A funny start to my running year

Ray Poynter and bronze medal

In the run-up to Christmas, I had a sore throat and then a cold – so I kept away from people as much as possible and wore a mask when travelling back from Australia to home. I also dropped my running down to just 3 to 5 slow kilometres a day and had a lovely, quiet Christmas Day and Boxing Day with my family. However, on 27 December, I tested positive for Covid. I suspect I caught it Christmas shopping on 23 or 24 December. So, I isolated until I tested negative, which was yesterday. I took a short solo run each day to keep my streak running. On 30 December my streak reached four years, but my run that day was another solitary run, modest in both distance and pace.

Even though I was clear of Covid yesterday, and I have had no symptoms of cold, flu, covid etcetera for a few days, I know I can’t simply get back into running as if nothing had happened. With about a month of sore throat, then a cold, then Covid, plus Australian and Christmas food, and less running, I have lost fitness, I have put on three kilos, and I may still be harbouring some bugs or aftereffects. While isolating, I pretended to be a grownup and I rethought my plans for running in January.

In January, as well as my daily run, some low-key cross-country races, training sessions with my club and some longer low heart rate runs I had planned to race in two events. When I say race, I mean try to win age-group medals. These are events where I am focusing on finishing in the first few men aged 65 to 69 years and where there is a medal. For example, in 2022 I won a silver in the Notts 10K road championships, a gold in the British Masters marathon on the Isle of Man, and a team bronze in the World Masters Mountain Running Championships (running for GB).

The two events I had planned for January were the European Masters in Madeira on 22 January, and the Notts Cross-Country Championships, which are held locally to me and in which lots of my fellow club mates take part.

I had already paid to enter the European Masters, but I had not yet paid for my flight and hotel. When I entered the race, I was very keen to see if I could get a top ten finish (my recent best of 3 hours 28 minutes would have placed me 5th in the most recent set of results I could find). But, to get in the top ten I would need to be in good condition, and I would need to push myself to the limit for more than three hours. Sadly, about a week ago I looked at the facts and decided I was not going to be in Madeira on 22 January, racing.

The Notts AAA Cross Country Championships were today, the day after I came out of isolation. However, in this event, not pushing myself hard and simply taking part was a viable alternative. My club had already entered me, the course was only about 20 minutes away and there would be lots of my friends taking part. So, I firmly resolved not to push myself too hard, to enjoy the run and not to worry about the results.

Today’s races (men, women, and age races from Under 11s through to Vets, were held at Bulwell Hall Park in Nottingham. Until Thursday they were going to be held in Derby, but the park there was flooded and with almost no notice the manager at Bullwell HaLL Park said yes and Notts AAA managed to change the plans and put routes together. Note, the different age groups, and men and women*, run different distances. My club had lots of runners in both the men’s and women’s events – so it was a great social day out, with some members coming simply to support us. To make sure that I did not push myself too hard, I decided to run the race at about 140 heartbeats per minute (note, I wear a good chest strap heart monitor which shows my heart rate on my watch). This is a level of effort that if comfortable for me, I keep warm on a cold day, but I do not breath heavy at that level of effort and can chat with the runners around me. The route was muddy, but mostly flat, and 10.75km long. I completed the race in 57 mins 30 seconds.

Data chart, pace, heart rate and elevation

The Garmin chart shows the elevation, my pace and my heart rate. My heart rate stayed close to my targt rate of 140 beats per minute, and to allow this to happen my pace went up and down during the race, in response to going up and down slopes and running on firm and boggy ground. I finished the race in good condition, covered in mud, but not out of breath or sweaty.

The surprise ending to my race today was that I actually won the bronze medal, i.e. I was the third fastest man aged 65 years 69 years. The silver medal was won by my clubmate and friend Des Gibbons who finished a full 5 minutes 30 seconds ahead of me. If I had been fit, I would have run harder, and on recent form, Des would have beaten me by only a minute or so. So, had I been fit, I would still only have got the bronze ?, that makes today is a win-win for me and my body.

I can’t finish this article without a big shout out for all the people who make these events possible, the volunteers. Firstly, all the club members who deal with the entries, the club tent, and collecting and submitting all the race numbers and details. Secondly, the event volunteers who get there hours before us to set the course and then stay after we finish to take it down. We runners are massively thankful, and we need to remember to take a turn at helping.

*Gender differences in distances? Yes, in England, cross-country races typically have different distances for men and women. This was the case globally until recently, but the world has moved on and England is behind the times. You can read more about the campaign to equalise the distance in this Runners World article. For the record, I am in favour of equalising the distances.

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