Wythall Hollywood 10k 2016 review

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Do I qualify as an ever-present at this race yet?

For previous years’ races, please click below:

Pre-race

After the recent Aldridge 10k serving as both a race sharpener and ability barometer, I went into this year’s Wythall Hollywood 10k with the goal of producing a sub-39 PB. Honestly speaking, such a time should have happened last year, but hey-ho.

Continuing the last fortnight’s trend, I once again roped Dave and Simon in to try and expand their racing horizons to what’s available locally. Lis also joined us as our pit crew, providing valuable baggage support.

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My interview in Run ABC Midlands

Rocking up at race HQ and collecting our bibs, the lady that checked me in thanked me for helping to publicise the race via an interview I gave for the free to obtain Run ABC Midlands magazine a number of months ago.

The race has grown in popularity over the last few years, especially amongst local clubs with strong attendance this year from BRAT, Kings Heath, Bournville, Swifts and Kingfisher Harriers. This boded well for me as somebody trying to limit any damage from running in no-man’s land.

Stood in the starting grid, I was in good company with many faster and familiar faces. It was time to get my game face on; 3:53 per km/6:15 per mile were the targets with complete buy in, unlike Aldridge’s half-hearted attempt.

The race

The start wasn’t as fast as I was anticipating and allowed me to tail Ed Barlow and Huw Jones for the first few hundred metres. I was cautious not to get too caught up in their pace, seeing as I wanted to cover a steady opening 5k to get me to halfway as quickly as possible with minimal distress; 10k pace across the 10k distance is my Achilles heel, after all!

I ended up in a small group consisting of three or four guys and we clocked our first km at 3:55, so pretty much where I wanted to be pace-wise. In the distance, I could see a few faces I knew I was faster than over 5k and 10k and shuddered to think what the second half of their races would feel like.

The first of two 1km long climbs was soon upon us. I willingly dropped down by a gear to stay with the group, where the next bunch of runners were a little too far to reel in so early on. Last year’s race saw me apply too much effort to maintain 10k pace on the climbs, leaving me unable to fully take advantage of the descent on the other side due to accumulated fatigue. The wind kicked up on occasion, so the group also provided some valuable shelter to draft behind! When the climb was finally over, the 2km marker also appeared for a 4:12 split.

What goes up must come down – the descent had never looked more welcoming. The guys in my group jockeyed for position from time to time; one chap and I crept away as the others appeared quite settled at their pace. I didn’t realise it at the time, but Dave revealed after the race that he was never too far away for much of the first lap, opting to latch on to the faster pace due to a lack of fellow runners to work with at his original target.

In my interview with Run ABC Midlands, I highlighted one of my favourite features of this race being the bloke with his garden hose on the descent to spray down runners for some brief refreshment. He didn’t disappoint, blasting me whilst cheering me on with, “Good work, 911!” 3km was back on first half pace of 3:54.

Curious as to what the runner side by side with me was looking for from the race, I broke the silence. He revealed he ran 41 minutes a year ago, but had crucially turned out a 39:30 at the Aldridge 10k two weeks ago. Agreeing that our abilities appeared well matched, we struck a temporary alliance to dispel any potential for running alone.

As runners, we’re like lemmings and all likely just follow the runner immediately in front. Entering the Phoenix complex, those ahead of us ran on to the pavement; due to where the marshals were stood, their body language suggested the pavement was the line to follow, though they quickly alerted us to the error of our way. It was too late and we’d already made it to the awkward switchback. I joked that the course tends to come up a touch long, so we were just reclaiming part of the distance back! 4km was very nippy for 3:46, thanks to no elevation gain, only loss.

Our march continued and I shared with my sidekick that I planned to press on from halfway for a faster second 5k. He agreed he’d do his best to stay with me but promised nothing. We passed Lis, who gave us a cheer and handed me a bottle of water so that I could avoid having to drink from a plastic cup. 5km clocked in with 3:54, producing a first half of 19:41 to be pretty much exactly what I wanted and planned for.

I kicked on and my temporary partner soon became a pursuer, and eventually disappeared from view behind me. The field thinned out, leaving only a couple of scattered 10k runners ahead of me. True to my word, the pace certainly picked up and I cranked out a 3:48 6th km split.

Turning left for the climb, I focused myself to temper that fine line between covering the ascent as quickly as possible without pushing myself too hard and blowing up to kingdom come. With each step I took, I drew closer to the two guys in front. My first victim was a Bournville Harrier that I recognised by face from Cannon Hill Parkrun. The next was impressively dressed in just a cotton t-shirt and shorts, with just his phone for pace feedback – there was nothing fancy about his getup at all, yet he was on for a solid 39:XX performance at the pace he covered the course at. A quick utterance of some encouragement to keep him going and onwards I continued.

