Race Report: Canal Christmas Cracker 5K 

Sunday December 10th, 2017

At this time of year, in the last two years I’ve run the Great Yorkshire Pieathlon, a hilly trail race involving pie-eating and all manner of silly costumes. I enjoyed shoving mince pies down my face as I run, but this year I wanted a different challenge while still running a shorter distance than I traditionally race. The Canal Christmas Cracker 5K fit the bill perfectly, completely sans pies (until the end, at least), and somewhat less hilly – a decision which, Post-White Rose Ultra, seemed like a masterstroke. Indeed, you can’t get much flatter than a canal most of the time, save for, in this case, a couple of up and down footbridges that required navigation.

The last few days building up to the race, however, seemed ominous to say the least. Britain was about to get a blast from Storm Caroline – which, in my part of the country, seemed more like a bit of a shower and little else – followed by an icy currant of weather that would send temperatures subzero. Queue a nervous few days as reports of heavy snow came in from down south and races around the country were either cancelled or subject to review. 

Meanwhile, in Brighouse, the little town that could, it really tried hard to snow.  And yet every flurry, every downfall failed to come to fruition. This was the scene on Friday afternoon… 

Dashing through the sn…oh…

Effusing positivity, it seemed, were the team at It’s Grim Up North Running, who via Facebook were doing everything to assure runners that the race would be going ahead, between posting pictures of delicious looking cake, something of a trademark that has become synonymous with this wonderful Leeds based events company. Having done two events earlier in the year (the Sir Titus Trot in January, the Leeds-Liverpool Canal Canter in March), it seemed right to close off my year of running with a crack at one of their shorter events, although there was still a marathon here to be ran if you really fancied upwards of 3 or 4 hours, maybe more, running in absolutely freezing cold conditions. And in typically northern fashion, we would not be deterred. 

I was very glad, however, to reach the registration venue in Kirkstall. The chill I felt after leaving the bus was immense. Thankfully the heating was on and the main function room seemed to be packed. I wandered over to the 5K and 10K registration desk and didn’t even need to introduce myself. I was actually recognised? Apparently I was the really fast runner who was going to run the 5K in 18 minutes! I played down my expectations, modest as I ever am, because as fun as this was going to be (if running in subzero is your idea of fun), it was still a race to be run, not necessarily to be won. 

I went back after completing my warm up exercises and introduced myself to James, a fellow runner from the online running community, Running the World. He had been helping with registration and was also running the 10K. After exchanging a few stories about running and, indeed, the weather, it was time to head back out to go to the start/finish at Kirkstall Bridge. Not without wishing one another luck, of course. 

The race start was a little chaotic, and partly through my own doing. I decided to go on a warm up jog down the canal, just to check the towpath for ice, and obviously to get my running legs going before the off. Except, in doing so, I missed the majority of the race briefing. How despicable of me. I understood at least there was going to be a staggered start, with the half, 20 mile and marathon racers going first travelling west under Kirkstall Bridge, with the 5K and 10K runners starting a bit further back on the other side, heading out east towards Leeds. I complicated matters when another runner said he thought the 5K runners were starting back the other side of the bridge, so I listened and found nearly everyone had come towards where I’d come from. So I went back, and just stood with the 10K runners as the longer distance runners hurriedly started their race. So much so that a few runners also turned up late for their start, so the group didn’t go through in one go. With nearly everyone, it seemed, through, the countdown to the 5 and 10K began. And yes, I asked if this was the 5K start. James said ‘just run Peter!’ The horn was sounded, my brief embarrassment and self-shame put to one side as I sprinted off the line. Incredibly, more of the half and full runners came under Kirkstall Bridge after the 5 and 10K races began, which meant I had to manoeuver around them tightly cornering the outside of the towpath.

After all that, I finally had clear towpath ahead of me. And so I just ran my natural race, ie. to go as hard and fast as possible. Resulting in a 3:25 first km, according to watch. That would be as quick as it got, with the aforementioned hills up ahead to contend with, brief as they were, and the biting cold perhaps just slowing me by a few seconds here and there. Nonetheless, at the turn, I was well clear, and eventually past the leading 10K runners, which included James, offering a sort of high five as we crossed paths. I had quite a gap back to second and really could enjoy the thrill of ideal conditions as far as this day could be expected – about 98% ice free throughout, save for a few icy muddy puddles which were navigated without too much difficulty.

The race distance exceeded 5km as it happened, so I knew I couldn’t count on my time here as a PB – I went through 5km in 18:15, a good few seconds off my parkrun PB – but ended up running another. 35km according to watch, finishing in 19:40. Nonetheless, I was able to enjoy something I’d never experienced before as a runner in an actual race – victory!

I slowed up at the line and gratefully received a finisher’s medal, along with the winner’s trophy for 1st Placed Male. I even got my photo taken in front of Kirkstall Bridge. And unlike the Canal Canter Ultra earlier in the year, I was able to stomach one of the masses of cake and pastries so lovely served up for the runners at the finish. The cranberry tart I had was incredible!

Holding the 5K 1st Male trophy. Finally number 1

It turned out I finished, in 5K distance terms, a long way ahead of the second place male, and it turned out only 5 people ran the 5K, myself included. IGUNR are still an up and coming events company, and for my money one of the best around – it seems, however, their more popular events are 10K upwards to half and full marathon distances, and most of their race entry allocation goes on these events. The only nitpicking I could stage on this occasion is the slightly chaotic staggered start (of which I played my own small part), but this is a minor quibble because it didn’t actually delay the start, and at the end of the day, its a Christmas race, a chance for a bit of fun. 

