Saturday April 7th, 2018

A few weeks ago, after my performance at the Liversedge Half Marathon, I was approached by one of the coaches at the Halifax Harriers (my club) who invited me to take part in a race known as the Yorkshire Road Relays Championships. My progress since joining the club has now seen me considered for the club’s relay squads as one of their faster runners. Although I was invited to run a relay the previous year, it clashed with the Ilkley Aquathlon, which I’d already booked, and hence I had to decline. Receiving the call in this way made it feel more like an opportunity earned, and indeed an opportunity to show what I could do for the club, not just myself.

This particular day, I was scheduled, as per my training diary, to run a 4 mile marathon pace session. Although running at 5K race pace wasn’t exactly in the plan for tapering, I felt capable and ready of swapping this race in for my planned run round the local park without affecting the taper too much. I confidently assured myself and the club I was up for this.

This was the third annual Yorkshire Road Relays Championships, and the first to be held at the Brownlee Centre, five miles north of Leeds city centre. Opened in 2016, in honour of the famous Brownlee brothers, Alistair and Jonny, it is a state of the art triathlon performance centre, with a one mile cycle track, on which the relays were taking place, a purpose built transition area, completely traffic free, with excellent facilities to boot.

The Harriers had five teams entered into the men’s race, which would consist of three laps of 1600m (4800m in total). I was selected for the ‘C’ team and running the ‘A’ leg as denoted by my race number, meaning I would be running the opening leg. The aim remained the same – finish in the fastest time possible – only this time, I was running for my teammates, and indeed, my club. This was a fresh ethos to run under, personally, and one I can say, looking back, inspires you to try that little bit harder.

Simon, one of the coaches organising our participation, wished me good luck and said if I ran like I had in training I’d do well. I acknowledged him, but as I walked off I felt decidedly unsure. My preconception of this race was that I’d be hanging onto the coattails of some very good 5K runners. I needn’t have worried too much. I was already of the mindset of treating the race like any other and putting in the best run I could. We actually got a starters gun within seconds of assembling on the line and off we went. One of my club mates was way up ahead. Another was just in front of me and overall I reckon I was about running around the midpack, as the left hand bend took a slight ascent, before looping right to begin the long downhill backwards the smaller circuit, around which runners would proceed clockwise around to complete the lap. My first km went for 3:12, not too dissimilar to how I normally start 5K runs, before fading. I’d overtaken the club mate immediately in front of me up at the top bend on the first lap and although I lost a place later in the lap to another runner, I was able to use them as a pacer for a while. The next km, slightly uphill, went for 3:18. Then I recorded a 3:17 on the downhill during the second lap, gaining a couple of places in the process. I knew I was on personal record pace, but there was still one final ascent to come. I gritted through the fourth km and recorded 3:35. Not too bad at this point, and still the downhill to come.

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My watch gave out a time of 16:39 for 4.98km, a time that would later be confirmed in the results. I quickly assembled for a photo with all the faster finishers of the ‘A’ leg and then, cheekily, set my watch going again as I ran to the opposite side of the track to round my time up to 5km – which gave a time of 16:45.

My team would eventually finish 19th out of the 38 teams involved. Our ‘A’ team finished 5th out of all the teams, a great result. All five of our men’s teams finished. Our senior ladies also ran brilliantly in the 4x3200m, finishing 9th overall, and our juniors put in some strong performances as well. As a club, a lot of us agree we’re on the up!

I didn’t half suffer for my efforts in the coming days. I ran 11 miles on the Sunday immediately after the race and every single step was a sore one. My Tuesday track session was also run with a bit more caution than usual, particularly with London just around the corner. I just about shook whatever was left from the relay out of my system but wow, the effort put into that race must have been something. Because I smashed everything I’ve ever run for the distance previously.

To put into context, my previous fastest 5K split was at the 2014 Great Birmingham Run, a 17:28 which up until now constituted the fastest 5K I’d ever run. That included a 4:53 mile, my only (to knowledge) sub-5 minute mile ever. I don’t have a true 5K race time, my victory in the Canal Christmas Cracker 5K last year was a long course, run in 19:40, for which I ran 5km in 18:25. I’ve run a short course 17:43 in the Harriers 5K time trial (which measures 4.85km consistently on my watch). My parkrun PB is 18:06. I once ran 17:56 training on my own. Supposing the relay course was a proper 5K (not quite), my run would have probably been 16:45. At most, I was 20 metres short, according to the watch. And other watches also recorded the same distance. So I am effectively counting this as my new 5K PB. Because that was easily a sub-17 minute run, on a not so flat course (though never drastically steep), and all bar one km split was run in under 3:30km. To know I can run that quickly is a massive step for me. The work I put in on Tuesday nights, running laps of the track at Spring Hall, is undeniably improving my top end speed and most importantly, my speed endurance. I’ve never held a 5K together like that before, and I’ll be running 5K as a distance more and more in future. I certainly want to make sub-17 a consistent mark for myself, not just so I can say I actually ran a sub-17 minute 5K, but so I can prove to myself that I’ve found a new level.

All in all, this was a fantastic day organised by the Yorkshire Counties Athletics Association, who picked an excellent venue to play host this year and many, it would seem, hope it returns to the Brownlee Centre in years to come. A big thank you once again to my club for giving me the opportunity to put in a shift for the team, and well done everyone for showing how well club level athletics is represented here in Yorkshire.

All photos taken by WoodentopsFR – check out their excellent work at https://www.woodentops.org.uk