"New Year, New Me"

The title is one of the things that bugs me about the new year starting.  I love the thought of people wanting to make positive changes, but a new calendar year shouldn't be used as such a hang up for making these changes.  If you feel like a change is needed, go through the steps to make those straight away, after all, if you feel a need for change, there is probably something you are unhappy about...

You might be asking yourself why I open the blog with a paragraph like that, but once my planned 5-6 week low mileage "break" was over, following the Tour of Pendle, I had next level training planned, changes to be made.  My return to what I call proper training, began on the week of Christmas, what a week to choose eh? haha!  Monday December 21st I got my mileage up to 20 miles again after only running 10 miles a week previously to recover from a heavy year of running & racing.  Since then I have hit a minimum of 30 miles a week, normally 40, depending on what race(s) I had planned.

I now have a solid hill rep session in there, which usually consists of 10 miles in total, with 5 long hill reps making up about half of those 10 miles (up and down the hill).  I've found my uphill running has dramatically improved since I started these sessions and my racing positions and times have followed suit.  I had a great run out at the Northern Cross Country Championships, finishing in the top 500, something I didn't really expect.  It doesn't sound like the best finishing position but considering the people I was running against it was a big achievement and I felt really strong for the whole race, which is the key thing for me personally.

I also ran the Stanbury Splash and Auld Lang Syne, doing better than I expected at those too, particularly at ALS.  The Stoop route was used due to the ice and snow that covered the moors.  This gave me a chance to race my time from the Stoop race that I had ran in December, only a few weeks before.  I managed to cut a good few minutes off my time in such a short space and was over the moon with my efforts.  The conditions slightly more favourable for fast running as it was compact snow rather than muddy bogs but I felt good, again, the main thing for me.

Cross Country at it's best - mud, sweat and falling runners

February I have to step it up a notch, as I mentioned in my previous post, the Three Peaks is on my to do list this year, and now it firmly is, as I have officially entered it. My miles have been good since I came back from my low miles weeks, so has my racing form and my running in general feels a lot stronger than it ever has, to be honest.

The Mickleden Straddle was one on my hit list, 14.5 miles in the Peak District, it would be my longest race to date and my 2nd longest run ever, but I feel that good lately I have the confidence to put myself in for these kind of races. Much to my surprise I finished 62nd in 2 hours 20 minutes. Again, I was very happy with that and I felt great all the way around. A couple of long, punishing climbs I handled well and was only forced to fell walk a small section of the second climb as I didn't fancy bombing up through the tussocks - I played it safe and luckily it worked.

As I mentioned, my climbing has improved ten fold but I have now started to become slightly disappointed with my ability to descend. I think with my improved positioning in races, I have started to notice that my climbing is half decent now, because I've worked on it so much, but, my descending skills compared to those around me seem to be a little off the mark...I have plans to work on this and they're already in motion so fingers crossed my plans for it go as well as my up hill training has done.

Determined to catch the runner in front, even after 13 miles of fells

A worthwhile note from Mickleden was the post race spread put on by the staff at Langsett Barn and the Denby Dale volunteers.  Apart from Saddleworth's cake race table, I haven't seen such a good spread of food put on for us runners post-race.  For a donation to Woodhead MRT, you could take your pick from sandwiches, soup, cakes, biscuits, tea & coffee.  Brilliant.  Another worthy mention, a £6 entry fee...probably one of the best value for money races I have done, even on the fells.  A bottle of beer at the finish, water (which was very much needed, I might add) and superb organisation by Denby Dale AC, along with fantastic support from Woodhead MRT.  You can't ask for anything more!

Fun in the peat bogs of the Peak District

My next target was the Windy Hill fell race.  One I had raced last year, so I had firm eyes on destroying my previous time, with hope of less misty conditions.  They are actually my favourite conditions to run in but depending on the route/terrain, the mist and clag can provide you with another obstacle and particularly on this race, once you have reached the top of Blackstone Edge, the moon rock type terrain has you dancing between boulders, so clear visibility is a massive advantage here.

In 2015 I ran 1:22 , I really struggled with the climb up Blackstone Edge on the old Roman road and it felt like I was going up it forever, quite clearly not fit enough, it's as simple as that.  I made a note of my time from 4 miles, when the major climbing basically comes to a stop.  Just under 45 minutes I got to that point in 2015.  I had it written on my hand for this years race and I hit that point in under 40 minutes this time around, this gave me a massive boost as I knew I was well on for taking minutes off last years effort.  I was confident, pre-race, that I would anyway, but as well all know, things don't always go to plan, thankfully, this race, they did.

actually running up the Roman road, last year that was just a dream...!!


No prizes for guessing which is 2015 and which is 2016 - same hill, different strength of runner

It was also the race when last year I first bumped in to my now good friend, Ben Mounsey.  This fella has had an incredible year in 2015, representing England and Great Britain as well as winning a huge amount of races, add to that the win from Windy Hill 2016 now as well, nearly 4 minutes clear of his nearest competitor and 20 minutes in front of me!  He was running back up to support club mates when I was steaming down the final drop under the motorway bridge, he gave me a firm high 5 and shouted words of encouragement; "don't slip on the stile again this year, Cal!", the point where he helped me over last year when I accidentally contributed to breaking a stile while slipping off it!

Me, Ben Mounsey & Andrew Britton (pre-race) - 60th, 1st & 20th at the end

I was absolutely buzzing with my efforts from Windy Hill 2016.  I wanted to smash my time from last year, I wasn't up for doing 1:21 or 1:20 and just knocking off a minute or two, so finishing in 1:16 was a great achievement for me.  It really showed my progress as I know how much harder it is for me to knock time off my fell race results, compared to road races of a year ago.  Another note is the people I usually find myself finishing near and racing against, I have over the last few races found myself higher up the field and personally seem to have surprised a few people with my performances.

The beauty of the fell running "community" is that everyone is so friendly and happy of each others achievements, its such a pleasure to share race stories and experiences post race once we've all had a slog on the fells.  I was congratulated by a few of the lads who I haven't finished in front of before but have started to get to know through racing, the likes of Paul Taylor (Saddleworth) and Stu Russell (Liverpool), both congratulated me and commented on how well my training is starting to pay off.  I'm not so sure I would receive the same friendly attitude and feedback in other sports!  I never compare myself to others as I think it is a very individual sport but we are all in it for the same reason; because we love doing it, whether you're the speed of Ben and the lads up at the front or your running at the back with the sweeper, we all love running & testing ourselves against the elements and against the terrain - for me everyone is a winner, if you finish a fell race you know you've worked hard and given all you can give, that's what it's all about!!  A massive well done to everyone who raced, particularly you lads who I have gotten to know so well and see regularly at races - Paul Taylor, Stu Russell, Ben, Simon Taylor, Wayne Mc, the list could go on!

Grafting my way towards a 1:16 finish & 60th place - buzzing!

Stu Russell & myself having a good battle

My plans from here are to continue with my training, while adding a few bits here and there, as well as increasing my reps (hopefully this week, actually!).  I've planned Bleasdale Circle (another I did last year) along with High Cup Nick for the remainder of February.  Then March will bring up the Stan Bradshaw Pendle round again, along with Heptonstall & Rivington Pike.  Less races than usual for me because I need some longer training runs heading towards 20 miles now, before the Three Peaks comes around faster than I can blink!

Thanks for reading & see some of you soon...

Cal

Photo credits; Dave & Eileen Woodhead (Woodentops), Ben Mounsey, Steve Frith (Mossie Net Photography) and David / Rebecca Aspin

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