Every second counts!

Every second counts

It’s 4:35am.

I’m restless. I’ve been awake for what seems like hours and my mind is working overtime. I’ve played out the race over and over again in my head. I keep asking myself if I could’ve gone any faster.  I think about parts of the course where I lost time and what I could’ve done to grab a few more precious seconds. What about that final climb? Yeah, that final climb – that was it! If I could’ve just put in more effort on that last kick to the top then perhaps I might have gained another place? Damn! I knew I should’ve pushed harder! Every second counts. I play that bit back in my mind again for what feels like the hundredth time. It’s such a clear memory I feel like I’m almost back in that exact moment. Oh God, I remember that pain. How breathless I was at the summit, how much my legs hurt and how I struggled to switch from the climb and hit the descent at pace. No, there’s nothing more I could’ve done. I guess I need to stop being so hard on myself. I try to convince myself that I did everything I could. I remind myself of how trashed I felt when I crossed the finishing line and I try and think positively. I ran a great race. I just pray that I’ve done enough for selection. Anyway, time to stop beating myself up – there’s nothing more I can do now.

The trouble is, I’m like this after every race, even when I win. I over-analyse everything, I’m always thinking of what I need to do to improve rather than taking stock of what I’ve achieved and allowing myself to celebrate success. I don’t know if it’s a good thing or not. I wonder if other runners feel like this. Will I ever be happy with a race result? I guess there’s always room for improvement. I immediately think about tomorrow’s training run. I’ll be ready for the next raceI’ll make sure I am. No excuses at the next one. I need to do well. OK, enough now. Time to roll over and try and get some sleep. STOP THINKING ABOUT THE RACE….AARGH!!!

534973672.jpgPictured above: The stunning setting of Whinlatter Forest, near Keswick (courtesy of Getty images)

‘THIS RACE IS SUPER STACKED WITH A CAPITAL ‘S’!’

12 hours earlier. 

I’ve arriveat Whinlatter Forest, near Keswick, for the European Mountain Running Championships trial race. I’m desperate to make the GB team as this year the event is being held in Arco, Italy. It looks an amazing place with a stunning course and spectacular backdrop. This one’s ‘a biggy’ – I need to do well. I remember writing it down in my diary at the start of the season. I even wrote it down with a pen so it must be important. In fact what I am talking about? I actually wrote a race down in my diary! – that’s a sure sign of importance in itself!

Strangely, I’m not actually that nervous. I’ve purposely tried not to spare the race too much thought so I don’t get too worked up about it. What will be, will be I suppose. Besides I’ve seen the start list, if I make the top 10 I’ll have had a blinder. This race is super stacked with a capital ‘S’. There are only 4 places available on the team and let’s face it, I’m gonna need a worldy run or a miracle to get selected. Yeah, top 10 – that’s the aim.

As I walk to registration I notice a few of my rivals already warming up. I do that thing in my head where I start to rank people and decide where I need to finish and who I need to beat. I start with my mate Andy Douglas, he’s clearly the favourite for the win. I mean, the guy’s unreal. He finished 6th in the World Championships last year and he’s cut from the very same mould as Robbie Simpson. There must be something special in the Scottish water. I go over for a chat and Andy, being Andy, starts the conversation by congratulating me on my win at the inter-counties two weeks ago. I explain that I rode my luck and I thank him profusely for not turning up. He politely laughs it off but I’m being deadly serious. That’s Andy all over. He’s such a modest and down to earth guy, you’d never even realise how good he is unless you knew who he was. That’s exactly why I like him so much, an extremely humble and very brilliant champion.

The same words can be used to describe the next person I bump into, the Welsh Whizzard himself, Andy Davies. The last time I saw Andy was on TV when he competed in the same GB team as Mo Farah at the Great Edinburgh XCountry back in January. It gives you a real flavour of the calibre of athlete that’s turned up today. I congratulate him on all his success over the last couple of years but he’s insistent on praising me also. I feel a little embarrassed as my own achievements pale in significance. Time perhaps to try to find somewhere quiet to warm up where I’m not freaked out by the ridiculous standard of competition.

