For the 2014 race, please click the following:
Now with kung-fu chop action. Accessories sold separately – photo by Lis Morgan
I’m not normally one for novelty races, but who could resist a 10k that starts in one castle and finishes in another?
Read on to find out how storming the castle went.
After last year’s initial foray into the Two Castle’s Run, I fancied another stab at the race but this time with more focused training behind me. The event has a reputation for selling out very quickly; within three hours this year, which broke the previous record, though this was aided by a 12pm weekday registration launch versus the previous 8am Saturday launch. Elsa also wanted a shot at the race after she withdrew last year due to injury.
My three previous 10k races leading up to this saw me finishing in under 40 minutes, so I had it in the back of my mind to keep the streak going. Sadly, the course has a reputation for being quite aggressive in terms of the frequency and the aggressiveness of its climbs. This still didn’t stop me from having a go to see what came out on the other side.
Some take-home lessons from last year’s pre-race admin: ensure I visited the loo more than once and also to try and find somewhere with a long stretch to carry out my warm-up. Bonus because I managed to find two largely unused portaloos and a 400m stretch of flat path over on the far side of the castle grounds!
I felt a tad fresher than I did going into the recent Bristol 10k, though noticeably, there was a distinct lack of sharpness in my arsenal. The warm-up jog within the castle grounds felt excruciatingly tough at even a jog pace and my 300m effort at 10k pace never even made it to 10k pace (a conservative 3:58/km)… Oh dear. Were things about to unravel and become rather messy?
There was one other lesson learned from last year and that was to stake out a good spot in the start pen. Dave and I left this task a little too late in 2014, so there was a lot of dodging and weaving to contend with during the first mile or so. This year I found myself only a couple of rows behind the front runners, with almost everybody around me in a club vest of some description. I had a chat with a BRAT runner stood next to me to while away the time.
We were ushered over to the line shortly before the 9am start. I nervously joked to the BRAT runner, as we were stood under the thick canopy of the trees, that that was the point when people’s Garmins would lose GPS signal. Almost jinxing myself, my Garmin only went and lost signal only moments before we were due to start running… Thankfully, it regained lock-on with only 20 or so seconds to spare. At least my heart was pumped and ready to go!
Almost with precision timing, the hooter went off at 9am sharp and like a marauding medieval horde, we were ejected from the castle gates to begin our campaign towards Kenilworth Castle.
After only a couple of seconds, I joined the scramble to get out of Warwick as quickly as possible. Things felt uncomfortable rather early on, which was worrying. I felt completely out of sorts and the lack of race pace training of late made itself known to me.
Earlier in the week, an 11mph tailwind was predicted but this never materialised and instead turned into an 8mph headwind; not the end of the world but also incredibly unhelpful on a net uphill course.
The 1k marker ticked by very quickly, at least in my head. A 4:05 opening split with an uphill section wasn’t bad at all, but it meant I had to be much stricter with future splits to be within a chance of target.
Being much further up the field, in and amongst faster club runners, meant most were following the shortest line on the course, so I almost always had others around me most of the time. My memory’s a bit fuzzy of the early portion of the race where I was simply trying to keep things under control, managing the discomfort with a need to keep the pace in check.
I made a sharp left turn at Leek Wooton and began the first significant climb on the course; all the others were relative small fry in comparison! I found myself running steadily with two other guys whilst a large gap developed between the group ahead and us. I used my old trick to try and drum up interest with the other two fellas to collectively shrink the gap. They weren’t having any of it and didn’t even make an attempt to follow me, so I went it alone… At least I got the climb over and done with!
Unusually for a 10k race, there were three water stations out on the course and all served bottled water (yeeeees!); this still didn’t stop me sucking down an Isogel because why fix what ain’t broke? The 5k marker was close by and my Garmin showed 20:20ish for the first 3.1 miles; I more or less knew at that moment that my quest for a sub-40 on the course was over with too much to do in the steeper second half.
