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Jason Richards starting a race


Pit Stop 10k 

By Jason Richards

The annual Pit Stop 10k race, hosted by the Darlington Harriers, took place on the evening of 8 July. The race was held at the Croft Racing Circuit and involved three laps of the fast, smooth tarmac.

Three laps around the track might seem a little boring for a 10k road race, but the course is ideal for quick times: the challenge comes in running along the racing line, taking corners close and powering out following the trails of rubber on the track’s surface. Not that the racing wheelchairs quite hit the speeds required to cause rubber to bead up from the tyres but the racers still hit speeds of around 20 mph down the home straight on each lap.

Since our twins arrived in November 2007 my training plummeted from six days a week to nothing. However, I was determined this year to regain some fitness and to try and return, in some form, to the sport I love. Leading up to the race, I’d been training once or twice a week, at best. So whilst my technique and feel for the chair were returning I was by no means at racing fitness.

However, my desire to feel the heat of competition and to experience the burn of the final sprint overwhelmed any lack of fitness and as I drove to the race, relaxed in the comfort and space of my S-MAX, my thoughts turned to previous years at the same event. In 2004 I had won the event at Croft, on my debut attempt at the course, posting a personal best time of 25 minutes 42 seconds.

In 2005 and 2006 I travelled to the USA to take part in the Peach Tree 10k race but in 2007 I returned and again found some great form and a sprint finish to take a second victory at one of my favourite venues in a time of 25 minutes 41 seconds.

As I arrived in 2009 and began to prepare for the race I clung to those memories and tried to visualise where I had broken away, knowing full well that to cross the line in first place this year was almost impossible. The number of wheelchair racers seems to have dwindled over the last few years and there was a small field with just three men in contention.

The men’s event was a close affair with all three men taking turns to head the field and work into the headwind. As the lead changed hands some small breaks appeared as the three racers found the measure of each other, trying to find the points on the circuit where they could gain an advantage.

Going into the last lap Steve Williamson was heading the field with Ian Thompson and me hot on his heels. There was a deeper level of tension and concentration on the last lap as the racers watched their opponents’ every move. One lapse of concentration and you could miss an attack and be out of the running. As we approached the final kilometre of the race Steve Williamson tried to attack from the front and extend his lead. Ian and I were quick to respond and within moments we had countered his attack and all three of us were again in close formation.

The pace increased as we weaved through the final corners leading to the finishing straight and suddenly Ian was making a break for home. I went with him and we opened up a slight gap on Steve. Ian, as a T54 racer, has full use of his abdominals and was able to ‘hip’ his chair around the final corners as he attacked to get ahead into the final straight.

My heart sank as not having the same level of function I had to momentarily stop pushing and steer my racing chair through the bends and I saw a small gap open up.

Then from somewhere the red mist fell, the adrenaline kicked in and I unleashed a final charge for the line. I was back in Ian’s slipstream, then pulling out as my chair came alongside his back wheels. My front wheel just caught his pushing glove and momentarily disturbed his concentration as I focused on the line. From there on it was just a blur. The line was beneath my chair and I’d found some inner strength to propel me over the line in the sprint and to victory. I sat a few hundred metres past the finish line, my heart pounding in my chest as it tried to suck in vast quantities of the warm evening air.

My time of 28 minutes 23 seconds may have been somewhat slower than in previous years but the racing was closer, and more exciting, than ever. All three men crossed the line within two seconds of each other, giving the spectators a fabulous view of wheelchair racing at its best.

Who knows, with some more training and the same levels of determination, I may even return in 2010 and try to beat the 25 minutes 41 seconds time I posted back in 2007.