Third 10k race in 4 weeks…
Ah. The big “B”. Read on to find out what went down in Bristol town.
The Gwent Race for Wildlife 10k was a disappointing outcome, so PB redemption was needed via a crack at the Bristol 10k. The race was only ever intended to be a fast training run that plugged a gap in my schedule between events!
Like many city races, the Bristol 10k attracts a sizable crowd; with a capacity of 15,000 and at least 11,000 expected to run, it was always going be busy. But busy can also be a good thing by providing additional people to work with towards a common goal. Looking at the previous two years’ worth of results, I was hoping to finish anywhere between 250 and 290 with 39:20ish to give you some idea of how deep the field can be.
Darryl Thomas of Bromsgrove & Redditch AC advised me to get to the start with plenty of time for both a warm-up and also to stake a solid position in the start pen. With a race start of 09:30, this meant getting up at the ungodly time of 05:45 to depart at 06:15 from Birmingham. Before anybody asks, there was no Lis in tow who preferred a lie-in; I couldn’t blame her because I felt much the same!
Expectedly, the roads were dead and traffic only began to appear once I neared Bristol. Rain lashed and gusts of wind rocked the car; a PB wasn’t going to come to me without a fight.
I parked up at Cabot Circus and made my way to the runners’ village, using the jog as a warm-up. I considered myself early, but the whole place was already heaving with runners and well-wishers at only 08:15. Thankfully, baggage check-in for the white wave was in a secluded area with plenty of space to spread out, relax and complete some strides to conclude my warm-up.
Conscious of the time, I made a beeline towards the start pens, following the atrociously marked signs that took me to the wrong place. With so many runners in attendance, simply getting into the start pen was a bun fight due to the crazily narrow opening to cover two different waves (four in total). I was horrified to learn later that the white wave covered sub-elite runners all the way up to 45 minute runners – a real mish-mash of abilities indeed!
I successfully claimed my spot, only four or so rows behind the elites, to facilitate a smooth start. With a few minutes before the hooter was due to blow, the organisers wheeled out Mara Yamauchi and another former Olympian, whose name I didn’t catch, to try and offer some advice through their experience. The organisers continued to harp on about how fast the course is and how lucky we were to avoid the rain; no mention of the white elephant in the room that were the strong gusts of wind hitting us! The elites were ushered over to the start line and I immediately spotted the awkward running gait of Louise Damen; there were mutterings of Claire Hallisey also running, though a bit light on famous male faces (Scott Overall and Chris Thompson have previously featured).
The air turned tense and everybody readied their fingers on GPS watches. “3-2-1” and the hooter fired – time to get my game face on!
I kept myself to the right-hand side of the course for the first few hundred metres (straight road, no extra distance added) whilst the stampede behind me spread itself out. Latching on to a couple of club runners at around my target pace of 3:56/km, they prevented me going off like a crazed loon. I certainly wasn’t feeling as fresh as I had hoped to be with an early start and a couple of hard races under my belt; I somewhow managed to convince myself that I’ve had some shocking starts to races, only for them to come good in the end – the Cardiff 10k in 2014 was a prime example.
Shortly after 1km, the much-billed flat course presented the only real rise in the form of an overpass that took us out towards the Clifton Suspension Bridge. This particular part of the course was horribly exposed to the elements with wind tearing into runners. The pace was still on target, but I felt like I was working ever so slightly too hard for it so early into the race. The field had largely settled into its stride, so there was only minor jostling for position on an already wide road.
At only 3km, I could see my PB attempt fizzling away with a 4:01 split. My breathing rate had increased and discomfort began to ratchet upwards. What didn’t help was the seemingly everlasting Portway; I had cleared the Clifton Suspension Bridge and knew 5k was well past the switchback point. Thirst crept in and I couldn’t wait until the water station, forcing me to tuck into my Isogel at only 3km.
I can’t remember much at all during the fourth km, so let’s just skip to the fifth… I ran past the first couple of volunteers offering bottles of water (thank the lord for bottled water and not cups). Some fool in front of me went for a bottle but somehow missed; he’d already moved away from the tables before realising he failed to grab some water, and then proceeded to cut me up on his way back for another bottle; this forced me to abandon going for a bottle of my own to push him out of the way before he tripped me up! I finally managed to secure a bottle of water from the penultimate volunteer, cutting things rather close – the hullabaloo at least woke me up a bit!
