Stoneleigh Park Reindeer Run 20k 2017 (2018) review

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A Christmas themed run in February…?

Given the postponed nature of this race, I’ve no idea whether I should be titling it as “2017” or “2018”???

Pre-race

Remember that cancelled 2017 Sneyd 10 Mile Christmas Pudding Run? Well, the revised date was the 14th of January, which I obviously couldn’t attend due to the Brass Monkey Half Marathon. The organisers kindly provided yet another alternative event date by allowing runners to join the also postponed Stoneleigh Park Reindeer Run. Still with me? Good!

5k, 10k and 20k options were available, with the 10k or 20k looking most attractive to me and my future half marathon PB ambitions. If it’s not clear yet, the 10k and 20k options were simply 2x or 4x laps of the 5k route. I registered my interest and then radio silence struck; I’d long ago written off the entry fee for the Sneyd 10 mile race and lost no sleep over it. Out of the blue several days before this race, I received an email from the organisers checking if I was still interested. Initially, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to attend anymore as I felt like I needed a cutback period, especially with the Draycote Water 10k the following week. I eventually came round to the idea of the 20k again; covering it at marathon pace of 6:45 to 6:50 per mile would do little harm and would be a potent long run to be more valuable than a 15 mile plod on my own.

Registered, I did some sleuthing of the participants list and it dawned on me that finishing very highly and winning a prize was a potential outcome. I didn’t want to compromise my marathon pace run and push it harder than it needed to be, so if the opportunity of a prize presented itself to me in the closing stages, then I’d compete; otherwise, I was to sit in and not deviate from target marathon pace.

I’d visited Stoneleigh Park many times over the years for its convention centre credentials, but never for a race. It turned out to be a pretty decent venue, with plenty of free parking, loads of toilets for both genders, and a course that afforded spectators many opportunities to see runners. My pre-race research indicated the out-and-back stretch along the north-east of the course would throw most of the undulations for the day, whereas the showground itself would be pancake flat. Whilst it was bitterly cold that morning, the sun was at least out but the wind had to go and ruin the party. Up to 15mph gusts were expected on the incredibly exposed route, especially on the showground’s grid formation that would further funnel it. Unsure of what to wear, I packed for every eventuality! I almost went with a long-sleeve compression top with my signature yellow vest over it, that’s how cold it was! I decided to tough it out and instead opted for the vest with arm warmers, gloves and a neck gaiter – I’d soon warm-up from the effort, especially as the first km contained an uphill climb.

I’ve got to hand it to the organisers, who fully embraced and delivered on the promised Christmas theme from the original December date. There were festive inflatables, loud speakers blaring Christmas songs, and some people dressed as Christmas trees and Christmas puddings.

Due to a last minute loo visit, I was only able to catch the final few sentences of the race briefing, which, ironically, I would have benefitted from as one of the likely first finishers. Looking around my peers, there were perhaps three or four that looked like they could be troublesome. When the race director called everybody forward and for the faster folks to step right up to the line, my thoughts were confirmed as they toed the line next to me. On the starter’s orders, off we went…

The race

Lap 1

Humorously in hindsight, Dave Burton and I spent far too much time analysing the route. We thought we’d nailed it, only for the organisers to shuffle the start and finish points anyway to further confuse me!

The three guys I thought would put up a fight indeed stormed off, whereas I held back to marathon pace with one older chap just a few strides ahead of me. It wasn’t clear which race the other four guys were in, as I couldn’t see their bibs. The wind howled as we climbed to the highest point of the course before rounding the switchback to head back to the showground. I still didn’t get a good look at my competition’s bibs, so I continued in ignorance. It wasn’t long before one of the lead three guys – a Halesowen Triathlon club member – dropped back to also run with me. We worked out we were in the same race as each other, sharing some mutual encouragement for the rest of the morning before he began drifting backwards once more.

The older chap continued to be just a few strides in front of me, so I took shelter in his slipstream to conserve some energy for later. Returning to the centre of the course, I saw Lis for the first of many occasions. A few hundred metres further away was the water station, which handily gave out small bottles of water; whilst cups would have sufficed in the cold temperature, the gesture was most welcome.

I broke the silence and asked the older chap what distance he was covering. He revealed he was in the 10k race; I revealed my hand and shared with him that he was likely to finish on the podium for the 10k, no matter what, as the guy I’d already overtaken was in my race and the girl behind me would go on to finish first in the women’s 10k.

The volunteers that marshalled deserve a mention, as they were incredibly supportive. Some of them were made up of a group of young military cadets, who also manned the water station.

Nearing the end of the first lap, the multi-terrained course earned its stripes for we were sent through an incredibly muddy section. And there I was wearing my pristine white Nike Zoom Streak 6… Being only the fourth person to pass through that section, the mud, thankfully, hadn’t been churned much and I was able to tip-toe through the worst of it.

Lap 2

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One done, three more to go! Photo by Lis Yu

Lis was waiting at the busy interchange, where 5k runners finished by heading left and 10k or 20k runners turned right. For spectators, this was an incredibly good value race as runners were seen multiple times with little legwork required; including the start and finish, 5k runners could be spotted 3x times, 10k runners 5x times, and 20k runners 9x times!

I can appreciate how difficult it can be to clean up after a race, with water bottles and gel sachets strewn all over the place, so I always try and time my gels to coincide with water stations where possible, minimising the distance that volunteers have to wander to clear up my litter. Forgetting that the water station appeared shortly after the interchange, I went and ballsed up my first of two gels… I began gasping for air from chugging down the gel too quickly in a bid to also be rid of my water bottle in one of the designated bins. Whilst I’d kept my litter footprint to a minimum, I’m not sure it was worth almost choking for it!

