Magor 10k 2018 review

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All aboard the pain train! Photo by Robert Gale

Between this and its sister-race – The Gwent Race for Wildlife – this course is now my most frequented race.

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Pre-race

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.

The race

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.

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Will or won’t I PB? Photo by Robert Gale

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!

Post-race

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.

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Magor 10k 2017 review

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Final 200m of the Magor 10k 2017 – photo by Lis Yu

For previous races, please click the following:

Pre-race

Regrettably, this would be the first year where a PB was nowhere near happening. I’ve had several significant runs on the course, including my first ever sub-40 in 2014, so it was a real shame that I wasn’t in the right shape to capitalise on the opportunity. That’s not to say I’m unfit, just that training specificity now counts even more than ever before. What I was determined to do was to get a good threshold session out of the race, with anything in the region of 39:15 to 39:30 being satisfactory

I could not fathom why this race was moved from its traditional Sunday fixture to Saturday, but when I received the communication that the race HQ had also changed from Undy Athletic Football Club to a church, it all made sense. Some positive changes to come with the location move was the much wider start area for a cleaner dispersal and chip timing, though oddly only just for the finish; in essence, it was still a gun-timed race, but finish times were automatically logged.

Rocking up at the temporary race HQ in good time, there were already plenty of people about with some from as far flung as Chippenham; clearly the reputation of the flat course has spread. We also had Lis’ host family from her time in Spain in tow, showing them how we typically spend many weekends of the year.

Conditions above were overcast for some relief compared to a year ago, but my warm-up did confirm a 10mph headwind would hit during the first half of the course, so my game plan was to approach the opening 5k in just under 20 minutes, and then treat the remainder as a 5k race and take advantage of the hopeful tailwind.

Toeing up at the start, I did notice one chap wearing the new Nike Vaporfly 4% for the race; they already looked like they’d had some training wear on them, so I asked him for his thoughts. “Yeah, they’re really comfy,” was his not so helpful response, but at least we can all be safe in the knowledge we’d be comfortable wearing them in a race!

On the starter’s orders of “3-2-1-Go”, we were off.

The race

Keeping the race casual, I purposely positioned myself a few rows further back than normal to ensure I had plenty of people to deflect the gusts of wind blowing. Sure enough, I was tailing two guys that seemed reasonably reliable at pacing to allow me to make it to halfway feeling fresh. I’m normally conscious to never overstay my welcome when drafting, but I had no qualms on this occasion to simply sit in and let the mules do all the work. So reliable were they that 1km to 3km came out as the following: 4:01, 4:00, 3:57.

Gaps began to form as people tired around the group. I decided to stay put and remain calm in the knowledge that I could handle a faster second half with little issue once out of the wind. Whilst not warm enough to need water, I still took some on-board at the station to further slow the fourth km to 4:03.

Leaving Redwick village and the turning out of the wind, I took a sidestep out from behind my impromptu pacers and set my sails free to take advantage of the tailwind. Of course, tailwinds never return as much as headwinds take, so its effect was very subtle…

Working on my own, I gradually chipped away at the distance between me and the next group to begin reeling them in. 5km to 7km came out as follows: 3:54, 3:52, 3:53.

Nearing 8km and the switchback, I was finally within striking distance of the group I stalked and I planned to use the exit from the turnaround point to pounce. Sure enough, their momentum slowed and I was catapulted forward to gain two positions. Not being ungrateful, I gave some encouragement to one of the guys I’d used as a windbreak as we faced each other; the other chap was nowhere to be seen, so I figured he couldn’t have been far behind me. 8km expectedly slowed a touch to 3:56.

On the approach to 9km, I heard footsteps and heavy breathing coming up quickly behind. Pulling up alongside me was the other guy I’d used as a windbreak! He’d obviously had a similar strategy to me with negative splits, albeit more smoothly spread out throughout the second half of the race. 3:54 for the penultimate split.

Running for the finish, the two of us swallowed up a flagging club runner. Rounding the final corner, the two of them made a breakaway with me in chase. The newly located finish was leagues ahead of the 2016 equivalent that took runners down a narrow alleyway; now wide an unimpeding, I pushed out a minor kick on the new finishing straight to ensure to I made it back in under 39:30, not accounting for the additional 70m or so nearly everybody seemed to acquire en route (likely due to that switchback being too far out).

Post-race

Here’s the Strava data for this race.

39:27 was my finish time to just make it back under target. That additional 70m cost me some 14 seconds, so I was thankful I wasn’t in PB shape, else I’d have been spitting feathers! runbritain has given the race just a 0.8 condition score, and looking at the results, many still PBd despite the additional distance.

