted to test out my new Brooks Mach spikes as I am planning to wear them for the Southern Cross-country champs at Parliament Hill on the 28th of January.

Luckily the majority of the course was soft so I could test them properly. The route ran around the outside of Cranford Park, there were a couple of long straights before the winding section through the trees near the end of each lap. The 8k course was over three and a bit laps.

We were sent on our way; I started off at around 3:30min/km pace following Martin and Paul Piper (a friend, running for West 4 Harriers in Division 3). Immediately I was finding that my spikes were giving me good traction especially compared to other runners in trail shoes along one of the long straights which was boggy and included a large puddle. It was funny seeing each runner negotiate the puddle; some would skirt around it but most went straight through. Having seen other runners go through it and not sink I ploughed straight through. With soaking feet I pushed on along the west side of the park before heading into the trees. At this point I was still following Martin and Paul, this was the only section where I regretted having spikes on. Every now and then I would land on a stone and could feel a spike pushing up into my foot, not ideal but bearable for about 1km. Once out of the trees I knew I could pick up the pace on the grass along the straights and so passed Martin and Paul heading into the second lap.

Once I’d run one lap I knew which sections to push on and where I’d have to take it steady. I went through the puddle for the second time with no issues and held a good pace through the trees, trying to surge around the corners so if anyone was behind me I would be further away when they turned the corner. It’s all about the racing tactics ha. I finished my second lap and got cheers from Tony To (unfortunately had to drop out due to cramp) and Emily (Deans girlfriend). I was feeling really good at this point and knew I could maintain my pace for another 2.5k or so, I was really enjoying the run. With some energy left in the tank I picked up the pace on the home straight, I managed to finish 2nd in Division 4 in 27:45.

Shortly after I crossed the line Paul and Martin came through the line, they both ran good times and scored well.

I caught up with Tony and Emily; we cheered the rest of the lads through the finish and watched some great sprint finishes. We were keeping an eye on how many of our runners crossed the line as opposed to Woking (our nearest rivals in the league). There were a lot more black and green vests finishing before orange and green so we knew we’d extended our lead at the top of the league. Job done.

Here’s the team results:

Our top 10 scorers

2nd: me

3rd: Martin Harris

5th: Mark Parry

8th: Ben Rajan

12th: Adam Lennox

15th: Nic Wuthrich

25th Alan Gardiner

28th Simon Phillips

31st: Matt Hanson

33rd: Rory Campbell

A massive well done to the girls team over at Lloyds Park in the snow. They smashed it! Lorna had a great run and really enjoyed it, she finished as the second AR runner behind Claudi.



Note: Emma Wallace = Lorna
It was a great day for Team AR XC on the whole! I can’t wait for the final fixture now.

See a lot of you soon

Steve

Second Cross-country fixture: Much more mud

On Saturday the 12th of November I took part in my second cross country race. It was held at Epsom Downs racecourse. With there being heavy rain the few days prior to the fixture I knew that conditions would be muddy underfoot, especially compared to the first race around Wimbledon Common. I was excited to be racing on softer terrain and experience more normal cross country conditions.

With the race starting at 3pm a group of us got the 12:30ish train from Victoria. There were mini groups of Team AR (AR collective/advent running) XC heading to the racecourse from different stations. We arrived in plenty of time and all convened at Beefeater just opposite the start area. Some of our runners got their pre-race coffee fix and we kept warm for as long as possible. Once James arrived with the team vests etc we headed to the car to pin on our race numbers and drop our bags.

I opted to test out my Salomon Speedcross 4s. I think you can guess if this is pre or post race.

We then headed around the first part of the route, as we did at the first fixture. This was a) to warm up (definitely needed in the cold weather due to the wind) and b) to do some course research. Having learnt from the first race most of our team positioned themselves near the front of the pack. As JP mentioned it’s probably best to be overtaken by a few people than have to go around a load of other runners if you start too far back. Before the start everyone observed a minutes silence for the two girls who tragically lost their lives earlier in the week whilst out running. I think the whole running community has been shocked and deeply saddened by the event, my thoughts go out to all their friends and family.

