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Embrace the Oval

by Ben Smith and Richard Thatcher

Ben: Thanks to Ryan Entwistle, I first attended Ramsbottom Running Club back in August 2017. Like everyone I’m sure, I was made to feel very welcome and I joined the club the very next day. I did this despite knowing due to various commitments and not living in Rammy (shhhh, don’t tell anyone), that Tuesday evenings would be difficult for me to attend regularly! “Fear not!” I heard Rowan say to me the following week, “for RRC are embarking on a weekly track session, every Wednesday at Bury Athletics Track”. This I could commit too! Perfect timing! For the past two years, I have attended most track sessions and only a handful of Tuesday nights, hence why Rowan calls me the “ghost of RRC” – I think there is a compliment in there somewhere, but it was certainly a compliment when he kindly asked me to write a blog about a part of this great club, that particularly in the winter months, is a permanent fixture.

Richard: It took me a little longer to sign up to the club. Sarah, my wife, joined in early 2017 and although I’d been on a couple of Tuesday night runs, my weekly routine had me taking the dog for a run as soon as I got home from work on Tuesday, whereas on a Wednesday, when Sarah wasn’t at work, Tryfan (the dog) had already had his exercise by the time I got home, which meant when the track sessions started it was easier to get along. I ran the Bury 10k that September, mainly because it was one of the club championship races and Sarah had signed up. She always came back from the races telling me how awesome it was and how friendly everyone was and the FOMO had started to set in! Although I was happy enough with my time, I felt with a bit of proper training, I would be able to improve on it and again the track sessions seemed like a perfect opportunity to do that.

Ben: I’m no Speedy Gonzales and I don't claim to be a fitness guru (just look at my Strava and JustEat accounts for proof of that), but track has helped with my overall running technique and given me the chance to meet and speak with amazing people. We all know the success of the Summer Mile and how we power our way round whilst keeping our lungs intact, it just so happens, that track has been a great way of improving my time over this short distance.

Richard: Rowan’s dynamic warm-ups are great for this, working on co-ordination of using opposite arms and legs and getting up onto your toes when trying to push a little bit harder.

Ben: I shudder when my partner says, "shall we go to IKEA at the weekend?” but there's another Swedish word that, at first, sent shivers down my spine. ‘Fartleks!’ The Swedish word for “speed play”. Yes, if Rowan or another RRC leader says this, embrace the pain that they will bestow upon you! A great way of improving your pacing and/or technique, Fartleks are basically periods of fast running intermixed with periods of slower running and if Nigel Hartley is the leader, just make sure that after he blows his whistle three times for the sprint section, he doesn’t daydream for a minute and forget to blow again to start your slower pace.

Richard: Yeah! Nigel got distracted watching the football scores that time and left us sprinting until someone shouted at him! Another favourite format is the pacing sessions where we all set off as a bunch and run the same way around the track for a set period of time (say 30s) and then on the whistle we all turn around and try to get back at the same pace. This starts off pretty easy but as the time builds up to 2 or 3 minutes it gets a bit more challenging! I really enjoy this exercise as it really is done at your own pace so it doesn’t matter how far you go for each time period the target is to be consistent. If you want to push yourself hard you can, but it’s also a great way to practice 10k or marathon pacing, and because everyone starts and finishes each set at the same time, everyone is trying to cross the line together.

Ben: Other RRC leaders who have taken the track session put their spin on things and again make it enjoyable too. Lee Entwistle loves his Kenyan relays and Beverley Walker has taken it upon herself to carry on track session drills free of charge at Nuttall Park every Wednesday that Track isn’t on during the summer months.

Richard: Don’t forget Alex’s hop, skip and jumping races! The run leaders who lead the sessions are definitely due special credit, especially when it’s cold and wet and they’re not taking part. When you’re involved in the sessions no matter the weather after a couple of laps you’ll be warmed up and don’t really notice (OK that’s a fib – I can remember some very wet Wednesday nights!), but the guys who run the sessions are often just standing still and watching a clock (or the football apparently). I’d definitely rather be running!

Ben: Whoever the leader, you always run at your own pace – yes track can be about speed, but RRC always has the fun factor where the vibe is social and supportive and you can run without the worry of pot holes, traffic lights, cars to dodge etc.

So if you are a track virgin, and even the word ‘track’ makes you shudder with fear, fear not, just embrace the oval!

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