Glasgow University 5 Miler.

Glasgow Uni 5Miler

When I awoke on Saturday to get my porridge in ahead of the afternoon’s race, I did not even need to open my curtains to know that it was going to be run in miserable conditions. The wind and rain battered my window and I spent a good few minutes sitting on my sofa, cradling my hot cup of coffee, before bracing myself to have a look at the state of the weather. A quick glance was enough to confirm my suspicions and I made my way slowly back to the sofa and my steaming mug, half-convinced in my sleepy state that if I sat and took my time over breakfast it might all go away in time for the race – it was a 2pm start after all!

My quiet morning of ignorance flew by and before I knew it I was getting a lift over to the other side of the city and the rain continued to fall. One saving grace became clear as we arrived for race registration and discovered that there would actually be quite nice facilities to change in – a definite step up from the level of comfort we had experienced in a Winter season dominated by cross-country where the only ‘changing space’ was under a golf umbrella shared by half a dozen other muddy runners. Huddled around the ‘tea and coffee area’ wrapped up in my new Southside Six beanie and thick knitted gloves, it would have been easy to ignore the race and simply enjoy the warmth and a chat about the evening’s Christmas night out. It was not to be however and before we could get too comfortable it was time to make our way to the start line.

The five minute jog to the start area was a definite low point – having abandoned my nice warm layers it was a bit of a shock to step out into the driving rain and jog through the muddy puddles in vest and (far too short) shorts. It was in this moment that I envied Paul who had received a bit of stick about the latest addition to his running wardrobe – a fetching set of ‘Bella-Blue’ running sleeves. He definitely had the last laugh as we huddled under a tree to keep warm.

Fortunately we were not kept waiting for long and we lined up for the start of the race which had a surprisingly good turnout given the conditions. After a moment of confusion involving a false-start, we were off racing and the pace was lightning from the gun. I found myself settled in behind a lead group fairly early on however most of these soon pushed ahead and I found myself running side-by-side with a guy from Herriot Watt University.

The race itself wound its way around the Garscube Sports Site and included one particularly sharp climb which stretched away from the river. Once this climb was conquered however it was a generous route with long, sweeping downhill sections and by the half way stage I found myself ticking along at a decent pace and feeling strong. I was still alongside my yellow-vested rival and the second half of the race saw us pass several runners as we both tried to pick up the pace and shake the other off. The battle which ensued was pretty horrific as we switched places four or five times over the course of the last mile. As we approached the turn back into the sports complex, my rival pulled away and I couldn’t quite match his finishing pace. He finished a few seconds ahead of me which was a little frustrating but I was also really grateful to have had someone pushing me for the entire race. Being put under pressure for a full 5 miles ensured that I ran the whole race hard – there was no hiding place. Whilst this was not a PB I definitely felt it was one of my best performances of the year given the conditions and the route.

Post-race it was great to get back in the warm nice and quickly and while none of the Harriers picked up prizes it was nice to see some familiar faces take home a variety of rewards. Once we had thawed out it was time to head home and get ready for the Harriers’ Christmas Party – a phenomenal night, but what happened in LOKS stays in LOKS…

x-country debut – renfrewshire championships

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Aside from another middle-aged text speak blunder (calling it cross-x a few times on social media this week) I felt well prepared for my debut on the grass yesterday as I set off with The Boy for the Renfrewshire X-Country Championships at St Columbas High School in Gourock yesterday: new studs purchased, my wallet emptied further for a speedy harriers vest and a bag full of energy replenishing foods.

Nagging doubts about finishing dead last were heightened on the journey to Gourock as we were diverted and got lost several times giving more time for The Boy and Paul to build the tension with stories of horrific conditions and leg-sapping routes. Throw in lashings of rain on the drive down and the senior race being the final run of the day I was frequently told that the course was sure to be churned up adding to the challenge.

It’s worth pointing out at this point that my only previous x-country experience had been as a spectator at the Nationals last week at Bellahouston – a 4k sprint – so I was a little surprised to find out we’d be running over 5 miles, even worse it was a 5 lap course. I hate lap courses.

So within two weeks of ‘trying’ a training session at Bellahouston I’d found myself lined up alongside experienced runners including loads of familiar faces from mass participation road races (usually the folks you see coming back the other way on out and back courses while your still heading for the turn) including my former colleague Christina Rankin (Kilbarchan) – regular podium topper on the Scottish Hill Running circuit. Oh and Derek Hawkins was running – yeh the guy from the Commonwealth Games.

An actual gun went off which scared the b-jee-sus out of me. I don’t know if this happens regularly at races as despite being a seasoned runner I’m usually so far back from the start line the first I know about the start is when the heels in front of me start inching forward.