3..2..1..GO! We were off, hundreds of runners stampeding down the racecourse like horses. Mud and sand flicking up our legs, that initial heavy breathing to get into a good position and on a good pace. The first kilometre or so was fun, jostling for a good line around the first few corners and down a couple of sharp slopes. Once we hit the first couple of inclines everyone had spread out and there was more room to breath. Initially there were four or five Team AR runners within a couple hundred metres. The course was nice and varied and there was only really one long steady incline. At this point I was chasing JP and Martin and wanted to close up with them in the next few kilometres.

Once back on a flatter section after approximately 3k I passed James. I then set my sights on reeling in Martin and overtaking as many other runners as possible. As I found with the first fixture I find it really motivating to be chasing people down as opposed to running for a time which is normally the case with road races.

Photo courtesy of Emily @em_runs_

I completed the first lap and was feeling good, my legs felt light but strong. I enjoyed the first section of the lap again, with more space to choose the racing line. I passed a few runners on the long incline and was gradually closing the gap to Martin. I knew if I could get close to him I would place pretty highly. With a couple of kilometres to go I upped my pace and continued to close the gap. The last kilometre being slightly downhill I pushed and overtook a few rivals. I just about managed to out kick a few runners and finished two seconds behind Martin.

Photo courtesy of Sarah @stella_runs

We congratulated each other on another great run and cheered the rest of the lads through the finish line. It wasn’t long before JP and Brewster were flying passed us. The team was super consistent again and I knew we’d be in with a chance of winning the fixture. It wasn’t as emphatic as our 90 point gap last time out but we still won by 7 or so points to increase our lead at the top. Great running lads! To be fair we were aided by having an awesome cheer crew with all sorts of musical instruments.

Once we’d all finished we tucked into some awesome AR XC branded cupcakes made by Roland and family, they were delicious. That is what cross country is all about, racing hard and enjoying the carmarederie. Overall it was a great outing and I can’t wait for the next fixture already, here’s hoping for even more mud!

See a lot of you soon

Steve

Tough 10: Epping Forest, London

On Sunday the 23rd of October I took part in the Tough 10 race in Epping Forest. Tough 10 is a new series of races from Cancer Research UK. The events have been organised so runners can challenge themselves and take on some of the UK’s toughest terrain. At the same time participants would be raising money for a great cause and helping to beat cancer sooner. I decided to sign up to the Epping Forest event because I’d run there a couple of times and knew how nice the trails are. I also signed up because it was relatively easy to get to and some of the Advent Running guys were going to be there as James and Claudia are ambassadors for the series.

I woke up around 7:30ish on Sunday morning to get organised and travel across London to the forest. I was really looking forward to the event as I was wondering just how tough the race would be and I knew the route would be nice and scenic and a good change from running on the road. Due to the race not being a main focus for me I had run 20k on the Saturday along the river. I got to Epping Forest at 9:15am so I had plenty of time to pick up my race number and drop my bag off.

Inov-8 X-Talon 225 & Stance Speed Crew

Being a new event I wasn’t sure how many runners would be taking part but I was pleasantly surprised to see a few hundred or so people around the start area. As I previously mentioned some of the Advent Running group were racing, this included: James, Claudia, Ben, Alice, Alan, Emma, Jason and Laura. As there wasn’t long to go before the start we had a quick catch up and got in a short jog to warm up. It was needed, it was absolutely freezing! Racing vest and split shorts seemed like a bad idea.

Photo courtesy of Claudia (@claudi8s, @ar_collective, @adventrunning)

Rubbing my hands to keep warm/praying the route wouldn’t be too tough!

We made our way to the start line and some of us got into the first group of fifty runners. The organisers let us know that we would be set off in waves as parts of the course were narrow. It was recommended that those of us aiming for below 45 minutes should get near the front. On the start line I bumped into Alex, a friend who I met racing in a couple of the Run Through events (we had an epic sprint finish back in 2014 I think it was). We had a quick catch up but before long we were off.

To begin with there was a group of five or six of us at the front, however after a kilometre or so Alex and another runner had opened up a gap from myself, James and another couple runners. The first kilometre or so was relatively flat and there was a nice short downhill section through the trees. The first steep hill came at around the 2k point. We followed the edge of a field whilst heading up, having started along a flat trail this was a shock to the system and the longer grass killed the initial pace at which we started. The route then took us most of the way down the hill to the middle of the field for us to then climb back up, how cruel! One plus point of being on higher ground was the great views.

