Posted by: stokiecat | March 26, 2017

Race Report: Midland County Road Relays

With Spring Treble just around the corner I thought it was time to get back to the blog, and so report on my first race of this year; the Midlands Counties Athletics Association Road Relay Championships – 6 stage at Sutton Park on Saturday 25th March 2017.

*Record scratch*

*Freeze frame*

Yup, that’s me. You may be wondering how I ended up in this situation.

The words “road” “team relay race” “Saturday running” are infrequent or completely absent from my running vocabulary, so this is a bit of a turn up for the books.  Although I have radically changed my opinion on cross country, from *I hate it* to *I love it*, these races take place on a Saturday during the football season which means I very rarely get to do them. So when the team captain’s email arrived with the dates for the upcoming season and the relays fell on an international weekend, I was in there like an enthusiastic puppy.  However in my excitement I failed to notice the word road in the title, or appreciate exactly what being in the relay team implied.

I’m not going to coherently describe how the relays work .  It was explained to me in the car going and it’s massively complex when described but it makes much more sense when you actually do it. There are letters and numbers, men and women run at the same time, although the women start 20 minutes after the men’s start, – that really confused me until I was told they do 12 stages whilst the women do 6. There are long legs and short legs. We had an A-team and a B-Team and you had to know who was running and in what order, and what time your team mates were coming in, so you could be in the pen not too early and not too late. I’m exhausted just thinking about it, so I really appreciate the work our team captain Debbie had to do to get us all organised, and despite some last minute hiccups she did a brilliant job.

The good news is this event has been going for years and so the organisation is excellent. Plenty of marshals, helpful event staff, good facilities including clean portaloos without massive queues, burger bar and coffee truck. It is always helpful when the event also takes place on a sunny spring day but the location, Sutton Park, a National Nature Reserve in the West Midlands, is lovely. The relays actually only take place in a small area of the Park so it’s somewhere I think that requires another visit to explore in the future.


Women’s Stage 1 (A runners) start – long leg

Running through Sutton Park (1)

Running through Sutton Park (1)

Running through Sutton Park (2)

Running through Sutton Park (2)

Being a *ahem* slower runner, I was running the 5th leg, a short leg of 5k. I won’t bore you with the litany of injuries, niggles and general ailments I am currently suffering with because it’s tedious but I wasn’t expecting to cover myself in glory. With relays you are required to run for the team, so for me it means do the best to your ability and run hard. My best 5k is 26 min 16 secs over 2 years ago (sobs) but I was fairly hopeful that as I am actually on the road to recovery at the moment, I could squeeze under the 30 minute barrier.

The course is all on tarmac paths and starts with a 200m downhill slope, so obviously you HAVE to sprint it. As competent runners will know, this is not a good idea but as I’m an idiot my calves seized up almost straight away and meant I was pretty much in pain for the rest of the course. My rapid (ha!) start was followed by the a sloooow climb for about 3/4 of a mile and a bit of undulation through the county park landscape, followed by a disappointing downhill and flat bit though the woods. Disappointing in that I felt unable to go any faster and then I also had to stop to tie my shoelace, I mean come on <<eye roll emoji>. Finally, a tiny climb back up to the handover. I tried to concentrate on the surroundings because the location was very picturesque but it’s a bit surreal because by the time you get to the later stages the runners have spread out weirdly. I ran on my own for a lot of the time and was overtaken by runners at different stages (Hi Jill!), some ahead in stages and some behind, so it doesn’t feel like you are in a race at all. This is further accentuated by the fact there is no traffic (good) but there are mountain bikers, dog walkers, families out for a walk, people just out and about enjoying the spring sunshine. I was surprised twice, once on the downhill when Dale, one of the male Trentham Runners was watching and shouting words of encouragement and again just before the end by Brian Dale .The latter was just the worst because I like to always smile for the camera (so that I can delude myself that running races is an enjoyable activity) but I didn’t even realise he was there until he also gave me some verbal encouragement so I obviously I must have looked really bad at this point. (However, as always big thanks to Brian for the action photo.)

The last 200 metres is the best part of the course because you run past the club tents so there are plenty of team mates to cheer you on. Of course you really have to put in the effort at that point because you don’t want to look rubbish. Top marks to Rags, one of the TRC ladies in an earlier leg, who overtook a runner in that last 200m in a spectacular effort. The runner was male and on a completely different leg, but it was still an epic take down.  My run-in was less spectacular and most of the ladies were “cooling down” (i.e. sunbathing and eating cake behind the team tent – see below) at that point but I still managed that little bit of extra effort for those who were still watching and cheering. I have to say I liked the cowbell that the Bournville Harriers in the next door but one tent, you certainly knew when one of their runners was coming through.

I completed my leg in a disappointing 32 mins 16 second, which you can see on my Strava if you are so inclined. It was however an excellent effort by all team members (special mention to Deb and Jill – you know why) with our A-team finishing 22nd and the B-team 48th, so the B’s weren’t last despite the handicap of having me on the team. By the time I finished the award ceremony was taking place, despite the men’s race still having several stages still to start, another slightly odd thing to experience for my first time relay experience.

I like to think this picture of the before and after of some of the ladies team (and Dan) to show you that we take our running seriously. You will see the pre-race warm up taking place in the sun (top) including an essential pre-race nap, left of the pic. The post race cool down is a very similar routine with the addition of cake. This is why I’m an athlete #squadgoals

Trentham Ladies warm up and cool down

I really enjoyed the experience and next year I shall be much more prepared so I’ll bring a deckchair and possibly a cowbell. Fingers crossed it’s another international break 🙂



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