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Running column: The difference between the start line and the sideline has never felt more stark for Mark Armstrong

George Gay and Ben Spratling in the leading pack at the Trowse 10K. Picture: Epic Action Imagery

George Gay and Ben Spratling in the leading pack at the Trowse 10K. Picture: Epic Action Imagery

Epic Action Imagery

I couldn't help but watch out for conkers on my way to covering the Trowse 10K on Sunday.

It was of course the "scene of the crime" nearly five weeks ago (32 days ago to be exact but who's counting?) when I slipped on a training run along Whitlingham Way and broke my ankle and foot in two places.

I had started introducing doing a few training runs around Whitlingham in preparation for Trowse - a race I have an affinity with given I had something of a breakthrough run there a couple of years ago.

It was an event I had targeted on the way to doing the St Neots Half Marathon and, I apologise if this sounds arrogant, I'm pretty sure I would have got a new personal best there given how my training was going before conker-gate.

Running, of course, doesn't work like that.

Instead of being on the start line, I was, literally, on the sidelines to cheer on my wife, Alison and our friend Naomi, as well as cover what is always an excellent event.

The absence I've felt at not being able to run certainly reached its peak when watching the hundreds of runners enjoy the near-perfect conditions with many producing outstanding performances.

It made me want to get back out on the road so much that I even made a vow on the way home to Alison that I'm going to be on that start line next year and I'm going to smash that course to pieces without a conker in sight… that hill just won't see me coming!

That still feels a long way away but it's these types of long term goals that keep us going in times of injury.

There are naturally more important short term targets that need to be reached first - namely getting rid of this ghastly moonboot and crutches.

I certainly don't want to be interviewing the winners of future races in the state I was on Sunday.

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Ben Spratling at least indulged this hop-a-long journalist for a few minutes after the City of Norwich AC athlete had taken victory in 32:55.

Ben is one of the county's finest road runners, often vying with club-mates Logan Smith and Piers Arnold at the front of races although Dereham AC runner Callum Bowen-Jones showed he could soon be ready to challenge their dominance.

Ben revealed his long-term target is a spring half marathon, possibly at Cambridge (if he can get a place), but he knows he needs to take care of the cross country season first.

By his own admission it's not a discipline he thrives in…

"I don't really like cross country to be honest and I'm not very good at it!" he said.

"I'm probably too skinny and not powerful enough but it helps you get fit really quickly. I do it reluctantly!"

The best runners do the training they don't necessarily want to do with the bigger picture in mind.

Ben may have to swallow a few tough runs in the countryside this winter, ones where he questions why he's doing it, but it will be worth it if it sets him up to get the sub 70-minute half marathon he's chasing in 2020.

Being prepared to do the ugly side of training is what separates the wheat from the chaff in sport.

It's a message that I'm going to have to heed if I'm going to see Ben on the Trowse start line next year in the best possible shape.

<BLOB> Entries for the Norfolk Cross Country Championships to be held on Sunday, January 5 at the Charles Burrell Centre are now open. Check out here for more information.

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