Posted by: stokiecat | June 28, 2014

Two Darn Hot – NSRRA Races 8 and 9

It’s nearly summertime and the races now start coming thick and fast. I can’t really believe I’ve signed up for so many, in what is only my second year of serious running. Well, when I say serious no doubt people look at my times and laugh but I’m taking it seriously. This blog post covers race 8 – Westbridge 5 –  and race 9 – Potters ‘Arf, of the NSRRA programme. Unfortunately like many others I declined to do the Flying Fox marathon. I knew that it would be too much for me to tackle a marathon this early on so I had a rest.  One thing about doing lots of different races is I get to find out what I like and what I think my body can cope with. I’m still not yet sure what is my preferred distance for racing but one thing I can say for certain is I’m not ready for a marathon. Another thing I have learnt is that I don’t do heat.

It’s surprising the impact running has had on my life in ways that I wouldn’t expect, one of those is my appreciation of the English climate (I would say British but I haven’t run any other routes except England). Where previously I would have longed for the most meagre hint of sunshine to while away the hours in a beer garden, my life now involves praying for rainy weather to occur on Sunday mornings. Not huge downpours or thunderstorms but definitely light drizzle and low humidity. On Saturday 31st May I spent the evening fairly relaxed having checked the BBC forecast that mainly cloudy with sunny spells and showers. I was not delighted when I got up on Sunday 1st June and it was gloriously sunny. Booooooooo. I was already a bit tense about the Westbridge 5. It was an “out and back” course that involved at least two miles of running along the canal in Stone. I should say that I abhor canal running, it’s so flat and dull, and the thought of racing along one filled me with dread. It would be flat and therefore fast (fast running is hard!) and there would be no overtaking. What if I held up fast runners? What if people held me up? What about members of the public? With buggies? Or dogs? Or small children? Or cyclists? What if I fell in? What if I knocked a small child into the canal? My scenarios got more and more ridiculous as I thought more and more about it. Of course in the end I had none of these problems. Talking of ridiculous, I had been assigned race number 2, a number usually given to Elite entrants. Good grief, no unachievable pressure there then. Someone suggested that I should add two zeros in black marker pen and hope no-one would notice. So once again I was unnecessarily stressed out before a race.

Of course on the day of the race all my irrational worries didn’t materialise, however what I should have been concerned about was the sunshine. I made sure I was covered in plenty of factor 50 sunscreen. This is not an exaggeration, I really do use factor 50.  I go from very white to lobster to Singing Detective quite quickly, it’s not pleasant.  Anyway, the race started OK, Trentham had a big field of runners and everyone was happy in the good weather. My pre-race worries about the canal issues were all the more stupid because of my running pace. By the time we had run around the field section the runners had already thinned out so by the time I got to the canal everyone was pretty much “in position”. At first things weren’t too bad but as I reached the end of the outward canal section I say the sign for two miles. I was running about 30 seconds per mile slower than I had planned for and it suddenly felt incredibly tough and incredibly hot. At the start of the road loop section a cyclist came towards me saying runners coming though, and I thought, well duh, I’ve got a number on and in my running kit so it must be fairly obvious that I’m a runner?! Then I realised he was the front marker and the first of the runners were completing the road loop and heading back to the canal. At that point Ben Gamble, the eventual race winner, went zipping  past me in the opposite direction. In some ways I was quite relieved as it meant I was off the canal stretch and wouldn’t get in the way of any fast runners. However it also made me appreciate how slowly I was running with the thought that he would be finished whilst I would only be just over half way round.  By the time I got round the road loop and back onto the canal I was gasping. The heat was absolutely killing me and running along the canal, which all looks the same, i.e. long and flat, meant I complete lost my distance judgement and started  to ramp up the pace way too early. I overtook a Stone Master Marathoner, who gave me some encouragement, only for her to overtake me again just before we reached the finish area.  I can’t complain about the organisation, marshaling was good as usual, and the goody bag had a mars bar (yay!)  but I didn’t like the course or the weather so it’s definitely my least favourite race so far.

