Aldridge 10k 2017 review

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Third outing for me at the infamously hilly Aldridge 10k.

For the 2013 and 2016 races, please click below:

Pre-race

It’s a dangerous thing chasing after past glories. A year ago, I ran 39:16 in utterly dreadful conditions, and possibly could have gone harder if the appetite was there that day. As satisfying as it would be to equal that performance, I knew it simply wasn’t going to happen without the right training behind me. To save myself from failure, I pivoted the race’s outlook to simply cover the distance at marathon pace; a chat with Simon Rhodes of Birchfield Harriers beforehand gave me some solace that he, too, was suffering from marathon pace robbing him of speed over shorter distances, so I wasn’t alone.

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No torrential rain this year!

After the recent pre-race chaos at the Tewkesbury Half Marathon, Simon of the Bull variety and I decided to set off earlier to factor in potential delay with parking, bib collection and so forth. As it turned out, we breezed through traffic, found a parking space immediately, and collected our bibs without delay! With plenty of time on our hands to kill, we took on a gentle 2km jog that largely covered the opening stretch of the race; oddly enough for a race that I’ve run thrice, and Simon twice, neither of us could picture much of the first half of the route!

Waiting for the start was a completely different experience to that of last year’s wash-out. There was no need to huddle underneath anything for shelter; aside from a strong breeze and looming dark clouds, conditions actually looked quite favourable. On the Mayor’s count of, “3-2-1”, and the hooter, we were off.

The race

My urge to resist charging off with the crowd failed miserably; I found myself covering the first few hundred metres at 6:24 per mile, which would equate to a sub-40 10k, rather than the prescribed 6:50 per mile for marathon pace… I gradually applied the anchors and eased back into marathon pace, which really highlighted how much chopping and changing there was in the opening km. Just to confuse you guys, I recorded splits in km, but was pacing by miles: 6:51 was the recorded pace.

There was a fair bit of pavement hopping due to the race not taking place on closed roads. The organisers made specific reference during the briefing that earphones were not permitted for safety reasons, to which we both quietly chuckled at the sight of a woman trying to be ever so discreet whilst taking hers off and putting them away in her non-existent pockets… But, at least she took them off, because just in front of me was a guy that was very clearly wearing them and rather oblivious to those around him. The organisers did say they would be disqualifying those they caught wearing earphones, which really is the only deterrent, because it’s pointless having rules that can’t or won’t be enforced.

Anyway… I got caught up in a small group with the earphones guy and a Bournville Harrier, which persisted for much of the race. With the undulations in place, maintaining marathon pace was more challenging than I was used to, courtesy of the flat canals I’m accustomed to. I sense some training modifications coming up! The second km clocked in at 6:47 pace.

Remember when I said that Simon and I both struggled to recall much of the first half of the race? It could be entirely because of a sharp-ish climb somewhere in the third km, though there is a fairly enjoyable downhill stretch in the fourth km for compensation. Largely by the numbers, the third and fourth km splits came in at 6:38 and 6:42 pace, so I was beginning to speed up ever so slightly.

Just before halfway was another sharp climb to test me further before the water stop. It’s rare that I don’t take on some water during a race, so my hydration tactics of late must have been working. Be that as it may, I was growing increasingly warmer as the race progressed, largely due to the undulations but also from the sun that peaked out from behind the clouds – some water to go over my head was most welcome. As I neared one of the volunteers handing out cups of water, I stretched out my hand only for her to pull the cup of water away! She had one job to do and failed spectacularly! I had to sidestep and thrust my arm in to prise the cup from her hand, or go without; good thing I wasn’t thirsty… 5km came in at 6:33 pace, largely due to some benefit from some downhill stretches.

The Bournville Harrier and I continued to chop and change places, where he tended to lead on descents and I gained on the climbs. 6km steadied itself for 6:38 pace.

The seventh km was exclusively downhill and I recall making massive gains on this portion of last year’s race. Runners were completely exposed to the sun at this stage with no shade, so it was a blessing that the descent was so effortless to result in 6:19 pace.

Turning the corner, I knew full well that it was pretty much a mile of climbing to the finish. I could see Simon Rhodes on the horizon as I crept closer and closer to him. He, too, was covering his marathon pace of circa-7:00 minutes per mile, so must have seen some red mist to be that far ahead of me. The Bournville Harrier managed to gain a decent lead from the preceding downhill stretch, but he was also being reeled in. 8km showed the first signs of slowdown for 6:43 pace.