‘AFTER SEEING RICKY I NOW KNOW THAT I’M REALISTICALLY FIGHTING FOR 4TH PLACE

I’m joined by a familiar face as I begin to jog up one of the less crowded tracks. My ex-Calder Valley team-mate Steven Bayton, winner of the Greater Manchester marathon, has turned up for the race to test his mountain legs. He’s unsure of how well he’s going to run but I know that he won’t be far off the pace (if at all!) because he’s been clocking some serious speeds on the flat. Note to self – maybe I should do more (or some!) speedwork! It’s certainly an aspect of my training that I seriously neglect. I find it difficult to work on speed when I have an incurable obsession for climbing. The thought of sprinting round an athletics track at full tilt is strangely much less appealing to me than repping Trooper Lane 10 times and climbing over 4000ft. Maybe my friends are right when they say I’m a bit weird.

With only a few more minutes before the race begins, the senior athletes are called to the start. I’ve just enough time for a quick catch up with the legend that is Ricky Lightfoot. Ricky’s a fantastic bloke and someone that everyone on the fell/mountain running scene really respects and admires. As we chat I’m quick to play down my chances of a top end finish today, despite the fact I’m clearly in form. This is after all a mountain trial and not a fell race! There’s a common misconception that the two disciplines are very much the same sport when in reality there are many differences. Today will be much faster and I’ll be racing against a different kind of athlete. After seeing Ricky I now know that I’m realistically fighting for 4th place, along with another 15-20 guys of a very similar ability. The odds of me qualifying for selection are decreasing by the second – I need to just get this race started, forget about who else is running and prove to the selectors that I’m good enough to make the team.

IMG_20160409_194344 (1)Pictured above: The race map.

The race begins and we’re off! It’s a super fast start and everyone is jostling for position. In my head I have a rough idea of my tactics and plan of attack – I’m going to hang back and pace myself. I know that many people are going to set off too fast and if I run sensibly then hopefully I can work my way through the field on the last two laps. Besides I’m pretty clueless about the route anyway. I looked at the map (above) a few weeks ago and it might as well have been written in another language – I couldn’t for the life in me work out where we are supposed to run. Thank God there’s no route choice or I’d probably end up hopelessly lost in another Lakeland valley. 

RIGHT NOW I DON’T RATE MY CHANCES OF A TOP 4 BUT ANYTHING CAN HAPPEN’

After the first short lap I’m way down the field, somewhere in the top 20. ‘Don’t panic’ I tell myself – there’s still a long way to go. We turn and hit the second climb. I can hear the unmistakable sound of Tom Cornthwaite destroying himself behind me and it’s not long before he comes past. Nobody gives more in a race than Tom – he’s famed for his commitment and effort. I really hope I’ve not misjudged this. Andy Douglas and Andy Davies are way out in front and I’m right at the back of the chasing group, headed by Ricky Lightfoot. Right now I don’t rate my chances of a top 4 but anything can happen. Despite the fact I’m working hard I’m still feeling pretty good. Perhaps it’s time to make my move…

IMG_4230Pictured above: Leading the charge on the second lap (courtesy of Debbie Martin Consani)

I watch some of the big names start to pop off the back of the chase group, clearly paying for big efforts on the first lap. I’m beginning to think that maybe I have timed this well. I start to move through the field on the climb. There’s no sudden change in my pace but I’m climbing strongly and it’s beginning to have an impact. It’s not a fast, punchy attack like cyclist Alberto Contador, more of a consistent and measured effort, Chris Froome style. We turn sharply towards the top of the steep climb to Seat How and I pass my friend Steve Bayton. He’s blown after a fast start and he urges me to press on and chase the leaders.

I quickly switch into the fast descent and I’m up to 5th. I can see Ricky just in front and I use him as a marker to aim for. I’m not sure how much climbing is still left to do. Are we running towards the finish? Do we still have a small lap? Big lap to go? Jeez I hope it’s not another big lap, that climb to the top is seriously long! I shout to Ricky in front ‘How much more climbing is there mate?‘. He shouts something back but I can’t hear what he’s saying. I think he’s probably asking me what I’ve just said. Not really the right time to strike up a conversation so I shut up and let him get on with his race.

