Manchester Marathon 2017 training blog week 8/20
With the Hyde Park Harriers ladies team flying high in their division in our local Leeds cross country league, and the mens team languishing in the relegation zone, a seven strong team of Harriers headed over to the Yorkshire County Cross Country Championships for inspiration to help us respectively push for promotion and stave off relegation.
The Yorkshire Championships are held each year at Lightwater Valley Theme Park in Ripon, and attracts some ridiculously strong competition. Although they didn’t take part on the day, the start list included both Brownlee brothers, which gives an idea of the standard of competition – and even with some of Yorkshire’s best taking part at the Great Edinburgh International Cross Country, the field was likely to be tough.
Yorkshire (if you didn’t know) is a huge county, with each of the north, south, east and west bits of it probably having enough running talent to make a tougher county championships than many other counties. The county championships attracted runners from clubs far and wide, with clubs coming from Rotherham, Sheffield, Scarborough, Whitby, Wakefield and Leeds, all to test themselves against the best in the county. And with over 450 runners taking part across the senior races, and many more in the junior events, this was going to be a huge event. Some runners would be competing for selection to represent their country in the inter-counties cross country – and although I ticked that I would be available if selected, in reality we weren’t going to be troubling the selection panel.
The races started early in the day, with men’s and women’s races to complete in under 13, under 15, and under 17 categories before the senior races. This meant that quite a few of the races were already underway as we started the trip over to Ripon, with the women’s race starting at 12:50 and the men at 2:10.
The course was made up of short, medium and long laps to be used in different ways for the different races – the women’s senior race was one short lap and three long laps (roughly 5.1 miles) and the men’s senior race was one short lap and three long laps (roughly 6.4 miles). It hadn’t been traditional cross country weather, and it hadn’t rained much on the course, and it was relatively warm, but with the number of runners taking part in all the races earlier in the day parts of the course were getting churned up, rather than being completely boggy.
The short lap (and the first half of the long lap) gave plenty of opportunities to see the runners, and if you were willing to jog a little bit you could see your club-mates at three different spots on the course. So when our three Harriers taking part in the ladies’ race set off, we were able to head out and cheer them on (and spy on the underfoot conditions) at several different points.
With the women’s race it was interesting to see some really incredible athletes at the front duking it out for county selection, and then a really wide range of runners from a range of clubs, some trying to hold on to the tails of the top girls and some further back just enjoying the challenge of getting round a long hard course against tough opposition. Despite the quality of the field, it was clear that the event was for everyone.
The Hyde Park Harrier ladies ran incredibly well – Reena was running strongly towards the front bunch, and every time that Clare and Sam came past us we could see they were tussling for position with the same people and racing for position. In the end we may have scuppered Clare’s chances of taking another position at the end by cheering her in for a sprint finish, when the runner ahead hadn’t noticed her closing.
- Reena Mistry – 88th – 40:49
- Clare Evans – 118th – 45:09
- Samantha Scarlett – 137th – 47:32
As thoughts turned to our race we tried to find out as much as we could about the course. Where were the hills? How muddy was it? However, it turned out that we should have asked a lot more about the start area. Once we’d got ready (getting our numbers on, taking off layers, Hyde Park Harrier face paint on) we jogged over to the start area. This was organised into various different pens across the start line, dividing people up into different clubs. After the start was a relatively wide area which then narrowed heading into a right turn.
The four of us taking part in the men’s race – Alec, Mike, Jimmy and myself – prepared in our start area, and then after a bit of a delay the gun went and we were off. Almost three hundred men shot out of the pens and across the start area, heading to the turn. I tried not to start off too fast, but I was glad that I got out as quickly as I did – as expected there was a little bit of unintentional shoving (more to maintain balance than anything), but as we ran through the narrow first turn there were shouts of ‘woah!’ behind me, either as people slipped or the course just bottlenecked.
The first part of the race was crazy. There were so many runners around, and I was constantly being overtaken by other people during the first short lap and the first long lap – despite feeling like I was running really hard. Once the field had thinned out a bit during the first short lap, I saw another Hyde Park vest ahead. I thought his was Alec who I’d seen go off ahead, but it turned out to be Mike Vargas, who I was to race neck and neck the whole way round.
The course wasn’t particularly brutal, but the standard of the competition meant that it was raced hard, which made it tough. The short lap (and the first part of the long lap) was just twisty and undulating, and then a small hillock led to a tough, short, steep incline that by this point was very muddy and slippy. On the long lap the route then looped out on a series of little ramps forming a long uphill section, and then headed back down to the start through a similar series of little drops.
The racing was hard and I barely had a breath to say anything to my running partner – we pushed each other on silently quite well, never wanting to let the other get away. During the first long lap the standard runner thoughts went through my head – “this is tough, why am I here, when is the pain going to end”. One of the difficult things with cross country is judging pace – in a flat road race you can judge purely on what you know is feasible from flat road training, in a cross country race you are judging it really from who’s around you and what you feel capable of at the time, and in this case whatever pace it took to stay in touch with Mike.
The thing with cross country is that you just keep on running hard regardless. For much of the race – especially as it was a 6.5 mile race compared to 4.5 miles which is the normal distance in the local cross country league – I felt pretty spent, but having to keep on pushing again and again. Half way through the race things began to feel more comfortable – the finish seemed more in sight, but looking back at my run data our group did slacken the pace a bit.
On the final long lap, after the steep slippy slope and starting the second half of the lap (Mike and myself were still neck and neck) we saw Alec flying down the long hill as we started heading up the other side, so we knew he was on a good run. Heading up the slopes I tried to keep in touch with Mike, but when it finally came to turning back down the hill my legs were made of jelly when I tried to run fast downhill, and that was pretty much my chances of beating Mike gone. The last nail in the coffin came when a brutal sprint finish from Mike saw him take a further two places before the line. Shortly after Jimmy crossed the line, with the rest of still recovering from a hard race.
- Alec Francis – 60th – 38:17
- Michael Vargas – 90th – 40:01
- Philip Goose – 93rd – 40:08
- Jimmy Sheldon – 146th – 42:41
All told it was a great day out – it was amazing to see the really talented athletes at the fast end and to test ourselves and represent the vest against them, but also really refreshing to see that the event was open and welcoming for anyone who wanted to challenge themselves. Fingers crossed as well some of the performances put in (particularly for us men!) will put us in good stead for the rest of the cross country season.
In terms of my training I was really happy with the race. Running cross country as part of a marathon training block is a great thing to do – I had nine miles on my schedule for the day, and this event (with a warm up and warm down) allowed me to fit in a really high intensity ‘session’. Also it was a great chance to test my form, which seems to be in the right place!