The weekend opened with the first ever JK Sprint race sponsored by Planet Fear (there is a report on their website here). With a strong field, a good spectator presence and good prizes on offer, it was a very unusual British race. Held around the grounds of Temple Newsam on the edge of Leeds, the race promised to be fast and not especially technical. Starting in a crowded arena, the first control involved weaving around some buildings through members of the public and then out into the parkland. Coming into the first control we were presented with a really surreal site. Instead of seeing a control at the feature like you expect, there were approximately 6 or 7 kites spread around the immediate area. This is when you remember reading in the details that the Trail-O is using the same area and so there will be lots of extra controls out. Struggling to remember that the Trail-O kites will have blue tapes on them, I look around to try and find a kite without any tapes on it. Then I realise that in my confusion I have almost run straight past the real control. No big time loss, just general confusion.
After that the course is straight forward, and it is more a case of trying to push myself as I know that BJ will be hunting me down. There is some route choice to 4, but I choose the best route and pick a good straight line. On the way up the hill to 6 I see Oli Johnson (my 1 minute man) in front of me, which gives me quite a boost. He goes left of the lakes to 7 and I am catching him all the way. I pass him leaving number 9 and power up the hill. All that powering makes me tired though and I start to struggle on the hill to 11. The last few controls offer the most technical part of the course, with a maze of hedges and walls to comprehend. The key is to check control descriptions really carefully to ensure that you are on the correct side of the feature. I am clean through these controls but then drift slightly left to the last control. That aside I sprint in to the sounds of the commentators announcing my big lead. Oli finishes a bit behind me and then it is just a wait for BJ to finish. Keeping an eye on my watch, I count past a minute and I have won. Just time for a drink and then it is time for the prize giving.
Results of sprint race here
Saturday brought a completely different challenge, with the middle distance on Ilkley Moor. Looking at the map beforehand, I knew there would be two contrasting challenges. The southern part of the map is flat open moorland, with little detail and little vegetation, and the northern is a fairly steep slope with a large amount of contour and rock detail. My pre-race plan was therefore to try and really push the pace on the less detailed areas, and slow down in the more detailed terrain. I followed this plan, and on the way to the first control, I had already identified the controls that would require more thought. The first two controls were relatively straight forwards, the rock detail and shape of the ground providing enough to go on. Leg 3 was more interesting with a route choice over a deep re-entrant. I decided that my strength lies on track and flat running rather than through the terrain so I opted for the round route. I think I may have lost a few seconds, but it gave me a nice route into the control and I had the opportunity to look ahead at the rest of the course.
Control five was the first really challenging control. The areas of white forest really stood out in the open moorland, so it was past that and then try and pick a nice line up the slope. The knee deep bracken and heather makes for tough running, so picking up little tracks really helps. I could see Andy Kitchin (my 2 minute man) close in front, and the track I chose took me a little high and to the right. However, I relocated quickly on the small round knoll and contoured round and into the control. It was well hidden but as I approached both Andy Kitchen and Andy Middleditch (my 4 minute man) are leaving the control. I ran with them to 6, the first control that I had identified as a problem control. The white half way offered an obvious marker, and then it was over the track and through the little col. A quick glance at descriptions revealed that number 6 is in a reentrant. Looking the map this seems improbable, but a double and triple check don't alter anything, so I keep an open mind and follow the line of the hill, only taking one small break to fall down a massive hole between two boulders leaving me dangling in mid air. As it turns out, 6 was in a reentrant and was also fairly obvious. Control 7 I take slowly trying to pick off the various rock features. Andy M comes racing past but my slower pace is vindicated as he goes shooting off to the left and I spike the control. Then it is time to speed up again, out on to the track and around the hill. Up the little path and contour round into the control. Pass Ed Catmur on the descent down to the spectator control. Have already scoped this out before the start so know exactly where I am going and can actually see it from a fair way off. Before starting, I had watched many of the early starters mess up control 10, so I had already worked out exactly where I was going to run and take that control cleanly. Only small hesitation when I realise I am trying to navigate to the following control by mistake. Decide to go round the track to the potentially tricky 11, but then decide there is too much climb so cut off the path and start to contour. Run past control on the end of the marsh just before the control so know exactly where I am. Run out of 11 possibly slightly too fast, maybe as a result of spiking all the controls so far. End up running too far left and hitting the path too low. Have to run up the path and dive into the reentrant. The control is quite hidden and manage to do a quick lap of the reentrant before I find it, and this maybe leads me to leave the control too quickly again. Don't check compass enough and again go too far left down the hill. Hit path junction so recover quickly and run up spur. Come of little path about the right height but can't see the reentrant and nothing seems to fit. Panic slightly and see two other runners hunting for a control. Run down a bit, find a depression which doesnt seem to be on the map, or if it is then is in the wrong place. Run up to top of the hill, find the path, think I can see the reentrant but turns out not to be it, so run a bit down the path and then can finally see it. After all that have only lost about 45secs but seems like minutes. Tank it down to 14 as see that it should be easy. The running is very good and doesnt seem to be any point using the paths. Count of the bushes and tracks and then can see the control. Up to the path, across the big track, and then get slightly confused by network of small paths. Use contours instead and find control easily. Have already checked out last control so race down to it and into to the finish. Commentators announce a big lead again, but with all the big names to follow. It is an anxious wait as first Ewan McCarthy comes in 22 seconds down, then Matt Crane comes in 11 seconds off my time, and then finally Matt Speake comes within 8 seconds of my time. I have won though, even if it is only by 11 seconds.
