Road Racing – A Love/Hate Relationship!

Road Racing – A love – hate relationship!

On Wednesday 11th May, 2022, I ran Clayton 10k – looking back this appears to have been my first proper road race since 2018, which quite frankly, for someone who used to race all the time, loved representing Stone Master Marathoners (SMM) and being part of the NSRRA (North Staffs Road Runners Association), is ridiculous!

How did I let it happen? Granted we had a couple of years of some pandemic which I heard about in the news, a change in career and things happening in my personal life but these were all just an excuse not to race (or at least run hard).

I don’t pretend to be a psychologist, there are things that go on in the human mind that are way beyond my comprehension, so to try and understand what people are thinking or how they react to certain situations it is not for me intervene but if I can be someone to talk to and encourage in the right way then brilliant, and that is why I love coaching and perhaps why my running took a step backwards.

Since I started running with SMM about 10 years ago people have let me know on more than one occasion that I could be a ‘better’ runner and deep down I know this but for some reason when it came to pushing on those excuses came to the fore and I took the opportunity to ‘ease’ back.

So why Clayton 10 km?

Why not? Earlier this year a good friend turned 50 and the plan was to run the Malta Marathon with a group of Bats and in my head I took this as an opportunity to train a bit smarter and aim to beat my PB – not too put too much pressure on myself but it wasn’t a tough target as only previously done 3 marathons but hopefully with some sort of plan it would help the shorter distances which I prefer. (I had done the cross country and a few off road things but mud, wind, puddles, uneven surface – ready made excuses for me not running to my potential!)

Unfortunately, a couple of weeks before Malta it was cancelled, on the day I had done a lap challenge around Oulton Park and had felt really positive about my prospects. Was I disappointed – sort of, but also relieved as I had been building up Malta and started telling myself to aim high… so great, an excuse had come just in time.

Jumping forward a few weeks I had continued to help some of my athletes with their race plans without actually looking at rebooking anything for me. They were getting PB’s, looking strong in training and entering more races. I was going to races and supporting people and then at the SMM Spring Treble whilst helping out you could feel the buzz of excitement about racing being back to normal and it got me looking at what I could enter.

Without telling anyone I re-entered the NSRRA and entered Clayton 10K about 2 or 3 weeks ago.

So why is it a love-hate relationship?

Up until 3 days before the race I had done a little bit more focused training, increased the intensity on some of the longer runs and knew I was running ok but had put it out of my mind that I was actually doing a race and this is where the hate part comes in!

Tuesday night, my sleep was restless to make an understatement, I was trying to think of legitimate reasons why it was a bad idea to run – I couldn’t think of anything. I had a work appointment 5 minutes away from the race headquarters a couple of hours before the race so I was in the area and couldn’t blame traffic. My wife was off work and sorting football and revision for the boys (and she knows I am less grumpy if I run) so couldn’t use that. To be honest I felt apprehensive all day on Wednesday but knew deep down I was going to race it, just how hard was I going to try.

My work appointment was a blessing in disguise really, they are an awesome runner but get even more nervous than me, so getting encouragement from them made sure I wasn’t going to walk around. I was going to at least try!

Now if you have seen me before a race I normally show quite a calm exterior, smiling and chatty, plenty of energy whilst in my head I am seriously questioning why I am there. I collected my number, spoke to a few people that I hadn’t seen for a long time, found my fellow bats and introduced myself to Helen, our leading lady this year in the championship. I was even quite positive in my responses to how I was feeling ‘running well’, ‘feeling good’, did throw in a few ready made excuses ‘not run a road race for at least 3 years’, ‘not sure I am up to Group C pace’ etc etc. just in case.

So as you can see – this is part of the hate side – the anxiousness, the sleepless nights, the excuses and then you have the race itself.

The race

So Clayton 10k starts on a field, with a short uphill, then a short downhill on uneven, freshly cut grass surface – so mad charge to get round the field onto the road avoiding bollards and pedestrians. Once on the road you have a short sharpish climb to the roundabout then ease into a gradual climb up the main road and then left continuing to climb – so after about 1 km I am already regretting my decision – I had forgotten Clayton was so undulating – why didn’t I enter a flat, downhill course to start?

Once you reach the top of the initial ascent, it levels of then drops down gradually down to Seabridge Lane via a narrowish footpath, a chance to catch your breath, pose for Mick Hall and Bryan Dale’s cameras (thanks Bryan for the photo – this was the first lap – no bat wings on the second). Guess what, another climb – I know we run around Stone and there are plenty of hills but when you are racing they seem so much harder. Fortunately, there was a runner from Gator AC helping some team mates so I focussed on them and just tried to block out the pain – how were we only 2-3km into the race?

Next there is a big downhill, relax, lengthen the stride, smile and make the most of it whilst still pushing on – Clayton is a two lap race so at this point you try and tell yourself that when you are next here there isn’t long to go – small wins. After the downhill another climb to and then drop back down to the start where you pass the 5k marker and start again.

I don’t tend to look at my watch during a race and just run – if I see my watch I will be tempted to change my pace to suit – normally slow it down as it looks too fast, it did beep and show my 3rd mile was 6.40 something so I tried to ignore it as knew I was about to start climbing again.

Basically the 2nd lap is the same as the first but on a positive note you know what is to come and you have warmed up and found your pace, negatively, you know what is to come and are knackered.

Anyway, I kept working, listened to encouragement from the ever dependable Lee Jones and focussed on pushing on until the end. Normally I have a sprint finish, not tonight as I rounded the last corner my legs felt like jelly and I couldn’t hold off the South Cheshire guy as he passed me in the last few yards (Chip time I beat him – hee hee).

I crossed the line and wanted to collapse, that was one tough course and I had forgotten how undulating it was. However, official time 42:46, which outside Stone 10K(41:51) and South Cheshire 10k (42:20) which are pancake flat courses and last done when I was 4 years younger is my quickest 10K so I was extremely pleased with my result.

It is this point that the hate part of racing starts to turn into love!

What do I love about road racing?

– I have just run 6.22miles, no matter how fast you run a 10k, it is an achievement – be proud.
– I have run around for 30, 40, 50, 60 minutes with like minded people just because I wanted to.
– Complete strangers cheering and clapping you.
– I had forgotten how much I missed chatting to these friends, before and after the races, the overall feeling of being in it together.
– No-one cares what your time was, everybody says well done.
– You get beaten on the line or you beat someone on the line, there are no bad words just congratulations.
– Everybody is in the same boat – absolutely knackered but buzzing – what is there not to love.

What next?

I got home after the race, looked at the results and as we all do analysed the run. Do you know what? I wouldn’t change a thing – now that has got to be a first. All of my thinking, worrying, talking before the race didn’t help – yes being nervous before a race and getting the adrenaline going is a normal response but at the end of the day I am supposed to be running because I enjoy it.

I ran hard, I socialised, I exercised and, you know what? I enjoyed the result.

I will be finding my next race shortly and I encourage you all to do the same. Let’s support our local running scene and get out there, meet people and make new friends.

Thanks for reading,

Paul Phillips – Kinisi