Monday, 14 December 2009

Stockport 10 (miles). 13/12/2009

It’s been a month since I’ve done any running thanks to the flu after Dunnerdale requiring five days off work and my first ever sick note for such an occurrence. That has been followed by weeks of gurgling lungs, a lingering cough and a distinct lack of enthusiasm for running. Even my plan to run a 5k Parkrun on Saturday (to remind my body what running feels like) fell by the wayside. My final preparation for the rude awakening and baptism of fire was the consumption of a bottle of red on Saturday evening while watching the X-Factor (go Joe!). I had turned into a sloth and I was beginning to hate myself.

On Sunday morning I cycled to the Stockport Harriers track in the cool winter sunshine feeling a little more delicate than I should have been feeling just before any run, let alone a 10-mile road race. I knew a Personal Worst was a certainty.

The weather gods were smiling on us like they always do for this event. I joined the general massed migration towards Woodbank Park and the running track, where I was greeted by the usual carnival atmosphere of gazebos, stalls selling sporting wares and crowds of runners, supporters and spectators milling around. Much to my shame, this was my first visit to the track since last year’s Stockport 10, yet it seemed like only yesterday since I was there.

After a meet-and-greet session of club mates and other runners seen weeks or months before on various ultra events, I joined the throng on the track to await the instructions, count-down and “GO”. The race was a sell-out, no doubt helped by the always excellent friendly support and the (in)famous goody bag at the end. I wonder what it would contain this year.

The first mile through the park and out onto the minor roads went quite well for me, after which there may have been a slight drop-off in my pace. Don’t ask me why, but the fact that I was rapidly overheating (my head was beginning to boil so my festive Santa hat had to come off) and the fact that the other runners slowly began to overtake me may have had something to do with it. It wasn’t exactly a comfortable or pleasurable experience, more like a case of just holding on and surviving to the end. I rolled my sleeves up, which helped a little more with the cooling.

As we approached the first single file coned-off section along the edge of the busy A-road without footpath, there was a back-up in the traffic caused by a car waiting to turn left but unable to do so because of the stream of runners crossing the side road. I immediately felt guilty like I always do when car drivers are inconvenienced like that. (I always envisage seething tempers and road rage.) I glanced behind me and noticed a small gap in runners. I slowed down to allow the car to turn. The runners behind me didn’t take my cue, and then Bob Hope from Emmerdale, who was manning the crossing, shouted: “No no, carry on”. I was overruled and we had right of way. My feeling of guilt did not abate as I crossed the road like a sheep.

A descent and brief climb up the other side brought us to the top of Bong’s Road and a merciful departure from the traffic. I was officially hot and had to strip right there, so I spent a minute removing vest and long-sleeved top, replacing vest, stuffing top in tiny bum-bag and reattaching bum-bag to waist before setting off down the hill. The improved cooling invigorated me and I felt better able to run.

I bypassed the drinks station at the bottom end of Bong’s Road at around the 5-mile point; my hand-held water bottle was keeping me well supplied with water. The Santa hat which I was also carrying did not bother me because I am used to carrying water bottles and route descriptions for up to 30 hours at a time while out running. I was beginning to get a lot of joking from the marshals about the hat, and why wasn’t it on my head? If it went back onto my head I would surely explode. It made me smile. What a friendly race this is.

I glanced at my heart rate monitor several times as I ran. It was showing 182 – 183bpm every time I looked. I wasn’t surprised it was so fast. It had been raised for weeks. If I survived to the end I was now anticipating a PW of monumental proportions.

The major climb up the other side from the river valley wasn't as bad as some of the road runners would have you believe. After all, if it's a road which cars have to drive as a matter of course, it can't be that bad. It doesn't compare with proper footpaths and mountain trails where cars cannot pass. Some of those HAVE to be walked. I kept the jog going all the way, electing to run on the rough verge to keep the terrain as close as possible to what I'm used to.

