Clevedon Midsummer 10K, 2016

2016-06-14, Comments

I’ve never actually run a flat 10k, other than as the first section of a half marathon, so I decided to give the Clevedon 10k a shot. It’s a fast course which attracts fast runners and a fast time is what I wanted.

It was a blowy evening but not too hot. Over 200 runners packed the quiet lane heading into the flat fields to the west of Clevedon. From the start the pace was swift. I passed the 1K marker in 3:35. Once again, I found myself alongside training partner and lift provider, Andy.

Clevedon midsummer 10K

I’m not used to running at an even pace. The effect was hypnotic. I chose the racing line around corners, leaning into the gentle camber of the road which, strangely, seemed to tilt downhill, slightly, for the entire distance.

We turned into the wind after the 4th kilometre. I slipstreamed Andy. Whenever the road straightened we could see Will Smith ahead, running with his quick, loping stride. I upped the pace once we turned out of the wind and into the final 3k. Andy followed. We pulled in a couple of runners. Andy dropped me in the last 400 metres, opening a gap of 3 or 4 seconds. At the line, I retched, retched again. Sometimes that happens.

Clevedon midsummer 10K

Southville had 6 runners in the top 25, led by club captain Mark Ducker in 13th place with a time of 35:09 — some 45 seconds faster than he’d run in the Bristol 10k.

I finished 22nd overall and 2nd MV50 with a time of 36:31.

Burrington Blaster, 2016

2016-06-02, Comments

It helps to have run the TACH races before, so you can gauge your effort for what’s coming. I have run the Burrington Blaster previously, but just the once, three years ago. From memory, we were facing a never-ending uphill followed by a treacherous downhill.

Either my recollections were faulty or we’d gone the wrong way, because, after an initial climb the route levelled then dipped. We were running full tilt downhill when, in my head, we should have been grinding uphill.

I was relieved when the course did turn upwards. My legs were ready. We shook off a few runners who’d been seduced by the fast start. Now I ran with three training partners: Andy, Neil, Paul. How many times have we climbed Nightingale Valley together, only to find ourselves shoulder to shoulder in a race? Paul set the pace. I expected Andy to pull away — he’s been flying recently — but eventually it was me who picked up the pace, passing Paul as the climb opened out from the woods and on to the top of the beacon.

Last time out this exposed section had been windy, wet and boggy. Today found the going still and dry. My chance was now! Convinced longer legs would catch me I hurled myself at the first open downhill, launching off ridges, sliding on bare earth, using the grassy verge to decelerate as needed. I knew my pursuers had me in view and didn’t want them to think they were closing in. Now the patch narrowed and swerved though bracken, gorse, brambles, still downhill. Room for one only: noone could pass.

I was on my own anyway. No sight of anyone ahead. No sound of anyone behind — even if you cannot hear a chaser directly, you can hear the spectators cheering them, or marshals guiding them. Of course you would never look back!

The final woodland descent, I took carefully. Three years ago I’d lost fourth place slipping and falling, and had considered myself lucky not to get hurt.

Today, I finished unscathed, 4th overall and 1st veteran, with a time of 35:36.

The winner, Chris McMillan, completed the course in a blistering time of 32:33, nearly two minutes clear of the next runner.

Tyntesfield 10, 2016

2016-05-18, Comments

“So unless the weather picks up a lot I’m probably not going to spectate. Enjoy the rain!” Andy emailed, despite the fact Hannah, his wife, would be running.

Yet again the event defied the forecast. Heavy showers had blown themselves out during the day. The sun shone. Tyntesfield’s stone work gleamed. The lawns sparkled.

After a couple of laps of the lower meadow and formal gardens the race leaders had a substantial gap. From here, the course plays hide-and-seek through woods and rough pasture, and I wouldn’t be seeing them until the finish. I wouldn’t be looking back either, I’d be playing my part in a racing allegiance of four:

  • the tall veteran from Weston AC
  • Bristol and West, wearing tights
  • a North Somerset runner
  • me, the Southville second-claimer

Good gate work Thanks for the support

Bristol and West led us through the woods, ducking, skipping, dodging and sliding. A wrong turn was quickly corrected. He made an error trying to squeeze between gate and fence, failing to spot the barbed wire. That hurt! Now we skirted the furrowed side of a planted field.

Weston charged into the downhill only to fall heavily on the wet mud. He was OK, he was up again. I dropped to the back of the group and chose my route carefully. North Somerset had built a clear lead.

After a short set of steps the course returns to a tarmaced road for the final section. There’s an uphill, neither steep nor extended, but brutal after 6 miles of multi-terrain racing. I caught and passed Bristol and West and Weston.