Moving into the final km, I overtook Simon and offered some encouragement, though not too much because I knew he had another 5 miles to cover to get back home for 18 miles in total. Shortly afterwards, I’d also regrouped with the Bournville Harrier to share a bit of banter before continuing my charge up the lengthy climb. 9km slowed to 6:52 pace and my slowest split of the race by less than a second.

Near the top of the climb, I finally saw another competitor and powered past him on my way to the finish, which seemed to take a lifetime to reach. I could hear the PA system being used to call out runners’ names as they went through the finish line, but it was several minutes and several hundred metres before it came into sight. Passing one of the final remaining marshals on the course, he offered me a cheer of, “Looking good, no.139. Or should that be 171?” Just 24 hours prior, I was joking with the coffee gang after Cannon Hill parkrun about my “171” tattoo causing confusion in races, where people assume I must be really into triathlon, or similar.

Final corner turned, I found myself firmly back on the playing field where Simon Bull and I had completed 200m of strides before the race. There was a chap just metres ahead of me, who I was impressed to see covering the most efficient racing line through the snaking remainder of the course, marked out by tape on posts. There was no desire or need for a sprint finish, so I simply maintained pace across the line and even got a mention by name over the PA system.

Post-race

Here’s the Strava data for this race.

I could get used to the non-sprint finishes; recovery was swift and I regained my breath within a minute or so to cheer Simon Rhodes in and to shake hands with the Bournville Harrier. Collecting the medal and goody bag, one of the volunteers congratulated me by name to confuse me, somewhat. A blog reader, perhaps? Or maybe they simply caught it via the PA system as I finished, which was most likely.

Whilst I recorded a finish time of 41:27, my official chip time came in at 41:24, so I must have been premature starting my Garmin crossing the start. Over 2 minutes slower than a year ago, which only highlights how robbed I was of a representative 10k PB in 2016; the pancake flat Magor 10k took place on a blisteringly hot day, causing me to collapse from heat exhaustion, and the Telford 10k was a DNF due to carrying a bad cold. The 10k distance remains my nemesis, so it’ll be so, so sweet when I finally conquer it!

I ran over to the 300m point to cheer in Simon Bull. He wore his “Bull Fit” t-shirt, prompting me to shout, “Come on, Simon! All the way to the end! Bull Fit! Bull Fit!” I did then wonder whether anybody thought I was shouting, “bullshit”, instead… I urged Simon on to take a few scalps in the remaining 200m, of which he claimed 5 with a sprint for the finish.

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A bit parched afterwards!

Once back at home, I bulked out the day’s distance with a 5k warm-down to make up 10 miles.

Thoughts and conclusions

Marathon pace over 6 miles accomplished, and with no negative side effects. My Garmin reported a recovery window of just 23 hours and a boosted VO2max reading from 61 to 62 (63 is my record high, achieved only once).

With the Wythall Hollywood 10k in two weeks’ time, I’m in two minds about covering it at marathon pace, or to have a bash at creeping in under 40 minutes for old times’ sake. I’m conscious that there’s benefit to both approaches: increased exposure to marathon pace ahead of the big day, or improving my lactate threshold, which is pitiful right now. I also have the Birmingham Black Country Half Marathon six days afterwards, which needs factoring in.

 

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Aldridge 10k 2016 review

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Bonus medal at the 2016 Aldridge 10k

For the 2013 race, please click below:

After a three year gap, I returned to Aldridge with the hope of a cheeky PB. Would it deliver? Read on…

Pre-race

To this day, I still cannot fathom why the Aldridge 10k and the Two Castles 10k take place on the same Sunday each year. Sure, Aldridge’s race probably benefits from the overflow of runners that fail to register for Two Castles, but I’m sure there must be a decent percentage of runners that attend Two Castles that would also wish to run at Aldridge if only it were on a different day.

After two years of Two Castles, I wanted a change of scenery so I roped Dave and Simon into joining me.

Under normal circumstances, Aldridge is not a PB course due to its pretty aggressive elevation profile. My 10k PB (39:16), however, is so laughably soft and out of line with the rest of my other PBs that I hoped my uplift in ability versus a year ago would yield something positive, albeit meagre at best.

