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One day I will get #171 as a bib!
Be careful what you wish for, because sometimes, wishes come true with unintended consequences!
Ominous? Read on to find out what went down in Gwent.
After the small, but significant PB at the DK10K recently, I was itching to find out what that result would convert to on a flat course with calm weather conditions. The Gwent Race for Wildlife uses the same course as the popular Chepstow Harriers’ Magor Marsh 10k, so the route is as flat as they come for a road 10k; I’ve now run on the course 4 times in one form or another.
This race was incredibly low-key with 200 or so participants. Last year’s race only had around 130 runners and saw me finishing in 5th place with 41:39 and the 1st place with 39:30. I had talked Vince Nazareth into entering; he certainly had a chance of winning the v50 prize at the very least!
As is common for me during the 10k season, I treated myself to a mini-taper of only 2 days; any more than that and I risk losing fitness given how many 10k races I’ve entered (at least 8).
Rocking up at the race HQ reasonably early, I was met with a car park full of cars. D’oh – there went my chances of making it on to the podium! I quickly located Vince and we both agreed there were some fast looking club runners around. We went off for a mile warm-up jog, having a bit of a catch-up natter in the process. There was a noticeable head wind (Garmin Connect reported it as 12mph) on the warm-up and with low runner numbers, I anticipated there would be few opportunities to take shelter behind others.
Race briefing done, we made our way to the start line and had a proper glimpse of the likely opponents we (OK, Vince) would face off against. Neither of us looked out of place, but there was an aura of speed emanating from the club runners around us! On the starter’s orders, we were released into the Gwent countryside.
With the knowledge that this race has run long on me 4 times prior, I was meticulous with my racing line from the off.
The ambition was to PB for both of us, which meant a target pace of around 3:57/km or better. We stayed together for the 1st km before the gap began to grow between us due to the head wind. Vince is without a doubt the stronger runner of the two of us, so I urged him on whilst also quietly cursing him for leaving me behind in no-man’s land!
Anybody that’s run for long stretches on their own during PB attempts in races will know how difficult it is mentally to stay on pace despite the physical mechanics being no different. By 2km, the gap to Vince increased to 15m; suicidal for me to try and close so early on in the race but without even attempting to, I knew his lead would only grow thanks to the 2 club runners he managed to latch on to. There was nobody behind me for ages, which seemed odd initially but will be explained in due course.
The km markers in the recent DK10K were an absolute mess, with hardly any of them syncing up with the actual distance on the course. This race suffered from similar issues and the markers proved most distracting – I wasn’t sure whether to trust my Garmin, the signs, or neither!
You can see from my splits that I began to lose the pace at 3km with serious damage inflicted upon me by 4km. You know that saying, “When a window closes, a door opens”? Well, such a thing happened to redeem 4km. I could hear a runner closing in on me fast from behind and upon reaching me, I instantly recognised the maroon club vest as that of Lliswerry Runners – the fantastically friendly club that Nigel from Newport Parkrun belongs to. Running side by side with him for a few hundred metres, he pipes up with, “Are you Andy?” Surprised and suffering from the solo 10k time trial I was running, I respond with a snatched “Yep. I’m Andy.” He then asks, “Do you know Ed Barlow?” Just as surprised as before, I reply with, “Yep. I know Ed.” Turns out he went to school with Ed in Monmouth; thankfully and sensibly, he suggested we reconvene at the end! I stuck with him like glue, not wanting to end up back in the dark, dark place of running solo.
We passed through 5k and the km marker finally synced up with the distance. I sank an energy gel and chucked some water over my head to cool me down. The course finally took us out of the path of the head wind and things felt instantly more comfortable.
Entering the out and back portion of the course, the front-runners were just exiting and I estimated they were about 4 minutes ahead. The switchback point was coming up quickly and always fills me with anger that it is in the wrong place to add an unnecessary extra 50m on to an otherwise flat and fast 10k. The switchback marker this time was a marshal instead of the usual cone and next to them was the 6km marker. Vince was on the return and a rough 10 seconds ahead. I looped around the marshal and waited for my Garmin to beep. And I waited some more but nope, no beep. It was only 100m or so further down the straight when my Garmin eventually went off. “Shit! The course is short!” went through my mind… Like I said earlier, be careful what you wish for!
The long straight at 7km gave me an opportunity to knuckle down and concentrate. Unexpectedly, a second wind came from nowhere and I managed to get back to target pace. The Lliswerry chap and I managed to close some of the space between Vince’s small group and us.
At 8km, I managed to find another gear to shift into through the knowledge that there was just a little over a mile left. Running tall and speeding up my arm swing, I chipped away at the remaining distance. A guy in a triathlon suit had drifted backwards from Vince’s group and became my next target to chase down. Instructions to move to the right-hand side of the course for safety reasons appeared, and everybody bar the triathlete obeyed the sign from the organisers; this prompted the Lliswerry guy to shout out, “Run on the right you illiterate sod!” leaving me to chuckle to myself.
With only 1km left, I tried to convince the Lliswerry club runner to stay with me. He complained of his hamstring going and urged me on, so on I went. 800m left and I corrected my stance to run tall again, setting me up for a surge that saw me overtake the triathlete. I could see Vince ahead on the cheeky rise just before the entrance to the race HQ; this pushed me on to ramp the pace up even further to reduce the gap as much as possible.
I turned for the final 50m on broken ground, almost losing my footing in front of the awaiting crowd, and charged for the finish line as soon as stability returned to my feet.
And relax! Here’s the Garmin data for the race.
I moved out of the finish funnel and collapsed on the grass to catch my breath. “Damn! That was hard work!” I thought to myself, trying to gather my thoughts.
I had a feeling I’d PBd but couldn’t be sure until I checked my Garmin. What awaited me was 38:54 on the screen (later verified as 38:53 in the results). I was in awe, shock and disbelief at the numbers. I quickly moved over to the distance and was disappointed to learn I’d only covered 9.83km, so around 170m short. I knew this had to have happened on the 6km switchback point and nowhere else. Doing some quick back of fag packet maths, I reasoned that had the distance have been accurate, I’d have finished between 39:10 and 39:15, which would be a PB anyway.
EDIT – The race organisers have now announced that the distance was short by 200m or so, due to “slight discrepancy” with “marshal positioning”. Looks like my 38:53 PB goes back up to 39:38…
As promised, I did indeed reconvene with the Lliswerry Runner who knew Ed, and shared a laugh about Marathon Talk. He also explained why there were so few runners behind me for such a long time – apparently, a horse had bucked at around 3km and caused everybody to slow down as they passed it!
Photo with Vince, the first V50 home
Catching up with Vince, I was thrilled to learn he’d clocked 38:41 for himself and had just pipped his V50 rival to the line by a second for the age group prize. He too agreed that the distance was short, even on his Garmin that aggressively measures long each time.
Obviously, we stuck around for the prize giving! The winner finished in 34:33; a whole 5 minutes faster than last year’s winning time. Vince was pleased as punch to receive a handsome looking trophy as the first V50 finisher – the first prize he’d ever won for anything.
Disappointing that the race came up short. It can’t only be me that thinks it’s with increasing regularity that races are being revealed to have some sort of distance accuracy issue? As I said earlier, this would have been a PB for me, so it’s just as well that I have the Bristol 10k coming up.