Curious as to what my heart rate was, I toggled a few screens on my Garmin and saw “47% of max”. My heart rate monitor had slipped a few inches to sit at the bottom of my ribcage, to explain the FUBARd data. And I was hoping to get some lactate threshold feedback, too!

Looking ahead into the distance for my next target, I could see the first female 10k runner I’d encountered all race. It turned out to be Sian Khan, who I ran part of Arrow Valley Parkrun with a number of weeks ago. The next batch of runners were too far off in the distance and would require a concerted effort over several minutes to reach; my only chance to keep the pace going was to convince Sian to stay with me. She initially declined and urged me to go on, but I eventually persuaded her to work with me to get the climb over and done with. Teeth firmly gritted, we fought gravity and won; our prizes were the sweet, sweet descent on the other side and a 4:04 7th km.

A few more words of encouragement and Sian pulled up alongside me to run shoulder-to-shoulder, strides in perfect unison. We estimated the next guy ahead was some 20 to 30 seconds away as we maximised the gains to be had by running downhill. The chap with the garden hose was a welcome-relief for some momentary cool-down as we pulled out a 3:41 split; such a km split wouldn’t look unusual in one of my fast 5k runs, so I knew I was on to something quite sizable over 10k.

As we neared the Phoenix complex, I sensed Sian was beginning to tire once more as she began slipping backwards by a step or two. I eased off the pace ever so slightly to allow her to latch on, but it was no use and she moved to fall in line behind me. “Stay with me! A little over a km left!” was all I could snatch in the knowledge that I was close to my limit, if I wasn’t there already. I took the correct line the second time through Phoenix and my thoughts all these years were confirmed: the organisers 100% extend the switchback for the second lap, which seems wholly unnecessary considering the race comes up some 30 to 40m long ever since they moved the finish line further inside race HQ. Sian had fallen behind by some 5 to 10 seconds over what seemed like only 200m; I gave her a cheer that was only right, considering she helped me produce some of my fastest splits of the race only minutes earlier. The penultimate km, unsurprisingly, slowed a touch to 3:45, which was still within tolerance of what I’d want to see during one of my own fast 5k performances.

I began to come into contact with some of the 5k race backmarkers, using them as soft interim targets to chase down.

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In my own personal hell – photo by Lis Yu

Lis appeared, offering encouragement and telling me to kick on; she didn’t have to tell me twice as the rocket underneath me was already lit! Only a few hundred metres separated me from a new 10k PB, but just ahead were more 5k backmarkers, running several people abreast. Also quickly closing in on me was the barrier that separated the 5k and 10k races; a quick side step left and I scooted past the last of the 5k runners and continued my kick for the finish. The cheers from the spectators got louder, so I went faster, making their cheers grow louder again; on and on the circle went!

Firmly back in race HQ, I was pleased to see the organisers had done away with the barriers and with only a clear straight ahead of me, I emptied the tank and charged for the line with my face summing up all the torture I was going through. 10m… Done. 5m… Done. Finish line reached.

Post-race

Here’s the Strava data for this race.

Everything inside me was tight and on fire. The balls of my feet were covered in hot spots and potential blisters from the pace pick-up of the second half. I let out a few cries that would have put Tarzan to shame and dropped on my hands and knees for some stability. From where Steve Dunsby and Huw Jones were stood, they remarked that it looked like I was kissing the ground – hey, if it works for Mo Farah, it’s got to work for us mere mortals too, right?

Sian and the cotton t-shirt guy passed through the finish funnel and congratulated me on a race well run, and I reciprocated with some handshakes whilst unable to speak.

In the finish line confusion, I’d forgotten to check what I had crossed the line with. Had I done enough to go under 39 minutes, or was I too optimistic and had I even managed to PB at all? Turned out I’d managed to blow the PB doors apart and was rewarded with a 38:45 for my efforts, equating to a 31 second improvement over the 10k distance and a massive 1 minute 17 second boost to my course best.

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Me, Dave and Simon at the 2016 Wythall Hollywood 10k – photo by Lis Yu

How did the others get on? Dave hit his target of going under 40 minutes for the first time in almost two years. Simon PBd and went under 45 minutes for the first time.

This race has given me the much needed nod that chasing after a 38:15 10k at the pancake flat Magor Marsh in several weeks won’t be a suicide mission! Not a single person overtook me from 4km onwards and I feel I got the pacing strategy just right, using the first half as transport to get me to the second half.

Enough distraction for one week and it’s back on the marathon training schedule I go!

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