Don't look back

I could see the finish line. Andy was there, with Sam and James. Giles with his boys too. They were cheering me on! I had better support but Bristol and West had a better sprint. He stormed past me to take 9th in the race.

Race for the line

Mugged by a man in tights

I came 10th overall with a time of 40:34, a little slower than last year. I was second veteran (behind Keiron Summers) and first MV50.

Special mention to Harry Allen, a young runner who has been training with Southville — let’s hope he signs up! — and who won the race in a time of 37:34, in the face of some very strong competition.

Thanks to Rich Kenington, Dermot McCann and Phil Murray for the photographs

Wrington Woodland run, 2016

2016-05-05, Comments

This is my fourth year of running the Tach summer series, four multi-terrain events held on Thursday evenings in May through to July. These races play to my strengths — hills, uneven footing, twists and turns; long enough to require level-headed pacing, short enough to race the whole way. And when you look up, the scenery is spectacular.

The Wrington run starts with the steadiest of climbs on a woodland track. The leaders accelerated up the gradient and were soon out of sight. Some quality runners there, but did they realise how long this climb was, and how much tougher the following climb would be? Their enthusiasm carried me and I picked up my own pace.

In wetter weather there’d be a section of energy-sapping clay towards the top. After an unusually dry spring, we danced past any remaining mud on the course. I had picked off Matt and Paul by now. I could see Mark Ducker, Southville captain, not so far ahead.

The downhill transitions from footpath to farm track to tarmac. Then there’s a level section along Ropers Lane. I was running just behind Keiron Summers and just ahead of Ben Anderson. We turned up Bullhouse Lane, a rocky path littered with leaf mould, branches and loose rocks. I passed Keiron but he was having none of it. The route swerved, the gradient sharpened.

Back on tarmac again, along the top of Wrington Hill. Views of the Severn Estuary. Ben passed me. The bluebells glowed in the evening sunlight. I could still see Mark.

I caught and passed Ben when the road surface deteriorated. Keiron was still in range. We hurtled down the final woodland descent, shooting across the narrow bridge, over the stile, then stumble-running across the meadow to the line. I finished 4th with a personal course record of 37:52.

Finish, Wrington Woodland 2016

Wrington Woodland 2016, the finish

Thanks to John Cooper for the photos

World half marathon championships, 2016

2016-04-26, Comments

If you’d asked me whether I wanted to run another half marathon immediately after finishing Cardiff 2015, I’d have said no. That’s not when I was asked, though. Almost as soon as I’d signed up for the 2015 event I got emails inviting me to pre-register for Cardiff 2016: a one-off, a world championships, limited places, sign-up now for a time-limited price of just (!) £50.

Still, I enjoyed training over the winter. If I was going to compete in a world championships I wanted to run at my best. By now, I know what that takes.

Just a week before the race I ran my first ever parkrun, in Swansea. I wanted to test my speed and, examining recent results, reckoned I might have a chance of winning. Unfortunately Richard Copp showed up at the start line; I wouldn’t be close to him again until I got the chance to congratulate him at the finish. I ran the course pretty much alone, coming in 2nd with a time of 17:52. I’ve gone faster but was pleased enough.

On Monday I felt a cold coming on. Tuesday and Wednesday I was feverish and struggling for breath. By Friday I’d recovered enough to contemplate running. The forecast for Saturday was gale force winds and heavy showers. I was going to run. I had to run. When else would I get a chance to compete in a world championships? On the day, despite a glowering sky and gusting winds, the rain held off as we queued at the start line. The organisers had issued disposable plastic jackets. With 5 minutes to go I balled mine up and threw it to the side. Rhydian sang live, badly. After a trumpet fanfare the elite athletes emerged from their private warm up area inside Cardiff Castle. Mo Farah, Geoffrey Kamworor, Dewi Griffiths. With these legends up front, how could I fail?

The first few miles went well enough. The weather could definitely have been worse. I’ve never had so many athletes around me at a 6 minute mile pace. After the mid-point, when I should have been cruising, fatigue set in. Legs and lungs ached. The wind whipped into action, then the rain. Just before the hour — the time when the winners would be sizing up the finish — the skies opened. I was drenched by icy water in seconds. A gust of wind punched over one of the water-bottle tables placed alongside the road and sent it skidding across the tarmac. Plastic boundary tape snapped and thrashed. I kept going, painfully aware that my reward, at the finish line, would not be the time I wanted. Runners passed me on both sides. Raul, an indomitable Swansea Harrier friend, caught me with just over a mile to go. He bellowed encouragment and I stuck with him, finally limping over the line with a time of 82:42. I had wanted to go faster than 80 minutes; that’s what I’d trained for.

