Chiltern League Cross Country - Keysoe
12 January 2019
Not reaching my marathon dreams in 2018 hurt a lot; but 3 months later I'm delighted to say I'm back in the game!
On Saturday I came 12th in Chiltern League Division 1 (15th overall in the race) for my best performance for well over a year; it's great to have the love back. I've finished far higher before (two 2nd placed finishes in 2017 and 6th at this very same race); but I was prouder of this. The last year has seen (from a running point of view) multiple disappointments and this result was on the back of not a huge block of training. The race also saw a much stronger field than an average Chiltern League race with Irish international (and 13 minute 5k runner) Matt Bergin taking the win, but close behind him were athletes who boasted sub 68 minute half marathons and top 50 national cross country finishes. On another day my run might have even been good enough for top 5.
The course is 10km and covers 3 laps of undulating equestrian centre, which included running through a small lake (in previous years the water has been above knee height and freezing) and and boggy ditch. The race starts with the first km almost all downhill; really fast. I was cautious to not go off too quick, but also didn't want to leave myself with too much catching up to do. I settled into a nice rhythm and enjoyed the first lap; but knew the hard work was about to begin. I was in about 25th position as my mate Alex Davy pulled up next to me and said hi. He'd recently run 15.31 for a 5k PB, so I knew he was in good shape. He mentioned how people had gone off too hard; I couldn't help but think 'was I one of them?'. He pushed in front of me, but I clung onto him and together we picked off runners who'd gone off too hard. As we came to the end of the 2nd lap I was feeling really strong and surged past Alex and looked ahead to friends just ahead who I hadn't even dreamt I'd beat so soon into my comeback. Just as we started the 3rd lap I came past my good mate and training partner Paul Mizon (31.40 for 10k) and soon came past Sam Winters who'd come 2nd at the season opener. I pushed on, but soon after could hear Sam right behind me. I wanted to be able to get away from him, but was starting to tire. As we reached the last 300m he surged ahead of me; the boy has some serious speed (3.50 for 1500m last summer) and I gave it my best shot, but couldn't keep with him. I crossed the line elated; it felt great to be back challenging and contributing to the team.
3 months is quite a long time to get a decent bit of fitness together, but it's far from easy. I've got a coach for the first time in my life (more below) and I've been really helped by having a NoblePro treadmill to use at home. I do about 2 hours a week on it (Sarah does about the same too!) and it's meant I've been able to manage the juggle between family responsibilities, work and training. This weekend I'll be at the National Running Show in Birmingham demoing the NoblePro Elite E8i on both Saturday and Sunday. On Saturday (@ 12.30pm) I'll be using it for my 3 x 3km session (I'll be looking to do each rep in just under 10 minutes, 18 kph) and on Sunday (10.00am) I'll be doing my long run of about 30km! If you're at the show, please come and say hi and feel free to ask any questions!
So what's happened since the disappointment of Berlin and how have I been able to get my fitness back up?
I took 2 weeks completely off running to let my body (and mind) heal and then had a tried to run a bit. Some people are able to bounce straight back from marathons, but I needed more time. Illness didn't help, but I was limited to just one light run a week for the next 3 weeks. I knew it wasn't going to be easy, but I was really concerned by how difficult it felt.
Week 6 was when I was able to start regular training. I got back running with my mates and felt a lot better. On week 7 I capped the week with a parkrun give me a base that hopefully I'd be able to improve on as fitness came back. I went for Rushmere, a beautiful offroad course just north of Leighton Buzzard. I ran 19.13 and the 2nd lap felt horrific; but it was good to be pushing my body again. It had another bonus, a huge slide that I could take my eldest daughter on!
Week 8 gave a really good indicator on where I was fitnesswise and shows how far I've been able to come since! Chiltern League cross country at Tear Drops Lake. It's a really high profile race as the Cross Challenge is also on the same day which attracts some of the best runners in the country. I knew I wasn't ready to race, but I just wanted to be back in the action and so often racing as helped me get fit. I raced sensibly, but it was very tough work. In 2017 I finished 2nd in the Chiltern League race (25th overall), 2 years on I finished 35th (86th overall). Not a bad return, but MKAC have such strength in depth that I didn't finish in our top 10 to even score for the club. The main thing though is I ran consistently and finished strongly, it's very easy to go off too quick (especially in a quality field) and pay for it later on in the race.
In week 10 we had a brilliant family holiday to Antigua; it was a perfect break. My parents came with us so we had some extra childcare. We are so lucky to have two healthy girls, but they can be exhausting! I got up early every morning and ran for at least an hour; exploring the magical coastline (often accompanied by stray dogs happily jogging alongside me) and even went into the capital city St James and snuck into the legendary Antigua Rec Cricket ground and did a few laps. It's fair to say this was the week I really started to get the love for running back.
Although it was sad to come home I had plenty of things to look forward to. Christmas was just around the corner and for the first time ever I had a running coach. I've followed Dave Newport for a while on twitter and his group at Cheltenham Harriers have produced some really excellent results. He put the offer out online that he was looking to take on a few more people and I jumped at the chance. We had a good chat and I'm delighted that he wanted to coach me.
Straight away he set my weekly schedule and it was clear from the off; if I wanted to improve I'd have to work harder. More regular sessions and more intensity. Almost all runs were at a quicker pace than I had been doing and strides (mini efforts ranging from 15 seconds upto a minute) have become common place in almost all runs. He quickly made me jump up from around 50 miles (80km) to around 70 (112) a week. The first few weeks were very tough, but after about 4 weeks my fitness took a jump forward and I felt much stronger and faster.
On week 14 I went with a couple of my mates to Great Denham parkrun as Tom was trying to get the sub 16 minute qualifying time for the awesome Armagh 5k. GD is an almost completely flat and smooth 2 lap course. Tom, who's a bit further along the comeback trail than me absolutely smashed it and ran 15.40. I was exactly a minute behind with 16.40; a good morning all round. I love parkrun; you just never know who's going to be there. I got chatting to the lad who finished just behind me. We did a warm down lap and I realised about halfway that it was the olympian, sub 4 minute miler and parkrun world record holder Andy Baddeley. The poor lad had been polite enough to listen to me bang on about my failed marathons and hopes for my comeback!
Christmas was brilliant, but Dave worked me very hard. I did 3 x 5km on Christmas morning (fortunately my brother Owen fresh from brilliantly running 29.37 @ Telford 10k helped me out; he's pretty useful), grass session with the very friendly Rugby & Northampton AC on the 27th and had another road session on the 29th. It sounds like a lot, but without work I found I was able to recover much better than on a normal week.
Then, last weekend I traveled with the team across to High Wycombe for the Buckinghamshire County Cross Country Championships. A 4 lap 12km hilly delight. Fortuntately, it was dry under foot, but it was a real challenge for me. I was targeting the top 10 to give myself a chance of being selected for the Intercounties Championship (top 4 are automatic, then 4 captain's picks), but the race is done alongside the Bedfordshire Championship so it's not always easy to tell who's in your race! I started sensibly and grew stronger each lap; it was only really the last 2km where I started to struggle and was very happy with 9th place. I tried to catch Nick Hughes an absolute inspiration (he's almost 50!), but couldn't quite do it; my sprint had meant I'd been able to hold off two others though. I've only done the country championships once before, in 2014 where I came 34th; a pretty good improvement!
So that's everything caught up! I'll try and blog a bit more frequently, but only when I've got something noteworthy to say! I'm hoping I can keep the momentum up and push on to break as many personal bests as possible this year. I'm racing at the Cambridge Half Marathon in March and will be looking to go as fast as I can on the track in the summer. Bring it on :)