The weather deteriorated significantly between me picking the two of them up and us arriving at race HQ. There wasn’t much wind, but the rain would switch between drizzle and more aggressive stuff. The walk to collect our race numbers had already left us soaked to the core, but at least the temperature was reasonable.

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Yes, this is a PRE-RACE selfie where we were already soaked through…

Race admin completed, we returned to the car and made that our temporary base of operations. This worked out really well, given we no longer needed to be at race HQ and only had to make our way to the start line a little while later. A warm-up jog helped to familiarise ourselves with some of the route and helped to get our legs turning over.

The witching hour was nearly upon us and we congregated with other runners all probably thinking the same thing – “It’s June, so why is it pissing it down still?” It was all incredibly foretelling that the start line was adjacent to “Whetsone Lane”…

Masses assembled, nobody wanted to be in the holding pattern for too long, given the conditions. A few words from the Mayor of Walsall (she didn’t look like she wanted to be there, either) and we were sent on our way.

The race

There was some mild panic that I’d positioned myself a touch too far back in the starting field from those I wanted to be running with. Thankfully, the start was pretty damn clean in spite of the wet conditions and I organically found myself hovering with those of a similar pace.

After a light second half of the week, I was left feeling mightily fresh and my legs felt tremendous. Paired with racing flats, my stride was light and responsive; shortening to drive me up early climbs and lengthening out to take advantage of descents, that I so regularly give away to competitors.

Once the positions and groups settled, the first km popped out with 3:54.

I found myself working with a Lichfield guy and girl that silently worked together to pick their way through the field. Whilst not particularly windy, I still semi-consciously gravitated towards them to take advantage of their wide slipstream they produced by running side by side.

I’m not entirely sure what happened in the second km, but one of the slowest splits of the day of 4:03 was recorded. Elevation was pegged at 7m ascent with no drop, so perhaps that, paired with drafting behind the Lichfield runners, created a subtle slow-down that was hard to detect without keeping my eyes solely on my Garmin.

The course climbed some more and the drop in pace became more overt; I made an executive decision to drop the group and move ahead and bring the speed back towards some semblance of PB pace. 3km came in at 3:55.

After all the climbing effort, it was finally time to drop back down. I focused on keeping my lead, though this was short lived and the group I’d dropped minutes earlier made their way back to join me. One guy annoyingly decided to drift in and out of my path to keep me on high alert. He didn’t seem to want to go any faster to give me some clearance, nor did he want to simply plant himself right in front of me to make me adjust the gap between us. This lasted for several minutes and growing tired of his poor spacial awareness, I hopped on to the pavement and dropped in a very short surge to break away. The Lichfield guy decided to go with me as we hurtled our way downwards on the descent. 4km clocked in at 3:52 to be firmly on PB pace territory.

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Not a great look at halfway – photo by Brian Smith

With conditions as wet as they were, for once in a race I didn’t have my mind fixated on the water station at halfway and simply ran through. 5km came out with 3:55 for the split and 19:40 for cumulative time; a negative split was needed to PB and factoring in a 40m climb over 1.3 miles meant it would be one tough nut to crack…

My heart rate monitor began to slip at this point and presented a few moments of distraction; I think this will probably be the last time I wear the heart rate monitor during a race and will instead only train with it for data collection afterwards.

The Lichfield runner and I were locked, shoulder-to-shoulder. I broke my silence and commented that we were edging closer and closer to the runner ahead. Dave later commented that my decisions to join and leave groups as they formed and fell apart were wise, because there weren’t many behind me to work with. It transpired the Lichfield runner was seeking a sub-40 time for a PB; I put him at ease that the pace we were covering would likely see him finish with a time around 39:30. 6km spat out 4:05 and in hindsight, I probably allowed the Lichfield runner to dictate the pace rather than me taking the lead.

Moving on to the final descent on the course, I did my best to convince my compadré to stay with me. I consciously pushed on to take advantage of the drop in elevation, offsetting as much damage against the yet to come 1.3 mile climb ahead of the finish. He decided not to tag along, despite his breathing sounding far more comfortable than my own. A 3:37 split was logged for 7km, so I definitely had gravity on my side!

The climb arrived, though it wasn’t nearly as bad as the elevation charts or my memory of three years ago made out. My breathing picked up to try and get as much oxygen in as possible and I began picking off runners ahead that slowed; in total, I think overtook four or five guys on the climb alone! The novelty wore thin and I mulled over when the brow of the hill would present itself.