As we reach the end of the descent we swing straight back into the climb. It’s the last lap and I quickly realise it’s a long lap. Oh crap! I’m knackered! I think I might have gone too early…I hope I’ve not gone too early! I dig in and just think of what’s at stake. Alex Pilcher comes past me and he’s climbing really well. I can’t let anyone else past. In fact, what am I talking about? I need to start passing people myself! I’m currently sat in 6th and it won’t be enough. 

IMG_4228Pictured above: Climbing hard on the last lap (courtesy of Debbie Martin Consani)

I try not to think about how much climbing is left. Instead I break each section into manageable chunks and try to keep a steady rhythm and pace. I can see Max Nicholls in front and I’m closing in fast. I can see that he’s suffering and it gives me the motivation I need to keep working hard. Just one more climb to go. I pass Max and try to distance myself from him as quickly as possible. I’m not catching Alex in front but I need to at least try. God this hurts so much. Every single part of my body is screaming for me to stop and I’m breathing so hard that my infamous wheeze has kicked in. I’m working at my absolute limit. I just need to hang on until I reach the summit. I know once I hit the descent I won’t be caught but every second counts on this climb.

I’m so relieved when I reach the top. It takes a huge effort to switch straight into the descent but I know I have to chase hard and I also know I’m gonna be chased hard. I throw myself down the steepest section and take every corner at full pace. I’m taking risks but I have to. One mistake now and the dream of another GB call up is over. I’m praying for the finish but there’s still a long way to go.

535010038 (1).jpgPictured above: Squeezing every last ounce of effort out of my body on the final descent (courtesy of Getty images)

As the trail flattens I have to work even harder now to keep a fast pace. I can see Alex in front and I’m closing in on 4th place. I start to believe I can catch him. I know there’s not long to go so I have to keep pushing till the very end. I quickly glance back to see how much of a lead I have over 6th place. My heart sinks when I see Tom Adams flying into full view. I know he’ll run down this track faster than anyone in the race, it’s a gradient and surface that perfectly suits his style of running. If I don’t hold this pace he’ll catch me before the end. So I bury myself, squeezing every last ounce of effort out of my tired limbs. As we hit the final turn I’m forced to concede 4th place to Alex. Despite closing him down near the end it just wasn’t enough but if I’m honest I’m more relieved that I wasn’t caught by Tom.

‘ANYWAY, TIME TO STOP BEATING MYSELF UP, THERE’S NOTHING MORE I CAN DO’

I’m full of mixed emotion at the end. I know I’ve had a brilliant race but I just don’t know if it’s enough. I chat to Tom and he’s in exactly the same position. Then we share a moment of joy as we realise both Andy Davies and Ricky, 2nd and 3rd respectively, are ineligible for selection as they are already included in the GB team for the World Long Distance Mountain Running Championship in a few weeks’ time. Competing in both would be too risky as it’s unlikely they’d recover in time for the Euros. That means I/we might just have done enough! Well maybe. I really hope Tom has made the team too. We’re good friends and we’ve achieved so much together over the last few years. It would be nice to add another GB appearance to the list and fly the flag for Team Yorkshire in Italy. Anyway, time to stop beating myself up, there’s nothing more I can do. I guess I’ll just have to try and stop myself from over analysing the race whilst my fate lies in the hands of the selectors – easier said than done!

StravaResults | Photos | Video

The video above, filmed by my sponsors Mountain Fuel, is well worth checking out!

DSC_0891Pictured above: (L to R) The Top 3 men. Andy Davies (2nd), Andy Douglas (1st) and Ricky Lightfoot (3rd) (courtesy of Woodentops)

DSC_0898Pictured above: (L to R) Toms Adams (6th), Ricky Lightfoot (3rd) and me (5th) (courtesy of Woodentops)

DSC_0509Pictured above: (L to R) The top 3 women. Sarah Tunstall (3rd), Rebecca Hilland (1st) and Heidi Dent (2nd) (courtesy of Woodentops)

Since writing this blog I’m delighted to announce that I’ve been lucky enough to make the GB team for the European Mountain Running Championships in Arco, Italy on the 2nd July 2016.