I was now holding my own compared to those around me. The bpm feedback might have looked as though my heart should be beating its way out of my chest, but I couldn't feel it and all systems seemed to be just under control, so I carried on giving of my best, offering friendly retorts to the marshals' continued humorous references to my hat. We wound our way left and right, up and down roads to the bottom of New Zealand Road and the second and final climb. I shuffled my way onwards and upwards, trying to push my pelvis forward and resist the temptation to hunch my back to improve my posture and maximise the speed and efficiency of my running, but it was difficult because I was so tired from all the incessant running.

The left turn at the top of New Zealand Road did not bring relief. Still we climbed to the next bend, where we entered the park and our route finally levelled off. I could soon hear the muffled, clipped tones of the PA system at the Stockport Harriers track. I glanced at my watch and simply COULD NOT BELIEVE that a PB was almost in the bag. I gave it all I had through the park as I sprinted towards the athletics track on the far side. Perhaps I should qualify that. My “sprint” would have looked like a recreational jog to any sedentary bystander who could not possibly understand.

I entered the athletics ground and heard my name announced in the fuzzy, compressed style to maximise volume without overt distortion (any audio buffs reading this?). Imagine a butch kazoo if you will: “Number 67 is Nick Ham”. Another runner overtook me as I entered the track but I couldn't give a toss. It's normal at this stage when I'm going flat out. I can only give my ultimate best and I have long since realised that my ultimate best falls well short of what others can muster. I live with it and work around it.

Half a lap of the track and no more overtakings brought me home in 1hr 19mins, a PB by 1min 45secs over last year! That got me a top half placing. What a pleasant surprise considering my less than ideal build-up and my time-consuming striptease at the top of Bong's Road.

The goody bag did not disappoint. The principal prize was a very useful runner's technical T-shirt in fluorescent yellow (for the dark nights) by 'more mile'. I've worn it already on my Monday run to work. It's worth the entry fee alone. In order of increasing quirkiness, further goodies included:
A handful of flyers;
A lolly (“Who loves ya pussy cat?”);
A Penguin biscuit;
A Cadbury STARBAR;
A Stockport 10 sticker;
A mini aerosol of Sanex anti-perspirant;
A sachet of Flexitol deep cooling gel for the feet;
A sachet of Flexitol heel balm (“visible results in 3 days”);
A balloon (brand new, never inflated);
The LoSalt challenge with 5 sachets of the stuff (they forgot that serious sweating from serious exercise needs sodium);
A Robinsons Brewery key ring;
A plastic pouch from Leo Fixings containing two plasterboard fixings;
And finally, 'da piece of resistance', a plastic disposable glove with a pinch of dead meal worms and a pair of eyes (in small, paper sticker form) in one of the fingers.
All of the above was delivered in a Sweatshop carrier bag.

I challenge other races to top this. No wonder the race fills up.

Here are some statistics to amuse and entertain:
Distance – 10 miles on road (undulating – hilly);
Time – 1:19:00 (PB in 4 races since 2004);
Average heart rate – 178bpm;
Maximum heart rate – 190bpm.
Compared to Dunnerdale in the last report, which was bad enough, that heart rate is shocking. Call me an athlete? I laugh in polite derision at such an absurd notion. Ultraplodder by name, ultraplodder by design, ultraplodder by nature.

I took a few pictures, but not during the race, you'll understand.


  1. Enjoyed the write-up - nice one! I ran this one too and can entirely relate to your feelings of guilt at holding up the traffic. I didn't see anyone get particularly frustrated, and I was 6 minutes behind you.
    The goody bag was rather bizarre: I don't know what I was expecting but it wasn't mealworms and eye transfers!
    Have you seen this:

  2. starbars!!! they are sooooo good!! definitely underrated on the chocolate bar scale! apparently if Kraft buyout caburys we can say goodbye to the starbar and similar non-main stream treats! that will be a sad day....

    we must talk D100 soon and sort out hotel arrangements! hows training going!? ;-)

  3. Hi John,
    I saw the goody bag video. Very funny I thought.

    The training (not that I really ever do any anyway) is just starting up again this week with a few runs to work. I got to run in the first snow flurry of the winter this evening.
    I don't think I've ever had a STARBAR.