For the 2015 race, please click the following:
Eric, Dave and Andy at the Two Castles 10k – photo by Elsa Tam
Continuing with my summer of speed campaign, today was the long-anticipated Two Castles 10k. I’ve missed the opportunity to run for the previous 2 years, so I made sure I was sat right in front of a computer to register as soon as entries went live back In February.
With a 9am start and renowned difficulty in getting to the start line, the gang of Elsa, Eric, Dave and I set off from Birmingham at just after 7am, arriving at Warwick Castle just before 8am. Elsa wasn’t running due to injury so we parted ways with her and had arranged to meet later. Dave and I went for a warm-up dash around the castle gardens and grounds. I didn’t feel particularly warmed up because of the twisty-turny route you can see from my Garmin here; I normally find myself a nice 800m stretch of road to run out and back on to make up a mile, allowing me to speed up and accelerate to get the legs turning over and the heart firing up nicely. Oh well, make lemonade when life hands you lemons and all that jazz.
Dave and I bumped into Jort and Toby from Cannon Hill Parkrun. They were both flying the BRAT Club colours and were expecting good things from the day.
We caught back up with Eric and before too long, we were due in our respective start pens. I quickly downed my strong coffee shot and any thoughts of a last minute toilet visit were cast aside. Stood in the start pen and looking around, it was very clear that some people had over-egged their estimated finish times and there was no way they were likely to even come close to 40 minutes. Dave and I got talking to a Coventry Godiva club runner who shared a few tips about the course with us. Slowly, we were ushered forwards and soon fired out through the castle gates on to the course.
The sun was beating down on us with little to no cover available. I did my best to ignore this teensy factor in my day’s quest for a 41:00 minute finish.
Elsa was supposed to be somewhere near the start but I missed her completely. I always take the opening mile/km of a 10k slightly slower than target pace to help ease myself in; my body seems to take longer than others to effectively warm up and after having experienced a full blown meltdown several years ago by going out too hard, I can honestly say I never want to get that close to a DNF in a race again.
The Two Castles 10k course is neither flat nor particularly fast. It’s littered with undulations and rises that will reveal any lack of hill work in a runner. It’s also no good thinking you can make up the loss from hills on the descents; few people attack a downhill portion hard enough to truly neutralise an incline’s slow-down.
Dave was maybe 10 – 20 seconds ahead of me in the distance with a goal of 43:00 or so. Slowly but surely, I was reeling him back in and after 2km, I’d managed to overtake to push on with my own race. The field had opened up nicely with plenty of space available for runners to overtake. I like to think I have a pretty good eye for spotting the shortest line through a course (think the blue line at the London Marathon), which will be the route that’s measured and certified. Running wide will add precious seconds on to a runner’s time and it was saddening to see so many ignoring this very simple rule. Dave said he saw one particular stretch of road where I was the only person running on the right-hand side, both in the shade and utilising the shortest route. Oh well, their loss!
The hills weren’t as bad as I was expecting. I managed to confidently drive myself up each one, overtaking runners as I went along. The inclines were spaced apart from each other adequately for ample recovery before tackling the next.
Water was handed out quite regularly, which would have been a welcome relief for other runners in the heat. I only took one cup out there, with most ending up over my head to help cool me down. That along with my one Isogel was enough to keep me going.
At around 7km, I noticed Jort in the distance on the side of the road. As I approached, I called out to him to try and convince him to go with me. He was having the mother of tough days at the office, having already thrown up twice by that stage.
Somewhere around 8km, I managed to creep up on the Coventry Godiva club runner that Dave and I had spoken to in the start pen. Overtaking other runners was becoming a regular occurrence in the second half of the race it seemed, either because the hills had finished people off or because they had gone out too hard. It was at this point that I was able to spot Neil Muir in the distance, maybe 20 or so seconds ahead. We were both roughly going for 41:00 from our conversation during the previous day’s Cannon Hill Parkrun, so it was reassuring to see he wasn’t too far ahead.
By 9km, I was starting to feel less than stellar. I was breathing hard and my arms were in full swing to try and keep the forward momentum going. There were plenty of cheering spectators out and about, clearly not too pissed off that runners block off their roads each year.
So, what do we think of my teapot victory pose?
After a few more left and right turns, I had finally arrived at the approach to Kenilworth Castle along with what I can only call a dirt track making up the final 400m or so. I found the surface incredibly jarring compared to the smooth roads I had just run on, slowing me down at what should arguably be one of the fastest parts of the race for most runners. With 200m left to go, I did what I could to try and muster a finishing kick to bring me back home. Nothing. I had nothing left inside me. On the one hand, I was pleased because it meant I had left it all out on the course. On the other hand, I was disappointed because I love the thrill of a finishing kick. 100m left to go and I was within spitting distance of the group I had been chasing for the final km. With just 50m left to go, I managed to get my cadence up for a sprint to overtake just one guy for the finish line. My Garmin was happy to report 41:09 back at me (41:10 chip time – boo-hiss!), so pretty much bang on target!
I was very unsteady on my feet and stumbled over to a metal fence to catch my breath. After collecting my rather stingy goodie bag, containing only a medal and t-shirt (I’d have gladly traded the t-shirt in for some food), I made my way through the finishing funnel to bump into Toby and Neil Muir. Several minutes later, Dave and Jort came through. Dave had hit his target of finishing below 43:00 minutes and Jort confirmed with us as to what had happened to him out there (likely a bug he’d picked up from his kid). Not long later, Eric finished having blown his 55 minute target out of the water for a 51 minute finish.
Decent medal from the 2014 Two Castles 10k
Looking back at the race, I’m pleased as punch with my result. I’m 30 seconds faster than this time 3 weeks ago at the almost pancake flat Race for Wildlife 10k, so the speedwork is clearly working. I felt strong out there, especially on the hills, but I think I need to start doing some 400m reps to give my finishing kick some attention. It shouldn’t be long now before I’m going to be seriously chasing down my 5k, 10k and half marathon PBs again.
The event itself was well organised and well priced. The course is by no means PB friendly, though it offers a unique race starting in one castle and finishing at another as the name suggests.
Here’s the Garmin data for the race.