I’ll never let anything take away from what I achieved – I was best on the day and that’s about as much as anyone can say. It caps an absolutely amazing 12 months, which started with 5th at last year’s Pieathlon – two thirds, a second, a couple more top 10 finishes, and now a first place finish at last. I can honestly say I never expected to win a race, and would have been happy just to excel myself, yet at the same time, it felt like such a long time coming and ultimately I’m very happy I’ve actually achieved it.

Many thanks to Diane, Cath and the It’s Grim Up North Running team for putting on this event and working tirelessly to ensure it went ahead, despite the harsh weather conditions preceding the race, and their incredible positivity and enthusiasm for ensuring another successful race event. A massive thank you to the marshals who stood for hours in the cold conditions, and well done to all who competed on this, well, grim day up north. 

It’s Grim Up North Running website

Advertisements

The Summer of Speed – Progress

I thought it would be a good time to drop back in and discuss how my ongoing preparations are for my big 10km PB attempt this summer. I’m heading down to London for the Royal Parks Series Regent’s Park 10km on Sunday 23rd July, and have my sights set on my long-standing PB of 37:15 from the Epilepsy Action Bradford 10K from March 2014, and have dedicated my spring and summer to chasing down the pursuit of blistering pace.

The key change in my life is that I’ve started training with the Halifax Harriers, an athletic club based just on the outskirts of the town centre, having now freed up my Tuesday nights to be able to train with them. After three trial sessions, I finally handed over my membership fee and now, just over four and a half years after taking up running again, am now proudly wearing the Halifax Harriers race vest.

I’m currently turning up on Tuesdays for training sessions with them, and already I’m seeing improvements to my running. Here are a couple of pace charts – one from a repetition session carried out on a Monday night (01 May 2017) and my first repetition session on the track with the Harriers, less than 24 hours later.

On my own – consistent intervals, but the slight drops are proof of the strain
With the Halifax Harriers, similar session, smoother intervals

As you can see, my pace is much more consistent running with a group, maintaining a steady pace even at my top end speed, where on my own the jagged nature of that pace line shows how hard I was working to keep my level up. I also tended to jog during the recovery phases of my interval training prior to club training, but the recovery here tends to be to stop, rest, stretch, loosen up and lower the heart rate, before setting off again. I’ve managed to get my 400 metre speed down to 70 seconds, which is as quick as I’ve ever managed lapping the track.

My 5K pace seems to have improved as well since joining the Harriers. I ran an 18:22 to take first place at Brighouse parkrun again, albeit I suffered for front running the whole thing – I set off too quickly and the hill at the back of the Brighouse parkrun course basically sapped my top end pace out of me. I had an immediate chance to pursue the sub-18 again the Tuesday after, at a 5K time trial on Harriers night, taking on a two lap, undulating course in Skircoat Green, Halifax. My first three k’s went for 3:50, 3:35, 3:37…and then my watch gave up. Saving myself onto the remaining uphills, I thundered down the flats and the descents, turning right at the end for one more hill towards the finish – absolutely on my toes, I pushed for the line and recorded 18:01 – narrowly close to sub-18, but a brand new PB over the distance by five seconds. It took everything I had, but it was worth it for the result, and gets me tantalizingly close to going under 18 minutes as we head into June.

Just this past Sunday, I ran on my own to test my 10km pace eight weeks out from the Regent’s Park 10km in London, running from Brighouse to Elland Bridge and back along the Calder-Hebble Navigation. I clocked 39:12.5, a couple of minutes down but on a slightly hilly route, and with a pronounced slow down at 9km so as not to needlessly chase the 3 minute km I would have needed to go under 37:15. I needed a marker to lay down and while I was shorn of top end pace later in the run, I know where improvements can be made and there’s plenty time to turn that around.

I’m not finding this without difficulty though. Odd cranks have started to appear, and at the behest of self-diagnosing, what’s going on in my right foot is the ruminations of plantar fasciitis. I haven’t half worked on my eccentric step exercises and calf massages since, and thankfully so far its remained manageable. I’m trying more than ever to get onto trails and away from roads when the opportunity arises, and listening more than ever to when my foot decides its not happy with the stick its getting. Furthermore, I had more than a  hiccup with my Garmin Forerunner 10, which seems to be on its last legs for a little while – its stopped recording runs despite all manner of reset attempts to right it. Not the most important thing but when you’re trying to measure your pace, its a bugbear if you haven’t got the kit.

And I definitely need time to acclimate to potentially hot racing conditions. I recently ran home from Ravensthorpe along the banks of the River Calder, and found it hugely stifling in 24-25C temperatures, with the sun endlessly beating down. Right now the weather is consistently around 17-18C in the UK, occasionally breaking into the 20’s in my area. The warmest I’ve ever raced in is 18C, so I’ve got to prepare for the potential of racing at least in the low 20’s. That shouldn’t prove too big a step, so long as I take the opportunities to run hard in the heat, and key things like staying hydrated. At the end of the day it probably won’t make too much difference, but its best to be prepared for all eventualities weather wise on the day of the race.

Selfie break in the pre-summer sun, on the River Calder, 25/05/2017
The River Calder near Mirfield, 25/05/2017

As you read this, I’ll have taken part in the Hebden Bridge Fell Race – more on that very soon – to kick off a surely busy couple of months packed with races and opportunities. Without question I’m going to have to work hard to keep bringing my time down, but who said chasing times was ever going to be easy? Especially with a watch that may or may not be on its way out. In any event, it’ll be great to keep on this road into the heart of summer, culminiating on July 23rd, when I can hopefully race the 10km of my life in the morning and be inspired by the athletes taking part at the World Parathletics Championships in the evening. The focus here remains resolute, and with the Halifax Harriers I’m feeling great about the remainder of the year going forward.