The winner, Geoffrey Kamworor, ran a blistering time of 59:10, almost a minute ahead of Mo Farah. An astonishing run in those conditions, even more so when you learn that he fell over at the off and, lucky not to have been trampled in the starting stampede, had to slalom through elite club runners to regain his proper place at the front.

I am not running the Cardiff half again.

Swansea? Maybe!

Cardiff 2016, Swansea Harriers TNTs @World half marathon champs

The Rise and Fall of Trail Running

2016-01-13, , Comments

During the Christmas break I went on a long, slow run from home, through Stembridge to Llanmadoc, heading back via Burry. The weather was unseasonably mild. After several days of rain, the going was heavy. Cresting Llanmadoc hill, 4 miles in, after a steep, slippery climb, the view opened out: far ahead, Black Mountain and the Brecon Beacons, the salt marsh to my left, its maze of waterways reflecting the pale light; then Whitford Sands, the green smudge of pine trees, the cast-iron lighthouse pinned against the Loughor estuary. The glow that comes with exercising outside spread through my body. Not long ago I had been picking my way through the marshy lowland and now I was up here. I had earned my view of this landscape. Covered in mud, I was part of it.

Stormy Castle

Ahead of me stood an isolated building, plate glass windows, granite walls, rusting iron, concrete. My route skirted the perimeter joining the track which provided vehicle access. Stormy Castle, the nameplate read, gold on slate. Separate from the main building was what looked like a shed. Originally for livestock maybe? This too had grey stone walls; inset in the north wall was a floor-to-ceiling window. Looking in, I saw, placed in front of the window, a treadmill. Whoever inhabits Stormy Castle enjoys a gym with a view.

Madness, I thought. Why run on the spot in this fish tank when you could be outside? Don’t peer at the view, engage with it!

Abbots Pool, Bristol, Lake, Pond,

The next week, back at work again in Bristol, I went on my regular long run, the Abbots Pool Loop. St Mary Redcliffe’s bell rang seven times as I passed through Queen Square. Usually I’d hook up with one or more running friends here. Today, on a cloudy morning, 80 minutes before sunrise, I was on my own. I had no head torch. I ran through Millenium Square and along the harbour, negotiating steps and bridges to cross the harbour and river at Cumberland Basin. Soon I would be out of the city. My feet slipped as I left the access road to Ashton Court, the point where trail began. Road shoes which had been ideal for the pavements so far were now a liability. To my right I could just see the dark silhouettes of the red deer herd at rest. I could smell their damp, musky smell. At the northern boundary of the estate I crossed Beggars Bush Lane to continue along the farm track opposite.

Uneven ground, downhill, too fast, a cross-slope. My left foot slid underneath me and I instantly knew I could not recover, and that the stony ground was going to hurt when I struck it. In those few airborne milliseconds I also had time to reflect this was a bad place for this to happen: on my own, without a phone, about as far from civilisation as you can get by running 40 minutes from the city centre. I fell forwards full length, somehow turning in the air to take the impact on my left elbow and the back of my shoulder. The mud which precipitated my fall also mitigated its effects. I slid rather than scraped. Head and face untouched. Wrists and hands OK. Legs fine. Elbow hurting and bloody, but that was the worst of it. I’d been lucky.

No, I’m not going to run on a treadmill, not even when it’s dark and muddy. Especially not when it’s dark and muddy. I’ve tried head torches and they spoil my night vision. Have you run past Abbots Pool at dawn? Have you splashed through puddles on the towpath as the sun rises to colour in the Avon Gorge? You should. But I should be more careful.

§

Thanks to Heather Cowper for the photo of Abbots Pool, as seen in daylight, on a dry day.

Jess Coulson, British half-marathon champion

2015-10-19, , Comments

Strangely I’ve forgotten the pain suffered in the final miles of the Cardiff half marathon. What pain? I’ll run it again and get the PB I missed by 10 seconds!

After the event I caught up with the coverage on iplayer. I knew the headlines — that Kenyan athletes had won both the men’s and women’s race — but didn’t know how. Both races turned out to be fascinating and thrilling to watch, the women’s race especially.