After about 3/4k I was thinking “I hope this whole 10k isn’t as up and down as the last few kilometres!” and “Why did I decide to run 20k yesterday”. My legs were feeling heavy on the uphill sections but I loved the downhills. Once I got over the hills and caught my breath back I was feeling good. I got to 6k and was holding a decent pace, luckily I had a couple of runners just in front of me to focus on and try to chase down. At around the 6k point one of the marshals said “last hill!” I immediately thought “this is going to be a big climb”. However, I was also looking forward to getting over the hill and then enjoying the flat last few kilometres. The hill seemed to go on forever; I just focused on keeping a consistent gap between myself and the two runners just in front.

At the top of the hill I was in familiar settings. I had run on some of the trails as part of the Orion Fell Race last year. Unfortunately I couldn’t make that event this year but I’ll definitely be trying to squeeze it in the race calendar for 2017. From kilometre 7 the rest of the route was nice and flat with a few slight downhills. At 8k we had to cross over Bury Road, there was a marshal positioned there and she told us to cross straight over and take the immediate right. The three of us had picked up our pace knowing we were so close to the finish. We headed through the trees along trails used for the Orion Forest Five, another great race. With a kilometre to go I upped my pace and managed to pass the two runners I was tailing for the majority of the event. My legs felt strong on the flat after tackling some tough hills around the course. I crossed the line in just over 40 minutes which I’m happy with considering the elevation and terrain and the amount of racing I’ve done over the last four weeks.

Having crossed the finish line I was surprised not to see Alex and the other runner that were flying from the start. Apparently they had got a little lost, they still finished 6th/7th or so which is impressive. James finished shortly after me; I can’t imagine how his legs must feel just three weeks after Spartathlon and having paced Nicolas for part of Autumn 100. Alan was next across the line and looked really strong before Claudia took the win in the women’s race. She maintains she hates 10ks but still tears it up despite preferring the longer distances, well done! The whole Advent Running group ran strong and really enjoyed the event.

 I’m not sure whether I am able to make any of the other Tough 10 races but I definitely recommend them to anyone that’s up for a challenge. I’ll be keeping a close eye on them to see how everyone gets on; Box Hill is going to be an epic one for sure! If you want any more info on the Tough 10 series head to the website: https://www.cancerresearchuk.org/support-us/find-an-event/charity-runs/tough-10

I hope everyone that took part enjoyed it. Tough 10 was the last event of four races on back to back weekends for me. I’ve loved racing regularly over the last month taking on distances from 10k to a marathon. I’m looking forward to getting in a few good weeks of decent mileage including track and then taking on the Kingston 10k at the end of November.

See a lot of you soon

Steve

 

First Cross-country fixture: Not much mud

On Saturday the 15th of October I took part in my first cross-country race. A couple of months ago James & Claudia (Advent Running/AR Collective) announced they would be putting men’s and women’s teams into the Surrey League. I was interested straight away as it made me think back to when I ran a couple of cross-country races at school. I just remember it being freezing cold, tipping it down and struggling to stay on my feet due to ALL the mud. It was so much fun! If you’ve read my blog before you probably know how much I enjoy racing, I couldn’t wait for the first xc fixture to come around.

Being the “new kids on the block” we have joined the Surrey Cross Country League in Division 4. Going into the first race I was a little apprehensive, as I didn’t quite know what to expect. I was wondering how quick our competition would be and how tough the course would be. Things not worth thinking about really as I couldn’t control them. I was also apprehensive because I didn’t know how my legs would feel being just two weeks after Cologne Marathon and six days after the Royal Parks Half Marathon. Wanting to do well I decided to rest a lot in the week, the only real hard session I did was at Track on Tuesday night. The rest of the week I kept my legs ticking over by doing the Running Works Run Club on Wednesday and Thursday lunch times.

As the race started at 2pm I got a nice lie in and chilled for a couple of hours before heading to Wimbledon Common. Luckily as I now live near Oval it didn’t take long to get to the Common, once I arrived I met up with the lads. As James (Poole) was pacing Nic at Autumn 100 and Claudia was racing in Nonsuch Park, James Brewster & Tony To got us organised handing out our cool AR XC race vests and race numbers.

