Running at the British Masters Cross Country Relays!
The British Masters Athletics Federation (BMAF) have held their Cross Country Relays at my running club’s park for the last three years. It is a privilege that the club have enjoyed hosting, but this was the first time I’ve been a part of the event, having only joined my club in December 2016.
The races are for men and women from the age of 35 upwards in age groups of ten year blocks. For the men in the 35+ and 45+ categories, a complete team involved 5 members, each running a 3km lap in turn. For 55 and older groups, teams were 4-strong. For the ladies events, 3 runners made up each team.
Due to home admin, I didn’t make it in time to see and cheer on the women’s race, but I caught up with quite a few of them before the men’s race. As I’d walked across the park to get to the start line and general congregation of running club tents, I could tell that it was going to be tough running into a headwind along the bank for the final kilometre of the run.
There was a great buzz around the event and it was heart-warming to see so many people from teams up and down the country mixing with each other, catching up on lives and enjoying each other’s company. I caught up a friend who’d travelled from Norwich for the event and tried to mix with more unfamiliar faces from my running club. It’s such a popular running club and with busy lives, it’s not always possible for people (myself included) to attend regular weekly club running nights. Therefore, despite being in the club for nearly a year, I’m still learning names and faces!
I had a bit of a warm-up and by this point, the wind had died down significantly. My mind turned to consider what time I could aim to run my leg of the race. Despite the surface being grass, it wasn’t too boggy so I reckoned that I could aim for running at 3:30/km pace. This would give me a target time of 10:30. Hopefully, if I felt good with a kilometre to go, I could try to pick up the pace knowing it would only be a few minutes of hard work to get to the finish line.
As you can see on the map of the race, the first kilometre is mostly on short mown grass. This was always going to be the fastest kilometre of the race, so it made sense to put the effort in to make an in-road to the target time, hopefully giving myself a buffer for the final kilometre if I tired. The second kilometre took runners through the Fox Covert nature reserve – longer grass, single file paths next to head high nettles and bushes and this is where it was likely to be boggy. Probably the slowest kilometre due to these reasons and also due to the terrain for part of the kilometre; along a concrete criss-crossed/turf path that wasn’t so good when running in spikes. The final kilometre would be interesting for a few reasons. Would I have given too much in the first two kilometres? Would the wind be a factor? Would the buzz of nearing the finish and the surrounding crowds provide a push for a burst of speed? Would those ahead of me help or hinder me in pushing for the line, maybe overtaking a few runners in the process?
Time would tell.
The start of the race went off smoothly and the operation, hosted by Long Eaton Running Club, seemed to be a well-oiled machine. As the runners approached us on their way back, the marshalls started calling for the ‘B’ leg runners to assemble in the waiting area. I’d had visions of us all having the pressure of running 3km with a baton in one hand, frantically practising relay changeovers prior to running. I needn’t have worried. Again, it had been thought out well. As the previous runner in the team approached the finish line, a marshall informed them to get to the start line and then clearly stated when they could go. It was only at this point, I realised I needed to know the number I’d pinned on to the front and back of my running vest! I ran in ‘B 15’ and got myself ready as Mario ran for the line. I couldn’t help noticing that he looked shattered and I had to ignore that image as I set off, setting my watch as I went.
I set off like they do in the Tour de France time trials, like a bull out of a gate, pumped by the atmosphere and occasion, the cheers from LERC supporters and wanting to do my best for the team. As I approached what I thought was about 500 metres, I glanced at my watch to see my pace was 3:15/km!! Like I said before, this was meant to be the fastest kilometre, but I did panic slightly. This is faster than parkrun PB pace AND it’s cross country running! I tried to ensure I kept an ‘uncomfortably comfortable’ pace, pushing myself as much as I could without going so crazy I would burn out. The first kilometre beeped at 3:16 – I’d maintained the pace from the first 500 metres. I was pleased with that as I felt good and I’d passed a couple of runners by this point too.
Soon afterwards, we took a right into the Fox Covert nature reserve. The longer, heavier grass felt like it swallowed my pace instantly. Running beside the bridge, we then entered the boggy section. I was immediately behind another runner who I’d caught up with, but with no room for overtaking, I had to settle for staying on his tail. This section was the part I enjoyed the most. A fantastic photographer even caught the moment when I couldn’t help but smile to myself, enjoying the battle of maintaining pace despite the grasping clutches of the boggy ground.