It seemed the race would follow a standard script with the leader, Jerotich, ratcheting the pressure until she dropped her rivals, and then holding on. Soon after 10K a winning margin was established. The commentators were struggling to find anything to say. The kilometers ticked down. Jerotich runs with that efficient style the top endurance runners employ; quick, shuffling strides, feet barely clearing the tarmac. As a spectator you can sense the long hard miles of training and the long hard miles to come.

jerotich areba coulson

Live coverage returned to the women’s race coming along the straight road back from Roath. The winning margin remained in place, though it hadn’t extended. Jerotich was frowning. What the commentators failed to notice was a yellow vest in the background. It could, of course, have been an elite male runner making a late surge, but the mystery athlete’s hair was gathered into a swaying top-knot. Now the cameras went back to her. It’s Rebecca Robinson, said the commentators, wrongly. It was Jess Coulson making her competitive half marathon debut and she was motoring, bouncing off her toes, eating the gap to the second runner, Areba. Wasteful, the commentators tutted, arms flapping all over the place. Maybe, but fast, gutsy and exciting to watch.

Jess Coulson’s effort brought the race back together. With 400m to go, suddenly three runners were in it. If Coulson wanted second place she may have struck a fraction early, passing Areba on the final left hander — but she wanted first. It wasn’t to be. Jerotich had something left and held on for the win; Areba came back for second; Coulson got third. Great race!

One week, three races

2015-10-08, , , , Comments

Last year I DNF the Cardiff half marathon. This year I went one worse and DNS the Swansea half. Consequently I was determined to turn up in good shape to complete this year’s Cardiff half.

Racing the week before probably wasn’t a great idea … but the race happened to be a short one and close to home … and the weather was perfect … and I hadn’t raced in a while … and Alex didn’t have a rugby game and … well, I went!

Llandmadoc is the first fixture of the West Glamorgan cross country league. It’s four and a half miles, out along a woodland trail then back on the beach. I tried to run within myself on the outward section and fell in with Peter Osborne, another V50 who I’ve battled with on several occasions. He upped the pace as we hit the sloping sand around the point and then he was gone. Coming back along the beach in the blazing sun, there was a gap of 50m to the next group of runners — a gap I reduced but never closed. Despite my conservative start, when we went through the wet sand I felt as energetic as one of the many stranded jellyfish which littered the course.

I finished 19th in a time of 28:32, officially first in my category but second really since Peter beat me and he’s an age band up.

Me and Raul at the finish, Llanmadoc XC

I avoided the track training session with Bristol and West on Monday evening — the same session, last year, had been one too many. If I’d had doubts about running the cross country race just a week before the half marathon, my main target for the year, then I had real concerns about testing myself at the Aztec West 5K on the Tuesday. I felt I was running well and knew a PB was possible on the fast Aztec West course, but did I want to know just how well I was running? A slow time would have rocked my confidence before Sunday’s longer race.

Well, I went. As for times, I had no idea during the race because I forgot my watch. In contrast to Llanmadoc, my legs felt strong, decidedly sprightly in fact. I settled in with Will Smith and Paul Deaton, friends from Southville Running Club, and we barreled round the three lap course, overtaking some very decent runners who’d started more quickly.

SRC at Aztec West 5k

SRC at Aztec West 5k

Will accelerated with 200m to go, attacking the next three runners, and Paul went with him. I let them go. After the final sharp left, Paul faded, enough encouragement for me to sprint past him. When the results were announced I discovered I’d won the V50 category with a PB of 17:22.

Charge for the line

So, Cardiff. The race is bigger than ever — twenty two thousand entrants in 2015. Despite this, it was straightforward getting to the start line warmed up and ready. The elite athletes (including me!) have their own baggage drop round the back of the castle in Bute Park. From there, it’s a short stroll to the right start pen.

I didn’t think I set off too quickly but my 10K time was 37:10, on target for a 78:30 finish. I guess my legs were still dialled into my 5K pace. Ifan had set out even more quickly, but I caught him around the half way point. In a half marathon I usually feel a glow during the middle of the event; the sensation that I’m going fast, but at a sustainable tempo. This time, the sensation never came. I wasn’t glowing, I was aching. Enduring. Maintaining a steady pace seemed impossible and I found myself repeatedly dropping then being passed by the same group of runners. Why couldn’t we team up and work together? I went through 10 miles in 1:00:25, still on course for a personal best but hurting badly. Ifan went past me again at around mile 11. I didn’t even try and go with him. My muscles were sore, my feet were sore. I knew I’d complete the course but I was no longer shooting for a personal best; I just wanted to finish without losing too much time. Actually, I just wanted to finish.

On the final turn I realised that 80 minutes was still on and managed to sprint for the line. My time, 79:43, was just 7 seconds off my PB.

