I had a six-week gap between my last two races at the end of the year, with the December floods causing the Ribble Valley 10k to be cancelled. I had no idea how I would have fared in that race, but going off the Lancashire Cross Country Championship performance, I suspect I wouldn’t have run a decent time anyway.
2015 ended how it began; a niggling ankle injury, but in those months between, the training just wasn’t good enough, especially if I want to be as prolific as I was a couple of years ago. I totalled 3,442 miles for last year and it’s the first time I’ve done less than 3,500 for nearly a decade. I had some good results; a 30:06 at Trafford 10k, 2hr 23 at Manchester marathon and some good wins with races such as the Potteries Stoke Marathon. Overall though, the standard wasn’t high enough and there was too much inconsistency in the performances.
Having missed out on key training in the first half of December, I went into the Lancs Champs with less mileage and quality under my belt than I would have liked. Still, the demise of my cross country performances proved to be far worse than I envisaged. The conditions at Blackburn’s Witton Park were muddy to say the least. Usually I’d like the course to be firmer, as that’s the type of terrain I have won this race in previously, though given my ankle trouble, a softer surface was a better alternative on this occasion. The main feature of the Witton Park course is the “saucer”, a fairly tough hill of roughly 200 yards, which can grind runners down, especially if they set off too fast. I’ve normally been quite steady on the climb and have usually been good on the descent that follows. Due to development in Witton Park, the course has changed and the senior men have to climb the saucer four times now.
We got off to a fast start and immediately Simon Deakin, Stuart Robinson and Gary Priestley forged ahead, followed by Tom Cornthwaite and Rob Hope. I was languishing in 6th or 7th place, making hard work of the boggy conditions, but by the second lap I had managed to get myself up to fourth place. Things were looking good by this stage and by the halfway point of the race I was gaining slightly on Priestley, who had been dropped by Deakin and Robinson. My ankle had held out well so far, but it wasn’t to last. I was in a battle with the young Preston runner, Patrick Dever when I had a bit of a wobble on my left foot going up the saucer for the third time. By the last lap my left foot became more unstable and my running gait was all over the place, Tom Cornthwaite was running strong when he passed me and I worked hard on the final descent from the “saucer” to keep in contact. It was at this point when I caught my foot at a peculiar angle and ended up losing another two places, as I spent the final quarter of a mile running quite awkwardly. I mustered a sprint finish of sorts, but I was held off by Manx runner Allan Corlett in a tight finish, where I ended up with a dire 9th place. It rounded out a disappointing day, not only had I finished in my worst position since 2002, we were also well beaten by Salford in the team scores. I plodded a few miles home to round out 93 miles for the week, apart from a slight ache, the ankle was fine, though it usually is on flat and firm surfaces. I might have to consider my immediate future in cross country racing, is it worth risking doing more damage to my ankle for such a poor level of performance??
The following week was the Four Villages half marathon in Helsby, which would give me a great opportunity to set the record straight and put a very disappointing race behind me. I noticed Michael Kallenberg, Stuart Robinson and Tarus Elly on the start line. Tarus was covered up head to toe, but still looked freezing cold! Indeed, it was about zero degrees Celsius, which I felt played into my favour as I tend to run my best in these conditions. We got off to a fast start and it soon turned into a battle with myself, Kallenberg and Robinson, but after the first mile Kallenberg increased the pace, leaving just the two of us at the front. After about four miles (20:15) I was still feeling pretty good and tried to force the pace a bit, but he was able to respond comfortably and we spent the next half hour trying to make that all important break away. Although I knew that Kallenberg has been a better runner than myself recently, I was encouraged by how well we had moved away from the others, especially considering how easily Stuart Robinson finished ahead of me last week. There’s a bit of climbing after seven miles on the course and our pace dropped slightly, then after 10 miles (we reached in 52 mins flat) it’s mainly downhill. It was at this stage where I couldn’t hold Michael, as he really turned on the pace down a steep descent. By the eleventh mile the surge was decisive enough to give him a winning margin, barring a dramatic capitulation. I ran the last mile on my own and came in around 50 seconds behind in 67:55, not my best on this course, but given how I felt about my running last week, I’ll take it! Michael Kallenberg had a great run bagging a pb of 67:03, though with a last 5k of sub 15 minutes, I don’t think that will last as his personal best for very long.
I have had a good few weeks of training between 80 and 90 miles per week and all I can do is just keep plugging away. For 2016, my aim is just to focus on training hard consistently, rather than specific race targets, as I’ve been guilty of dwelling on poor performances. I aim to set a personal best for miles covered in a year and will see what that brings, who knows? I think I can still bag some more race pb’s yet. I’m not one to come up with overblown anecdotal statements; I’ll just have to keep working hard, racing hard and the results will come.