My only race to date in London that isn’t the London Marathon! And like both London Marathons, this was anything but easy…
Lis and I were due to be in London for a couple of days and her suggestion was that I look up a race. London, much like New York, seems to have no shortage of races at most weekends; I counted at least 3x events within central London, and a total of 4x if I was willing to travel within the M25 for when I was in town. Originally, I declined and instead wanted to re-focus on September’s Lake Vyrnwy Half Marathon, but after feeling like there was some unfinished business after the Magor 10k, my mind was changed and I duly entered the London Summer 10k.
The race wasn’t cheap – coming in at £20. A similar event outside of London would likely cost £12 to £15. Taking place exclusively within Regent’s Park, it’s not like there were any road closures to drive the cost up, though I guess there were probably planning fees involved that went to the park, and some of the proceeds going to charity, so I mustn’t grumble too much.
Race prep wasn’t great. I hadn’t run for five whole days, with just Finsbury parkrun the day before to reawaken my legs. Why so long between runs? I was busy decorating the nursery for mine and Lis’ new arrival due in October. I simply had no energy or appetite for running after spending Monday to Wednesday on various home improvements; throw in three days of London sightseeing from Thursday to Saturday, along with a late night on the latter, and I was tired before I’d even raced a step!
Race morning was not kind to me, either. With all the showers that had struck in the days prior, London had become incredibly humid. Throw in some persistent gusts of wind for further salt rubbed into wounds. Warming up, I knew I was probably going to be in for a tough time, given how sweaty my t-shirt was after only 15 to 16 minutes of low intensity jogging. Covering a portion of the 3x lap course, the ground underfoot was very well maintained as one would assume for a royal park; the paths did undulate slightly more than I’d hoped for, though not enough to be a major concern before the main event.
Looking around at my fellow participants, I tried to identify those who I would likely be competing against. There were just a few who looked swift and a top 10, maybe even a top 5, finish position looked likely. Earlier that morning, I said to Lis in passing that I wouldn’t recognise anybody at the race – well, I spoke too soon… A club runner in blue and white caught my eye and I paused to consider why he looked familiar. My lightbulb moment arrived – I recognised him as the Royal Sutton Coldfield club runner from the Walsall Arboretum parkrun I attended back in June. From memory, he had good 5k and 10k PBs to his name. Speaking with Mark, and like me, he was in London for the weekend with his girlfriend (and Aldridge club runner), and both of them were due to race, though an administrative error meant only he would actually be running. We both admitted we weren’t particularly keen that morning, but had both paid up so it would be a waste not to.
Stood on the start line, there was reluctance from everybody to come forward. The race director asked if any of us had covered the route before, paying particular attention to both Mark and I. We both declared ourselves as first-timers, though it transpired that one of the sharper looking runners stood behind us had in fact run 36 minutes on the course before. I ushered him to move forward and not be shy, for the risk of everybody else following somebody unfamiliar with the route was rather high!
Off the line, I probably got a little carried away along with my peers. Not helping were the several hundred metres of flat that gently sloped downwards towards the first turning. I felt pretty reasonable, though quickly found myself in no-man’s land and fifth place. Helpfully, Mark was pretty tall and his Sutton Coldfield club colours were a nice contrast to the grey and green surroundings of the park, so I was always able to spot him as he edged away into the distance. I was on PB pace, though it soon became apparent that the wind had further picked up since my warm-up, and the race was not going to come to me without a fight. 1km came in at 3:47.
Early into the second km, two runners from behind overtook me to then sit steady some 50m ahead – why they couldn’t sit steady closer in front of me, I didn’t know! The second km gently undulated upwards and I became quite exposed to the harsh gusts of wind that blew. There was some respite, for there was a brief stretch of around 200m where the wind was not felt at all – lucky me, because that equated to around 600m out of 10,000m for the entire race… 2km came in at 4:00.
The last time I was in Regent’s Park, I was probably only six or seven years of age, based on a photo of me, sat on one of the benches overlooking the neighbouring London Zoo. During 3km, I ended up running past said bench, with the giraffe exhibit on my right for one of the more exciting sightings within a race. This stretch was quite cluttered with visitors to the park; a 10:30 start meant the park was suitably teeming, and much like parkrun, the organisers stressed that race participants did not have right-of-way on the paths. I ended up going off-course on to grass a few times, simply because it was easier than bellowing a warning, only for it to fall on deaf ears… 3km came in at 3:57 and almost brought me back to the start point for the end of the first lap.