Swansea half, aftermath

2015-10-07, , , Comments

Clocking a sub-80 half marathon at Swansea was my finest running performance in 2014. Things were bound to cool off after that. Just four days later I showed up for the Purdown Pursuit, the final event of the Tach summer series. The race started late and required re-routing; it was a sweltering evening and there’d been a fire on the course. I took the downhill sections cautiously on sore legs but still managed 4th place with a time of 42.39.

A couple of weeks later I finished 5th at the Blaise Blazer mob match. It’s one of my favourite races and I set a personal best for the course of 23.51, picking runners off steadily in the final stages then holding on in the final sprint from the top of the steps to the folly. Southville RC put on a spirited defence of the team prize we’d won the year before and, once the results had been counted and checked, to our surprise, it was announced we’d retained the trophy. Later that evening after a recount the results were corrected; Westbury Harriers had, in fact, wrested the coveted Blazer Cup from our grasp.

My mistake was not resting up over the summer. I wanted to go under 80 minutes for a second time at the Cardiff half marathon, a far more established and prestigious event than the one I’d run in Swansea, and one at which friends from both Bristol and South Wales would compete. On the Monday before the race I tweaked my hamstring towards the end of a track session with Bristol & West at Whitehall. Not good. During the remainder of the week I rested before lining up on Sunday in Cardiff ready to race. I stormed the first mile in 5:40, hit a similar pace for the second, and then felt the injury ping. I pulled up and walked along the pavement, assessing the damage. I figured I could at least jog around the barrage to the Senedd but I couldn’t. Instead I ended up limping from Pennarth to the centre, reaching the baggage collection around the time I should have been finishing.

Masters XC 2015 by Alex Williams

I didn’t race again until the combined Welsh Inter-regional and Welsh Masters cross country championships. This is a proper cross-country course featuring mud, meadows, woodland tracks, slopes. The weather played its part: rain during the week and freezing temperatures on the day filled the puddles with ice; grass sparkled with frost as the sun broke through. I ran a measured race ending up with an individual silver in the MV50 category just two seconds behind Peter Coles, the category winner. I did get a gold medal as one of Swansea Harriers’ winning MV50 team. In the inter-regional competition, we came second, I think. There are so many competitions being run in the same race it’s hard to remember. What I do remember thinking is, what a shame such a great event gets such a low turnout. In an age where people part with serious money to tackle military-themed tough guy obstacle courses, for just a couple of quid you get to represent club and region on a challenging course in a fabulous setting.

Welsh Masters XC 2014, Swansea Harriers gold medal V50 team

The moustache, by the way, was for movember

A Corinthian Endeavour: The Story of the National Hill Climb Championships

2015-08-26, , , , Comments

A Corinthian Endeavour

Back in June I went to the launch of Paul Jones’ book “A Corinthian Endeavour — The Story of the National Hill Climb Championships”.

It was a great talk and it’s a great book. Here in the UK, we don’t have Alpine cols or Pyrennean passes. We have hills. Hills with erratic gradients and peculiar names — Nick-o-Pendle, Mow Cop, Pea Royd Lane — hills which, at the end of the cycling season, draw nascent professionals and amateur specialists to battle.

PJ wraps up with Larkin

Jones has the credentials to tell the tale: an unashamed fan and a talented writer, he is himself a tidy competitor. The book begins with him interviewing Vic Clarke, the man who finished second in the inaugural national hill climb championships in 1944 and who would go on to win the event three times. Also present is Lyn Hamel, a current competitor and multiple champion herself. When Jones offers biscuits (Marks and Spencers Belgian chocolate selection!) both champions decline: for climbers, gravity is the enemy.

Gravity isn’t the only enemy. Competitors don’t race head to head. The courses are too short and the roads too narrow. Instead they face off against the clock. The fastest time wins.

As the book continues Jones deftly weaves the history of the championships around more interviews with their protagonists. There’s Chris Boardman, who set and still holds several records. There are other less familiar names: Wilson, Sydney, Armitage, Dobbin, Pettinger.

I discovered Paul Jones via his Traumfahrrad cycling blog, a forum where he allows himself more freedom to poke fun and sound off. His blog describes the joy and pain of early morning training rides. He chortles at triathletes who get their socks wrong. You’ll also find the details of his own assaults on the hill climbs: despite his self-effacement he’s clearly a feared and respected rider. In the book, though, he reins himself in and logs the facts. The who, what, how and when are painstakingingly researched and recorded. Gear inches matter more to the author than, apparently, to Chris Boardman, who can barely remember if he took part in a race which he won, let alone the number of teeth on his sprocket.