I began a mini-battle with an older club runner in a blue and white vest (wasn’t Centurion) where, familiarly, he would gain some ground on me via the descents and I would take the lead again on the rises. I managed to break free from the battle after one incline too many had left my opponent drifting backwards.
One opponent defeated, another stepped in to take his place. This was one cool cat, dressed entirely in black, with black shades and flouting the rules by wearing earphones. He also had impeccable taste in racing flats, owning the same Nike Flyknit Racers as me but in – you guessed it – black! As with the other chap, this guy was able to pull away slightly on the descents whilst I was dominant going uphill. He put some daylight between us at around 7k, but crucially, a strong gust of wind hit; I remained in his slipstream and slowly reeled him in and gained a wee bit of recovery in the process. I continued drafting for another 15 seconds or so and sensing my opponent was tiring, I used the temporary breather to surge away and left him in my dust. I never did see him again and unexpectedly, I was never overtaken again on the course from that point onwards by anyone else.
Another water station appeared and credit where credit’s due, the organisers knew how to lay on a water station. It was plenty long and well-manned so nobody needed to cut in front of others. I identified a girl wearing a pink hat and began shouting “Pink hat! Pink hat!” to grab her attention. After the successful bottle pass, I could hear her saying to her friends, “Did you see that? He called to me and I gave him the bottle without dropping it! Yeeeeeah!” I guess they must have already dropped quite a few bottles with the faster runners up ahead.
With less than 2k to go, I began drawing things to a close. My cadence picked up and I continued to reel runners in that had faded from over-ambitious starts. I turned one corner and an enthusiastic crowd clapped and cheered as another guy and I made our way towards Kenilworth Castle.
I passed the 9k marker with 36:30 on my Garmin. Yep, defo no chance of a sub-40 finish on the largely uphill final km.
I reached the castle entrance and prepared to swing myself around the awkward 180 degree turn for the final 200m of the course. Made up of broken path, I began the inklings of a sprint but wasn’t entirely convinced there was much traction to be had so I stayed cautious. With about 100m remaining, I could see a female club runner ahead and finally decided to throw caution to the wind and kicked hard to chase her down. I heard a random cheer of “Beetroot” from the crowds; so that’s where Lis and Iain were hiding. I was able to close in very quickly to the club runner, but it wasn’t enough so I finished a second behind her for 40:39.
Here’s the Garmin data for this race.
I wasn’t too bad in the finish funnel, at least compared to usual, and regained my composure quickly. The organisers had clearly listened to feedback because water and cereal bars were also handed out as part of the goodie bags that traditionally comprise of only a medal and a t-shirt.
The cool cat dressed in black appeared towards my left. I congratulated him on a good performance and thanked him for duking it out with me during the second half of the race. It turned out that this was his first ever running race and had only ever trained on a treadmill in the gym previously! Get this guy on a proper schedule with some coaching and he’d be a force to be reckoned with.
Bumped into Ben Clarke from Cannon Hill Parkrun at the after-show party – photo by Lis Morgan
I made my way over to where Lis and Iain were stood in the crowd to wait for Elsa. They’d seen Neil Muir and Simon Bull come through already, and for a moment, I thought I’d caught a glimpse of Ben Clarke from Cannon Hill Parkrun pass by. Minutes later and as if by magic, Ben caught up to me in the crowds and shared his tale of how he’d almost missed the race entirely due a start time mishap.
Thoughts and conclusions
Even in peak shape and condition, I don’t think I’d have been able to get under 40 minutes with a likely 40:15 as the best result I could have hoped for. Looking through the runbritain rankings for the race, it’s a similar situation for most others where PBs were on the light side who are registered with the service. I was still over 30 seconds faster compared to the same time last year, which as a direct comparison is still a positive improvement.
As I type this up on the Monday afterwards, I’m feeling pretty good, which is no surprise considering I eased off just a touch in the race once a sub-40 finish was well and truly out of reach. With no races for another four weeks, I can get back to a routine that’s been largely missing since early May; I’m looking forward to a nice block of 5k training to hopefully better prepare me for the next batch of challenges to come my way.