Once we’d all got our race kit on, including race spikes or trail shoes, we got in a couple kilometre jog to warm up. We ran the first few kilometres of the route; it was good to see how muddy and narrow/wide it was going to be.

Photo courtesy of Tony To

Once we got back to near the start line we were greeted by some of the girls, they had travelled over after their race to support and cheer us on. They let us know their race had gone well.

As the start time neared we positioned ourselves behind the line, knowing there were a couple of narrow sections we got pretty close to the front of the pack. It’s only when everyone makes their to the start that you realise how many runners are competing. For some reason I imagined that there would only be 50/60 runners racing, turns out there were hundreds. This was because we were racing with Divison 3. We were due to be given division numbers to have on our backs so we knew who we were racing but unfortunately none of the teams were given them. Before we knew it we were off. Thinking the route was 5.6 miles (as described on the surrey league website) I set off at what I thought was a maintainable pace, somewhere around 3:45min/km pace. The first few kilometres were spent trying to work my way past runners, in hindsight I should’ve positioned myself a little further up on the start.

I settled into my pace/rhythm and was feeling good; the course was pretty firm which helped. There wasn’t much mud at all. After 2km or so there was a section through a field where the grass was pretty long and soft and this meant more effort was required to maintain a good pace. The first 5/6 kilometres went by really quickly, mainly because the route was varied, there were a few ups and downs and I was focussing on the runner in front trying to chase them down. Knowing the route was two loops was a little surprised that I hadn’t passed through the start area until I got to around 6k. I was thinking, “this course is a hell of a lot longer than 8k, maybe we are doing 11k?” or “ok, the second loop isn’t the same as the first and will be 2/3k long”. I carried on running between 3:45 and 4min/km pace and just thought I’d have to hold on for as long as possible.

It was great to have a cheer crew, complete with cowbells, around the route. Having started pretty quickly the last few kilometres were always going to be about holding on. My legs were tiring quickly; they felt heavier and heavier having to lift them out of the long grass through the open field for the second time. I passed Spencer and Cassie (the dog) on this section and it definitely helped seeing a friendly face there. I really enjoyed the section after that as there is a slight downhill and you’re weaving your way through some trees. I soon got to 8k and knew that I was still a fair way from the finish line. I had to ease up a little as my legs were tightening up, especially on the one long hill. I got up the hill eventually, I felt as though I was crawling with concrete blocks tied to my feet. Once over the hill I knew there was only a kilometre or so to go on the flat.

I passed the Advent Running crew again and collected a power boosting high five from Claudi. I was working hard and couldn’t wait to see the finish funnel and clock. My watch had just ticked past 10k and then I was on the home straight. I would’ve like to have been capable of a sprint finish and to catch the runner a hundred metres or so in front of me but all I could muster was a slight increase of pace trying to avoid pulling a hamstring. I crossed the line in 38:56 but more importantly in 23rd position overall and 5th in Division 4, helping the team.

Once through the finish I spoke with Martin who had a great run, he was the first of the AR team to finish in 3rd place. We cheered our teammates in, and they were crossing the line thick and fast. Not knowing which runners were in Division 3 or 4 we had to wait until Saturday night for the results but we knew we’d done well as everyone was placing so highly. Post race we refuelled, Nikki had baked some delicious cakes for us, and Claudia had brought along some bananas etc.

On the Saturday evening my phone was going crazy with notifications from Facebook due to photos being uploaded. Then the results were posted and Claudia announced the girl’s claimed sixth place in the league, well done!! She then let us know that we are at the top of the men’s league by a considerable margin. Great work lads!

Overall it was a great day, I can’t wait for the next fixture in November and I’m hoping for more mud. To keep up to date with how the AR teams are doing follow @ar_collective @adventrunning on Instagram & Twitter.

Next up for me is Tough 10 in Epping Forest on Sunday, should be a fun event!

