After struggling throughout the second half of June with a minor injury and heavy cold, I decided to lay off racing for a bit and focus on getting the training in. In those six weeks I only raced in a Northern League 5,000m race for my club, running an average 15:29 finishing 10 seconds behind Dave Rigby.
July saw a big improvement with some decent mileage with weeks of 100, 83, 104, 80 and covering 396 miles in total for the month. The speed sessions have gradually got better, though there’s still room for improvement, especially as far as 5k race pace is concerned. I’ve also been doing a bit of coaching, which has morphed into “TeamFish”, courtesy of Dan Balshaw, who’s a dab hand at this internet and social media malarkey! He’s also part of the “team”, along with Bryan Searby (an incredible example of how running can change your life), Jacob Watson and Richard Hayes, aka Mohican Runner, you can read all about him on his blog here.
On the back of a decent few weeks of training, I felt ready to start having a go at racing again and first up was the Podium 5k on Friday evening, 29th July. The field wasn’t as stacked as last month in terms of depth, but at the front end, I knew the Stockport lads (Jack Morris & Jack Nixon) would force a faster winning time than mine last month. The race got off to a fast start, covering 1k in 2:54 and I was feeling a bit stretched, but was able to stay in the lead pack which also included Rob Danson. The pace carried on relentlessly and by 3k it was just myself and the Stockport runners, but by this stage I was feeling “all in” and was unable to respond when Morris surged away, leaving myself and Nixon slightly adrift. The lack of speed started to tell and in the last kilometre I lost about 50 yards on Nixon, finishing in my slowest time at Podium in 15:06. Morris just missed out on the course record in 14:45, which I’m sure would have been possible for him had he been challenged a bit more in the second half of the race. My club-mates Joe Monk and Jack Hindle had a good outing, with both of them recording pb’s of 15:51 and 16:12. I was happy with my own race, even though it was slower than last month, but at least I have been consistent; only seven seconds separate my best and worst performance here. Though perhaps my worst performance was in a video interview afterwards with John Sutton (esteemed club-mate & colleague) firing Jimmy Hill style questions at me, whilst I’m fidgeting and staggering my way through questions like Kevin Keegan after getting a good hiding!
Next up, in the following morning I had the Meerbrook 15k road race, near Leek. I have been meaning to do this race for a number of years, but it’s always clashed with the Northern Athletics League. On this occasion it was the week before, so I was happy to accept Mick Hall’s invitation to race. For some reason I got my dates mixed up and right up to the final week I was convinced it was on Sunday. It was only when chatting to the postman (another keen runner!) that I was reminded it was on Saturday! As I had also committed to doing Podium, I decided to go ahead and do both races anyway. Mick put me in touch with Lee Jones, who along with his wife Sammy, kindly gave me a lift to the race from Stoke station. I had met Lee before, as I presented him an award at the North Staffs Road Runners Presentation for his work in reviving the Potteries marathon last year, which has now gone on to be quite a success.
I got to the race in plenty of time and got plenty of useful information about the course from Lee. Going off what I was told (also with stiff legs!) I decided to set off cautiously. I was at the front with Dan Soltys and managed to establish a lead on the first long climb at about the 3k mark. I didn’t feel comfortable on the descents, but thankfully I was able to get a good gap on the climbs where the leg stiffness wasn’t really a problem. There’s a final climb on the way back from around 10-12k, by this stage I knew I had a big lead and was able to tackle the last 2k descent without having to worry about being chased! Wilmslow’s Peter Speake finished second in 55:12, just ahead of Carl Mounton, with Dan Soltys 4th. Hannah Oldroyd won the women’s race and also repeated my stint of coming 3rd in the Podium 5k the night before. My time was a solid 53:49, which I was happy with, though I reckon I can run a bit quicker without racing the night before. Still, it just highlights how impressive Andi Jones’s record on that course is, which is some four and a half minutes faster! It’s a great event and one I’d highly recommend, as one would expect in such an area, it’s very scenic and it’s a nice change to race over a less familiar distance whilst enjoying the challenge of some decent hills as well. It was good to see Mick Hall, who’s been ill recently battling Lymphoma cancer. Many of us runners know Mick quite well; he’s been involved in the sport for as long as I can remember and I’m sure I’m only one of very many that’s wishing him all the very best in beating this illness, which I’m sure he will.