Largely, my Garmin wasn’t far off at all from the km markers. I was confident the race would not be short, given the reasonably prestigious nature of the event – imagine the embarrassment!
Spectators started to return to the sides of the course, signalling we were close again to Bristol City Centre. I locked on to a chap with an Iron Man t-shirt (triathlon, not the superhero) and began to reel him in. Just beyond him, I mentally took note of two female Bristol & West AC runners that had managed to creep away from me on the Portway but were now coming back into contact.
I made the turn for 7km and took solace that there were fewer than two miles left to cover before I could collapse. Cumberland Road presented a nice, long flat stretch that was free of wind to reclaim some damage from the clock. In 2013, Iain, Lis and I were amongst the crowds cheering Elsa on somewhere along this point; if you take a look at some of my photos from the 2013 race, many people are hurting and in my head, this was etched as the point to begin ramping up the pace. Ramping up the pace I tried and ramping up the pace I failed – I could only manage around 4:00 splits.
Despite the road only having a slight right-hand turn, I went solo to run the apex in a bid to bring the total distance back into sync with my Garmin. I actually have no idea whether this worked or not because I didn’t see an 8km marker anywhere. Unexpectedly, my solo manoeuvre brought me ahead of the Iron Man fella and the Bristol & West AC girls – wayhey!
At the end of the road, we made a turn for the other side of the harbour. Annoyingly, this part of the course is made up of cobbled streets; I wanted to go faster but on tired and unsteady legs, I deemed it too much of a risk so stayed very much in control. There was only 1km left to cover and slap bang in the middle of the split was a hairpin turn for further slow-down when everybody’s tearing away for the end! Looking at the elapsed time of my Garmin, I was left with around 3.5 minutes on the clock to make it under 40 minutes. Grimace firmly on my face, I was willing the finish to appear and began my kick from about 400m out along with two other guys. Once the finish gantry was in sight, I searched inside me for anything to spare but there was nothing. The two guys with me were also running on fumes and must have also sensed they were touch and go for sub-40.
Glancing upwards above the finish, I saw 39:59 and with the few seconds it took to cross the start line, I at least managed to salvage something from the morning!
I think I’d be inconsolable if I didn’t at least make it in under 40 minutes…
Here’s the Garmin data for the race.
Garmin stopped on 39:55, I slumped myself over a barrier along with another guy doing the same. A marshal came over to check on us, advising that we slow our breathing down after the sprint for the line. He checked on us again a minute or two later, and still incapable of speech, I gave him a half-hearted thumb-up. Once recovered, I asked my fellow slumpee how he did, “39:59 at last as a 42 year old!” was his reply, so clearly thrilled with his result.
Race spoils weren’t bad and the goodie bag contained:
- A nice chunky medal
- A technical t-shirt
- Cadbury’s chocolate
- Regular water
- Coconut water
- High-5 Zero tabs
- High-5 energy gel
Exiting the über long finish funnel, I thought I spotted Emma Stepto going off for a recovery run.
Reclaiming my bag was somewhat shambolic (the reports are the same each year), and it immediately became apparent why space blankets were handed out at the finish.
Knackered, I went and drowned my sorrows with a fry-up before making my way back to Brum to be delayed by no fewer than three multi-car pile-ups.
Spying through the results, Paul Sinton-Hewitt of Parkrun fame also ran and finished 30 seconds ahead of me. Another participant of note was Martin Rees, though I don’t believe he broke any world records today.
What a difference a year makes. I would have been on cloud nine with a finish of 39:55 to cheekily dip under 40 minutes 12 months ago, whereas now, I’m disappointed. That’s the joy and misery of progress – goals have to keep moving! Vince and Darryl both pointed out the positive, though, where a bad 10k is now sub-40.
I do genuinely believe I have a 39:15 or better inside me. I do, sadly, also believe that I peaked two weeks ago on that short 10k course, which infuriates me even more so now than it did originally.
What now? I don’t have any fast 10k races lined up until July, so I’m going to schedule in some recovery and then focus on 5k paced work for a change of scenery. I’ve got a few opportunities to be at Cardiff Parkrun coming up, so I want to capitalise on such a rarity before the summer is over.