Occasionally, though, Jones takes a step back from the details. In one chapter he asks: “When is a Hill not a Hill?” A good championship course:

… should be run on closed roads […] Riders should be digging out their hill climb bikes and making absurd modifications for no real gain […] each competitor needs to be left flailing on a grass bank like a dying goldfish.

Contrast this to the 2011 championship on Long Hill:

At the last, Jones claims hill climbers are ascetics in search of transcendence who tilt their caps backwards. By battling time and human frailty paradoxically they escape it and themselves.

This is the first thing
I have understood:
Time is the echo of an axe
Within a wood.

1st Ever Swansea Half Marathon

2014-07-22, , Comments

Crossing the Tawe

For me, a half marathon is a race against the clock, a notoriously ruthless opponent, and since the city halves are fast, flat and accurately measured, you can compare your time in Cardiff to your time in Bristol, or your time in Cardiff to Neil’s time in Brighton or Matt’s time in Bath. There’s nowhere to hide.

Maybe that’s whay I prefer trail and cross country, where conditions and tactics seem more important than minutes and seconds. For a half marathon conditions are either suitable for a PB or unsuitable, and there’s just one tactic:

Run an even pace, or

Don’t go out too fast, or

Don’t slow down, or

Keep going, for, in my case, 80 minutes-ish.

Oh, but the -ish matters! My personal best of 1:21:30, Cardiff 2011, the last time I ran a half, was 90 seconds over. At the start of this year, 2014, I decided to do something about that. I’d return to Cardiff and I’d try and go under 80 minutes. Effectively, I’d have to cover a distance which previously took me 60 seconds in just under 59 seconds, and I’d have to repeat that record breaking performance 81 and a half times in a row.

Such a calculated task requires planning.

Dundry Thunder, 1-2-3

2014-06-26, Comments

A couple of days after a fast, flat 5K, I lined up for the 3rd of this year’s TACH races, the Dundry Thunder, a tough and hilly 10K. Having run the race last year I expected livestock, farm machinery, gates, stiles, bridges, rutted mud, long grass, crops. Andy gave me a lift from Southville confessing he’d be running to enjoy himself since he wasn’t feeling great, he’d picked up a bug of some sort.

For the first 100m or so I led the race. Once we hit Littleton Lane I eased up, picking my footing carefully across tarmac, stones, rubble, compacted refuse. Down, down we went, then down some more before eventually sweeping right and looping back up through the fields. There were 5 ahead of me now: Matt in the lead, 3 Bristol and West runners, including Neil, and one from Weston AC. By chance I’d positioned myself well, catching runners as they bunched up through a sequence of gates.

Untitled

The route levelled on to an overgrown path, single file only. You can’t see me in the photo but I’m right behind the Weston runner, who doesn’t seem to be enjoying the long grass. By now Matt had built a commanding lead, sensing and grasping his chance. On leaving the path we had an opportunity to accelerate on level, open terrain. The tall runner in the green vest behind me who I’d assumed was Phil turned out to be Andy, who did indeed look to be enjoying himself. Past the radio mast, though a barley field, and then hurtling back down the hill with Chew Valley Lake and the Mendips ahead.

As on the first descent I chose to run alone allowing the leaders — Matt and Andy — to extend their lead. I had them in sight. I reckoned, when we hit the bottom of Littleton Lane, there were 10 minutes to go. This was where the race would be won. Last year, I’d caught Matt on this climb, as well as a runner from Weston who’d been reduced to walking; I’d put time into Andy, and I’d also caught Andy Malloy — only for him to speed up and blow me away. This year, neither Matt nor Andy showed any sign of weakness. A couple of lads were playing on bikes towards the top of the climb. I hoped they wouldn’t get in anyone’s way.

At last I reached the top of Littleton Lane. Turn left, a marshal indicated. I wasn’t quite sure which way to go at the next junction but chose right. Good, there was Andy! I wouldn’t be catching him now but I couldn’t see anyone catching me either. I heard a scream: had a runner tangled with those cyclists? No, there was Matt, sprinting back towards the junction I’d just navigated. He must have gone the wrong way. I considered slowing up to let him finish in his rightful place ahead of me, but having got this far I wanted to get to the end with a time to compare against last year’s.

In the end, my time was 4 seconds faster than I ran last year. I’ll take that. I’ll also take 3rd place, one position higher than last year — Andy and I gave the win to Matt, since we clearly wouldn’t have caught him. Next up (and down, and up, and down), the Purdown Pursuit!

§

Untitled

Here’s Andy, who can now see the finish but not Matt!

