Sunday, 18 March 2012

Nice Tri 18 Pre London Test

I had hoped to race the Ashby 20 today but the race filled up quicker than I could enter and despite my 'speculative' entry after the closing date, it was returned not accepted.
Off from Offord

I was grateful for a running friend suggesting the Nice tri 18 as a suitable alternative. I hadn't heard of this race before but with the start only 60ish miles South along the A1 it was a welcome long substitute which would provide more quality race miles ahead of the London Marathon. We left a slightly rainy Grantham just after 8am and arrived in the village of Offord about an hour later. Offord is a quaint village surrounded by lakes, canals and public footpaths. An interesting area that i hope to explore again soon. It seems the folk at 'Nice Tri' make the most of a beautiful area by hosting a number of events locally, throughout the year.

I met Arthur Short and Phil Hall in the car park, the two other representatives of Grantham AC. Race registration was in the village hall some five minutes walk away from the start. The race hooter sounded at 10am and 118 runners were released to run two laps of nine miles. There was also a single lap race of nine miles for more sensible people.
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Arthur Short - Grantham AC
I went off pretty fast not considering that those I was trying to keep up with might have been running the nine mile race. I felt strong through the first lap with the only problem being my failed attempt to grab some water from a volunteer at mile 5 which ended in the volunteer taking an unwelcome shower. The compatriot with whom I had been racing offered my some of his bottled drink, I was grateful for his kind gesture but I politely declined. 

At the end of the first lap you pass by the finish which is a bit demoralising, especially when some of those around you head off down the funnel to complete their nine mile race. Soon however, I was back on a now familiar course and negotiating the biggest hill in the race, this time for the second time at mile 12. At the top of the hill the route turns left and thereafter follows a long, straight, invigorating section along a plateau through to mile 15ish. I was able to push through the final 3 miles with good speed and I was surprised to be able to begin to catch up with club mate Arthur Short whom I could see a long way in the distance. In fairness I think Arthur's pace had slowed as opposed to my pace increasing. In the last mile I passed and we exchanged words of encouragement. I was able to gazump another racer just before the funnel and finished 12th in 2:03:17. Arthur came back seconds later in 14th place  and a time of 2:03:38. Phil Hall had his own race before the start, ran out of time and joined the race late but was still able to run the 18 mile route in 2:30:55 and 46th place. Full results here.
Phil Hall - Grantham AC
The 'nice tri 18' cost £15 to enter and £20 on the day. Finishers received a medal, orange segments and a banana. The course is run across a fairly fast, if undulating route and there is a more severe undulation at 3ish and 12ish miles. Post race we retired back to the Anchor Inn at Little Paxton. We had visited this excellent hostelry after the Milton Keynes half Marathon when I remarked how it was a shame that it would probably be a long time before we would be in that part of the country again, what do I know?!...  


Monday, 12 March 2012

Stafford 20 2012

Race Mug
By rights, I should have been helping at the Grantham "Newton Fraction" Half Marathon yesterday but I needed race miles so I went to Stafford instead. With the Stamford St Valentine Race cancelled and my rejected, late entry for the Ashby 20, I was in need of a long race in preparation for the London Marathon which is now only six weeks away. At mile 13 of the Stafford race I wished I'd stayed in Grantham and taken part!

I never really got going yesterday. I felt lethargic throughout and positively ropey at the finish. It might have been the big effort at Milton Keynes the previous Sunday or perhaps the speed work on the track on Wednesday evening. It might have been the sunny weather and lack of drink other than water or perhaps the six mile steady run which I couldn't resist in the late evening sunshine the night before the race. It was probably a combination of all of those things but either way I struggled. Despite the tough race I was surprised to see that I recorded a pb on the course coming home 65th in a time of 2h 21m 36s. I have run the race twice before, in 2007 I ran a time of 2:27:37, in 2010 I got back in 2:23:19. It was nice to see some friendly faces from Macclesfield Harriers at the start. Martin Platt, (2:16:14) and Dave Tucker,(2:44:10).   

The Stafford race runs across an undulating, if not hilly, 20 miles of country lanes and minor 'A' roads. The initial three miles includes a long hill which, true to form, carries on rising each time you think you are approaching the top of it. The race involves three laps, the first lap of eight miles is followed by two six mile circuits. There are various problems with a race of multiple laps. First of all, at the end of the first lap, because you come back to the start, its tempting to get in your car and go home. The feeling intensifies on the second lap. By the third lap you finish anyway but by that point you are lucky if your stiff legs will allow you to get into the car and go home. Secondly you have to negotiate that nightmare hill three times, by the third time runners are about 15 miles into the race, I adopted the feet out waddle technique to drive to the summit on the third lap. 

