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ABC. It’s easy as… 234…?
This was it. The big one of the season that carried my 10k PB hopes and dreams on its shoulders. Would it deliver or would something else scupper me in the process? Read on to find out…
I’ve been quite unlucky this spring-summer season where my fitness has been in the right place, but weather conditions or course accuracy had other plans for a number of near-miss opportunities.
The Magor Marsh 10k is a race I sort of stumbled upon by accident a number of years ago, surprising myself by how flat the course profile is. This race provided me with my first sub-40 10k last year and turned out to be a great proving ground to consolidate all the faster training of the spring and summer. The only things that are missing to make the race truly great are a stellar field and chip timing.
Under ideal conditions, I truly believed I had at least a 39:15 10k inside me. Had the Gwent Race for Wildlife in May have been distance accurate, I’m confident I would have achieved such a time there and therefore would have had the balls to target a sub-39 on this occasion. The risk was too big with my eggs in one basket; 3:55/km versus 3:53/km may not be a big jump, but it could be the difference between glory and utter defeat.
The weather forecast for race day grew progressively worse and worse. What started out as 10mph winds eventually became 16mph winds and heavy rain. Iain, my best man, tagged along to spectate in truly awful conditions – another reason to get my race wrapped up as quickly as possible!
We concluded that the race would continue, but would likely see fewer fun runners in attendance. To counter the lower fun runner numbers was the influx of masters runners, competing as part of the British Masters Championship. I quietly looked forward to this, because it likely meant a reasonably deep field for me to work alongside in the process.
Iain and I drove into the club grounds of Undy Football Club, doubling up as race HQ for the morning. Already at 09:15 were plenty of cars parked up to confirm my thoughts of a not too shabby turnout. We bumped into the ever pleasant Daniel Luffman from Cardiff Parkrun, whom I’ve shared a lot of Welsh racing history with. Stepping into the club house and we were met by dozens of runners milling around and taking shelter from the elements outside.
As ever, registration was a simple process thanks to my name appearing at the very end of the register. I was given number “234” – my first sequential number after years of uninteresting bibs. This was a day where the organisers must have been thankful that they paid extra for the water-proof Tyvek bib material! Those in the British Masters Championships had their own registration desk, with an additional age category number to pin to themselves. This was serious stuff!
Visiting the loo, two guys were ahead of me in the queue for the cubicles. They clearly knew each other and were having a good old natter and continued their catch-up once they were inside their respective cubicles. Several moments later, still having their conversation, they both stepped out of their respective cubicles at the same time; they both paused and looked at each other, only to then gleefully exclaim, “Synchronised shitting!” in unison. The rest of us in the queue couldn’t help but smile at the hilarity taking place in front of us.
Given the uncontrollable weather outside, I decided to further take control of things I did have a grip on, so Vaseline was applied liberally to chafe-prone areas.
Joining me on my warm-up mile were plenty of keen masters club runners, all looking very stern and serious. The wind was certainly noticeable, but not as bad as I had feared; with some luck, I hoped it would only remain as a cross wind for majority of the course with its full effects likely to be felt only on the section between 5k and 6k.
The rain came to a halt but by then, everything and everyone was soaking wet. The safety briefing took place out on a water-logged field. Iain and I took a look around and there weren’t many non-club runners at all. Most of the club vests were expectedly for local clubs, such as Les Croupiers, San Domenico, Bryn Bach, Lliswerry and so on. Tipton Harriers and Wolverhampton & Bilston AC even had a few participants in the fray. The race director ushered runners slower than 50 minutes to make their way to the start line first; there weren’t many takers – perhaps only 30 or so. Next up were the 40 to 50 minute runners and again, not many takers. Finally it was the rest of us, making up the majority of the field. I figured a few from this crowd were being a bit disingenuous, but given the narrow start line and the race for positions, who could blame them?
I got briefly talking to a guy from Southampton and one all the way from Doncaster, so there were a few from further afield. I tucked myself into the left of the start line, only 3 rows back from the front. A chap stood next to me said he recognised me from my blog where he read my report on last year’s race as preparation for the morning’s exertions.
I’m not sure what seems to be the issue of late, but I’ve seen a fair few events give inaudible starter’s orders to races. Last year’s Magor Marsh 10k suffered from this very problem, where Vince and I missed an entire 4 seconds before we realised the race had kicked off, and we were stood almost at the front! Again, a very softly spoken “3-2-1” and “Go” were given, and everyone was sent off on their way.
My start wasn’t bad at all and I only lost a second or two. The rain resumed, almost right on cue to join the gusts of wind as we made our way on to the main part of the course. I spotted Iain and gave him a wave to lighten the mood of the sober atmosphere.
Tearing off into the distance was the Tipton Harrier lady, and I was certain that I was faster than her over 5k if memory served. She was joined by a lady from Wolverhampton & Bilston AC, and both became perfect targets for me to reel in steadily.
Before I knew it, I passed through the 1k marker and came in with a 3:59 split. A touch slower than the 3:57 I hoped for, but I at least felt relaxed so there was definitely more to be had. Others around me were already breathing quite hard at such an early stage and with 9k left to go…
Like during my warm-up, the wind was certainly present but could have been a lot worse. I took shelter behind runners wherever the opportunity appeared and cautiously progressed through the field so as not to expend too much effort. I eventually caught up to the Tipton Harrier at around 2k, who had drifted backwards from the Wolverhampton & Bilston runner; no doubt due to her enthusiastic start now making itself known. Before too long, I managed to make contact with the Wolves & Bilston runner and sensed she was also slowing, so I decided to grow a pair and went off on my own to chase down the group in front.
Except I wasn’t alone, and a San Domenico runner followed me in my pursuit. We had traded places a couple of times up to that point, but for some reason I’d taken no prior notice of him. We quickly put some distance between us and the group behind, but were unable to get any closer to our target who maintained the rough 30m gap by annoyingly running at the exact same pace we were moving at.
