Race Report: The Keith Midgley Summer Handicap 10km

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.

Group photo before the race (taken from Halifax Harriers website)

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!

The post-race selfie

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

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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.

Snowdonia Marathon Training

2. Fun, and its consequences

I was quite the excited person looking forward to carrying out my interval session on the Spring Hall athletics track in Halifax this past Tuesday. I hadn’t been track running since sometime under night lights the previous year as I made my return from sesamoiditis, with only a sprinter and later a few members from the Halifax Harriers Athletics Club. What I hadn’t banked on was around 50 or 60 juniors all doing a training session with coaches from the Harriers as I arrived on site. I only remembered then that the local council’s website clearly states Tuesdays and Thursdays are Halifax Harriers training sessions. I’d previously arrived on a Monday night, late in the autumn. I stood around, wondering whether I should just run home instead. I saw a couple head into the small building nearby, and went in to find a few members of the Harriers around a table with race numbers, some paper and the odd drink.

I asked about the facilities and whether I could use them. I was welcome to for £2. A man I’d later know as Ray explained what I’d arrived to do and they told me a few would be running around the track as long as I remembered to obey the rules of the track – stepping off to the side of the track if slowing down, maintaining the inside two lanes, etc. The conversation then took an upswing.

Well, we’re doing a 10K race this evening, you fancy running a 10K?

I didn’t need a lot of convincing

Well, I was going to do intervals but sure,  I can do that“.

The conversation moved on to personal bests.

“OK, so what time can you run for 10K, your PB?”

Well… I ran 37:15 a couple of years ago

37?” 

37:15“.

A lady to my left said shortly after “can we sign him up?

I don’t feel nervous telling other runners about my personal best times, yet here I felt cautious about setting high expectations, though I was too immersed in the club environment to really dwell on that. I never brag about it, because it doesn’t happen as a fluke. I trained hard to get that time, and I’m still proud of it now, even if I haven’t bettered it since. It was nice now to have the chance to run with members of the club as opposed to on my own, taking the occasional nudge to sign up in my stride.

The race in question was the Harriers’ annual, club members only Summer Handicap 10K. If you’ve never raced a handicap, or never heard of one, in this context, the slowest runners sets off first progressing to the fastest runners, based on their PB or estimated time. An out and back, it would go through the Hebble Trail, over Salterhebble Locks, towards Sowerby Bridge along the Calder-Hebble Navigation, and then back again. I jogged down to the start behind a few of the club members and arrived at the start point, where we unloaded tables, cones, water cups, and the electronic timer out of the back of one of the runner’s cars, which was parked just inside the entrance to the trail. I got talking to a few of the members, explaining to some why I was here, and joining in the conversation with others, as can be so easy to do in fellow running company.

We were all set off one by one, and for my PB I would set off a good 18 minutes later, along with another guy called Will, who’d run a PB around 39 minutes if memory serves me well, and together we ran the first 2.5 miles. I began to surge ahead as we approached Sowerby Bridge, feeling OK to pick it up a little, and after turning back, Ray, whom I’d past shortly before the halfway point, told me to push it. That was like a red rag to a bull. I didn’t need much to encouragement, and soon I was passing other runners frequently. I ended up sprint finishing alongside another lady and we both recorded the same time. I was lithe to stop my Garmin straight away but recorded a rough time of 39 minutes. I was exhausted after the race, bearing a look of a man who couldn’t comprehend how the night had turned from a solo track session into an unplanned near flat out race across trails and towpaths.

What just happened?!

It turned out I wasn’t fast enough to win the prize, for which I wasn’t eligible as a non-member, perfectly understandable. Still, a brilliant race all round, everyone by and large stayed until the final runner came home, and there were free pie and mushy peas on offer for everyone. What a brilliant night this had been!

I’ve never felt I could justify joining an athletics club, feeling that my young family and work commitments have always been a barrier I could never work around. Back when I worked in Huddersfield I was with a few colleagues who ran for the Stainland Lions, and one or two for the Holmfirth Harriers. I’d have loved to have joined, but without a car its two bus journeys to each club, making it very difficult to say I could work around. The UK Athletics discount of £2 per race entry is attractive, but I don’t race anywhere near enough to get my money’s worth out of it, especially if I can’t run with the club. The Halifax Harriers, however, are only a single bus ride away, and I can be dropped off right outside the athletics track. Particularly after tonight, it seems a no brainer, should I eventually feel that the time is right. Their hospitality and camaraderie was hugely welcoming and I won’t ever forget that.