Race Mug
I ran through 13 miles in 1 hour 31 minutes and felt tired and demoralised. I hung on for the last seven miles, swallowing my only gel at around 15 miles when the worst of the gradient was slowing me down. Drinks stations at Stafford are approximately every 6 miles. Although the stations only provide water, I did notice sweets at around the 18 mile point.I avoided the sweets, i was in need of glucose but more in need of the finish. I didn't have any kick over the last two miles, the next runner was just in front but I couldn't pull him in.

The Stafford race is a difficult race but excellent training for the London Marathon. Post race I talked to other London marathon trainees and we exchanged stories about goals which we hope to achieve on the streets of London next month. 

The Stafford race is good value. For a bargain £9 entry fee you can look forward to a well organised race and a commemorative mug to mark the achievement. Bryan Dale runs an excellent website. A keen runner and talented photographer he combines his passions by photographing races and making the images available without can't say fairer than that, thanks Bryan!

Sunday, 4 March 2012

Milton Keynes Half Marathon 2012

Wet Wet Wet
Extreme Shelter
Having reflected on my recent half marathon times I was a bit disappointed. I had a look through my records and noticed my half marathon pb was at Wilmslow in 2002 in a time of 1:23:15. I did run a half marathon in 1:21:55 during the Tour of Tameside in 2003 but its generally accepted that the distance was questionable, so for me, it doesn't count. My half marathon times have generally been between 1:27 and 1:30. My most recent results are Sleaford 1:32:27, Worksop 1:29:59, Redcar 1:29:08 and Belvoir 1:29:01. It has become increasingly difficult to keep the right side of 1:30 I've questioned whether Grandfather time has come knocking on my shoulder. I decided as I should now be relatively fit after bouts of 'terrible speed work', a commitment to training, a healthy diet and a sacrificed social scene that it was time to try harder and see what I could do. I took myself off to a big city half marathon courtesy of the new town, Milton Keynes. It was an expensive race to enter but if i could do a good time and get back on track with a decent time, it would be worth it. 
 The weather forecast predicted an end to the spell of good sunny whether that had graced Linconshire for a good part of the preceding week. Strong rain and cold temperatures were set to batter parts of the country. Tomasz Shafernaker's weather map on Saturday evening had the epicentre somewhere near Milton Keynes. As we pulled into the Xscape centre the storm alarm on my watch sounded to signify a drop in air pressure. It was a bit late because Shafernaker's rain had already set in, the temperature had dropped and I knew I was in for nasty conditions. 

It would be easy to do a post about heroic ventures through extreme conditions but in reality, although it rained very hard throughout and it was fairly cold, the rain was refreshing and wet weather usually suits my race. The Milton Keynes race has previously had a few iffy reviews but I experienced a well organised start, plenty of accessible WC's, baggage drops a wide start funnel etc. There were two thousand plus runners racing the half marathon. there was also a 5k and 10k race started which started some 20 minutes ahead. I stayed in the car as long as possible before warming up some ten minutes before the race start after which I jumped the barrier to get near the start of the field. 

The course route started well along one side of a closed dual carriageway. There was plenty of room to run and I got my head down into a slightly faster than comfortable pace. I took a different strategy today. Previously I've been running easy through the first 9 miles before laying it down on the last four miles. Today I wanted to test myself and tried to push all the way without blowing up. The Milton Keynes race runs along roads before turning to cycle paths. It was a bit unfortunate that the 5 and 10k courses run along much of the same route because just as the half marathon field spreads out and you find room to run, you then come upon the shorter distance runners in front and there follows a couple of miles weaving before the 5k and 10k routes separate from the half marathon. I ran strong to a lake at about 7 miles. I could see the dark silhouettes of perhaps five members of the leading group at the other side of the lake and I wondered how long it would take me to get to the same place. I glanced at my watch shortly after half way and noticed I had run 45 mins. I was a bit dejected knowing that 2 x 45 = 1:30:00 but I wasn't quite sure how far after half way I had run. I managed to keep a strong pace through to ten miles.
50 m from the finish - phew...
The final two-three miles of the Milton Keynes race was up hill, one part involved a steep climb to a footbridge over the dual carriageway. I staggered up that bit, I was spent and was willing the end to come into sight. I had glanced at my watch again and was thrilled to notice that I was running close to 1:24/1:25, which psyched me through the final mile. I managed a fast pace to the line and just held of the runner behind finishing in 1:25:07 I was happy to have recorded a good time to signify the London Marathon training is progressing as it should. A couple of tough weeks now follow, first the Stafford 20 then an 18 mile race in Cambridge because the Ashby 20 was full.

 The Milton Keynes race was a good big city half marathon, it wasn't cheap to enter but it did have a big race atmosphere which would suit first timers or charity runners. Post race I retired to dry out whilst watching the dry slope skiers in the Xscape centre before walking round the soulless adjacent shopping centre. Rabbit pie and bread and butter pudding at the Anchor in Little Paxton (a good tip if your ever that way) on the way back topped a satisfying day out. Official results here.