Lis had set up camp on one of the benches close to the start line, affording good views of the race. Being a three lap course, this also meant I passed the water station twice – most welcome on such a humid morning. Passing a volunteer, I successfully received a cup from her to much cheering, which I can only assume stemmed from the six guys before me each fumbling the pass. The refreshment from the water did the trick and got me back up to speed to see 4km coming in for 3:53.
Nearing halfway, one of the pair that overtook me earlier began drifting backwards. I took my foot off the gas to draft in his slipstream for a few moments of recovery from the wind that seemed to near-constantly seek me out in the vast park. I sensed him slowing further and my Garmin confirmed as much; I regained the lead and told him to take a break in my slipstream in the hope that he would listen and stick it out with me. Before long, he’d dropped right off to leave me on my own once more. 5km came in at 4:09 and halfway for 19:49. Even if I was to finish in under 40 minutes, I knew I had some work cut out ahead of me…
I began encountering lapped runners on the course, making for a welcome distraction from the monotony of largely running alone; combine this with the brief spell in the park without wind and I was in bliss. Sadly, the pace rot continued and 4:06 marked the growing difficulty of a sub-40 finish.
The humidity was hellish and had grown to be my most despised weather condition of the summer. Returning to the start point for the end of lap two and the beginning of lap three, I seriously considered dropping out. Continuing at such a pace was not going to cool me down any faster and motivation had receded to an all-time low. I almost came a cropper at the water station, where the first cup was crushed when the volunteer’s hand and mine were too firm and collided. Thankfully, I was able to quickly grab another cup from the second volunteer. I dread not think about how the final lap would have gone without those precious few sips! My pace perked up a touch for 3:58 for 7km.
On tired legs and with little appetite to keep pushing, what I really could have done without was the wind continuing to slam into me. Earlier that morning, I had hoped that my Nike Vaporfly 4% would give me that little something that I needed, or at least make up for any shortfall. Sadly, even with the well-maintained paths of a royal park, I still wasn’t able to tap into the shoes’ sweet spot and I did wonder whether a lower profile shoe would have produced a different outcome that morning? 8km was my slowest split of the race for 4:17.
More and more lapped runners appeared on the course. I was thankful that my race would at least be over with in fewer than 9 minutes, whereas everybody else had more than a lap remaining. Nearing the beginning of the wind-free stretch, I saw the runner that had a prior 36 minute run to his name on his way to the final km; judging from our relative positions, he would comfortably finish in fewer than 37 minutes. I managed to capitalise on the momentary lack of wind for a 4:10 9th km.
With just a single km remaining, I was around 25 seconds shy of a sub-40 finish, and that was assuming that the course finished precisely on 10km. Nonetheless, I opted to go for broke and kicked on with what was left in the tank. My lack of recovery and the humidity of the morning saw my heart rate continue to climb into the high 190s, with my maximum at around 202bpm. Like before, the path was cluttered with fellow runners and park users, forcing me to think nimbly and choose my line and position wisely for fear of being blocked in. Strangely, I could hear footsteps with a quick cadence coming up behind me. There was nobody within striking distance of me for practically the entire race – had I slowed that much to allow them to sneak up on me? Reaching the final corner, the volunteer encouraged me to kick on and to try and beat the other guy to the line. Looking over my shoulder as I turned, I could see somebody in jogging bottoms closing in on me incredibly quickly. How was he running at such a pace in jogging bottoms in such warmth and humidity?! I kicked as hard as I could for the line, besting him by just a few seconds, only to realise he wasn’t in the race at all as he had no bib, detouring away from the finish to leave the park. Why he wanted to race me, I’ve no idea!
Here’s the Strava data for this race.
As disappointingly expected, I only managed 40:17 for sixth place out of some 200 participants. I quickly got over it and runbritain was even kind enough to calculate the race as having a 2.4 course condition score, which is quite high when 1.0 is considered as average conditions.
I was in agony from the effort and pulled myself out of the finish funnel so as not to get in the way of others, though this was unnecessary as the next guy along was almost a minute behind me. Catching up with Mark, he shared many of my own thoughts and we both concluded the race was not worth the effort that morning. This is no slight on the race itself – just that we were unable to capitalise on the event in any meaningful way. As numerous people have said since, I will at least have taken the training effect away with me as consolation.
Lis and I high-tailed it out of there to be back in time to check out of our hotel, marking the end of an exhausting trip to the Big Smoke.