Quite a handsome medal for a cheap as chips race to enter
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My annual 10k PB attack on this pancake flat course. Read on to see how things went…
As somebody from Birmingham, there aren’t many local flat 10k races to truly test myself on. It’s with some luck that a few years ago, Lis and I were visiting her family and this local 10k happened to take place at the same time.
You’d probably have to race 10,000m on a track to find something flatter!
The race has previously always delivered on PBs, thanks to no more than a few metres of climb to contend with. This year, the organisers modified the course slightly to include a new start and finish, and also a different out and back section. A certificate of accuracy was awarded several months ago, though with all the shenanigans from Manchester and its surrounding areas, distance approval literally isn’t worth the paper it’s written on – only running the debut of the modified course would satisfy…
The target was somewhat ambitious. My 10k PB stood at 38:45 from the Wythall Hollywood race around a month prior, whereas various ability calculators had me pegged at sub-38 based on my recent 18:14 5k PB and my likely soft 84:54 half marathon PB. A time of 37:59 equated to 3:47 per km, with a recent track session of 4x 1600m in blazing 34 degree heat suggesting it was possible with some graft.
Race morning was warm with no cloud cover. My warm-up also confirmed a swirling strong breeze was present to complicate things further. I did my best to balance hydration whilst minimising toilet visits due to the limited facilities at the race headquarters; lengthy queues were already in place with around an hour to go before the race start!
There were plenty of club runners present, including the highly regarded Emma Stepto. I identified one particular runner that’s been a few steps ahead of me in a number of recent Welsh races and planned to lock on to him as a target to pull me along to a hopeful PB.
Stood on the modified start line, it was a clear improvement over the previous versions with additional width to accommodate more runners. There was distinctly less of a fight to get as close to the line as possible, minimising mis-matched paces from people desperate to get an accurate time from the non-chip timed race. On the starter’s orders of “1, 2, 3, GO”, we were sent off on our way.
As always, the first few hundred metres were a mad dash of tightly wound runners. I found myself falling into target pace very quickly and began looking around for the chap I wanted to follow, though he was nowhere in sight and I figured he must’ve went off with one of the lead groups.
Incredibly warm, torrid conditions at the 2016 Magor 10k – photo by Lis Yu
Groups quickly formed and I had to make some decisive moves about who I wanted to remain with and follow, and who to drop. The first km flashed up exactly according to plan for 3:47.
The pancake flat course offered almost no respite from the sun overhead. I grew warmer and warmer, though shrugged it off as a recreational hazard of summer racing. I had to surge a couple of times to ensure I latched on to a correctly paced group, which pleasingly was made up of five or six guys to help block some of the strong gusts of wind that hit. The second km slowed to 3:53, though I still had plenty of distance left to recover some of the damage.
The guys in the pack dictating the pace began to slow; their breathing grew laboured and at such an early point in the race, I knew they wouldn’t be able to sustain the effort for much longer. I took the reins and moved to the front of the group to keep the pace consistant, and looking at my Garmin, the split remained rock solid with little movement. The group continued to slow and drift further behind me; clearly they had all been a little over-enthusiastic and all began to suffer for it. I gave one final motivational push to try and spur any would-be takers to come with me; “Come on guys! We’ve got to close that gap ahead of us!” Nobody went with me and within a few seconds, I was left on my own for what had unhelpfully become a solo time trial. The next group ahead were probably no more than 100m away, but it was too big a void to tackle on my own whilst running unprotected into the wind. I did toy with the idea of dropping back a touch to regroup, though I’ve always been too stubborn to try it and decided to march alone instead for the next 2km, producing very consistent splits of 3:52 and 3:51.
The effort to keep the pace steady whilst on my lonesome took its toll on me. I didn’t wear my heart rate monitor due to the distraction of it slipping off in the last couple of 10k races; coupled with the conditions, I’m certain I was working too hard, too early. What I should have done was adopt the same negative split approach as I did in the Wythall Hollywood 10k, though it was too late for that. The one and only water stop of the race arrived, serving water out of plastic cups, as is the norm for a small race. I grabbed one cup from a volunteer, being especially careful not to spill any of the precious liquid. The quantity wasn’t nearly enough for such a warm summer’s day and only afforded enough for one sip, with the remainder going over my head. An article I read recently actually found water to be more beneficial on you than in you if a choice has to be made! The split clocked in at 3:54 with some slight slowdown to factor in a sharp turn and some fumbling for liquid, with the 5km halfway split registering as 19:18 to be about 10-15 seconds off target.
A 2km long straight presented itself and kept me focused on the group ahead; I was positively willing it to break apart to send somebody back to me! The effort to maintain pace continued to ratchet upwards, and whilst Garmin Connect recorded a tailwind for the direction the race took, the reality was actually cruel gusts of headwind to mock any foolhardy runners that dared to seek out a PB. The sixth km remained steady at 3:52.