A marshal in high-vis wear signalled in my mind that the end was nigh and their directions steeled me to begin wrapping my race up. My cadence picked up once more with a couple of turns before I reached the field with tape marking out the final few hundred metres. The organisers’ warnings about the finish area on grass being churned up like some cross country venue had me feeling uneasy; I only had my racing flats on with minimal grip and didn’t want to risk slipping like a fool in front of spectators. Looking at my Garmin, I was too close to the wire anyway to risk a mad sprint for the line, so I eased off just a touch to remain in control whilst still pushing. I finally crossed the line for 39:19 for more than a 3.5 minute improvement on the last time I raced the Aldridge 10k in 2013!

Post-race

Here’s the Strava data for this race.

I dropped to one knee to recompose myself and after a few quick gasps of air like a fish out of water, I was back on my feet and made my way over to various folks to find out how they’d gotten on.

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Intentional height order to make the selfie work

Steve Dunsby produced an eye-watering 35:16 performance. Dave came back in next with 40:26, recalling a steady effort that wasn’t all out. Simon crossed the line and turned out a 7 second PB in the process. Bizarrely, we all seemed to suffer from some timing mishaps where we’ve all been given chip times that are out of sync with our own recorded times; some by only a few seconds like Steve and me, and others by as much as 25 seconds!

I was slightly disappointed I didn’t break new ground on my 10k PB, but I readily acknowledge my heart wasn’t entirely in the race, especially with the pace let up on the grass finale and the timing glitch I mentioned above.

The positive is that I felt pretty damned good out there whilst not hitting capacity; this can only bode well for the Wythall Hollywood 10k in two weeks and the pancake flat Magor Marsh 10k at the end of July. We mustn’t also forget that the Yorkshire Marathon is my A-goal at the end of all this and I will always prioritise that, even if it’s at the detriment of 10k and Parkrun performances en route.

Aldridge 10k 2013 review

Andy Yu at the Aldridge 10k

Less than 200m left to go!

For the 2016 race, please click below:

It’s the summer which means it’s 5k and 10k season. In a bid to become faster, I’ve registered to race in a handful of 10ks alongside my weekly Parkruns.

Today, I participated in the Aldridge 10k; a race that I would call “honest”. “Honest?” I hear you ask. Some race organisers have the tendency to over-sell their races, marketing them as flat or fast with a few hyperboles thrown in that would have made even Steve Jobs blush. Aldridge Running Club, the team behind today’s 10k, describe the course as “undulating” and “hilly”, with a “sting in the tail”. Runners entering know exactly what they’re getting and have no excuse to complain.

Lis and I arrived in Aldridge at around 09:30 and I quickly collected my bib with built in timing chip. I noticed a few fellow Cannon Hill Parkrunners here and there; not surprising given the location and keen runners would either be at the 2 Castles 10k or in Aldridge.

If only my race number was 171

Lucky number 166…

We watched the kids race start and due to some poor marshalling, the boy in first place went the wrong way on the course and lost maybe 10 places. On the return, he managed to catch up to be second place. I appreciate marshals volunteer for no reward, but they should ensure they do their job properly. I hear about so many race horror stories where herds of runners are sent down the wrong path, only to find this then disqualifies their result. Runners may have been building up to a particular performance for months, only to have it cruelly robbed due to sloppy marshalling. Rant over!

I headed off for my warm-up run of a mile. My left calf muscle was still tight after yesterday’s Parkrun, despite foam rolling and stretching. As part of my pre-race prep, I did also pack a shot of concentrated beetroot juice but I forgot to drink it!

We watched the 4.3k (an odd distance) start and then everybody headed over to the start area for the 10k race. I placed myself close to the front-runners, maybe 6 rows back. I knew I was in the right place because speaking to other guys around me, they were aiming for times of 41 – 43 minutes, and so it was unlikely I’d be slowed down or slow others down. The local mayor started the race and we were off!

Aldridge 10k runners waiting to start

The start of the Aldridge 10k

The course initially went downhill, causing a few runners to start off too quickly. I was conscious to run a negative split of no more than a minute, requiring a first 5k of 6:55 minute miles and a second 5k of 6:35 minute miles. I quickly settled into a good rhythm, despite the undulating course and stuck with a group of club runners to block some of the headwind.