See a lot of you soon

Steve

Old Deer Park Half Marathon 2016

It’s been nearly a month since I last wrote a blog post, mainly because I haven’t raced since the Trailscape Marathon in Ashurst on the 25th of January. Since then I’ve been running pretty high mileage weeks (for me) including long runs each weekend. I’ve also been going to track consistently and over the last few weeks James (co-founder of Advent Running) and I have done a few tempo runs on Thursdays. Overall I have felt like training has been going well. However, it is always hard to know what that training equates to in terms of race performances. Having done the Old Deer Park Half Marathon last year I decided to sign up again as it was a quick route and I thought it would be a good race to do to see what time I was capable of and build towards Cardiff Half and the London Marathon.
Another reason I signed up was that my girlfriend Lorna and a lot of friends would also be racing. We all pretty much had the same idea, some friends wanted to gauge fitness and others were gunning for PBs. Having not pushed it in a race recently I was really looking forward to getting out there and testing myself. After running 110k in the week leading up to the event I was unsure how much I could push and how my legs would feel but luckily they were good after a 10k shakeout run with Lorna on the Saturday.

I woke up at 6am on Sunday morning to head across London. I made it to Richmond in plenty of time and met Lorna, Jonny & Alan off the train. Everyone was feeling a little worse for wear. It seems like prime time for colds at the moment. We headed towards the race start and met up with Michalis in the car park opposite to drop bags and pin on race numbers etc, the usual pre-race stuff. We were all questioning ourselves as to why we run and why we don’t take up hobbies that can be done indoors in the warm. We even contemplated going for a little Sunday drive rather than running the half marathon! After a few made-up motivational quotes: “The quicker we run the quicker we’re done!” and “The wind is only as strong as it is in your mind!” we were all pumped up for the race.

We walked down to the start line where we met Dean who was just chilling. He seemed incredibly laid back considering we were about to race a half marathon. Near the start I also bumped into Spencer (part of the AR collective) and we had a quick catch up before the race began. Due to feeling good after the shakeout run on Saturday I looked up what pace I would need to run to do 1:20 or 1:17. It roughly works out to be 3:43min/km for 1:20, 3:38min/km for 1:17. Off the start line we were sent around a field, it was a little bit frustrating to just be running around through the long grass but luckily within a few hundred metres we were on solid ground and could settle into a good pace. After the lap around the field I was in fourth place just behind Jamal who runs at track with run fast. The two in front of us stormed off into the distance, I knew I wouldn’t be seeing either of them again in the race. I started running at close to 3:38min/km pace and decided I wanted to see if I could go close to 1:17 or beat my PB of 1:17:01 as I was feeling good. Considering the muddy and windy conditions I wasn’t sure whether I would be able to hold on to that pace but I knew I would get a good time even if I blew up a little and had to really suffer for the last few miles. It’s been a while since I’ve suffered in the latter part of a race and pushed it to that extent.

The first 10km or so went by pretty quickly because I was running with Jamal. However, after completing the first loop of the course he upped the pace and disappeared into the distance, I was still holding the pace around 3:38min/km but he was looking really strong and pushed on. With 10kms done I felt good knowing I just had to suffer for 11 more kilometres. I think going to track consistently and running around 3:30mins/km or quicker for the longer reps and doing 16k tempo runs at 4min/km with James has really helped. On the second loop I ended up passing a lot of runners on their first loop. This was good because for a lot of the first loop I was on my own and when you are pushing the pace it’s harder to be racing the clock rather than another runner. On the second loop I found the miles passed quicker, I think this was due to weaving passed runners and puddles along the river. However the last two kilometres of the race were hard. You turn right, back along the river, to head to the finish and I was on my own again. Thankfully it was just 2k to do and I started counting down the minutes, I kept telling myself “2k to go, that’s just over 7 minutes or so to suffer”. This is something that I have been doing when James and I have been doing our tempo runs; I find time is much easier to think about rather than distance. The minutes soon go by. I crossed the little bridge onto the grass, and was heading for the finish line. A few hundred metres to go and I could see the clock showed 1:15 something, this meant I’d run a PB. I finished in 1:16:10 knocking 51 seconds off my PB from Reading Half last year.  

Considering the windy and muddy conditions and not really tapering I’m chuffed with that result. Also considering I ran the same race last year in better conditions in 1:21 it bodes well for my A races coming up. 

 Massive well done to everyone else that took on the Old Deer Park Half, the conditions weren’t great out there but there were some great times posted. Also well done to everyone taking on races elsewhere like Hampton Court half, Wokingham half, the Run Through Olympic Park 5k/10k and Seville Marathon etc. I’ve seen so many awesome results posted on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Strava over the last few days.

I hope you had a good weekend whether you were racing or not. See a lot of you soon.

Steve