Tag Archives: St Albans

Race Recap: Met League XC – Ally Pally 2019

Photo Credit: Tom Hosking Photography

Background: It’s the tail end of the cross country season here in the UK. I joined in a few times back in November and December but took break from XC in January to focus on longer road stuff: the Fred Hughes 10 and the Watford Half Marathon. The former went well and the latter got cancelled, so I was excited to lace up my spikes again for a very local cross country race just up the road at Ally Pally!

Goal: Is it really possible to set a time goal for a cross country race? Not for an average runner like me. Every course is different, and the same course varies year to year depending on the weather the week before the race. My glutes were sore on Saturday from the many 1-leg squat variations prescribed by the physio, but I made a couple of general goals for myself: 1) Don’t turn an ankle/trip/fall/get spiked, and 2) Expect mud, embrace the mud, and enjoy it.

Race strategy: None, really (see above), but I did decide to treat it like a very muddy parkrun, have some fun, and try to save some energy for the finish.

Weather & outfit: A warmish 9C/49F but very windy. It rained a lot in the week leading up to the race, so mud would definitely be on the agenda. I wore shorts, Heathside vest, and my cross country spikes (15mm for the expected mud levels). No need for any extra layers, even with the wind.

Terrifyingly long spikes. Worth it!

The race: I’m glad I had reread my race recap from the last time I ran this course, two years ago. According to that, the course was quite a bit short of 6km. That said, the start this year seemed further back than I remembered, so I mentally prepared for the race to be at least 6k (there’s nothing like assuming a course will be short and then having to run further than anticipated!).

I knew the first long straight would be gradually uphill and into the wind, so as we set off I went with the flow and used the time to test the terrain and warm up my calves and ankles. I found myself in touch with Jen and Alice, so breathed encouragement to them and pushed on. Short strides up the hill. Use your arms, I reminded myself as we were tested by the first short rise. Alice and I rounded a corner and had a brief respite from running uphill.

Lap 1. Photo credit: F

Then we crossed the paved path, hurdled a ditch, and dug in up the long, steep hill for the first time. This three-stage hill is killer: a longish steep section, a turn left onto a slightly more gradual (but still very much uphill) section, then a right up a short, sharp bit to the top. This hill alone made me really glad I’d put 15mm spikes in my shoes. The long spikes gave me enough traction to maintain control while clawing my way slowly up and up and up…

Photo Credit: Tom Hosking Photography

Then the descent started. The course wound around some trees until plunging back down the first section that we’d run up. Another ditch and paved path later, we were back on firmer, slightly downhill terrain. Behind the cricket pitch, it got sloppy: thick, soupy mud with a few more ditches to cross. I enjoyed hurdling the ditches – it reminded me of my track days from university and distracted me from the exertion.

Photo Credit: Tom Hosking Photography

Soon it was back out to the long straight for the second and final lap. I was tiring, but the cheers from the Heathside supporters as we ran between the club camps – Come on, Heathside! Go Tammela! – were amazing and helped me summon some extra energy. A fellow Heathsider kept passing me on the uphills (impressive!) but I tried to keep her within range. Tackling the long, staged hill for the second time slowed me a lot, but I reminded myself to raise my knees and keep putting one foot in front of the other.

Back down the hill and over the ditch, I knew it was only 1-2km to the finish and the course would, indeed, be shorter than 6km. I passed a few runners in the boggy section behind the cricket pitch, including a couple of fellow Heathsiders. Come on, we’re almost there, I encouraged them. Surprised to catch one of our speedy vets, S, I knew she’d probably respond to my challenge and stick with me.

A marshal called out that we had 800m to go. You can do this! Just a few more minutes, I said to myself. My legs felt so heavy and I felt a bit sick. S caught me up and we pushed each other through the final 500m, passing a couple of other runners along the way. A yell from F, who had come to watch, helped me find a tiny kick to the finish, just in front of S.

Heathside women. Met League Champs for the 2nd year in a row!

The result: I finished the 5.37km/3.34mi race in an official time of 25:33 (4:45/km = 7:39/mi)I came 78th of 244 women finishers and ran my fastest time on this particular cross country course.

And by coming 16th of 35 Heathside women finishers, I actually scored for the C team!

Cross country scoring can be baffling, so here’s how one of our club coaches explains it:

The first 6 women to finish score for the A team, the next 6 for the B team and the 5 after that for the C team.  Additional finishers count towards the C team: although they don’t score, they can push back members of other teams, making the points for the team more valuable.

I don’t think I’ve scored for Heathside in a Met League XC race in over five years, so I am chuffed to have squeaked into the C team! I felt strong and was mentally in the mood to race.

As an added bonus, the Heathside women’s A team were crowned the Met League Champions for the second year in a row. Amazing running, ladies!

Post-race: A women’s team photo, catching up with Gabi, Caroline, Jo & co, then walking back home with F to de-mud my spikes and take a hot shower.