I thanked the first of my two windbreaks and congratulated him on a nicely paced run, before moving my attention on to the other windbreak, who bagged a new 10k PB and his first sub-40 by with just a second to spare.

All in, not a bad morning’s work. Whether you go by my Garmin’s splits or the official splits, I achieved a negative split of around either 30 or 45 seconds between the first and second half, neither of which are to be sniffed at.

 

Magor Marsh 10k 2016 review

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Quite a handsome medal for a cheap as chips race to enter

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My annual 10k PB attack on this pancake flat course. Read on to see how things went…

Pre-race

As somebody from Birmingham, there aren’t many local flat 10k races to truly test myself on. It’s with some luck that a few years ago, Lis and I were visiting her family and this local 10k happened to take place at the same time.

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You’d probably have to race 10,000m on a track to find something flatter!

The race has previously always delivered on PBs, thanks to no more than a few metres of climb to contend with. This year, the organisers modified the course slightly to include a new start and finish, and also a different out and back section. A certificate of accuracy was awarded several months ago, though with all the shenanigans from Manchester and its surrounding areas, distance approval literally isn’t worth the paper it’s written on – only running the debut of the modified course would satisfy…

The target was somewhat ambitious. My 10k PB stood at 38:45 from the Wythall Hollywood race around a month prior, whereas various ability calculators had me pegged at sub-38 based on my recent 18:14 5k PB and my likely soft 84:54 half marathon PB. A time of 37:59 equated to 3:47 per km, with a recent track session of 4x 1600m in blazing 34 degree heat suggesting it was possible with some graft.

Race morning was warm with no cloud cover. My warm-up also confirmed a swirling strong breeze was present to complicate things further. I did my best to balance hydration whilst minimising toilet visits due to the limited facilities at the race headquarters; lengthy queues were already in place with around an hour to go before the race start!

There were plenty of club runners present, including the highly regarded Emma Stepto. I identified one particular runner that’s been a few steps ahead of me in a number of recent Welsh races and planned to lock on to him as a target to pull me along to a hopeful PB.

Stood on the modified start line, it was a clear improvement over the previous versions with additional width to accommodate more runners. There was distinctly less of a fight to get as close to the line as possible, minimising mis-matched paces from people desperate to get an accurate time from the non-chip timed race. On the starter’s orders of “1, 2, 3, GO”, we were sent off on our way.

The race

As always, the first few hundred metres were a mad dash of tightly wound runners. I found myself falling into target pace very quickly and began looking around for the chap I wanted to follow, though he was nowhere in sight and I figured he must’ve went off with one of the lead groups.

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Incredibly warm, torrid conditions at the 2016 Magor 10k – photo by Lis Yu

Groups quickly formed and I had to make some decisive moves about who I wanted to remain with and follow, and who to drop. The first km flashed up exactly according to plan for 3:47.

The pancake flat course offered almost no respite from the sun overhead. I grew warmer and warmer, though shrugged it off as a recreational hazard of summer racing. I had to surge a couple of times to ensure I latched on to a correctly paced group, which pleasingly was made up of five or six guys to help block some of the strong gusts of wind that hit. The second km slowed to 3:53, though I still had plenty of distance left to recover some of the damage.

The guys in the pack dictating the pace began to slow; their breathing grew laboured and at such an early point in the race, I knew they wouldn’t be able to sustain the effort for much longer. I took the reins and moved to the front of the group to keep the pace consistant, and looking at my Garmin, the split remained rock solid with little movement. The group continued to slow and drift further behind me; clearly they had all been a little over-enthusiastic and all began to suffer for it. I gave one final motivational push to try and spur any would-be takers to come with me; “Come on guys! We’ve got to close that gap ahead of us!” Nobody went with me and within a few seconds, I was left on my own for what had unhelpfully become a solo time trial. The next group ahead were probably no more than 100m away, but it was too big a void to tackle on my own whilst running unprotected into the wind. I did toy with the idea of dropping back a touch to regroup, though I’ve always been too stubborn to try it and decided to march alone instead for the next 2km, producing very consistent splits of 3:52 and 3:51.

The effort to keep the pace steady whilst on my lonesome took its toll on me. I didn’t wear my heart rate monitor due to the distraction of it slipping off in the last couple of 10k races; coupled with the conditions, I’m certain I was working too hard, too early. What I should have done was adopt the same negative split approach as I did in the Wythall Hollywood 10k, though it was too late for that. The one and only water stop of the race arrived, serving water out of plastic cups, as is the norm for a small race. I grabbed one cup from a volunteer, being especially careful not to spill any of the precious liquid. The quantity wasn’t nearly enough for such a warm summer’s day and only afforded enough for one sip, with the remainder going over my head. An article I read recently actually found water to be more beneficial on you than in you if a choice has to be made! The split clocked in at 3:54 with some slight slowdown to factor in a sharp turn and some fumbling for liquid, with the 5km halfway split registering as 19:18 to be about 10-15 seconds off target.