Middle results here
I have never really been known as a classic runner, especially when it comes to senior classics. Junior classics I could just about do if I had to, but before this year, I had never really run a top class senior classic race. So then it came as a bit of a shock to me that on the classic day of the JK, a lot of people were saying that I was the pre-race favourite. I had run well at the British Classic Champs without any expectation or pressure, but this was a bit different. Starting last and with a big build up was certainly a bit more pressure. I didn't even decide to run the classic until the previous week, on the advice of the GB coach.
So anyway, I started last, and I was up against home boy Matt Speake, experienced international runners Ewan McCarthy, Matt Crane and Oli Johnson, all of whom have traditionally been stronger than me in classic races and I knew I had an 8 seconds head start....... Just great. No problem. Hmm.
I start at a comfortable pace, not wanting to run out of steam, and the first 4 controls are in beautiful white forest with very little on the ground. Control 3 is slightly tricky and I have to do a lap of the green to find it (maybe 20 secs lost). 4 is easier than it looks as the walls offer great handrails. 5 is the first of many slogs along forest paths and tracks. 6 is the first real indicator of how rough white forest can be in Yorkshire. 7, 8 and 9 are in a really cool patch of forest, and offer a bit more of a challenge. I deliberately take it easy through these and spike them all, and I am pleased to see that Matt Speake (my 3 minute man) is just leaving 9 as I enter it. It is now for the first time that I know that I have a real chance of victory. If I can stay with or get away from Speakey then I am almost sure of a top 3, and if we run well together, who knows? Anyway, first have to concentrate on the race. I instinctively raise my pace slightly to catch Matt. He is running slightly faster than me on the tracks, but I seems to catch him slightly in the terrain and am slightly smoother into the controls. The pattern for the next few controls is fairly standard. We choose similar routes, he stretches out a bit in front, then I catch up and we punch the controls roughly level. There is very little route choice and no chance for either of us to get away - just seemingly endless track runs through rough forest. Then there is a nicer patch of forest around 13 to 15. Running different lines, we still seem to get to the controls level. The forest is really rough again around 16 and 17, and my legs are struggling. Hitting the long field run feels like running through sand and Matt pulls out quite a lead by 18.
However the feeling that I am running really well and there is not far to go inspires me and I reel him back in. The forest is much nicer now, much more runnable and I am enjoying it much more. The climbs are becoming tougher and tougher, but at least there is little on the ground. It seems to take forever to climb the hill to 20, but then I can stretch my legs and even get a way ahead for the first time through 21, 22 and 23. I pass Ewan and I can almost taste the victory, but I don't want to get too carried away. I hear the commentators announce Oli Johnson finishing in the lead, and I have to stop myself thinking thoughts like how far I have left and how long he started in front of me. Matt is right behind me again now, and the climb up to 24 is the worst yet. I see a control and run too it, but it is on the knoll to the south. I see Matt punch our control and attempt to catch him again. We spur each other on up the hill to 26 and he leads me through the green to it. Then I stretch out my legs, past the boulders, down the hill, follow the earthwall up and into the control. I know there are only a couple of short minutes separating me and the finish, and I draw on all my reserves. A small miss coming in to 28 as I cross the stream slightly too far left, but then as I come through the green I see the field and the cheering hits me. Down into the second last control, across the stream and into the field full of cheering spectators. Matt seems to have dropped off as I sprint (or try to at least - I am sure my dad could have outsprinted me after that race) to the last control and then into the finish. As the last starter, I am announced as the winner of today and overall. Matt crosses the line and we both collapse. He takes a well deserved 3rd place overall, behind Oli who moves up from 6th in the middle to 2nd overall with 2nd in the classic.
My exhilaration at winning is matched only by how absolutely shattered I feel - both mentally and physically. I have no energy or motivation for a warm down, and having collected my trophy, I just have a bit of a sun bathe and study the previous winners of M21E wondering who this J Stevenson might be and how he has got his name on it so many times....
Classic results here
Classic splits here
Overall results here