Untitled

Dried mud — hard work after the final climb. As you can see, having run the entire race in front, Matt has ended up behind me.

Untitled

Gutted!

§

My thanks to Antony Clark for the dramatic photos used on this page.

The last ever Pomphrey 5K

2014-06-24, Comments

On a warm summer evening I cycled out of Bristol on the railway path. The verges were overgrown, the air dense with insects. Coming through Staple Hill the path enters a tunnel, water falling from the arching roof and onto the tarmac.

I count the Pomphrey Sports 5K as unfinished business. Last time I ran it — the only time I’d run it, in fact, the only timed 5K I’d ever run — on a dark, blustery winter’s evening it took me 18 minutes and 44 seconds to get round. Today, I had to do better. I wanted to test my speed ahead of the Swansea half. An email from race director, Chris Elson, warned me I wouldn’t get another chance:

This race incorporates the Avon AA mob match with the winning team (20 to count) being awarded the Andrew Rawnsley Memorial Trophy. We hope there will be lots of Avon Clubs with teams! This race will be the last, after some 15 years, to be held on the course but plans are at an advanced stage to move the race to a flat fast course using the mile circuit at Aztec West.

After a short warm up around Pomphrey Hill playing fields, I joined the other runners at the start of the course. Fewer than I expected — maybe a couple of hundred of us, and only seven from SRC. There was Sam Stone, a work colleague, running for Emersons Green. We gathered on the cycle track under the B4465 bridge over the ringroad. After a brief announcement, we were off.

For me, 5K is a tough distance. It feels like I’m running flat out the whole way. The track veers through a subway under the ringroad. At 1K, my watch showed 3:30. Now we skirted the new roundabout exit, trainers hitting plywood boards laid over fresh tarmac. Crossing the ringroad now on a pedestrian bridge. I hit 2K around 7 minutes in and realised my target, 18 minutes, was very much on. Matt was just ahead. Around us, red and white vests, Bristol and West. The track takes a left at the next roundabout and then at exactly 2.5K out doubles back.

My legs felt tired in the final kilometre. Somehow sensing my weakness Matt opened a gap which 5 Bristol and West runners smartly filled. I checked my watch. A PB for sure. 18 minutes, definitely, but having got into this position how hard would I push for the finish? Did I really want to set a best time which would be out of reach in future? My legs felt ragged.

I crossed the line under the bridge over the ringroad and stopped my watch. 17:48, it said.

§

At the presentation, Roger, one of the race directors, took the opportunity to talk about the history of the race which originated some 20 years ago to finance Bristol and West AC sending competitors all round the country, paying for petrol and entry fees. Back then there was no roundabout, no ring road, no cycle track. The sports pavilion we sat in hadn’t been built and so the Bridge Inn hosted the event, which was run on dirt tracks around the former quarry.

As the first MV50 to finish, in 22nd place with an official time of 17:50, I picked up a £5 Easy Running voucher. Without me being aware of it the next two runners, just 4 and 13 seconds behind me, were also MV50’s. Some race!

1      15.23   John Ashcroft   Bristol University      SM
2      15.34   Matt Whitfield  Bristol & West AC       SM
3      16.21   James Denne     Exeter Harriers         SM
4      16.33   Jarlath McKenna Bristol & West AC       SM
5      16.35   Matthew Krelle  Bristol & West AC       SM
6      16.48   Mark Edwards    Bristol & West AC       SM
7      17.06   Iain Stuart     Bristol & West AC       SM
8      17.08   Olly Sheppard   Team Bath AC            SM
9      17.09   Sam Hedley      Team Bath AC            SM
10     17.14   Jenny Jagger    Bristol & West AC       SW
11     17.24   Anthony Hall    Bristol & West AC       SM
12     17.26   Torran Elson    Bristol & West AC       SM
13     17.34   Jacob Hayes     Bitton Road Runners    M40
14     17.35   Matt Burns      Southville              SM
15     17.37   Chris Palmer    Westbury Harriers       SM
16     17.38   Peter Gandon    Bristol & West AC       SM
17     17.40   Alexander Whittaker  Bristol & West AC  SM
18     17.41   Helen Sharpe    Bristol & West AC       SW
19     17.42   Phil Lucker     Bristol & West AC       SM
20     17.44   Jason Barry     Stroud & District      M40
21     17.46   Ben Farrell     Bristol & West AC       SM
22     17.50   Thomas Guest    Southville             M50
23     17.54   Gary Hughes     Team Bath AC           M50
24     18.03   Phil Westlake   Bitton Road Runners    M50
25     18.04   Julian Bailey-Gard Westbury Harriers    SM
26     18.06   C McQuade       Unattached              SM
27     18.08   Andrew Malloy   Bristol & West AC      M40
...