Somewhere on the approach to 7km, a club runner I dropped much earlier in the race crept up on me, eventually gaining some daylight. I gave him some encouragement, impressed that he was able to shift his pace upwards at a relatively late stage in the race, factoring in that I wasn’t slowing down either. I tried latching on to him, though the fictional elastic snapped almost immediately. The group in the distance finally fell apart and one runner began drifting backwards to incentivise me to keep at it. Thanks to the brief moments of company, the seventh km came in at 3:49 for one of the faster splits of my race.
I cannot stand out and back sections of courses, so it’s laughable that I’ve got the Yorkshire Marathon in early October with two sizable switchbacks in place to bulk up the distance to the required 26.2 miles. The Magor 10k moved its previous switchback from around 5km on the route to its new home at 8km. Why? I’ve no idea, though in my mind, I reasoned it would make for an easier encounter nearer the end of the race rather than in the middle where pace can usually sag. I saw the race leaders approaching on the other side before too long, though had completely missed the first place guy who was four minutes further up the road by then! I took the turning wide to minimise any pace slowdown and immediately felt the hotspots on my feet flare up. If you hadn’t guessed by now, I was having a pretty dreadful time out there! 8km clocked in at 3:56.
None of my usual tricks worked to draw any more out of my dried out husk of a body – I’d definitely gone out too hard, too soon! The runner that overtook me sailed away into the distance, whilst the runner that fell from the group ahead was still out of reach. 9km was a real struggle, both physically and mentally, and produced my second slowest split of the race for 3:55. Everything would have immediately felt more pleasant if I’d have eased up, though I was still stubbornly hanging on to whatever threads of a PB opportunity that remained.
Just a little something left for one last kick – photo by Lis Yu
This was it now – just 1km left to suffer through. I was now within reach of the runner in front by just a few strides, but there was nothing left at the bottom of the well to call upon. I was on the doorstep to blowing up, whilst the wind continued to tear strips from me, and the sun overhead scorched my skin. We were soon upon the turning for the modified finish that took us towards the back of race HQ, avoiding the broken gravel driveway, though replacing the final few hundred metres with a narrow alleyway that led to a grass straight. With about 400m remaining, I was finally able to make contact with the runner I’d so diligently aimed to reel in along with another unidentified club runner. Somehow, I managed to convince the central governor in my head to let me have something and I was able to inject a small surge to beat the unidentified club runner to the passageway. I made the last turn to draw neck and neck with the guy I’d targeted, kicking for the grass finish and spurred on by Lis and her parents. I was sprinting on fumes and a quick peek at my Garmin indicated a PB of maybe only a second or two was possible. 10m. 5m. 1m. C’est fini!
This is where things got messy and took a turn for the frightening…
I stumbled a few metres through the finish funnel and very quickly realised something wasn’t right. My legs were like jelly and my senses suddenly became clouded. I was gasping for air, but my breaths were so quick and shallow that I now believe I was actually hyperventilating! I took a few more steps to be given a medal, found a clear spot adjacent to the finish funnel and then fell sideways to hit the deck with a thud. I don’t know how long I was out for, but what felt like only seconds must have easily been minutes in hindsight. It wasn’t until Lis and her parents reached me that the true extent of how hard I’d pushed myself came to light. The heat and effort from the race had made me dehydrated and delirious; all I could produce from my mouth was gibberish. My skin was red hot to the touch and my breathing remained unsteady. Lis finally had the bright idea to grab a few bottles of water from the volunteers to pour over me; it was instant relief and was just what was needed to quickly stabilise my temperature. It’s anybody’s guess what my internal core temperature actually was!
All of that effort would have been for nought if I didn’t get something out of the race. Checking my Garmin, the result came up as 38:44, though Lis said she saw 38:45 on the clock above as I passed through the finish gantry. The race official, processing the paper results for prize purposes, confirmed 38:45 was my official finish time. Just bloody fantastic – I almost literally wrung myself dry only to equal my existing 10k PB! To say that I’m disappointed is an understatement. It’s an often too regularly used adage, but in this case, there actually wasn’t any more I could have done out there without ending up in a hospital at the end of the race. On a positive note, it does confirm that I, without doubt, would have been faster in more mild conditions; runbritain agrees and gave me a -0.7 performance score versus the race’s 1.5 condition score, bringing my overall handicap down to 4.1. To give myself a chance at redemption, I’ve entered the Telford 10k that takes place in December, where you’ll find me racing in exactly the same attire without a single moan!
Here’s the Strava data for this race.
Tonight, I learned a fellow runner and supportive friend of mine very recently passed away. Darren was always a source of inspiration to keep me pushing beyond my own limits – it seems only fitting that this race report’s dedicated to him. R.I.P. Darren – you will be missed.