Sunday March 24, Birkenhead Park

The North of England, or Northern Counties, Road Relay Championships are one of the top club level events in the country, taking place at the same time as two other qualifying events across the same weekend (the Midland and Southern Counties Road Relays). The series attracts clubs from across the country and often includes some high calibre athletes and teams. Qualifying teams move on to the English Road Relay Association (ERRA) Spring Relay Championships, which takes place roughly two weeks after the regional events.

Coming into this event, I’d been placed on one of the 8km (5 mile) legs by the team manager, Simon. When I was informed of this, I was pretty happy. There’s a club record I’m aiming for when I turn 35 later in the year for the 5 mile distance, and this was a great opportunity to get some practice at the distance. But further to that, Simon got down into my personal best times. Namely, my 10K. This came about as I’ve also entered the UKFast City of Salford 10K on Sunday September 8. My PB currently stands at 37:08, which is no slouch of a time, but it sits alongside a 16:39 over 4.98km at the Yorkshire Road Relays last year, and a sub 1:21 half marathon, and a 3km track time of 9:57.2. Simon is now backing me to knocks lumps out of that 10km time. Not seconds. But minutes. No pressure then.

You can see why though. That 37:08 is a little out of step. I’ve previously trained to go for a sub-35 10K but I’ve either been scuppered by injury, or a greater interest in longer distance racing. I haven’t run that many 10K races at all, and I’m reliably informed that Salford is a great race to get a PB. So this opportunity to represent Halifax at a club relay event again was one I was absolutely relishing to see what I could do, for myself, and for the team. We had a full squad of 12 men and 6 ladies, but competition for places is fierce, and we’ve got a couple of youngsters coming through the ranks who’ll surely be a part of these squads in future if their current progress is to be reckoned with.

The scene at Birkenhead Park, shortly after arriving. 24/03/2019

We got to Birkenhead Park just after 10:30am. We got the club tent set up and chatted away, getting ready and warmed up as other clubs steadily arrived in. I was on the fifth leg, meaning I would be running from around 1:30pm. The time passed quickly. The youth 5K races went off, we got warmed up, and I met Josh, a runner I’d become good friends with online via Facebook and representing one of the other clubs in attendance. We weren’t to be on the same leg, as it happened, but the nature of the event meant it would be likely we’d have been staggered anyway as the race got spread out.

I hadn’t brought any lunch, figuring there would surely be somewhere on site I could get something to eat afterwards. I’d had a hearty jumbo oat porridge before setting off, and had a banana about two and a half hours before I set off, and a gel for a few extra carbs before hand. I know it wasn’t going to be any more than 5 miles, but I figured if I wasn’t eating much the extra energy would help. Had I run first thing I wouldn’t have bothered.

I heard my number called out and there was Andy, my team-mate on the ‘D’ leg. In he came, as the marshal held me back at the start line, and as he crossed, I was released. I started off like I was sprinting on the track, and was well inside 3 minute km pace for a little while. I soon got settled down but I was motoring. 3:15 for the first kilometer. 3:21 for the next one. The park course was brilliant – beautiful to run by, very slightly undulating, an absolute joy to run. There were plenty runners I was able to catch up to and overtake as well.

I dropped to 3:39 on the 3rd km, but I felt like I was still running well. Then I found a bit extra and clocked 3:29 for the 4th km. I was getting great support from my club mates at different points on the course.

I went through the 5th km in 3:24, and overall had gone through 5km in 17:11. I felt awesome. For the third time since taking up running I’d gone under 17:30 for 5km across any sort of split. And then a 3:25 for the 6th km. It definitely felt like I was inside the pace I would need to run a club record over 5 miles later in the year or beyond.

Sure enough, my performance began to tail off, going for 3:42 in the 7th km. The last ‘kilometer’ turned out to be about 330-340 metres short. The second finished on an uphill back towards the finish/start area. I gritted my teeth and crossed, according to the watch, in 26:50. And that was it for me, as my team mate set off for the next 4km leg.

I was well happy after crossing, allowing myself a ‘get in!’ moment. It was nowhere near the fastest time on course, but by my own standards, I had absolutely smashed it. I returned to the Halifax Harriers tent absolutely buzzing.

Taken shortly after crossing the finish at Birkenhead Park, 23/03/2019

I later learned my time was rounded up to 26:51. Probably about right for the split second between setting off and starting the timer on my watch. I was 29th fastest out of 71 runners on my leg, which given I have had some great results lately and run out of my skin, tells you about the level of this event. I’d managed to gain 2 places in total for my team during that leg, so all in all, it was a job well done.

Time for some number crunching. My run averaged out at 3:30/km, the magic number needed for 17:30 5K pace, or 35 minute 10K pace. Had the last km been a full one, I was on 3:47/km pace, so working that one out, I’d have clocked the five miles in roughly 28:07. The club record for M35 is 29:40. If I had any doubt that I might be able to maintain 5:56 mile pace before today, they were well and truly shattered. Of course, its noticeable that my pace was tailing off at the end. I’d have got a 10K PB but it would have been touch and go to clock under 36 minutes. That still would have been a massive improvement, mind.

Our team finished 31st overall, out of near enough 70 teams. I think we missed out on qualification for the Nationals, but it was still a great effort. And our ladies 6 Stage team deserve a mention too. They finished 18th and surely did enough to earn a Nationals spot, a fabulous result.

There were photographers out on course but sadly I can only find one photo of myself in action. And here it is:

Note to self: BUY A VISOR!

Many thanks to Northern Athletics and Wallasey AC for hosting a cracking event. A great atmosphere and a lovely venue, well organised, friendly marshals, can’t ask for much more than that.