Phoenix Summer Series May Race Report by Graham Purdham
Rain had been threatening all day but had not produced more than a few sporadic showers. It was therefore with some trepidation that we set off to the inaugural 2015 Phoenix summer series run in the early evening light of the 19th May as increasingly dark clouds began crowding in and started to bank upon one another as they rose upwards in the increasingly gloomy sky.
We were none the les committed to the run and stopped off on the way to collect Kevin and Ben Maguire to join in with, what looked increasingly like, a swimming party. Having said this we had left Westcliff wearing sunglasses although I had also played cautious and packed a Flyers hoodie for warmth and a waterproof jacket, just in case.
Ten minutes after joining the A127 the deluge arrived. Car lights were now on main beam as the skies opened up. Hailstones, thunder and lightning were the new backdrop to the rising wind and I stepped into the inside lane with wipers full on as we enjoyed the elemental display.
Another ten minutes saw us turn up at the Langdon Visitor’s Centre car park. The rain had now stopped and whilst the car park itself still held respectable amounts of water it wasn’t quite the pond it could have been and the sun was even thinking of breaking through.
So we duly collected our numbers. Paid our £2 and pinned them on. Other Flyers as well as familiar faces from other clubs began arriving as the sun finally came out and we started to strip down to our running gear.
Most of us began our warm ups and Anne, Nikki and myself set off up the hill to stretch our legs. This hill is also the lovely downhill finish to the race and we found out that it was also going to be the starting route for this race – an uphill start, how popular that was going to be when everyone found out.
Normally the start is behind the car park and winds along some fairly narrow paths before it takes you up two short and sharp climbs into some woods before you come back to the lovely downhill section I mentioned. This really is the best finish of any race ever as you do seem to get much more downhill here than you have to climb uphill. Sounds strange I know but try it and find out.
The downhill commences in the woods, goes down ten yards, kinks, and then you have a straight downhill of what must be over 400 yards. The surface has now been improved dramatically and whilst it is still gravel covered the grip is good so you can really go for it – should you wish!
So onto the race. Flyers were all over the place with Anne, Kev and Ben and myself now joined by Mark and Nikki Benham, Dan Slayford; Jamie Gul; Vicky Irvine (and Rafa) and, of course, Keith Passingham.
We set off uphill on the first lap and I was surprised that no one was overtaking me. The uphill start was making people cautious and whilst there were a good few runners ahead we were all quickly settling into running order and were soon turning off the hill onto the narrower paths through the trees. These paths normally make the start difficult to manage as there are usually a lot of people pushing for a small amount of space. I believe that the change to the start on this occasion was to avoid anyone falling foul of the odd slippery bits whilst also fighting for a place. So we negotiated the paths, found the odd wet and muddy bits that sprayed the backs of our legs with dirty water and floundered up the climbs. Here I found I had an advantage over some of the runners as I’d opted for my More Mile trail shoes with a lot of grip. Muddy puddles were not a worry and going uphill was a breeze. Some of the road trainers and off road shoes with less grip did have some problems with the conditions.
This was all good news for me as, when I managed to get my breathing under control and started to push on, I was able to overtake a few runners and then maintain the lead I gained. Soon I started to recognise the bends in the path and sure enough we were now at the start of the descent.
I had thought that the marshal had said that the second lap would follow the same route as the first and would therefore turn right halfway down the hill but the several runners I could see in front were still heading straight to the bottom of the hill. Hedging my bets I slowed to see if they would be turned back. This lost me some time but was preferable to re-climbing the hill to correct a mistake. I was wrong though and we duly followed the ‘normal’ race route behind the car park after turning off the hill at the bottom.
I had now lost some ground but had also had a nice breather coming down the hill. It was now the best part of half a mile until we hit the first climb so it was time to push on. I duly did and was rewarded with catching the group of runners ahead of me. By the time I got back to the top of the hill for the final descent I had been rewarded by overtaking all six of them and had a bonus of going past one other runner who had stopped for a breather. Unfortunately my query as to his well being motivated him to join me and shoulder to shoulder we got to the hill down.
On my first descent of this hill I had realised that I could only run faster by chopping my stride. Letting my legs just stride out just slowed me down. I tried the chopped run again and had some success in opening a gap over my younger opponent. He kept on coming though. We closed on another runner some 50 yards ahead with some 250 yards to go. I continued to run as fast as I could and as the hill flattened out I did increase my speed. My friend was still with me though and as we began to overtake the runner who had been leading us – me to the left of him and my opponent to his right – we were now less than 100 yards from the finish. I was beginning to get really uncomfortable with this pace. I’m not a great sprinter and I’d already exceeded my comfort zone for this speed. I was now slightly behind but knew I could catch him as we got to some 20 yards to go. Just then a sharp pain hit my ankle. I recognised it as a possible Achilles tendon problem and quickly stepped off the gas. The race for (what turned out to be 12th) was lost but I did still step over the line next.
Dan was at the finish (having been home for some time) shouting encouragement and in a few more minutes all of the flyers were home ( see http://www.phoenixstriders.org.uk/Docs/Summer%20Series/2015/SummerSeries1.xls for the full results).
Clouds of steam rose from all the Flyers as we relaxed and chatted at the finish. Only the ever encroaching midges convinced us to head back to our cars for the journey home.
The next Phoenix race is on Tuesday 16th June so if you can make it make it a date. Further details are at : http://www.phoenixstriders.org.uk/localevents.html