Between this and its sister-race – The Gwent Race for Wildlife – this course is now my most frequented race.
For previous races, please click the following:
I had reasonable confidence of a PB opportunity going into this event. Only in 2017 did I fail to bag a PB, due to focusing my efforts on marathon training and acknowledging I’d lost too much top-end speed from injury earlier in the year.
If there’s one thing runners will remember from 2018, it will be the weather. We’ll all look back in years to come and ask ourselves whether the snow or the sun robbed us! Going into this race, there was yet another elemental foe I was concerned about it for it wasn’t the sun, but rather the wind… Checking the forecast with great interest in the days beforehand, I watched aghast as the wind speed increased from a challenging 12mph to an all-bets-are-off 19mph! Given how flat the course is, facing a stiff headwind for much of the first half of the race would be akin to slotting in a climb or two, nullifying the otherwise perfect profile.
In the days leading up to race day – a Saturday – I felt like I’d picked up the beginnings of something. I felt drained with no get-up-and-go to me, so I took the decision to sharply taper with no running at all for four whole days. The unscheduled break did me a world of good, for I felt pretty reasonable once again come race morning.
Staring outside the window, all I could see were grey skies, swaying trees and rain to literally put a dampener on things. Over breakfast, I mulled over my race approach of pigheadedly going out at PB pace and hoping for the best, or going out conservatively into the windy first half and trying to claw back some of the damage in the second half with tailwind? The decision was yet to be determined and I decided to wait and consult with Darryll Thomas, who I’d cajoled into attending, for his outlook on conditions.
With Lis and my mother-in-law in tow, we headed over to race HQ, which was once again a church and hence the Saturday race. The weather did not improve, for when Darryll and I went for our warm-up, we were almost brought to a standstill at times from the gusts we faced… I reasoned aiming for under 39 minutes would give me enough wriggle room to either ramp things up or dial things back, covering any eventualities.
Assembling for the start, and almost by divine intervention, the poor conditions eased off dramatically for a break in the wind and rain. On the starter’s orders, we were off into the south Wales countryside.
In those crucial few opening seconds, I opted to be pig-headed and went for it, seeing 3:24 per km flash up on my Garmin from time to time! After a few hundred metres, I scaled things back to PB pace and slotted myself into a small group of similarly paced guys. Just a few metres ahead of me was Darryll, doing the same. The effort was undeniably fast, though still felt just about in control, paving the way for an opening split of 3:46.
A few guys from behind crept past me and I was left with just another chap. Thankfully for me, he had just a touch more strength at his disposal, so I was able to take shelter in his slipstream and allowed him to dictate the pace into the wind. The next group ahead included Darryll, though they were just a little too far from reach to reel in quickly without doing damage to ourselves. My companion agreed with me that we should have taken the opportunity to go with them when the gap was much, much smaller.
Being the no-nonsense kind of race that it is, the only real novelty of the course is its flatness. As such, there wasn’t really much of anything to report on for 2km to 4km, other than the splits coming in at 3:50, 3:53 and 3:54.
Reaching the return at Redwick Village, we felt the full force of the wind and boy was it ghastly! It was at least brief with a water station to take the sting out of a tricky km, coming in at 3:51 and halfway clocking in at 19:15. Hallelujah, for I was still in business! Another 19:15 and a modest PB was all mine!
With a tailwind for some assistance – and you never fully receive back what was taken away by a headwind – the pace began escalating once more. Also helping to pull me along was the guy I spent much of the first half with, though he continued to just marginally creep away and eventually ended up with the remnants of Darryll’s small group before it broke apart. Speaking of Darryll, he found solace behind one of the (tall) guys that scooted past me from much earlier in the race. 6km and 7km were almost identical for 3:47 and 3:48.
I could easily identify the effort was right up there to be 9/10. The sun had come out overhead to further add more stress to the mix. Prior to race day, I was going to have my father-in-law kindly be on standby with a few bottles of water at around 7km for Darryll and me. Based on that morning’s forecast, it was to remain wet and windy, so his services were not needed. The guest appearance from the sun was both welcome and unwanted in equal measure. I was kicking myself for turning down the offered assistance, for some water would have most definitely made the remainder of the race more tolerable.
Approaching the out and back section, I saw second and third place exit just as I entered, with first place having already cleared through. I gave Darryll some encouragement to keep pushing, estimating him to be some 15 seconds ahead of me. Rounding the cone, I prayed that it was in the correct place and not overly wrong in either direction. One iteration of the race in its Race for Wildlife guise back in 2015 was short by almost 200m; I left empty handed that day, despite the certainty that I still would have recorded a PB over an accurate distance. Inevitably, the switchback cost me by a few seconds, due to the turning and the direction change back into the wind. I gave Tony Cover, a Strava buddy and a participant I drafted behind for much of the 2017 race, a high-five to break up some of the monotony. 8km and 9km came in at 3:54 and 3:53, so that break in momentum really did cost me some 10 seconds or so.
With just a km remaining, some mental arithmetic reminded me that I was still just in contention of a PB if I could ramp up the pace, and if the distance was not overly long. 2017 clocked in at almost 70m too long, most likely due to the switchback cone being placed too far out.
Alone, I began reeling in those ahead, including Darryll who had slipped from the pace ever so slightly. Anguish was written all over my face as the effort skyrocketed. I willed the right-hand turn to appear for it meant only some 300m remained. Lis and my mother-in-law appeared for some encouragement, shortly before my Garmin beeped with almost 50m remaining. Acknowledging that my finishing kick isn’t quite what it used to be, I thrusted my arms forward and threw my legs behind me as far as they would go for the finish line. It was nerve-wracking stuff!
Upon finishing, I let out a few exasperated cries in a bid to ease the momentary suffering. I shook the hand of the guy I drafted behind, who had finished some 10-15 seconds ahead of me. And my own finishing time? 38:35 for a very modest 5 second PB on the DK10K from early May under far more clement conditions. Were the distance closer to 10km on the nose, I’d have likely had 38:15 to 38:20 to my name; Darryll was just 5 seconds shy of a PB, so I mustn’t complain. What I can complain about is the 38:45 I ran in the 2016 race; without such oppressive heat, who knows what I could have run back then…
A warm-up jog with spectators clapping and cheering both Darryll and me on wrapped up a satisfactory morning. I still greatly dislike the 10k distance, where it’s just too far to go out hard and hang on like it’s a 5k, but not going out hard enough also means you can’t approach it like a half marathon that can be eased into.
Here’s the Strava data for this race.