Approaching the first corner the smell of the gun filled by lungs as I gasped for breath, position and footing on the mud. And then the course opened up in front of me. Up and down, absolutely no flat, plenty of mud and lots of vocal support from the Harriers coaches, friends and families. And then we were still running – not back at the school for lap 2 yet. So a wee bit more. Up and down, still no flat in site and even more mud but at least there was still lots of vocal support out on the course.

There were plenty areas to catch a view of the lead pack as the route snaked it’s way around the grounds of the school and then I remembered my bet with The Boy – the pints were on him if he didn’t lap me twice / on me if he did.

Round the tower and the perimeter of the football pitch and I recognised the start / finish area marking 1/5th of the race. I was ready for chucking it at this point but realising I’d started off a little bit too hard I eased off the pace a little and settled into a rhythm at the start of the second lap. My motivation is to get a strong winter of structured training under my belt and events like this will hopefully help me become a sub-40min 10k runner next year.

Well none of that was in my head. My heart was thumping and every hill seemed harder to scale than the first lap. And then I rounded one of the gentler corners and hit the deck. This was when I could happily have walked of the course and hit the showers before beating the queue at the 50p per item buffet in the canteen but I somehow found the motivation to get back on my feet and plough on…. that sub 40min 10k in 2016?

No way – it was my bet with The Boy! So I picked myself out the swamp and continued to plod up and down, no flat, through the mud, cheered on like a superstar by the Harriers support crew lap after lap. And it actually got easier. There were no Road Runners around to take down – the only pre-race advice I’d been given by Paul C – so I engaged in my own personal battle with a runner from Kilbarchan.

Towards the end of my fourth lap I was lapped by Derek Hawkins and then the guys in 2nd to 5th place but I made it to the finish / start area for my final lap without being passed once by The Boy. Result 🙂 Unfortunately I still had a lap to run. So head down I passed a couple of runners and managed to round the hairpin at the football pitch for the first time without veering dangerously off course before crossing the line in 41minutes.

A great experience and I’ve already signed up to the next race in the series at Bellahouston in December.

As for the pints – I’m still waiting. Thanks to The Boy – not for persuading me to run my first x-country but for heading over to Dunoon with me after the race to help with The Dunoon Hill Runners annual quiz. A great way to finish the day – over £800 raised for two great local charities and a great day out for The Runbetweeners.

Slippery When Wet – or – The National Short Course X-Country 2015…

After the long and steady 16 miles of last week’s Southside Six, this weekend’s race would be a very different experience! As I drew back the curtains this morning I was greeted with what can only be described as proper cross-country weather. I was instantly whisked away to memories of last year where I recall standing shivering in a field, caked in mud, and trying desperately to draw warmth from a small plastic cup of instant coffee. Glorious! How else would I want to spend my Saturday morning?

Proper x-Country weather
              Proper x-Country weather

Once I had downed my first steaming cup of coffee and piled on the layers, it was time to head to the muddy field that would be our testing ground for the afternoon. Upon arrival it became clear that Bellahouston Park had transformed itself into some sort of carnival, with tents and gazebos galore in the colours of what seemed to be every running club in Scotland. It was with some initial disappointment therefore that I realised that my own club did not have our tent with us! As the entire squad huddled together and attempted to get changed under two umbrellas wedged precariously into a park bench I decided that this was all just part of the experience – at school I think they called it ‘character building’.

I caught the end of the junior race where my teammates Jack, Robbie and Adam did the Harriers proud with some fantastic performances. Shortly after this the ladies’ race whizzed past with Laura Muir claiming victory and the Bella ladies all putting in sterling performances – led home by Bernie O’Neil. Before long it was time for me to shed my warm clothes and make my way to the start line. It was clear that the water would be unavoidable and there were a few uncomfortable moments spent making my way to the start line while making futile attempts at avoiding the icy cold puddles. Eventually I just had to suck it up and accept that I could not delay the inevitable and I completed my warm up with a brisk set of strides as my feet got used to being wet and cold.

Taking my place on the start line at Nationals was like no other race I have ever participated in; looking across at the 338 other competitors – all eager to get moving – I felt like some sort of extra in a budget remake of Braveheart! The adrenaline was starting to kick in, and the elbows were coming out, as people desperately squeezed their way nearer to the front of the pack. There were two long seconds of silence before the gun shattered it and the herd of runners exploded over the start line, struggling to accelerate away from their opposition whilst maintaining their balance in the churned up mud that lay before them. A hundred yards into the race any plans of staying dry were dashed as we plunged into a deep puddle before emerging on the other side and attempting to re-establish a regular stride.

