I didn’t need to finish this race to know things were going well. I was only two miles into the five miles of the Firefighters 5 (previously the West Yorkshire 5) to know that my day’s work was done. Last year I came into this race slightly undercooked having been ill in the run up and off training, but with some decent leftover form, and ran a respectable 29:46 for 6th round the hilly five miles around Birkenshaw.
Although I’ve been starting to come back into a little bit of form, it’s been a slow start to this training block. This was going to be a test of where my level is at the moment, and how on track I am for the Abbey Dash at the start of November.
Having run a course before sometimes gives you a big advantage. Last year I learned all about the challenges of this race, a course with a sine line elevation profile, heading up, down, down some more, and then up back to the finish. The strategy for the race was simple and based on my mile splits from the year before: if I could be inside my 2016 splits for each mile (5:51, 5:49, 5:29, 6:15, 6:26), I’d know I was going okay.
I almost always line up on the front line of each race I enter, but this time I was there with a bit of trepidation – with the struggle to get back to form, did I deserve to be there? Every local race is the same. You spot a handful of people who you think *deserve* to be bombing off the front (for example the runner on the left in the navy vest in the picture above, who I’d recognised as serially finishing top five), and another group of people who would probably try to go, but wouldn’t make it to one of the front groups.
From the weak parp of the air horn, I felt good. A few people went off on the first half mile loop around the fire station compound, trying to make the lead group, but by the time we were out on the road and heading uphill to the one mile mark there were two runners up behind the lead car, and then a small group of three, including myself, chasing them. I was running well to tempo, my pace was good, I was in contention for third place, and I’d ticked off the first mile in under 5:51.
The second mile is an up and over before starting downhill, the third is fully downhill, and the fourth mile finishes the end of the downhill and the start of the climb back up to the finish. By the time I got to the start of the downhill, the positions were clearer – the first two were still clear ahead behind the car, there was a Valley Strider about ten seconds ahead of me, and I felt there was a reasonable gap behind me.
A key piece of advice I learned during my days of running at university, and the first rule I put into practice in this race, is that it’s not how you go up the hill, it’s how you go over it. So on the downhill it was straight into pushing hard to ensure I was making the most of the gradient, working to close up the gap. I was running on my own, instead of with the group of three I was with last year, but despite that my hard running on the downhill seemed to be slowly closing the gap. In training I had felt as though I was back to my old self, but that was just training – now I was back properly, running hard at the pointy end of a race.
The slog back up the hill was lonely. The intensity was high. As soon as I made the turn to start up the hill the Valley Strider ahead started to make the gap wider and wider – he was just too strong up the hill. I was distanced, on my own, and fighting to rouse the courage to push on despite building pain from the intensity.
Then I remembered last year’s race. I’d got a lift to the race from a friend and fellow Harrier, and towards the top of the hill, but still with a bit to go, his wife was there cheering on the Harriers. She died earlier this year, but I thought about how she would have been disappointed to not see me giving everything and suffering as I came past. So I screwed everything up and pushed on.
I managed to hold on to my place through the final half mile back within the fire station grounds. I turned around for my first proper look (rule number two of this race – resist looking behind you) only once I’d got a good distance inside the grounds, with the gate still in view, and the fifth place runner was nowhere to be seen. I finished in an official 29:06 – a huge step forward in showing where my form is a the moment, two places higher than the year before, 40 seconds faster, and all that in much warmer conditions. In all the simple pleasure of enjoying the performance, I hadn’t realised that a PB at this race also meant an overall 5 mile PB.
So at the end of eight weeks out of twenty, things are building nicely towards the Abbey Dash. Next week I’ll be writing up a general training update of the work done so far, where I am now, and the plan ahead.