Cycling back along the track which was once a railway I thought about Bristol traffic, transport and history.

Wrington Woodland Tyntesfield 10

2014-05-22, Comments

At the start of the month I attempted the Wrington Woodland run. Conditions were warm and damp. The race starts with a gradual climb from Goblin Coombe. I was tracking the leaders at this stage. The rocky track became a river of viscous clay. A Frome runner slipped and slithered, his five fingers affording little traction. I moved past into second place.

WWR, theracephotographer.com/2014

My own shoes — my normally trusty Adidas swoop trail shoes — skidded on the fast tarmac descent to Wrington. I slowed down then pushed on, determined to hold my position. On the second climb, the steep one up Bullhouse Lane, my right calf went. I limped, then walked, then tried to run through the injury, then walked again. I was in some pain. Runners passed me. I’m fine, I said, it’s cramp. The woods on top of Wrington Hill were packed with bluebells. A kindly marshal gave me a lift back to the HQ once the race had passed. My first ever DNF. I felt lousy.

§

Yesterday, three weeks later, I showed up for the Tyntesfield 10 — a favourite event from last year. My calf still isn’t 100% but I needed to get round the course to put Wrington behind me. I could surely do that.

I started easily on the first meadow circuit. We looped back to the house, swerving round the croquet lawn and flowerbeds, then back to the meadow again. My legs felt good. I pushed on towards the woods, passing runners as the track rose. Watch out for tree roots! Go on Southville! The track twists and swerves, hurdling fallen trees, ducking under branches. I was glad to be clear and able to pick my own route. Andy Malloy cruised past. I drafted him, pulling me into contention with a couple of other runners.

Out of the woods and into long grass, nettles, thistles, rape. At this stage last year I’d been wiped out. Today, a more cautious start had earned me something in reserve. To my surprise, Annabel Granger was in range, plus another couple of runners I didn’t know. At last we reached the long descent bringing the route back home. I passed one runner. I passed two more, only for them to nip ahead when I misinterpreted a marshal’s signal and turned the wrong way. Down the steps and on to the tarmac. I dug in on the final short climb, regaining my earlier position. On the finishing straight, for the first time in the race, I looked behind me. My position was safe. I crossed the line.

Training mate Neil Williams was so close behind I didn’t see him finish. I cheered in another friend, Steve Swan, drank the water and ate the minuscule cereal bar in the goodie bag.

Tyntesfield 10k

I was 7th to finish and 1st in my category. My time, 40:39, was 22 seconds faster than at the same event last year. Next up: the Welsh Castles Relay.

§

Thanks to Rich Kenington, theracephotographer.com, and Sally Johnson for the excellent action shots used on this page.

110th Welsh Cross Country championships, Llandeilo

2014-02-15, Comments

Blame the wind, which started before Christmas and still hadn’t stopped. Or the rain, which had been similarly persistent, flooding roads, train lines, villages and fields. I guess even the toughest runners may have thought twice about showing up for another mudfest, even if this one was the Welsh championships.

Still, you can only compete against those who turn up.

We parked up, as instructed, on the outskirts of the Dinefwr estate, and caught the shuttle bus to the event. A massive tree, toppled by the recent storms, lay on the grass, its roots pointing upwards. The racing had already started: junior runners picked their way through the mud. I collected my number from the race HQ in front of Newton House.

Luke Davis, the commentator said, was hot favourite for the U13 boys’ event. You can tell it’s Luke Davies, he said, because of his socks: one pink, one green. If Luke Davies felt the pressure of expectation, he responded well to it, taking an early lead and extending it all the way to the finish.

The rain held off. The wind was strong but no gale. The senior event would be four times round a rolling, heavy, lovely course. I ran one as a warm up with Kneath, Eamonn, Raul and Martin. Dewi Griffiths, defending champion, was here, and although I’d be on his team, I didn’t want him lapping me!

Some great photos, taken by Gwynfor James.

It was a great day for Swansea Harriers! Here’s a snippet from the report on the club’s website.

[…] arguably the main highlight of the day showing the talent and strength in depth of the senior mens team, saw the B team win team SILVER, just, by a point! The SILVER winning team were Eamon Kirk (14th), Lewys Hobbs (16th), Thomas Guest (21st) Matthew Richards (22nd), Raul Reismann (30th) and Kneath Philippart (35th).

Swansea harriers, Welsh cross country champions!