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Flat like a pancake – go on, say it with a Dutch accent…
This was a bit of a last-minute addition to my race schedule, only finalising it two weeks ago. Read on to find out how things went.
Don’t let the name of this race fool you because I’ve actually run it twice before under the guise of the “Race for Wildlife 10k”. Organised by the Chepstow Harriers, it’s the flattest 10k I’m ever going to run and I’m sure by the elevation chart above, you’ll agree with me. This race had one purpose and one purpose only: to score a new 10k PB and to go under 40 minutes. The last time I PBd at the 10k distance was in Cardiff almost a year ago, which really is too long given the amount of work I’ve been putting in.
I figured my best chance of going under 40 minutes would require an even paced strategy; 5k for me requires an aggressive first half with a pick-up at the end, and a negative split always serves me well in half marathons. Target pace was to be 3:59/km with a little buffer for errors and the hope of a fast final km. I was worried about the course measuring long again, where it seems a start line that’s a little too far back, a cone that’s in the wrong place, and a finish line that’s purposely on grass have all added together in the past to add 70-80m to the overall distance (the race is certified and UKA accredited too) – if anything was to cost me a sub-40 minute finish, it would be this.
Pulling up at Undy United Football Club, the race HQ, I recognised the chap getting out of the car next to me – it was only the guy that overtook me during the later stages of my recent 18:56 5k PB at Cardiff Parkrun! He (Vincent) managed to recall my name, funnily enough due to his comeback PB not appearing in the results above my time – thankfully, he was able to use photographic evidence to show himself behind me and then in front of me after an overtake manoeuvre. Vincent and I both concluded that we were in exactly the same shape and so we would try and stay together for a sub-40 attempt, a finish that had eluded Vincent despite an 18:42 5k PB and a 1:26 half marathon PB to his name (wow!). He too was a self-confessed running nerd and it was a real joy to chat with him about stuff like GPS rates of error, the effects of caffeine, and whether beetroot juice is a placebo or not (he drinks the stuff, just like me).
We both split up to do our own warm-up routines. Mine consisted of an easy jog just under a mile followed by 2x 400m reps at 10k pace with a minute’s rest between. This was inspired by/stolen from Ed Barlow who ran a superb 5k PB yesterday – if it worked for him then it was surely worth a shot!
Vincent and I met up again at the race briefing. Looking around, there were plenty of runners to chase and pace with. Addressing an organisational faux pas from previous iterations of this race, the race director asked that “over 50s” head to the start area first, followed by everybody else; this received a few chuckles because some thought he was referring to age as opposed to likely finish time.
Toeing up at the narrow start line without chip timing, it was a bit of a bun fight to find a suitable starting position and we ultimately settled on the 3rd or 4th row from the front. All of a sudden without any warning, people started running! Vincent and I looked at each other and fumbled about with our Garmins before moving – where the hell was the starter’s orders?! We worked out we had maybe 1 or 2 seconds to make up at the end due to the sloppy start.
I followed Vincent diligently for the first 1km or so. Our pace was just a touch faster than target but I felt reasonably comfortable, which I’m sure the 2x 400m reps must have helped with. I knew this race would have to be a tactical one, requiring plenty of drafting to try and minimise the impact of the wind and air resistance if I was to give myself the best chance of hitting my target. We both caught up to a Team Bath AC and San Domenico club runner; I recognised the San Domenico guy from a few Cardiff Parkruns and doing my research on last year’s race, he ran 39:45ish so I suggested to Vincent that we stick with him. The pair of them running side by side acted as the perfect shield to deflect any wind from us.
We stuck with them until 3k or so when I noticed the pace started to dip. I knew how crucial an even pace would be so I made a move to overtake and move ahead to the next group. Vincent decided not to go with me and for a moment running on my own, I felt the effects of the wind against me. There would be no turning back and I used it as motivation to get to the next group as quickly as possible. I tucked into my energy gel ahead of the water station for a hit of sugar and hydration.
Going through 5k, some quick maths and my virtual pacer indicated that I’d just dipped under 20 minutes to be bang on target – great news. The bad news was I now had to do it all over again and then some… Entering the out and back portion of the course, I was cursing the cone’s positioning with the knowledge that it had slapped on some additional distance to my race. On the return, I caught Vincent giving me a cheer to urge me on – all I could manage back was a thumbs up.
From 6k onwards, it was a subtle false-flat. I reeled runners in ahead of me to avoid any potential pace dips; this took some serious mental energy to stay on target! This and 7k were my low points of the race and it required some serious willpower to not ease off, which would have made everything feel instantly better.
Each time I passed a runner, I tried urging them on to stay with me, hoping that it would turn into a mini-battle out on the course to lift the pace up. Nope. Nada. Everybody was shagged and slowing down so I fell back on my tactic of reeling runners in.
At 8km, I began to push on a little to prepare me for a fast final km. It helped tremendously working in km with the knowledge that 2km left converted into 1.2 miles – a distance I knew I could hold at a faster pace all the way to the end. I was running on fumes with my lungs on fire and my legs dull with lactic acid. Approaching a marshal, I had to ask him three times where the 9km marker was before he heard me; by then it was clearly visible just ahead. Running past the marker, I switched the screen on my Garmin to the stopwatch. I had ticked over into 36:XX territory and the course was long, so I knew I had to put in one helluva final km to stand any chance of going under 40 minutes.
I swung my arms and increased my cadence to get my pace up. There was nobody behind for a good 5 seconds and the next group ahead were at least 10 seconds away; great, just what I didn’t need in the closing stages of a 10k PB attempt. Chipping away at the distance, I managed to reduce the gap to just 5 seconds with just 400m left to go. “Come on Andy! Just one lap of the track!” I kept telling myself. The gap reduced again to just 2 or 3 seconds with just 200m left to go on the cheeky rise just ahead of the finish area. Glancing down at my Garmin, I had less than 30 seconds to go to do this. A full sprint on loose stones and a cracked driveway into the football club was not easy; maintaining as much speed and stability as possible, I emptied whatever was left in the tank to hurl myself across the finish line before ducking out of the funnel to collapse in my usual heap on the grass.
There was just one last thing to do and that was to check my watch. 39:49 looked right back at me! I did it! I bloody did it! Even adding a couple of seconds on for the crapshoot that was the startline (39:53 official finish time), a mahoosive 44 second 10k PB and a sub-40 minute finish were my spoils for the day.
Here’s the Garmin data for this race.
Vincent came through shortly and tried picking me up but I told him to leave me for another 5 minutes or so. Catching up with him afterwards, Vincent had scored a new 10k PB but missed a sub-40 finish by just 20 seconds or so. He was disappointed to not have gone with me when I did, and I felt guilty for not doing more to make him to go with me. I have since convinced Vincent to enter the Cardiff 10k to make sub-40 happen.
Looking at my splits, I pretty much nailed my even pacing strategy. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever run such a steady race before when going for a PB! According to the official results listings, I was also the final person to go under 40 minutes today – close call or what.
So, sub-40 has been conquered and what’s the next target for me? Had it not have been for the additional 80m of the long course, I’d have been firmly on 39:40. I think with a bit more focused 1 mile rep speedwork, I think I can bring it down to a 39:30 finish or better at the Cardiff 10k. Of course, I still have the sub-90 minute half marathon to go for as well, which the upcoming Worcester City Half (nowhere near Worcester City due to a course change) will be a good benchmark of longer distance fitness.