IMG_0484Me managing to not push a small child into the canal whilst running at the Westbridge 5 (photo (c) Bryan Dale )

A week later on the Saturday night I experienced pre-race deja-vu (without the canal worries). The weather was horrendous throughout the day, which included a house a few doors down from mine getting struck by lightning and making the local papers. I checked the forecast and again it said overcast with the possibility of showers, yippee! The Potters ‘Arf is the Stoke-on-Trent big race. 2000 runners, plenty of local media coverage and plenty of support. A big turnout from the local running clubs. However it’s also quite hilly (1199m overall ascent) including at 11.5 miles the notorious heartbreak hill. My original plans back in January were to aim for a sub-2 hour finish. This had been slightly revised as my focus is now to get distance in preparedness for the South Cheshire 20 but my excitement for the race and my hope that it would chuck it down meant that secretly I was hoping to get as close to 2 hours as possible so obviously I spent Saturday night hydrating and doing my nails in club colours like a proper athlete.


My hopes of a decent run were dashed when I woke up to, uh-oh, glorious sunshine. I was certain the power of positive thinking would get me through this so I slapped on the factor 50, took my hat in the remote possibility it would rain and set off. There was a good atmosphere before the race with 72 Trentham runners plus a few relay teams. I did decide to do the team warm up (once round Hanley) partly just because of how good it looks to see all the green vests running together, but on this occasion I didn’t try to keep up, or do the same distance, which meant it was a much more pleasant warm up than last year. We made our way to the start line and I lined up, in hindsight, way to near the front but it was a good feeling and a great atmosphere and I just wanted to go.

Off I went, way to fast as usual but by the time I hit three miles my pace was enough to get me that sub-2 hour result so I was feeling good. So good in fact that I thought I’d skip the first water station and carry on. Bad Decision. I also decided to try and keep the pace up whilst I tackled the first of the “big hills”, Anchor Road. Another Bad Decision. I live just round the corner so I try to get Anchor Road into my training routes when possible and I was hoping it would pay off but unfortunately it didn’t. I did make it all the way to the top where my friends were to give me a cheer, without stopping or walking, but I was in trouble.  I jogged down but at the next bank in Bentilee I had to walk.  On 13 mile training runs I usually don’t take a drink but have a gel about 10 miles in. I was carrying one with me so I decided to throw caution to the wind and take the gel. That was a good decision. I started to run again and this time made sure I took a bottle of water at the next water station. I decided to keep it with me and decided not to drip but to sip it and pour more of it over me. Another good decision  I got through Abbey Hulton and along Leek Road which last year I had found so tough, without incident to Milton Road. Things were looking positive.

Running along Milton Road it felt like my thighs were on fire but I was much more determined. I saw a fellow NSRRA runner, Bobbie, who is in the league group above me and though if I could just keep on her tail I would be able to finish not too badly.  This worked until I reached Heartbreak Hill and I realised the fire in my thighs was not conducive to running up the bank.  I walked a bit but then I heard a couple of TRC members who were spectators yelling at me, “NO WALKING TRENTHAM!” which shamed me into attempting at least a slow jog (the very definition of the word slog) until I got to the top. Once Heartbreak Hill is done, the finish line in Hanley comes along quicker than you expect. One of the things that lets you know you’re nearly there is people walking in the opposite direction wearing their finishers medals. However one guy walking past said, you’re on for a 2 hour 4 minutes finish, which totally broke me. I did run across the line but I couldn’t manage a sprint finish attempt or even a smile. I don’t think I realised quite how disappointed would be if I didn’t sub-2 hour, despite the fact that I hadn’t trained for it. In the end I managed 2.08 and trying to be positive that’s only one minute slower than my half PB (on a flatter course) and a 14 minute improvement on last year’s time.  And there’s always next year to go for that sub-2 hour, I just hope it rains. 🙂




  1. love the nails!!! well done you!


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