I made the team by 2 seconds. 2 seconds!!! The sum of marginal gains and proof that during a race EVERY SECOND COUNTS!

I can’t even begin to explain how happy and excited I am to have been selected. It makes all the effort and hard work that I put into training and racing completely worthwhile. Nothing makes me prouder than wearing the red, white and blue vest of Great Britain – it’s just the best feeling in the world.

The road to Arco starts now…

 

The full British Athletics team for the European Mountain Running Championships in Arco, Italy on July 2nd 2016:

Senior men

Andrew Douglas (Sophie Dunnett)

Alex Pilcher (self-coached)

Ben Mounsey

Chris Smith (Philip O’Dell)

 

Senior Women

Emmie Collinge

Heidi Dent (Derek Hurton)

Rebecca Hilland

Sarah Tunstall

 

Junior Men

Josh Boyle

Gavin Bryson (Garry Robertson)

Ciaran Lewis (James Thie)

Jake Smith (Brian O’Hare)

 

Junior Women

Scarlet Dale (Colin Gemson)

Heidi Davies (Chris Jones)

Laura Stark (Arthur Smith)

Bella Williams (Rob Lewis)

 

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If Carlsberg made athletes…

By’eck Yorkshire is famous for many things – everyone knows it’s t’best county in t’land by a mile. Anything that tastes or looks reet good has Yorkshire in its title – Yorkshire puddings, Yorkshire tea, Yorkshire stone and the Tour De Yorkshire to name but a few. Most importantly it’s also home of many of the country’s finest ever fell runners including the Brownlee brothers, Ian Holmes, Rob Jebb, Victoria Wilkinson and Nicky Spinks. No wonder it’s known as ‘God’s own county’.

Yorkshire

A few weeks ago I’d been selected to run for Yorkshire in the UK Inter-Counties fell running championship – the highest standard of competition in fell running. For me it’s always a great honour, nothing makes me prouder than wearing the vest with the white rose. Plus considering the insane standard of athletes in our county at the moment it’s almost akin to earning an international call up.

Below is the strict selection policy for the Yorkshire fell running team (as proclaimed by Dave Woodhead):

  1. Tha musta bin born or live in Yorkshire
  2. Tha must be able to speak fluent Yorkshire
  3. Tha must be able to run reet fast up’t big hills
  4. Tha must like pie and peas
  5. Yorkshire tea must be tha blood type

Thankfully I tick ALL the boxes.

ROB JEBB HAS BEEN THERE, SEEN IT, DONE IT AND WON IT (SEVERAL TIMES OVER)’ 

Joining me in the Yorkshire team was a stellar line up of fell running superstars. Tom Adams was the first name on the team sheet. Tom’s a great bloke and a good friend of mine. He’s a regular GB international and on his day is virtually unbeatable, especially on the faster, more runnable courses. The next name on the list barely requires an introduction. Rob Jebb has been there, seen it, done it and won it (several times over). He’s worshipped like a god in Yorkshire and the sheer mention of his name is enough to scare most opposition into submission. Last but not least are two young Yorkshiremen who are the future of fell running. Ilkley Harriers’ Jack Wood and Dark Peak’s Tom Saville. Jack has been winning everything in his path recently and, like Tom, is very much the real deal. Remember their names as they are likely to feature at the top of race results for many more years to come. This was undoubtably one of the strongest Yorkshire teams I’ve ever been a part of and unsurprisingly we were the pre-race favourites for team gold.

