Mid March Madness

Otherwise known as an account of what it feels like to do two big, exciting & totally different races in a single weekend…

The first race was the InterCounties Cross Country race in Cofton Park, Birmingham. This is a huge race which brings together the cream of talent from U13 through to senior from across the UK for real ‘best of the UK’ races. This was the 5th time I’ve been selected to run for the East of Scotland and I thought it a fitting culmination to a busy & increasingly successful season. As I have family & friends in the area, didn’t fancy going straight back up on the team bus & it was to be a ‘world first’, it had seemed at one point a sensible idea to also take part in the 26.2Km Nottingham to Derby Kilomathon the very next day.

Whilst I wouldn’t recommend that amount of serious racing to anyone wanting to stay in one piece normally, on this occasion I’ve not only lived to tell the tale, but have run extremely well in both races & had a fantastic time in the process.

InterCounties requires a bus trip down on a Friday afternoon with a stay in a hotel (very nice this time – much nicer than the Nottingham Novotel) that night. For the senior women it’s then on the bus again @9am to head to the course for an 11:51 race. The Cofton Park course is a very undulating (nothing at all really flat, but no big hills) course run on grassy, open parkland with a little jaunt through some shrubby trees. Unlike the Scottish Nationals, each time is assigned a pen at the start & you race wearing ankle chips. Also unlike at the Nationals, you’re not allowed to do your strides in front of the start line, which is pretty poor & led to the rather bizarre sight of Steph Twell, Freya Murray et al trying to do warmup strides across the 30m wide start area!

Bang on time we were off. The course starts uphill & the leaders were suprisingly conservative in their start, so I found myself running comfortably only a couple of strides behind the leaders for the first 500m of the 8km race. However, normal service was rapidly resumed as they started to run more rapidly over the course of the first lap. I used my tried & tested race plan of starting steadily, then working my way through the field, which worked to great effect. Staying focussed, I kept up the momentum to move through to 22nd place and with a couple of minor changes stayed there till the finish line. A downhill line allowed me to unleash a decent attempt at a sprint finish to finish tired but elated at such a big leap (last year I was 35th) in my placings. Such is the standard of the event that a 30 second difference in finishing time can make 10, 20 or even 30 places difference, and with 6 from each team to count, every place really mattered.

So despite Freya Murray’s emphatic victory for Scotland East, my 22nd place & some tight packing by the other East athletes, we finished with 260 points down in 4th place. A little disappointing with a strong team, as we’d won the competition last year with 253! The mens team also finished in 4th place, although this was a great result for them, as their previous best ever team position was 5th. Being a friends & family weekend I felt a little guilty to sneak away before watching the remainder of the races, so don’t currently know the standings from the other races.

After a relaxing afternoon & evening, some tlc, plenty of food,  a little red wine & plenty of chat  it was a bit of a shock to the system when my alarm went off at 5:30 to wake me to leave @6:45 to catch the bus over to Nottingham for the Kilomathon start. It was great to have company for the journey though & the atmosphere generally was one of nervous excitement when we disembarked near to the University shortly after 7:40 to face a cool, blowy morning & 6000 or so of our closest friends gathering in a field prior to the start.

Following a TV interview (Sky Sports 4, 18:00, Friday 26th March), grabbing a disguarded bin bag for wind protection & legging it with the 2/3rd of the elite field past the snaking mass field to the start (they’d somehow managed to leave us all alone in the field after everyone else had gone!), I was able to relax a little & do a brief warmup before the start of the race.

And we were off! Instantly noticing the stiff headwind, little did we realise that it was to be present for pretty much all of the remainder of our journey. This was a bit of a shame after such a still, quiet period of weather, especially as the course was pretty flat & otherwise ideally suited to some fast times.

So, how do you pace yourself for 16.3miles? Answer, with difficulty – I tried to think half marathon, but had only done 1 in the past 18 months (6 months ago), so that was a little tricky. Ignoring times, I settled down to run sensibly but fairly hard & tried to reproduce my race tactics from the previous day at a slower, sustained pace. This worked very well and I steadily worked my way through the field to take the lead in the ladies race after around 10k, where 4 of us formed a group (later dropping to 3) that held together until the 20k point.

Reaching the half way mark in 50minutes I was very pleased, as I’d intended to run around 1:45, so rewarded myself with an energy gel & pushed onwards. The wind was relentless and my competitor Sarah Harris very sensibly tucked into the wind shelter at the back of the group and resisted the temptation to join in my conversation with Carl from Sheffield between the 15 & 19k marks! Not sure if it was the effects of the previous days race, a lack of long long runs since Christmas, or just general tiredness, but I found myself unable to respond when Carl & Sarah picked up the pace a little after 20k & gradually stretched away to finish 50 & 44 seconds ahead of me respectively.

But… whilst my legs were heavy & tired, I’ve been working on my focus & determination recently, so I didn’t buckle under the pressure & continued working consistently until I saw the finish line. At which point I was able to dredge up something resembling a sprint finish to come in in 1:40:03, 2nd female, 14th overall & feeling pretty pleased with myself!

There was a great atmosphere in Alvaston Park at the finish and it soon filled with tired runners & their waiting family & friends, all sharing tales of a novel and challenging event. The mens race had been even closer, with 2009 Edinburgh Marathon winner Martin Williams prevailing in a sprint finish against Ron Hill Cambuslang’s Chris Wilson in 1:26 & 1:26:03 respectively.

Ok, so here’s the list of running ‘rules’ I broke this weekend:

  • two races in one weekend – and running hard in both
  • lack of specificity in training (no proper long runs for Kilomathon)
  • wearing brand new shoes for a long race
  • drinking wine before a long race
  • getting 2-3 hours sleep less than usual before a big race
  • having a chat during a serious race

Would I recommend that others do that? No, no way, it’s madness. Did I enjoy it? Yes, two totally different events with a totally different vibe. Have I got away with it? I think so – have slightly sore legs and am tired, but feeling generally fine & will look after myself even better than usual this week. Is the mind/body connection & mental training worthwhile for runners? Absolutely, the meditation & focus work helped me keep it together before, during & after each event & boosted my confidence & determination hugely.

Having seen athletes at both end of the performance spectrum in action this weekend makes me very proud that we take part in such a great sport – work hard, strive to be the best, but remember that the ‘slow’ runners have to be out there racing for a lot longer than you and that without a spread of ability, racing would be very boring indeed.

Signing over & out zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz………………………………..

4 thoughts on ““Mid March Madness”

  • alex macewen

    the golden rule is that there is no golden rule; discuss

    well done jenny at IC

    I hear you were selected for HCI but are following some recovery rules!

  • Jenny

    Recovery ‘rules’ are such for a good reason!
    As for the others, I think you learn from experience (good & bad) what you can get away with regularly, what you can manage occasionally & what really just doesn’t work for you at all. Having done plenty of longer distances last year, my legs remembered how to run 16+ miles without conking out, but I certainly wouldn’t recommend doing that without an underlying background mileage.
    Very easy week this week, apart from Alloa 1/2 on Sunday – in fact looking for a lift for two of us to get there if anyone can help? Public transport is a total no-no that early on a Sunday!

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