Although I claim to really like this race, I’ve actually only run it a few times over the years, writes Dave Collins. A few niggles in the week looked like ruling it out again, then a well-timed bit of physio intervened to give me a sniff of the start line. A text from Jacqui at 9 o’clock on Saturday morning, informing us that her and Dave were on their way to Kentmere, removed yet another escape route. The drama really began 15 minutes before we were due to leave the house as Jayne bent down to pick up her jacket and promptly put her back out. That would have been a perfect excuse for most of us not to run, but in a flash she had the foam roller and ice-pack out in a desperate attempt at recovery. The fact that she could hardly sit in comfort in the car still didn’t deter her and it was only a light jog to registration which finally convinced her that running might not be that good an idea. Actually, I think she was swayed by the lakes of standing water on the adjoining roads – what on Earth was the course going to be like?
At registration, April and Tony Morgan appeared, with April revealing her dislike of off-road muddy races, and Tony combating this with the “it’s good strength training” card. Next to turn up were Kelly-Anne and Stuart; Kelly-Anne a lover of mud and slutch, and Stuart anxiously asking if base-layers were permitted. The real jewel in the crown though, was the return to racing of “Come on Kevin” Edwards. If you could pick a race which Kev would hate, then this was it; but that’s Kev for you. An announcement from race organiser Paul Carroll that conditions were as bad as he could remember prepared us all for a tough race. The muddier the better for me, I thought, to slow down the fast boys.
My usual racing partner Mike Harris hadn’t managed to make the start line because of an ill-timed cold and so I was feeling a little bit lost as we lined up for the “1, 2, 3 go”. With such a large field (record 239 entries), there was no chance of dodging the puddles on the opening flat stretch, but at least there was no mud – yet! After about half a mile, you turn to run up the legendary “concrete hill”. It now has a good tarmac surface and so is nowhere near as much fun as when we trained on it with Phoenix! It was on this stretch that I realised that Tony Morgan looked like filling the Mike Harris void. I was only really expecting to see Tony’s back some way in front of me, but an unbelievably hard week of racing and training must have reigned him in, as we ran up the hill together. We reached the top and Tony drew breath to comfort me with “Well that’s one down”. The top section didn’t disappoint, with lots of pools of water and plenty of mud, and even the downhill was wetter than I’ve seen it.
I’d passed Tony towards the top of the hill and held him off through the mud, but suspected that he’d come roaring past me on the fast flat bit, which he promptly did. We negotiated a Range Rover which had considerately parked in the middle of the track, and then headed off towards the woods. This part of the race was horrendous under foot. It was impossible to pick a line, and I had one slip which could so easily have ended in a head to toer. Somewhere in making our way to THE FIELD, I must have passed Tony again, but I was concentrating so much that I can’t think where. The field is iconic to the race. It used to be quite open so you could attempt to avoid THE PATH and run along THE FIELD. However, it is now a fenced in section which compels you to run in a channel about one and a half bodies wide. If you like to take a risk you can pass someone along here, but it relies on their goodwill in letting you pass!
The path eventually becomes paved before you run through the biggest group of spectators on the course to negotiate the top loop in the reverse direction. It’s then a case of déjà-vu and gritted teeth as you take on the woods and field for a second time. One bonus of being a local race was that there were loads of people on the course who I knew. Apart from all the encouraging shouts (“Looking good”?!), it took my mind off the race trying to spot who was shouting. Nina – didn’t see you until the end, but I did wave at a camera half way round.
I managed to pass 1st lady Kirsty Longley just before the field, slogged my way up that and then headed for home. Having left your legs in the mud, you have to dredge energy from somewhere to make the most of the relatively good surface to the finish. Conscious of Mr. Morgan’s pace, and suspecting that he couldn’t be far behind me (I didn’t look) I just put my head down and chased the group in front of me. I managed to reel a few of them in, and more surprisingly didn’t let them back.
Time is pretty meaningless on this course because of the different conditions year on year, so it’s more about where you are with respect to other runners. I was happy enough with my run (43.10 and 17th) and Tony (43.26 and 21st) must have been pleased with his after a heavy running week. Run of the day for me was by Stuart Towns who again showed his strength in tough conditions by coming in just over a minute and a half behind Tony (45.01) in 33rd position. It was also a great comeback by Super Kev who battled to the end to finish 54th in 47.53. Although having entered as “Unattached”, recent recruit Danny Parkinson showed plenty of promise in a 49.03 time for 71st position; this with a heavily strapped up calf.
The two ladies showed what battlers they are as they fought right to the finish line. Kelly-Anne defied an Achilles problem to finish in 51.26, 99th overall and 15th lady. April had a sprint finish with the experienced off-road specialist Kath Hoyer of Wesham, finishing in 53.04, 116th overall and 15th lady. Some training run April!!!
I’m not sure if people were just cold, wet and tired, or modest about their achievements, but they gave me and Jayne some Harriers glory by not attending the prize giving. After I got my 2nd place V50 voucher, there was a V35 prize for Kelly-Anne and a V45 for April, which Jayne was delighted to receive – she will pass them on; honestly. There then followed the crowning glory as the men received 12 cans of Carlsberg for being first team. Kev doesn’t drink and Tony doesn’t do Carlsberg, so that’s me and Stu sorted.
It’s not every race that you feel satisfied with, but if you ever want bringing down to earth, talk to a fellow runner. Having been pleased to have beaten Kirsty Longley, she told me (in the nicest possible way) that she was just racing herself back to fitness after having a baby! Then back in work on Monday, Mark Glynn asked me “How did you manage to beat Tony?” What are you saying, Mark? I can’t say I don’t deserve it though, Graham Millington.
Great race, superbly organised by Paul Carroll and well marshalled by our friends from Wigan Phoenix. Thanks to those who ran and even more to those who turned up to shout us on in the cold.
DON’T FORGET FINAL CROSS COUNTRY OF THE SEASON AND NORTHERN ROAD RELAYS – WATCH THIS SPACE.