If you could pick any race that you know every single inch of, what would it be? Would it be one that’s close to home? Would it be one you’re all to familiar with because you’ve run it way too many times? Or would it be a personal favourite that you’ve just studied and studied in hope that you might run it one day?
Is there a perk to you knowing every inch of it? Knowing where the pain and torture is going to come, followed by the relief of the race and scenic routes admired. Knowing where to attack the route and where you can take the foot off the gas. Where your particular strengths and weaknesses will come into play.
For me I’ve a few of these races now, one of them being the Ward Green 6. I can either approach it in two ways; with absolute hatred, knowing where the challenges are. Or on the other hand with some experience, that I know where the challenges are. The flowing downhill to begin with, sharply approaching the flat, only to climb back up the deceptively long drag only to fall back down again for round 2. I’ve run parts of the course plenty of times, more times than I can count. I’ve run it in snow, ice, rain, sun, roadworks, floods, wind and did I mention ice? Flashback particularly to the 2014 race when there was a RAV4 in the ditch at the bottom of hound hill.
I’ve run the race in ‘race conditions’ 5 times before. Today being my 6th. It’s round the corner from my house, so of course I’m going to have run it every year since I started lacing up my shoes and getting outside. Generally speaking whatever time I get at the Ward Green 6, I tend to go on and beat it in a 10k the following year. At some stage. So let’s have a look at see if that is true. I’ll put my 10k time from the following year in brackets.
2013- 37:47 (37:47)
2014- 37:06 (36:49)
2015- 36:46 (35:07)
2016- 34:45 (34:28)
2017- 34:08 (33:26)
So given that knowledge and sort of correlation, it’s a great confidence measure, it’s right on my doorstep, it’s the Ward Green 6!
Plan as always, wake up, run there. Woke up a bit late, with work done for the Christmas period, late night and late mornings are a novelty at the minute. Got showered and ready and was out the house for 10:10, just over a mile away from my front door, round the back of the park and at the club house in 7 minutes. Straight in and got my number from Keith Binney sat on the desk, went to Dad’s car and pinned it on my vest. Horrible rain, so the course was a little bit damp. Let’s leave it at that. Off I went to continue my ‘warm up.’ 3.5 mile done before the race and I was back at the community centre, milling around and chatting to people. Getting myself in some sort of mindset before we was off. Made our way up the drive and onto the road, bit of a thrown together start. It changes ever so slightly, by a couple of metres anyway, year to year. But it is usually near one of the lampposts, don’t think anyone is sure as to which one. Keith Binney points his gun at the crowd, just to mek sure, we’re all listening! Quick brief, watch that car and bang, we’re off. Quickly out the blocks making use of my fresh legs, for now, because at the start of lap 2, in roughly 15 minutes time, they definitely won’t be feeling like this here! Began sweeping around the bend and climbing up to Hound Hill.
Pulling the pack, knowing that as soon as the downhill approaches that I’d hopefully sit in and behind. Getting there and letting them pass me, for me to assume my position. Challenge against myself now, keep that mental grind going. Flying down Hound Hill, loosing my legs and letting them fall. Taking it easy and not panicking with the rush of it all. Hitting Haverlands Lane before I even could begin to think. Rolling out onto the flat now, if you’re ever going to fade in this race. It would be here, it’s a nice road, it’s easy to get lost in your surroundings and forget where you’re racing. The South Yorkshire Road League runs along here, many Gareth Cooke training runs, come along here. It’s easy to forget I’m racing. Head in the zone and taking it as we go. Sweeping around the bend and approaching the tree cover, rain had started to stop, ish. My head was loosing a bit of focus and race made flicked off momentarily. Sitting back and relaxing, like I’m out for a gentle stroll! Getting to the bend near the TPT car park, seeing Naomi Biddlestone out supporting, quickly reminded me that I’m in a race! Kicked on and got my head and body ready for the climb that is to come. Passed Wigfield farm, still had sights on the leading 4. Knowing that if I could make some ground on them on the climb, I might still stand some sort of chance. Head up, shoulders back and took it in my stride, hitting the climb with confidence and approaching it with a positive mindset. Absolutely adamant that it was going to be my best climb yet. Making my way up, surely and making some ground ever so slightly on the group in front. Ground that I lost when I switched off. Counting the bus stops off as I made my way up this quad burner!
They were going down with ease, feeling really strong and able. Got to the bend at the top and began to sprint for the small flat section before the climb truly finishes at the top of hound hill again. Clocking my lap in 15:38. Double it and I’d be chuffed. But this is the Ward Green 6 fatigue, lactate and pain has set in, just in time for round 2.
Back down I go, flying down Hound Hill. Seeing the lead pack fragment so slightly and gaining some confidence from that. Pushing my body as much as I could. Just to loosen my legs in time for the next climb! Hitting Haverlands a little more experienced than before. Didn’t switch off this time. Felt strong and felt comfortable. Grinding out the mile and a bit on here. Looking at bits I recognise, ticking them off as I go. Loving the race and the place. Driving forward, splashing through the remaining puddles and enjoying the occasion. In hindsight, even though I didn’t switch off this lap. I was 6 seconds slower than my first according to Strava. Probably enjoyed puddle splashing a little too much. Anyway, approached Wigfield Farm and felt under control of my race, feeling confident that I would at least PB for the course. Confident that I’d set myself a great marker for next year. The climb, attack it even quicker than I did before. David Brooksbank was on the tail bike, giving me the prediction of 32:59. Secretly I wouldn’t be happy with that, it’s not a big enough target. Kicked on some more, to see Naomi, who had roped Gail Colville and Kevin Wood into her cheer squad. Cracking job. Ticking the bus stops off again. Seeming to go a little quicker this time around. Then left myself a short burst of energy at the top, I was right, I was quicker. 1 tiny little second quicker, the second time around. Happy with that. That’s a win in my eyes! Approaching the flat bit now and finish line in complete sight, would Brooksbank be right?
5th Place and on my watch, 32:17. In true fashion, a true target for 2019 set. We’ll have to see what it brings now, won’t we? Taking nearly 2 minutes off of my Ward Green course PB, in the process, knocking it down from my 34:08 in 2017. 5 and half minutes since I first started in 2013. It’s a patience game this running thing.
With one official race left of 2018, for me. It’s been a great year, hasn’t it? But all we’ve all been doing is building some even better foundations for the year to follow. The project is ourselves, seeking to gain whatever we want out of the wonderful sport of putting one foot in front of the other. You can only get better by doing exactly that.
Just Keep Running!