The opening kilometres were relatively easy and flew by quickly. We soon approached one of the first steep hills on the course and runners began to drop like flies around me. I noticed here that due to my small size, I had physically less weight to drive up the hill and tackled it at my desired pace. On the other side, heading down hill, the larger runners I’d managed to drop had caught up to me, using gravity and their weight to their advantage. I call this the Mario Kart effect, where some of the larger characters like Donkey Kong and Bowser were slow to start but had a higher top speed once in motion; this makes me more like Toad (the mushroom man) who has better acceleration, but a lower top speed once actually moving.

Andy Yu halfway through the Aldridge 10k

Striking a pose means I wasn’t running hard enough

The course was well signposted, with a marker at every kilometre and clear signs for the upcoming drinks station. This was my cue to take my one Isogel for some sugar and liquid, just in case I made a mess of drinking from a cup on the go again. The drinks station was near the start area, so I saw Lis again and posed for a few photos. I grabbed a cup of water and successfully took a large gulp and poured the rest over my head to cool down. The weather was pretty much perfect for running at 14 degrees and overcast skies, but the water still felt refreshing. Unfortunately, more of it ended up over my right shoulder, weighing my vest down and causing one of the straps to constantly slide off. It also caused a bit of right nipple chaffing…

Despite my plans to run a negative split, the hilly course had taken its toll and I struggled to pick up the pace in the second half. A steep downhill descent allowed me to cruise a little and flush some lactic acid from my legs before we arrived at the “sting in the tail”: one long, steady incline without any crowd support. The headwind returned and I tucked myself behind a Lichfield Running Club member for 5 minutes or so, running in his slipstream. Conscious that I didn’t want to outstay my welcome, I took an opportunity to overtake and dug deep to attack the hill. I ran solo for a few minutes and worked hard to catch up to the runners in front, eventually settling in with a small group. A Tipton Harrier runner had given up and had to walk; I gave a quick bit of encouragement, urging him to carry on and he tucked himself into my group to start running again.

Running to win at the Aldridge 10k

Running to win at the Aldridge 10k

We finally levelled out on flat ground again and quickly turned a corner to see a sign reading “400m left to go”, which spurred us on to pick up the pace. Turning another corner, we arrived at the closing stage of the race with a sign reading “200m left to go”, and that we did! My group broke up and it was just one guy and me that started to sprint. He gained a few metres on me and received some crowd encouragement. I don’t like to lose and I had some fight left in my legs, so I kicked to chase him, taking a corner wide so that I would be on the inside lane at the next corner. I overtook him but it was difficult due to the final 200m being run on grass. I caught up to the small group in front of me and overtook another two guys with one last kick down the home straight to finish 66th out of 338.

On the home straight at the Aldridge 10k 2013

Check out the race face on the guy in red!

I stopped my watch but had no idea what my time was. I had to drop to one knee to catch my breath and made my way to the finish area, where I met Lis and collected my goodie bag. I had a chat with one of the volunteers from Parkrun that I’d spotted out on the course, mentioning that I shouldn’t have run so hard at yesterday’s event.

For those interested, here’s the Nike+ run data. Be sure to check out the elevation of those hills!

A new 10k PB at the Aldridge 10k

This is what a 10k PB looks like

I remembered to check my watch and it was a PB performance of 42:52; a new record by 26 seconds. Had this have been a flatter course, I’m confident that I would have finished with a sub-42 minute time.

The goodie bag was so-so; it contained a technical t-shirt (which I’ll probably never wear), a cereal bar and some flyers for other races. I’d have gladly sacrificed the t-shirt for a medal.

Ellie Simmonds' gold post box

Local hero, Ellie Simmonds’ gold post box

On the way back to the car, we spotted Ellie Simmonds’ gold post box.

All in all, I had a good race. It was reasonably priced at £16 and came with chip timing and a goodie bag. Organisation for the main event was sound and it never felt crowded on the course, a complaint of some of the larger races out there. The course itself was challenging, even for the strongest of runners, exposing any weaknesses in an athlete’s repertoire of skills. I’m glad my ability to attack hills is still decent despite a lack of focussed incline training. I’ll probably do 2 Castles 10k next year for variety, but if the two take place on different days then I may just come back for more.

Pros

  • Reasonably priced
  • Decent organisation on the course
  • Challenging course – good for training or testing your ability
  • No crowding
  • Chip timing

Cons

  • Poor goodie bag
  • Slightly chaotic start
  • Challenging course – some will hate it