The older chap pulled away slightly from me as he began wrapping his 10k race up. The first female finisher was still over 50m behind me, showing no sign of wanting to challenge for the male podium as well as the female podium. My pace remained as stable as I could hope for with few people around me to work with or shelter behind when the wind blew.

In the distance over the PA system, I could hear the organisers announce the winner of the 5k race, where it was won in some 23 minutes.

Moving closer to the end of the second lap, one of the marshals identified me as the leader of the 20k race. “Let’s see if I can keep it this way! See you on the next lap,” I shared with my newfound supporter. Leading a race was an incredibly unusual experience, and only one I had ever truly experienced once before at a parkrun back in early 2015. Exciting and nerve-racking in equal measure!

The older chap in the 10k race kicked on towards the finish, whilst I saw Lis once more before turning right to climb towards the switchback again for the third time that morning.

Lap 3

Usefully, lapped 10k and 20k runners grew in numbers before me, providing some interim targets to chase down. It suddenly unfolded on me that I was now the fastest person on the course after the swiftest 10k runners had finished (the winner finishing in 39:34). The same thing must have dawned on some of the lapped runners I encountered as they began encouraging me on. On the return from the switchback, I once again encountered the 2nd place Halesowen Triathlete from the 20k race and we gave each other a high-five of solidarity.

Out of seemingly nowhere, I suddenly grew quite warm and opted to remove my neck gaiter, arm warmers and gloves so that I could deposit them with Lis when I saw her a few hundred metres later.

The water station went on to offer gels to 20k runners, though I passed and only took water on. I felt fantastic and totally at ease running at marathon pace, reeling in an ever-increasing number of lapped 10k and 20k runners.

Passing by my friend the marshal again, he wished me luck going into the final lap and hoped to see me still at the front. I too shared his sentiments!

Returning to the muddiest section of the course, it was now pretty boggy and I was going to get muddy no matter how I approached it. Oh well, whether they were completely or partially caked in mud, I knew I had to wash my shoes anyway, so I just charged right down the middle and stopped worrying about it. Squelch. Squelch. Squelch… Hmmm… Perhaps I should have saved such a move for the final lap and not the penultimate one?

Lap 4

Spotting Lis again, she of course shared that I was still in the lead. Only some 21 minutes potentially stood between me and my first ever race win! I began to feel like I was working, having run out of lapped runners to also begin my climb towards the switchback for the final time.

Rounding the switchback cone, I began timing how long it would take before I spotted the Halesowen Triathlete in second place again. Some 2.5 minutes later, we laid another high-five on each other and I was confident I had the win in the bag. As I dropped back down to level ground, the third place guy – a Kenilworth Runner – began his climb for the switchback; we exchanged encouragement, as I’m sure neither of us 100% expected to be podium finishers that morning before starting.

Moving through the water station for the last time, I took on my final gel as the military cadets gave me a cheer to keep going.

Back in the heart of the showground, I found myself firmly alone to be knocked about by the gusts of wind that were funnelled towards me. Of course, this mattered not, given the circumstances I found myself in!

I encountered the friendly marshal for the last time, getting a high-five from him to power me on to the final km of the route. I still couldn’t get my mind around the metric 20km distance, with it feeling significantly shorter than a half marathon, whereas in reality it was just over another km to make it up to the more traditional 13.1 mile distance. I’d set my Garmin to track distance metrically, but for pace in minutes per mile; perhaps the more regular than usual km splits helped boost the feeling of progress?

Exiting the mudfest section of the course, I had just 200m remaining between victory and me. I could see the marshal waving his arms to grab the organisers’ attention to alert them of my return. As I turned the final corner, there was the finish with people cheering me in! The race director announced my return over the PA system for one of the most surreal race experiences I’d ever encountered. I threw my arms up a couple of times, not really sure of what felt right or appropriate for the situation!

Post-race

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The irony of wearing the number 2 bib did not escape me – photo by Lis Yu

Here’s the Strava data for the race.

I had to pause for a minute or two to catch my breath, with the final solo lap clearly having worked me harder than I expected it would. I finished in 84:12 to be pretty much what I’d anticipated for a marathon pace run, which would have translated to an 88-89 minute half marathon. What I wasn’t expecting was to also be crowned the course record holder for it was the debut of the 20k race option!

I waited to cheer the Halesowen Triathlete back in, where he finished over 7 minutes later; at my average pace, he was over a mile behind me. After that, next up was the Kenilworth Runner, where it transpired he’d actually covered almost 18 miles that morning, using the race as a marathon training run. Impressively, 4th place overall was taken by a female v50 Kenilworth Runner, who obviously finished first out of the women, and only 10 minutes after me.

Whereas the race instructions stated the prize giving ceremony was to take place at 12pm, the organisers kindly saw fit to not make us hang around for an hour in the cold and simply did it there and then. There was nothing particularly exciting in my prize bundle, but the experience of winning a race made the morning completely worthwhile. And to think, I’d almost written the race off at one point beforehand! I’ll be sure to return later this year to defend my course record!

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5 thoughts on “Stoneleigh Park Reindeer Run 20k 2017 (2018) review

  1. Pingback: This week’s running – 29th January to 11th February 2018 | Run To Win

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