Next up: I think I’ll go back to some shorter, sharper running now that my long goal races are out of the way. I’ll try to keep doing a longish run most weekends, but I want to make sure my knee/ITBS pain settles before ramping up the distance again


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Race Recap: Fred Hughes 10 (2019)

Background: Back in September, J persuaded me to enter the Fred Hughes 10 in mid-January as a goal for us to work towards. Having run this race once before, then entering in subsequent years but bailing due to illness or injury, I was keen to get it back on my racing calendar and hoped to actually make it to the start this time! So I signed up and have been dutifully ticking off Sunday long runs with my clubmates. I did a number of 10-11 mile training runs in November and December so I could finish the distance for Fred Hughes. It was the speed I was concerned about!

Goal: Given my lack of speedwork in recent months, I set a goal to finish under 1:20:00. I ran this race five years ago in 1:16:17 but wasn’t sure I would have the speed for that kind of time. This was also my longest race since 2015 – and my first 10-mile race since then. I wanted to finish without too much right knee pain (it has been bothering me on my longer runs).

Race strategy: Start steady and try to average around 5:00/km until the halfway point (5mi/8km). Don’t panic if my pace ends up being a bit slower or faster – listen to my body. Slowly increase my pace from 5-8mi/8-13km. Take a gel after 55-60 minutes. Start pushing towards home with 2mi/3km to go. Use the downhills and think about my form on the uphills. Also, enjoy it!

Weather & outfit: A brisk 0C/32F or so in the morning, with a promise to ‘warm up’ to about 3C/38F by the time the race started. I went back and forth on what to wear, but settled on the following: capri leggings (quite thin), my Craft thermal long-sleeve baselayer under my Heathside vest, light gloves, and a fleece running headband. It was cold at the start, but the sun was out and I warmed up quickly once we started running. The outfit choice worked. I even shed my headband at 5km and my gloves at 8km.

Mile 5. Photo by New Pixels Photography

The race: A narrow first half kilometre meant keeping the pace steady until the road widened and the runners spread out. My watch read 5:01 for the first kilometre – right on track. The next two kilometres had some nice downhills, which I used to gain some time early on: 4:41, 4:42. That’s okay – it’s quick but you feel good. Stay steady.

M, a runner I know through J, caught up to me around 3km and chattered away, pulling me along at a good clip for the next 2.5km (thanks, M – that helped a lot!). We went through 3 miles at 22:30, and 5km at just over 23:00. (Yes, I think in both miles and kilometres when training and racing. Maybe it’s a waste of brain energy but I like doing both!) If I can keep this up, I’ll definitely run under 1:20:00, I thought. But we still have a ways to go. Be patient.

M pulled away around 5.5km and I let her go, preferring to stick to my game plan. My next few kilometres were all under 5:00. I enjoyed the dappled sunlight and quiet country lanes, focusing on my surroundings to distract myself from how hard I was working. A woman in a St Albans Striders vest complimented my running form and ran alongside me for a little while; it was nice to have some company/motivation.

I hit the halfway mark at 37:53. I can run the second half in 40 minutes and still beat my goal for today. That gave me a confidence boost, especially when the 10th kilometre ended up being a long slog uphill. It was one of those hills where you don’t really feel like you’re running uphill until you look at your watch and realize your pace has slowed massively. It was by far my slowest split of the race (5:27), but I still went through 10km in around 48 minutes.

Running through the countryside. Glorious!

Just 6km to go. You can do this. Two kilometres and then you can have your gel. I picked up the pace for kilometres 11 and 12, to shake off the long climb and to inject my legs with a bit of energy. 4:20, 4:30. I ripped open my gel and started focusing on runners to pick off up ahead.

Between the gel and an uphill, kilometre 13 was not swift – 5:08 – but I kept my eyes on clubmate Holly and the guy in orange and red who had passed me earlier on. You can catch them. Just 3km to go. Despite feeling a bit sick at this point, I pressed on and focused on my form up the hills. The orange-and-red guy kept passing me, then slowing down enough for me to pass him back. I think I finally dropped him with less than a mile to go. Looking at my watch, I calculated that I could probably make it home in under 1:16:00 – it wouldn’t be a PB, but it could be a best time for this course. With 400m to go, I picked up my legs, pumped my arms, used the downhill and pushed up the rise to the finish.

The result: I finished the race in a 1:15:33 chip time (7:33/mi = 4:42/km). I came 230th of 840 finishers and was the 43rd woman of 412. I was the 11th of 17 Heathsiders running, and the 3rd of our 7 women who finished.

This was also a course PB for me. Sure, I’ve only run this race twice, but still – I ran it faster than 5 years ago! I’m also really pleased to have run almost 5 minutes faster than my goal time of 1:20:00, and to have run a small negative split. Guess I do have a bit of speed in these legs, despite the lack of speedwork. The crisp, sunny weather was glorious and the country lanes were peaceful. I was really happy I ran.

Post-race: Picking up my t-shirt (I love how Fred Hughes does a women’s specific technical top), gathering for a Heathside photo, jogging back to the race HQ for a quick change, sharing these brownies that I made, then getting in the car for the drive home.

Next up: The Watford Half Marathon in two weeks. My longest training run has only been 11 miles, so I will definitely be treating the half as more of a training run than a race. Plus, I’ve heard it is very hilly…