My return to running fitness took another huge step forward last weekend as, after what felt like a very long absence, I toed the start line of an actual race. I was competing for my club at the 12 stage Midland Road Relays in Sutton Park on Sunday and using it as an opportunity to test out how well my hamstring has recovered.
I absolutely love the Road Relays. This event is certainly my favourite on the club race calendar. It is one of those very rare opportunities where you feel a part of a running team. The Road Relays are a great chance for club mates to watch each other race and cheer each other on rather than being spread out along the course in the same race. It is a running club only event so you need to be a member of a club to take part…and if you’re not a member of a running club you should read this compelling article from ukrunchat.
Arriving at Sutton Park I was confronted by a familiar sight – a selection of club members baffled by the club tent. I’m sure other running clubs don’t have the same problems we have with our club tent. The first blew away in what can only be described as a light breeze. This tent, our second, is a much sturdier construction, but is also bewilderingly complicated to erect unless you have an army of people and a degree in Engineering. Looking across the field at the array of other club tents I had a moment of tent envy! The Notts AC tent was something a travelling circus would have been proud of. So to avoid our club being completely humiliated (and despite my lack of an Engineering degree) I set about putting the tent up. Several minutes and much swearing later the tent was proudly standing. Or rather it was swaying limply in the wind.
Feeling rather smug about my achievement I turned my attention to the race, which is split into 4 long legs of 5 miles and 8 short legs of 3 miles. I was running the last long leg for the team so had plenty of time to get ready. I spent the next 2 hours, however, lazily procrastinating, checking on the tent, then running through a panicked 10 minute warm up – the pre race prep of champions, basically. My main worry for this race was the relay handover from the runner on the leg before me. Having only run the first leg in the past this was a complete mystery to me. I needn’t have worried as the marshalling was excellent and I was called to the start line and set on my way without any problems.
The course in Sutton Park is a challenging one, with a flat downhill start followed by a long uphill drag, and then undulating profile and uphill finish. It is a well-known fact that anyone new to the course will go off too fast. Every time. Without fail. Experienced runners know to start steady and get the tough hill out of the way before opening up the throttle. I’ve run this race at least 10 times so definitely classify myself as an ‘old hand’. I know how hard the first hill is and I know not to go out all guns blazing.
So a steady start then? Err, no. What ensued was an adrenaline fuelled sprint and demon ascent of the first hill followed by 3 – 4 miles of complete agony. But I loved every second. I loved it because I was back racing and able to push myself. I pushed myself as hard as I have done for about a year and finished in a respectable 29:39. I was slower than previous years but I gave it everything I had on the day. Having crossed the finish line I promptly threw myself to the ground expecting my club mates to appear, shower me with wild adulation for my effort, feed me water, and fan me whilst I signed autographs for an adoring public. Strangely none of this happened so after 5 minutes of patiently waiting (lying on the floor in a heap) I dragged my weary body off the ground and ambled back to the club tent (yes, the tent was still standing) to a rapturous reception from…no, ok, I’m not kidding anyone here, am I?
Thankfully there was no adverse reaction from my hamstring to the race, although everything else hurt like hell! I’m pleased with my effort and satisfied with my finishing time, especially as I’ve only really had 2 weeks of decent training to prepare for this race. But this does serve as a reality check. My pace per mile over this 5 mile course was slower than my half marathon pb from 2011 but I couldn’t have run another mile, never mind another 8, at that pace. And my target is to run significantly quicker if I am to achieve a top 250 UK ranking in the half marathon. Put simply I have a lot of hard work to do. But I’m committed to doing it. In fact, I’m looking forward to it. Well, most of it.
I won’t give a detailed review of all 4 hours 13 minutes of my clubs race. I’ll simply say that we finished in 29th place and, to our surprise, secured our first qualification to the National Road Relays. So we get to go this all over again on 5th April 2014! Personally I cannot wait! For me its days like these that make the hard training worth it.