DSC_0057Pictured above: A pre-race photo with Rob Jebb (L) and Tom Adams (R) (Woodentops)

The inter-counties championship is an event which attracts a huge range of athletes from all over the country. This race is unique in the sense that the very best runners from every discipline can all compete together and the winner is always someone who is the most complete athlete. In the past many of the courses selected for the inter-counties have been more favourable to the faster trail or cross-country runners. However, this year would be different with Moel Eilio as the chosen battleground. The fact that Rob Jebb had decided to compete suggests that this is a classic fell race and not just a few hilly laps of a park. It was a race that I was also relishing. Previously my best ever finish in the inter-counties had been 7th (2015), followed by 13th and 15th. Today I was hopeful of at least a top 10 or perhaps even a top 5. I was already familiar with the route as I ran it 8 years ago when it formed part of the British Championships, finishing in 22nd place that day. I’d also taken some time to recce the final mile and steep descent of Moel Cynghorian on Wednesday with my good friend Math Roberts (CVFR) who lives in Llanberis. Preparation is, after all, the key to success. I think it’s because of this very reason that I felt very relaxed and confident at the start.

DSC_0066Pictured above: The start of the race (Woodentops)

‘I WAS RACING VERY SENSIBLY AND USING ALL OF MY EXPERIENCE AS A SEASONED FELL RUNNER

I began the race at a very steady pace and watched many of the favourites hit the front at pace. I didn’t panic. Like a bike race I could sense the others in the pack watching me closely to make a move. Instead, I held my ground and settled into a very comfortable speed and rhythm. As the gradient began to climb I started to work my way through the field, firstly into the top 10 and then up to 7th place. I was racing very sensibly and using all of my experience as a seasoned fell runner, I knew that some of the others would pay the price for a fast start on such a tough course.

DSC_0040Pictured above: The climb to the summit of Moel Eilio with Chris Farrell (Greater Manchester) just in front (Woodentops)

I felt good and as we approached the summit of Moel Eilio I’d managed to catch Tom (Adams) and I found myself in 4th position. This was a pivotal moment in the race. From here I worked together with multiple English and British champion Simon Bailey (Staffordshire). We encouraged each other to try and catch the leaders – Chris Smith (Middlesex) and Max Nicholls (Kent). It was one of those moments I’ll never forget, urging each other on, sharing water and working tactically despite being part of a different team. I remember saying ‘We can do this, these lads aren’t fell runners…we can beat them on the final descent’. To which he replied ‘I think we need to catch them on the climbs first!’. He was right. I was being very optimistic but it was the first time in the race when I remember thinking that we might actually be able to win. Chris and Max were clearly the fastest athletes, but fell running is about so much more than just pace. I knew in the back of my mind that I could descend quicker than anyone and I had a strong feeling that route choice would play a key role in deciding the fortunes of all.

We continued to chase but it was difficult to tell if we were closing the gap. The main thing was they were still in sight. I tried to catch my breath on the descent of Foel Goch as I knew we had a big climb ahead to the summit of Moel Cynghorian. It was here that made my killer move and managed to break away from Simon. We’d worked so hard together until now but I knew if I wanted to win this race then I’d need to attack at some point. I was feeling strong and I could sense a 3rd place finish on the cards providing I judged my efforts correctly – there was still a long way to go. It seemed to take forever to finally reach the top, there were a number of false summits teasing me along the way. I took a few deep breaths and composed myself before I turned to face the final descent.

‘THIS WAS GOING TO BE A REAL SPRINT TO THE FINISH – EVERY SECOND WOULD COUNT!’

I began to follow the leaders but realised they were taking a poor choice of line to the bottom. I could see that they were going too far to the right and they were heading towards what looked like an orange flag or a marshall wearing hi-vis perhaps. I knew it wasn’t the right line but it did make me question whether or not the organisers had added an extra checkpoint. Do I follow? Or do I trust my gut feeling and go my own way? I glanced over my shoulder to see which line Simon was taking. He was heading left. It confirmed what I was thinking and I quickly switched direction. I knew Chris and Max would soon realise their mistake and I knew Simon would be flying down the descent like a man possessed. This was going to be a real sprint to the finish – every second would count! I took the most direct line but it certainly wasn’t the easiest route. The ground was boggy and heavily saturated, there was a stream to negotiate and then a fierce little kick up to a track which led towards the finish. I knew I had to get there first to give myself any kind of chance of winning this race. This last mile was going to hurt real bad. As I reached the top I took one last glance behind. I didn’t have much of a gap but I knew it might just be enough. Simon was now in 2nd with Chris and Max right behind. I gave it everything I had left and tried not to look back. I was running scared and there was still a long way to go. I expected all three of them to pass me at any moment, it was like being in a bad dream and feeling like your not running fast enough. I was on my absolute limit but I knew what was at stake and I wasn’t going to roll over and concede defeat just yet. Keep working, keep sprinting I thought…you can do this. Not long to go now…jeez maybe I CAN do this!!!