The runner’s high I was on would soon take an unexpected low. I’d run early on Thursday morning – 4:30am to be precise – the moon out, followed by a deep red sunrise, I had an excellent outing, covering 8 miles in just over an hour, with barely a soul around to disturb me. The reason so early? A summer jaunt with my colleagues from my team at work into York, where we would basically get quite drunk. I started civilly at Revolution, that was until we blew the remaining budget on a tray of 40 shots and a game of Giant Jenga. One shot for each brick, two if you pulled out more than one or knocked the structure down. Amazingly we were all still standing by the time we clocked up a Red Stripe at Turtle Bay. Then we entered a pub called The House of the Trembling Madness. Here I pretty much lost my mind. Before running, I was a bit of an ale drinker. I still am, albeit more socially. I was spoilt for choice, in my element, ale nirvana. They even sold a beer shot called ‘Tactical Nuclear Penguin’ at 32% strength. I bought some more ale from the shop downstairs. By the time I’d reached York station for the trip home, I’d had 4.5 pints of ale, 1 pint of Red Stripe, 5 random shots. Still retaining my bearings, I led a few of my colleagues towards Platform 6. Except I’d led them to Platform 9. Whoops. I rushed back. I planted my foot on the stairs.

And suddenly, a pain that no amount of alcohol could mask.

A sharp, shooting pain on the outside of my right knee. I carried on searching for my train, but I was in a lot of discomfort. By the time I’d reached Brighouse, I was hobbling, on my way to order a pizza and then home. I’d already told my wife to put my cold/hot pack in the freezer. We had the pizza together and then, apparently I just passed out, asleep against the base of the sofa.

It was 3:50am on Friday. 24 hours earlier, I’d woken up for a run. I finished that run near euphoric. Now I was waking up on the floor of my living room, where my wife had left me to sleep. The hangover was locked in, so I went to grab a pint of water. The pain was still there, so I grabbed my cold/hot pack, which had been in for 4-5 hours as opposed to 90 minutes. I sat downstairs, drank the water, applied the ice, and considered if I’d actually drunk myself to a serious injury. Eventually I dragged myself up the stairs to bed at 5:00am, feeling scared to put weight on my knee. I laid down at the bottom of my bed, eyes shut, but mind racing. I couldn’t sleep.

I woke up at 6:30am. The madness had turned to worry. My body was letting me know what it thought of my escapades. Clearly I’m not made to take such a variety of drinks like that, and my knee was still giving me jip. I had time to take a paracetamol and apply ibuprofen gel before leaving for work but left plenty of time to walk through town for my train. Right now walking was better but I still couldn’t bend my knee sufficiently without discomfort. I avoided staircases and used the lifts at work. By now I’d booked into the doctor’s for a late appointment.

My past experiences with doctors about my lower limb injuries haven’t always gone agreeably. I’ll never forget the one who told me my feet ‘weren’t built for marathons’. Or the one who implored me to just keep taking ibuprofen to sort out my maltracking knee back in 2012-13. I was prepared for maybe a bit of negativity, sarcasm, but even so, the overriding concern was blindingly obvious. I was really concerned I’d sustained a serious enough injury to affect my future race plans, the big one being Snowdonia, in which I’ve already invested in making it a ‘racecation’ with my young family. On the outside, I went about my day as usual, but inside I felt miserable, worrisome, all day.

The doctor heard my account of what happened. I won’t name him, but my GP is excellent at his job, efficient, serious but caring with only a hint of condescension as he typed into his computer aloud. ‘Alcohol involved…‘, he half-sneered. But nowhere near enough to cause dislike. Up I went onto his couch, while he twisted my knees this way and that. He couldn’t find anything. I’d just jarred it. I was doing all the right stuff for now, just keep at it and in a few days, maybe even try ‘a gentle jog’. I didn’t let on, but all of a sudden I felt a weight had been lifted. Maybe it wasn’t so bad after all. Maybe I had dodged one there.

Of course, any plans for running this weekend were cancelled, meaning my 12-13 mile trail run was going to have to wait a little while. Thankfully, my knee seems to settled down quickly under the glare of ibuprofen, an ice pack and generally resting the thing. I may yet be ready for the 401 Challenge with Ben Smith on Friday 5th August, though likely not the whole marathon distance, but that aside, week four was always going to be an easier week, with a crosstraining session replacing my Thursday tempo run. So I suppose if there was a good time to pick up this knock, it would be now. And I am scheduled to go walking around the Yorkshire Dales with my father at the end of next week, plus the concern of Man vs Barge coming up, so I’ve got plenty to aim for.

I really did have the bit between my teeth though. Running had become as enjoyable as its ever been. The unscheduled race with the Halifax Harriers was about as spontaneous as I imagine you can get, and made for a crazy and indeed fun experience. I’m getting the hang of waking up early for those dark mornings, something I’ve wanted for ages, and on a work night too!  It’s just slightly galling yet incredibly lucky I suffered a setback to thrust my upcoming plans into doubt, and one that had I actually ruined my future plans would have left me with a huge amount of self-guilt and possible heartbreak. As it is, I feel a tangible sense of relief.

The challenge of Snowdonia is one I’m looking forward to so much, with the variety of training planned, that it feels I’m finding running more enjoyable than ever.

Trust something to go wrong when I wound up having too much fun. This marathon lark is indeed serious business!