Tuesday June 27th, 2017
11 months ago, I walked down to the track at Spring Hall, Halifax, during the summer break from my swimming lessons. I walked into the small building near the track, where a few of the Halifax Harriers were gathered. I came to do laps of the track – instead, I quickly got talked into doing a 10km race with them, as a paying guest. I didn’t need much convincing, and before I knew it, I’d zipped down the Hebble Trail, the Calder Hebble Navigation and back again, in a time of roughly 39 minutes, and returning back to the track to enjoy pie and peas with the club members. At the time, it was a surreal experience, but at the same time, a thoroughly pleasant one, and one that eventually lead to me coming back around two months ago to initially trial, and finally sign up for the Halifax Harriers proper.
The Summer Handicap 10km is an annual fixture in the Harriers’ club calendar, but this year it was named in honour of Keith Midgley, who this year is celebrating 50 years of membership with the Halifax Harriers, having joined in 1967. Before setting off down to the Hebble Trail for the race start, Keith was presented with a commemorative club vest marking his fifty years from 1967-2017, which was warmly received as Keith got into the vest. He’s still running well and was taking part in the race, which sees runners set off in order of their personal best or predicted time, from slowest to fastest – a race open to all abilities, with the faster runners handicapped to ensure all have a fair chance to win. It makes for a competitive race, entirely in good spirit, and the added bonus of free pie and peas for all back at the clubhouse post-race.
I’d warmed up for this race by running a fast 5K on Saturday evening. For the first time in a stand-alone 5km, I clocked under 18 minutes, running in 17:54, seven seconds faster than my time earlier in the year at a club time trial. For the first time in a few weeks, I felt some genuine progress. I felt having lacked opportunities to go parkrunning lately or carry out some speedwork sessions outside of club training was harming my prospects of clocking at least a sub-37 minute time in London, but my 5K pace seems to be bang on and it did have me more optimistic as to how this Tuesday night might go.
Down at the race start, I waited as fellow runners were called forward in order of their predicted time downwards. I seemed to remember being on the third or fourth page of the list, which explains why twenty-one (21!) minutes after the first runners had set off, I left with Raymond’s words of ‘I don’t trust this guy, I don’t know what he’s going to do!‘ ringing in my ears. I felt 39 minutes was a safe estimate, given my last two 10km runs – one dating back to the Summer Handicap last year – both came in over 39 minutes, so I downplayed my expectations of getting close to that PB of 37:15. A 38:something time was more my expectation.
The Hebble Trail path was greasy from the rain earlier in the day. I went like the clappers but with an air of uncertainty I sensed a hesitancy about my gait and I tried to fleet foot down the trail. Soon, I would arrive at the bottom of Salterhebble, to navigate the crossing at the locks and the tricky cobbled section before the Calder-Hebble Navigation heads onto Sowerby Bridge. I started to catch some of a few of my club mates at this section of the race, but judging by the runners coming back the other way, I still had a lot of catching up to down, and this was around a kilometre, maybe more, before the turnaround at Sowerby Bridge.
The halfway point arrived, and I continued to motor on. By now there was a slight challenge of running past oncoming runners whom I’d already overtaken, but beyond here, I started to catch up with other runners ahead of me. I couldn’t tell if I was feeling the pace too much, with no watch to tell me if my pace was dropping. There was no discernable difference as far as I knew, my only measure now being the runners ahead. Running back past the village of Copley, I was now overtaking fellow club mates one by one but as the locks at Salterhebble drew into focus, I could still see a number of runners ahead. Back onto the Hebble Trail, I began the final push across the slight ascent back towards the start/finish.
It was on this stretch I caught up with Keith Midgley himself, still running well. As I passed, he told me ‘well done, now go for the win’. If I was tired at this point, those words felt like a shot in the arm. All I could do was to try and catch up with as many people as possible. I continued to pass runners one by one, and sensing the front was near, I put it a huge surge to overtake two runners as we reached the final corner. I turned, only to see more runners and the finish line ahead. I ran hard but the law of the handicap had spoken. All that mattered was the time. Over I went, hearing my time read out as 58:21. Immediately, I reached for my phone in my back pocket to end my tracking and check my real time. In actual fact, I’d clocked 37:21.
My fastest 10km run in over three years, and just six seconds below my personal best!
Realistically, I knew I was never going to win this race and so my main priority here was, more than anything else, to see how quickly I could do it. A time in the 38’s would have been great, but a 37:21 on a reasonably flat, occasionally technical course is stonking. All of a sudden, any doubts I had about improving my 10km time are firmly dispelled, and all without the aid of a watch as well. That time was the fastest out on the course out of all who took part. I seem to be really in tune with myself.
Looking back at my race stats, I ran the first 5K in 17:52, which means my latter half of the race went for 19:29 – something I have very little time to work on. Clearly I struggle to hold my early 5K pace for too long – my 17:54 the weekend before was far more consistent. Nonetheless, I have confidence that I will PB at my next race, the Regent’s Park 10km on July 23, given it ought to be a course free of cobbles, lock bridges, inclines and hopefully slightly warmer weather (but not too warm), which in turn should ensure a dry surface to run on. Plus, I’ll be starting equal in that race and with a good few hundred runners taking part, there will be plenty of runners ahead of me to try and cling onto as I pursue that time for dear life! The sub-35 I talked about a couple of months back is clearly too ambitious at this stage – I need to be able to at least run sub-18 in the second half to think I can get anywhere near that target. But a sub-37 minute time is certainly not out of the question.
Without question, club life is proving to be coming up roses every time right now, and I’m glad I finally took the decision to join a club, indeed the Halifax Harriers, the closest one to myself locally and without question improving my running ability in the space of a few weeks. Regular speed training has been great for my re-entry to the lower range of long distance running, and I’ve found after a few weeks of thinking getting back to 37 minute pace over 10km was going to be harder than I thought, in actual fact I’ve discovered I just had to settle back in to running hard, after a couple of years of only ever applying myself at the odd parkrun. So for that, I’ve got to thank the run leaders and fellow runners at the Harriers for pushing me from the get go to run harder, better and faster.
This indeed is a race you cannot take part in unless you’re part of the club, or a paying guest. But as a format, the Summer Handicap is brilliant, and I certainly hope and expect many other clubs possess a race in the same style up and down the country. As it is, I’m quite happy to be a part of this race at this long standing, and quite awesome, athletics club.
To my fellow Harriers reading this, well done once again to all who took part, and thank you to all who volunteered in one way or another to support this great annual event. And congrats Keith on your big 50, here’s to many years of continued running!
Halifax Harriers AC online