After five years of running, and countless races and Parkruns, I finally DNFd at the Telford 10k…
I think I’m cursed when it comes to 10k races.
In 2015, I ran a blinding performance only to have the race distance come up short – with correct distance, I still would have PBd by a healthy margin. Earlier this year, I was all set to run another big PB, only to end up participating in the warmest race I’ve endured to date.
I purposely entered the Telford 10k for its credentials. A fast, competitive field in the middle of December – so long as I was in decent shape, a PB was almost guaranteed.
But alas, there are no guarantees in running. Only a week ago, I was felled by an untimely cold that I could do nothing to avoid. Prior to getting ill, I felt immaculate with some good training behind me and heart rate data suggesting I was in good shape. I spent much of the week doing what I could to speed recovery along, which ultimately meant no running whilst I sneezed out what little remaining chance of a PB there was.
Come race day, symptoms more or less subsided and off Lis and I went to Telford.
Getting ready for my warm-up, my legs felt completely alien and running bore no familiarity at all. A lady from Liverpool asked if she could tag along whilst I covered the downhill start of the route. I was in impressive company; she had a 35:45 10k PB to her name and felt she would be nearer 35:00 that morning. It also transpired that when she achieved that PB, she came third in her age category! When asked what I was hoping for, I meekly replied with, “Anything better than 38:45”. “That’s still pretty good,” she said with a smile. In those few seconds, my entire outlook on the race was upended and recalibrated; I knew the field would be fast and that I would be likely to finish in the last 10% for a complete reversal to normal.
Post-warm-up, something was very clearly wrong. We didn’t go fast at all despite her incredible ability, yet I couldn’t get over how hot and sweaty I was – all rather embarrassing whilst chatting with Suz West from Bournville Harriers. I concluded I was still carrying the cold virus in some capacity, but opting not to run never became part of the equation.
Bumping into Chris Callow and Dennis Hussey from Kings Heath Running Club, I found solace amongst runners closer to my own ability as we headed over to the start line. There was none of the usual pointed elbows and fighting for position; we knew our place was firmly towards the rear of the field and watched the big dogs vie for their speedy getaways from the line.
The downhill start was as manic as I anticipated. Telford’s course rather uniquely starts at the top of a hill but runners never once set foot back up it, and instead get funnelled into the valley-like Silkin Way for two laps.
Pace-wise, what I produced was not out of line with terrain and expectations. If 100% fit, a 38:00ish finish would have been likely and required an average pace of 3:48 per km. The entirety of the downhill section produced a 3:42 split to be pretty much right on target.
That sharpness I thought I would be lacking was most definitely missing from my arsenal. I felt flat and sluggish, and rather casually sat in and amongst the pack I found myself with. There was no urgency as I felt my PB opportunity escape from me yet again. I managed to hold steady for the next 2km, producing splits of 3:52 and 3:54 respectively. Oddly, the course showed mainly mile markers with only the odd km marker for points of significance en route.
Nearing the first of two switchbacks, the lead bike appeared on the other side. What followed was a tightly packed herd of runners – truly a sight to behold. 2 miles in and nobody had made a move to break away from formation.
Doing the 180 degree turn was what broke me and sent me spiralling downwards. Whilst I anticipated being quite far down the pecking order whilst fit, seeing the remainder of the field behind me really hit home that I would likely be one of the last to finish whilst unwell.
I began to see a few people drop out from the race. It was only 24 hours earlier that Huw Jones at Cannon Hill Parkrun told me of a club mate of his dropping out at halfway, due to being off pace and losing grip on a PB. I parked the idea for at least the remainder of that split to see if I could hang on for just a little longer… 4:09 was the best I could muster for the 4th km and I knew the game was up.
Approaching halfway, more and more people began to overtake me, including Chris Callow. I told him I planned to drop out at 5k and wished him well for the remainder of his race (he got his sub-40 and then some for 39:28). Soon after, Dennis Hussey came past and asked if I was OK to receive the same response from me.
Stood by the finish line, a little further up from 5k, was Lis. I think the photo she took of me sums up pretty well how dreadful I was feeling.
Here’s the Strava data for the first half of the race – I at least made it through 5k in 19:55!
Walking off the course and DNFing wasn’t easy. My fear is having done it once that it suddenly becomes acceptable to do again in the future, feeling ill or not. There wasn’t any hanging around and back in the car we got to head home.
So, what now?
It’ll probably be April before I get another realistic opportunity at a fast 10k race that I’ll have easy access to (Cardiff Bay Run). I also appreciate that I must become better acquainted once more with how a hard 10k race should feel, so I’m looking to more 10k races as part of my 2017 game plan. After all, more attempts at something surely means more chances of a positive result materialising, right?