I started to tire and dropped back a touch to sit in behind the San Domenico runner. He was a good couple of inches taller than me and provided decent cover from the wind, along with a moment of calm to assess the situation. Surprisingly, my Garmin virtual pacer reported I was only 2 seconds down on total target, and over the course of the minute or so I was drafting, this number remained rock solid and never moved. I began to closely observe the San Domenico runner with great interest; his form was smooth and relaxed and he seemed almost metronomic in his approach to pacing.
We continued to trade places and the pace remained resolute. I was entirely convinced he was going for the same finish time as me, so I proposed that we work together for the rest of the race. He agreed, stating our pace and strategy of chopping and changing complemented each other.
On the approach to 6k, the group we were so diligently chasing began to splinter and a Les Croupier runner fell off the back, giving us an interim target to work towards. I had a feeling we would catch him on the turnaround, and my instinct was right; he slowed dramatically to go around the cone and came clattering into both the San Domenico runner and I to get in our way. I put a very short, quick surge in to get us both back up to pace. I saw Daniel Luffman on the approach to the cone; a quick bit of two-way encouragement and a high-five did just the trick to lift the mood of the challenging middle portion of a race.
The straight to 7k featured a gentle, almost imperceptible gradient, but on tired legs, it became more apparent. The San Domenico runner and I were no longer as fresh as we once were, and it showed by how much more frequently we traded places to get out of the wind. The pace was still bang on target, so we were getting something right. The group ahead continued to maintain their 30m lead and gave us no opportunity to attack.
We went through 8k and started to suffer that little bit more, requiring even more regular changing of places. “Just a little over a mile” I kept saying to myself and my comrade. I glanced backwards and there was a chasm between us and our pursuers, so there was no rescue party to pick us up from behind. Those in front were still too far to move towards, however the gap had shrunk. I only had to keep things going and a PB was almost a done-deal.
At 9k, I began to ramp the pace up and urged the San Domenico runner to stay with me. He managed to stay on my tail for 100m or so before he let me go to attack the splintered field in front of me. Nobody had a chance and I went past everybody almost as if they were stood still. Had I left a little too much in the tank? Possibly, but it was oh so satisfying to be in full flight.
Wet. Wild. Windy. The Magor Marsh 10k in 2015 – photo by Iain Davie
With about 500m to go, I spotted Iain just ahead, stabilising himself against a wall to take a few photos. I had run out of people in front of me to chase down, bar a V60 gent I recognised from the start line rocking mutton chop sideburns and a handlebar moustache, moving at one helluva clip. I shifted gears again and charged up the shallow rise, growling in the process from the ever-increasing intensity and lactic acid in my legs. He ran through a large puddle on the final corner before returning to race HQ and the finish line. I copied his line exactly and sensed he was slightly unstable on the broken surface; the time to attack was now!
Here’s the Garmin data.
I managed to pip the old boy to the line by no more than 2m before stopping my Garmin and then swiftly ducked out of the finish chute and collapsed on the sopping wet grass. My breathing and heart were expectedly racing, just as I had done. The Garmin was still on the Virtual Pacer, but showed I was zero seconds ahead or behind to be exactly on target pace. 39:16 presented itself to me after a few button presses – a 22 second PB and redemption after so many failed attempts at proving my potential.
I quickly located Iain and we must have had our wires crossed because he didn’t realise I had PBd based on my laid-back manner!
The San Domenico runner came over to shake hands. We thanked each other for the great pacing and drafting strategy we utilised, and it turned out he’d bagged a 35 second PB in the process for his first ever sub-40 finish. Double success!
There was no medal or goodie bag to collect – the race and the PB were reward enough. Iain and I hightailed it out of there whilst we had a chance and before it got any wetter.
Thoughts and conclusions
Having the San Domenico runner to work with was almost like divine intervention. Drafting behind him took so much of the mental and physical stress away that is all too often present during PB attempts. Crucially, he was able to maintain the target pace with no slow-down.
Stattos will love the next section. The results are an interesting beast to look at (214 participants):
- Only 5 runners below V35 out of the top 50
- Only 5 runners were not affiliated to a club out of the top 50
- The slowest time out of the top 50 was 38:51
- There are 3 V60 runners in the top 50 (1 in the top 30)
- Only 12 runners finished outside an hour
- 34:00 minutes wouldn’t have made it into the top 10
- I normally finish in the top 4-5% of a large-ish race, whereas here, I’m in the top 27%
- Despite the 37 second improvement on last year, I finished over 20 places lower this time
I thought I’d never drop below 5.0!
There is some good news for me, statistics-wise. runbritain gave the race a 1.3 difficulty score and deemed my performance a -1.3 (I rarely do better than -0.5 these days) to bring my handicap down to 4.9! For months, I was stuck hovering around 5.0 and 5.1, so to make it into the 4.Xs has tickled me pink.
Finally, it would seem the McMillan calculator is as pleased with the outcome as I am where my 10k PB is now pretty damn in-line with the rest of my PBs, bar the marathon:
- 5k – 18:54 (McMillan) / 18:51 (actual)
- 10k – 39:16
- Half marathon – 97:32 (McMillan) / 97:27 (actual)
- Marathon – 3:04:14 (McMillan) / 3:34:02 (actual)
Could I have gone sub-39? Not sure, at least in those conditions; when you break it down as just 2 seconds per km faster, it suddenly sounds more feasible. I’m sure I’d have been in tatters at the end if I’d have pulled it off. Clearly, my next target will be a sub-39 finish and if the Cardiff 10k organisers would be kind enough to revert to their 19 year old, non-NATO conference course, that would be greatly appreciated!