Battling through the mud
                Battling through the mud

Cross Country is always going to be tough and, after 4 long, slippery kilometres, it finally came to an end. I managed to move up the leader board 4 places on last year although I was a little disappointed with my performance and I am looking forward to bringing the spikes out again next week at the Renfrewshire Champs – where Kenny will be making his own glorious x-country debut. The strange thing about Cross Country is that I always despise it during the race yet the moment that it is over I seem to forget the horror of the experience. The banter of the Harriers is always fantastic but I think Cross Country season brings out the best in the club: a bucket-load of support and a healthy dose of friendly competition. Bring on next week!

The loudest club in the park?
                                                                  The loudest club in the park?

Success at the Southside Six

The Southside Six has become one of Glasgow’s ‘must-do’ events since six local runners first attempted a route designed to take in as many of the Southside’s parks in one manageable outing as possible. The first official run in 2011 saw over 200 people complete the 16mile circuit and the race has gone from strength to strength thanks to its reputation as a well organised yet challenging event. With this year’s race filling up in half an hour, I was over the moon to have secured a place – clearly I had forgotten just how difficult this route had been! Perhaps I should have had a look at this photo from the 2014 event before applying…

A painful experience in the 2014 event!
A painful experience in the 2014 event!

When I arrived at Race HQ it was clear that this year’s race would be a warmer one than my previous experience of the event. I pinned my number to my Bella vest for the first time in a good few months and nervously made my way to the flagpole. I knew that I was not quite at the same level of fitness as I had been last year however I also knew that the two runners who had finished ahead of me last time out would not be running and the competitive voice in my head was beginning to wonder whether I would be able to beat my 3rd place of 2014.

The race got off to a flying start and I managed to sit in with my Bella teammate Cris Walsh for the first few miles. Having been unable to race for a few months due to a calf injury, it felt great to be back in competition and the buzz of being involved in an event such as this was fantastic. Over the first half of the race we managed to pull away from the field and by the time I left Pollok Park I had managed to develop a decent lead. As I left the park an element of doubt crept in as I started to overthink my performance. The hilly nature of the course meant that it was very difficult to judge my pace and I began to worry that the guys behind me would start making up ground in the second half of the race. When I hit Bellahouston Park I knew that one of the biggest challenges of the race was ahead – a steep climb up the steps to the monument.

Struggling up the steps in Bellahouston Park!
Struggling up the steps in Bellahouston Park!

The steps were even harder than I remembered and it was with a huge sense of relief that I found myself striding down the hill on the other side! This relief however was short-lived as, to my surprise, a runner appeared suddenly from a side-path and took up his place ten yards in front of me. I assumed this mystery runner was just a local out for a sunday run however a glance at my Garmin confirmed that he was maintaining a steady 5:45 minute per mile pace – not exactly what I would expect of someone out for a Sunday training run! After thirty seconds or so I was sitting on the guys shoulder and he turned to me, revealing his race number, and asked if I was the current leader! When I told him that I was he apologised quickly and acknowledged that he had taken a wrong turning – skipping a large section of Bellahouston Park (including the evil staircase!). We ran the next mile or so side by side and then found ourselves entering Queen’s Park.

The final few hundred metres of the race are truly horrific. Having completed a short loop through Queen’s Park, runners find themselves at the bottom of yet another traumatic climb (with another couple of sets of steps for good measure!) up to the flagpole and the finish. I was already feeling pretty frustrated that the hard work I had put in to gaining a decent lead had gone to waste when I was joined by yet another runner who had accidentally cut a section of the course! He bounded through the wrong gate into Queen’s Park, cutting a substantial section of the course, to join in the battle to the finish! As the three of us hit the bottom of the steps I couldn’t help but feel a surge of anger that the hard work I had put in over the last 15.5 miles could be for nothing as it all came down to a sprint finish. Fortunately the anger gave me a bit of a final adrenaline rush and I managed to pull away from the competition in the final straight and I crossed the line in first place.

Trying to sprint up the final set of steps...
Trying to sprint up the final set of steps…

As soon as we crossed the finish line the first fella to have taken the wrong route was very apologetic and acknowledged that he had made a simple mistake – he voluntarily stepped down from the podium as he realised that he had made up a couple of places through his error. It became clear that the other runner, whilst he had skipped a section of Queen’s Park, had not gained any positions through his error and so held onto his second place result.

All in all this was an enjoyable race and I was delighted to take first place. While it had been the last thing I wanted to see as I approached the final straight, being joined by two other runners for a final battle did make for an exciting finish and made collecting the prize a little sweeter. Post-race hospitality was superb as always and the soup from Mark’s Deli was exactly what was needed! A huge thanks to the race-organisers and marshals for such an incredible experience and I will see you again next year!!

Strava Data
Strava Data