13239392_217748495276012_1969911668960856083_nPictured above: The final sprint along the track – victory in sight! (Sports Pictures Cymru)

I ran as hard and as fast as I my legs and lungs could both manage and it wasn’t until the very last 100m that I knew I’d won. I couldn’t believe it! As I crossed the line I could’ve cried I was so happy, I never dreamed I’d ever win a race this big. To win the inter-counties championship whilst wearing a Yorkshire vest is quite literally a dream come true for me. It was just one of those days where absolutely everything went right and I ran the perfect race – clever, tactical and very experienced. I’d won because I was the best fell runner on the day, not because I was the fastest athlete. I found myself apologising to Chris and Max who finished in 3rd and 4th respectively. Had they not have taken a poor line on the final descent I would’ve been sat here writing about how pleased I was with winning a bronze medal. But this is one of the many reasons why fell running is such a fantastic and unique sport. To win a race at this level absolutely everything has to go right on the day. Yes you need to be fast and obviously you need to be able to climb and descend like a pro. But most importantly you need to be able to choose the right tactics, navigate confidently and, of course, have plenty of luck on your side. I’d done everything right and reaped the rewards. This had been a fell running masterclass.

DSC_0033Pictured above: The first 4 men (L to R) Chris Smith, myself, Simon Bailey and Max Nicholls (Woodentops)

I was also super pleased for Simon. We’ve battled against each other many times before on the fells but today I felt like it was a shared victory, we’d really pushed each other to 1st and 2nd on the day. I was disappointed for Chris and Max – they deserved more for their efforts but assured me they were happy with the result. They’re both really great guys and outstanding athletes. I’ve no doubt they’ll both teach me a lesson in mountain running at the next trials race!

13245418_654796408002359_1893029775781462515_nPictured above: UK Inter-County Fell Running Champions 2016! (Woodentops)

In the women’s race I was pleased to see my friend Heidi Dent (Cumbria) take the gold and demonstrate to everyone (once again!) just what outstanding form she’s in. This girl really is destined for great things. Run of the day however must go to Lou Roberts (Cumbria) for her amazing 2nd place. As a V40 she’s in the form of her life and deserves tremendous praise for all of her results so far this year. Annie Conway rounded up the top 3 to make it a clean sweep for Cumbria and showing that they really are the dominant force in women’s fell running.

DSC_0182Pictured above: UK Inter-County Fell Running Team Champions 2016! From L to R: Rob Jebb, Tom Adams, myself, Jack Wood and Tom Saville (Woodentops)

DSC_0591.JPGPictured above: UK Inter-County Fell Running Team Silver Medallists 2016! From L to R: Georgia Malir, Holly Page, Katie Walshaw, Sharon Taylor and Claire Green (Woodentops)

Unsurprisingly after such fantastic individual results we managed to defend our Inter-Counties team title which was truly the icing on a very large cake! The Yorkshire women finished in 2nd place behind a very dominant Cumbria. A fantastic day for our great county and one that will surely keep the Woodhead’s smiling until the next one!

THE finest day of my athletic career so far.

StravaMen’s Results |  Women’s Results | Team Results | Photos

DSC_0517Pictured above: Rob Jebb showing me how to drink like a Yorkshireman (Woodentops)

I may have enjoyed the rare treat of beating Rob in a fell race but when it comes to drinking he’s very much in a class of his own.

If Carlsberg made athletes…they’d be from Yorkshire and they’d be called Rob Jebb. What a legend.

 

P.S. If you’re a lover of Yorkshire like myself then it’s also worth checking out my two favourite Youtube videos…

Yorkshireman vs Predator | Yorkshire Airlines

 

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