Bonus medal at the 2016 Aldridge 10k
For the 2013 race, please click below:
After a three year gap, I returned to Aldridge with the hope of a cheeky PB. Would it deliver? Read on…
To this day, I still cannot fathom why the Aldridge 10k and the Two Castles 10k take place on the same Sunday each year. Sure, Aldridge’s race probably benefits from the overflow of runners that fail to register for Two Castles, but I’m sure there must be a decent percentage of runners that attend Two Castles that would also wish to run at Aldridge if only it were on a different day.
After two years of Two Castles, I wanted a change of scenery so I roped Dave and Simon into joining me.
Under normal circumstances, Aldridge is not a PB course due to its pretty aggressive elevation profile. My 10k PB (39:16), however, is so laughably soft and out of line with the rest of my other PBs that I hoped my uplift in ability versus a year ago would yield something positive, albeit meagre at best.
The weather deteriorated significantly between me picking the two of them up and us arriving at race HQ. There wasn’t much wind, but the rain would switch between drizzle and more aggressive stuff. The walk to collect our race numbers had already left us soaked to the core, but at least the temperature was reasonable.
Yes, this is a PRE-RACE selfie where we were already soaked through…
Race admin completed, we returned to the car and made that our temporary base of operations. This worked out really well, given we no longer needed to be at race HQ and only had to make our way to the start line a little while later. A warm-up jog helped to familiarise ourselves with some of the route and helped to get our legs turning over.
The witching hour was nearly upon us and we congregated with other runners all probably thinking the same thing – “It’s June, so why is it pissing it down still?” It was all incredibly foretelling that the start line was adjacent to “Whetsone Lane”…
Masses assembled, nobody wanted to be in the holding pattern for too long, given the conditions. A few words from the Mayor of Walsall (she didn’t look like she wanted to be there, either) and we were sent on our way.
There was some mild panic that I’d positioned myself a touch too far back in the starting field from those I wanted to be running with. Thankfully, the start was pretty damn clean in spite of the wet conditions and I organically found myself hovering with those of a similar pace.
After a light second half of the week, I was left feeling mightily fresh and my legs felt tremendous. Paired with racing flats, my stride was light and responsive; shortening to drive me up early climbs and lengthening out to take advantage of descents, that I so regularly give away to competitors.
Once the positions and groups settled, the first km popped out with 3:54.
I found myself working with a Lichfield guy and girl that silently worked together to pick their way through the field. Whilst not particularly windy, I still semi-consciously gravitated towards them to take advantage of their wide slipstream they produced by running side by side.
I’m not entirely sure what happened in the second km, but one of the slowest splits of the day of 4:03 was recorded. Elevation was pegged at 7m ascent with no drop, so perhaps that, paired with drafting behind the Lichfield runners, created a subtle slow-down that was hard to detect without keeping my eyes solely on my Garmin.
The course climbed some more and the drop in pace became more overt; I made an executive decision to drop the group and move ahead and bring the speed back towards some semblance of PB pace. 3km came in at 3:55.
After all the climbing effort, it was finally time to drop back down. I focused on keeping my lead, though this was short lived and the group I’d dropped minutes earlier made their way back to join me. One guy annoyingly decided to drift in and out of my path to keep me on high alert. He didn’t seem to want to go any faster to give me some clearance, nor did he want to simply plant himself right in front of me to make me adjust the gap between us. This lasted for several minutes and growing tired of his poor spacial awareness, I hopped on to the pavement and dropped in a very short surge to break away. The Lichfield guy decided to go with me as we hurtled our way downwards on the descent. 4km clocked in at 3:52 to be firmly on PB pace territory.
Not a great look at halfway – photo by Brian Smith
With conditions as wet as they were, for once in a race I didn’t have my mind fixated on the water station at halfway and simply ran through. 5km came out with 3:55 for the split and 19:40 for cumulative time; a negative split was needed to PB and factoring in a 40m climb over 1.3 miles meant it would be one tough nut to crack…
My heart rate monitor began to slip at this point and presented a few moments of distraction; I think this will probably be the last time I wear the heart rate monitor during a race and will instead only train with it for data collection afterwards.
The Lichfield runner and I were locked, shoulder-to-shoulder. I broke my silence and commented that we were edging closer and closer to the runner ahead. Dave later commented that my decisions to join and leave groups as they formed and fell apart were wise, because there weren’t many behind me to work with. It transpired the Lichfield runner was seeking a sub-40 time for a PB; I put him at ease that the pace we were covering would likely see him finish with a time around 39:30. 6km spat out 4:05 and in hindsight, I probably allowed the Lichfield runner to dictate the pace rather than me taking the lead.
Moving on to the final descent on the course, I did my best to convince my compadré to stay with me. I consciously pushed on to take advantage of the drop in elevation, offsetting as much damage against the yet to come 1.3 mile climb ahead of the finish. He decided not to tag along, despite his breathing sounding far more comfortable than my own. A 3:37 split was logged for 7km, so I definitely had gravity on my side!
The climb arrived, though it wasn’t nearly as bad as the elevation charts or my memory of three years ago made out. My breathing picked up to try and get as much oxygen in as possible and I began picking off runners ahead that slowed; in total, I think overtook four or five guys on the climb alone! The novelty wore thin and I mulled over when the brow of the hill would present itself.
A marshal in high-vis wear signalled in my mind that the end was nigh and their directions steeled me to begin wrapping my race up. My cadence picked up once more with a couple of turns before I reached the field with tape marking out the final few hundred metres. The organisers’ warnings about the finish area on grass being churned up like some cross country venue had me feeling uneasy; I only had my racing flats on with minimal grip and didn’t want to risk slipping like a fool in front of spectators. Looking at my Garmin, I was too close to the wire anyway to risk a mad sprint for the line, so I eased off just a touch to remain in control whilst still pushing. I finally crossed the line for 39:19 for more than a 3.5 minute improvement on the last time I raced the Aldridge 10k in 2013!
Here’s the Strava data for this race.
I dropped to one knee to recompose myself and after a few quick gasps of air like a fish out of water, I was back on my feet and made my way over to various folks to find out how they’d gotten on.
Intentional height order to make the selfie work
Steve Dunsby produced an eye-watering 35:16 performance. Dave came back in next with 40:26, recalling a steady effort that wasn’t all out. Simon crossed the line and turned out a 7 second PB in the process. Bizarrely, we all seemed to suffer from some timing mishaps where we’ve all been given chip times that are out of sync with our own recorded times; some by only a few seconds like Steve and me, and others by as much as 25 seconds!
I was slightly disappointed I didn’t break new ground on my 10k PB, but I readily acknowledge my heart wasn’t entirely in the race, especially with the pace let up on the grass finale and the timing glitch I mentioned above.
The positive is that I felt pretty damned good out there whilst not hitting capacity; this can only bode well for the Wythall Hollywood 10k in two weeks and the pancake flat Magor Marsh 10k at the end of July. We mustn’t also forget that the Yorkshire Marathon is my A-goal at the end of all this and I will always prioritise that, even if it’s at the detriment of 10k and Parkrun performances en route.