The final race before London, & with a very strong team on paper during the week it looked like Notts would be competing for gold! The national is 6 long legs (8.96K) & 6 short legs (5.14K) alternating.
There are often last minute changes due to injuries/niggles, so it was pleasing to turn up & see all the names were still on the sheet! A solid 12, with no weak links & some good experience within the team. Could this be our day? A slight change, having been on first leg for the last 3 12 stage relays I was now on leg 5. A bit of a double edged sword! Leg one is generally loaded, & you therefore get pulled along to fast times. It is also evenly paced & much like a normal race, rather than starting in front of/behind others. However the national is a battle for the front at the start & still through the first mile. This meant I would have to warm up based on an estimated start time, but through fear of missing the handover I always find myself hanging around in the pen for far longer than planned!
Jonny did a fine job on L1, just getting pipped on the final uphill sprint having lead down the long hill to the pond. Tim maintained 2nd, again briefly leading at the same point on the course.
By the time I was in the pen waiting to be called it looked like there would be a gap to close on Morpeth, but hopefully not much. It was extremely windy (probably ~20 seconds worth on the midlands two weeks before), & was particularly tough with a headwind along the false flat at the top of the hill so my plan had been to work hard in the first mile or so to close any gap & then sit in as we battled the wind. So much for those plans…
Morpeth came & went, & despite stretching on to tip-toes & craning my neck there was no sign of Martin on our 4th leg. Then the next man was called, but it was for Bedford who had retained 2nd. Martin turned the corner as Bedford set off & my plans had to be hastily revised! I took over 26 seconds down on Bedford & some 40 on Morpeth. Having started off slowly at the midlands, I pushed very hard through the first mile in a bid to catch Bedford by the top of the hill about 1.5 miles in & sit in before pushing on towards Morpeth on the out & back.
Although the plan worked in that I caught Bedford around the top of the hill (actually shortly after) it was clear as I approached that there was no point sitting in so I pushed straight past & focussed in on Morpeth who were still well up the road. I was blowing at this point & having to work very hard into the wind but some good crowds along that stretch helped me to maintain focus. It was a long & lonely run on the out & back (~1 mile each way) with only the odd glimpse of Morpeth ahead. I felt I was closing slightly & at the top of the hill was told I’d closed a further 5 seconds.
Working hard on the long downhill I felt I was closing in further & although tiring I was still moving well. He did seem to pick up again from the pond, & he’d finished as I turned the final bend. I gave it everything I had up the last hill right to the line & was fairly content with my run once finished. Based on a quick chat with the Morpeth runner (Carl Avery, a duathlete I believe) I had closed 20 seconds on him so had brought us back within striking distance.
We had 3 good long legs to come & our two strongest short legs on 10 & 12, so the thoughts were if we could be within 1 minute at halfway it could be our day. As it was we drifted out slightly again, but we gradually closed & after a strong L10 from Doug we were within 33 seconds of Morpeth with two legs to go. If we could stay within 15-20 seconds I think we all believed Sam could close & ultimately take the win if it came to a sprint finish. Unfortunately, having closed to within 25 seconds early on Aaron’s illness caught up with him as he got into his long leg & after the out & back we were down by around 2 minutes. Sam then ran the fastest short leg of the day so we ultimately finished 1 minutes back in 2nd.
A couple of years ago I’d have been over the moon to make it into the A team on a day with such quality, & I’d have been ecstatic with a national silver medal! As it is, we were all bitterly disappointed to miss out on gold & having gone off too hard I was frustrated not to be closer to the fastest long leg for Notts on the day. In hindsight it was a decent run & stacked up well against others on the day which is satisfying heading in to my marathon taper. I have good endurance, but expecting much more speed at this stage in my marathon build up may have been a bit optimistic – although we’re never satisfied as runners!
That’s a couple of national bronze & a silver in my collection, so now I need the gold! We have 5 strong runners going to London & with 3 to count for the national team championships held within the race we must have a great chance of picking up the gold. I’m looking for 2:18, as is Aaron Scott. We have Ben Douglas (68 Half at Reading), Rob Keal (target 2:24) & Tom Bailey (68 Half in March) so should be looking at a total time close to 7 hours which would certainly win most years!
Photo is most of the Notts AC team from the 12 stage (inc B team) with current trophies held.
The next race report will be the big one, & let’s hope it’s all positive.