With the tricky and slower section negotiated, we were up on the ridge for the rest of the race. I overtook another couple of runners as we jumped down onto a lowered section of the path and then back up again. It was here that I was thankful I’d done a couple of reccy’s of the route prior to the race; once with my running club here and once when I broke in my new cross country running spikes.
The watch, timekeeper and judge of my performance, beeped to confirm I’d run the second kilometre slower at 3:30. I was keen to try to run the final kilometre quicker than the second one even though I was feeling the effects of the effort now. As we curved round to the straighter section, I could see lots of runners ahead of me. I didn’t know if these were slower ‘A’ leg runners, or rival ‘B’ leg runners who’d got a march on me after the first leg. As such, I just went for it. I tried to make progress towards the next group of runners and passed three straight away. One of them I think tried to stay with me, but there was no way I was looking back. I kept on, with the shouts from supporters ebbing and flowing in my consciousness. I’d been so thankful for the encouragement from the LERC marshalls all the way round. It really did feel like a ‘Home’ fixture and their support really spurred me on.
As we descended the bank to the right, only now a few hundred metres from the line, I noticed a familiar figure ahead of me. It was a guy from Redhill Road Runners, who I’ve seen before at loads of races and parkruns, but never known his name! I stalked his name on the results sheets for the purposes of my curiosity and this blog post!
Anyway, seeing him ahead of me and knowing I hadn’t been overtaken, I took encouragement that I’d caught him up (and that therefore, he’d had a decent headstart on me!) and now I wanted to get past him! This gave me the injection of adrenalin that I desperately needed. I flogged myself to get up the bank and then, seeing the crowds and tents gave me fresh impetus to increase the pace. There was no way I was getting overtaken by anyone now – not in front of a crowd and this close to the finish. We descended the final bank and u-turned towards the finish line. I gave it everything I had left, wanting to give the marshalls a headache in having to hurry in announcing my number, giving our next runner, Mike, the best chance of making more in-roads to the leaders.
I crossed the line and instantly felt assured I’d done my best. I also felt a bit like ‘is that it?!’ Having never done the distance as a race before, it seemed to be over far too soon. Indeed, I hadn’t looked at my watch other than for the two split times for the 1st and 2nd kilometres. Perhaps that was a good thing though. I was concentrating on racing rather than clock-watching.
I stopped my watch at 3.1km in a time of 10:32 (unofficially). Later, I would find out my official time was the same, but that Strava got me down as 10:22 for the 3kms. I imagine there is a bit of a lag with the timing as it all seemed to be done by hand and there were no electronic race bibs or chips for us to wear. My race stats are here.
And that was it for me. I was now powerless other than to cheer on the rest of the runners – both in our team and in our more senior men’s teams.
Long Eaton Running Club – final positions
35+: 9th team out of 28 teams.
45+: 7th out of 19 teams.
35+: A team 11th and B team 20th out of 22 teams.
45+: 5th out of 13 teams.
Now I’ve looked at the results in a bit of detail, I am definitely pleased with my performance, particularly coming into it without knowing much about racing the distance or how the relay changeovers would happen. I performed well amongst my teammates and managed to make up 8 places from the standing after Leg 1 to the standings after Leg 2. I pretty much hit my target of 10:30 for the 3kms and this gives me a bit of a boost in considering what 5k parkrun time I might be capable of when I next have an available Saturday morning.
It was a really enjoyable experience and as the top 3 teams were announced and presented with medals, it was great to hear that we’d been running in the midst of some national and internationally renowned runners. The relays are a great team event and held in such a positive atmosphere. I will definitely be up for entering this again next year. Next weekend though, I have another cross country relay challenge. I’ll be representing my club again in the English Cross Country Relay Championships at Berry Hill in Mansfield. I’m told that this is an even bigger event, with about 20 times the number of runners involved. It sounds exciting and with the distance being 5k, it provides another interesting challenge to have a bash at!
Have you ever been involved in relay races, track, cross country or other? I’d be interested to hear your views on them. The British Masters Athletics Federation Cross Country relays will again be held at West Park, Long Eaton on Saturday October 27th 2018. Why don’t you speak to your running club and get them to enter some teams into it?