A 2km long straight presented itself and kept me focused on the group ahead; I was positively willing it to break apart to send somebody back to me! The effort to maintain pace continued to ratchet upwards, and whilst Garmin Connect recorded a tailwind for the direction the race took, the reality was actually cruel gusts of headwind to mock any foolhardy runners that dared to seek out a PB. The sixth km remained steady at 3:52.

Somewhere on the approach to 7km, a club runner I dropped much earlier in the race crept up on me, eventually gaining some daylight. I gave him some encouragement, impressed that he was able to shift his pace upwards at a relatively late stage in the race, factoring in that I wasn’t slowing down either. I tried latching on to him, though the fictional elastic snapped almost immediately. The group in the distance finally fell apart and one runner began drifting backwards to incentivise me to keep at it. Thanks to the brief moments of company, the seventh km came in at 3:49 for one of the faster splits of my race.

I cannot stand out and back sections of courses, so it’s laughable that I’ve got the Yorkshire Marathon in early October with two sizable switchbacks in place to bulk up the distance to the required 26.2 miles. The Magor 10k moved its previous switchback from around 5km on the route to its new home at 8km. Why? I’ve no idea, though in my mind, I reasoned it would make for an easier encounter nearer the end of the race rather than in the middle where pace can usually sag. I saw the race leaders approaching on the other side before too long, though had completely missed the first place guy who was four minutes further up the road by then! I took the turning wide to minimise any pace slowdown and immediately felt the hotspots on my feet flare up. If you hadn’t guessed by now, I was having a pretty dreadful time out there! 8km clocked in at 3:56.

None of my usual tricks worked to draw any more out of my dried out husk of a body – I’d definitely gone out too hard, too soon! The runner that overtook me sailed away into the distance, whilst the runner that fell from the group ahead was still out of reach. 9km was a real struggle, both physically and mentally, and produced my second slowest split of the race for 3:55. Everything would have immediately felt more pleasant if I’d have eased up, though I was still stubbornly hanging on to whatever threads of a PB opportunity that remained.

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Just a little something left for one last kick – photo by Lis Yu

This was it now – just 1km left to suffer through. I was now within reach of the runner in front by just a few strides, but there was nothing left at the bottom of the well to call upon. I was on the doorstep to blowing up, whilst the wind continued to tear strips from me, and the sun overhead scorched my skin. We were soon upon the turning for the modified finish that took us towards the back of race HQ, avoiding the broken gravel driveway, though replacing the final few hundred metres with a narrow alleyway that led to a grass straight. With about 400m remaining, I was finally able to make contact with the runner I’d so diligently aimed to reel in along with another unidentified club runner. Somehow, I managed to convince the central governor in my head to let me have something and I was able to inject a small surge to beat the unidentified club runner to the passageway. I made the last turn to draw neck and neck with the guy I’d targeted, kicking for the grass finish and spurred on by Lis and her parents. I was sprinting on fumes and a quick peek at my Garmin indicated a PB of maybe only a second or two was possible. 10m. 5m. 1m. C’est fini!

Post-race

This is where things got messy and took a turn for the frightening…

I stumbled a few metres through the finish funnel and very quickly realised something wasn’t right. My legs were like jelly and my senses suddenly became clouded. I was gasping for air, but my breaths were so quick and shallow that I now believe I was actually hyperventilating! I took a few more steps to be given a medal, found a clear spot adjacent to the finish funnel and then fell sideways to hit the deck with a thud. I don’t know how long I was out for, but what felt like only seconds must have easily been minutes in hindsight. It wasn’t until Lis and her parents reached me that the true extent of how hard I’d pushed myself came to light. The heat and effort from the race had made me dehydrated and delirious; all I could produce from my mouth was gibberish. My skin was red hot to the touch and my breathing remained unsteady. Lis finally had the bright idea to grab a few bottles of water from the volunteers to pour over me; it was instant relief and was just what was needed to quickly stabilise my temperature. It’s anybody’s guess what my internal core temperature actually was!

All of that effort would have been for nought if I didn’t get something out of the race. Checking my Garmin, the result came up as 38:44, though Lis said she saw 38:45 on the clock above as I passed through the finish gantry. The race official, processing the paper results for prize purposes, confirmed 38:45 was my official finish time. Just bloody fantastic – I almost literally wrung myself dry only to equal my existing 10k PB! To say that I’m disappointed is an understatement. It’s an often too regularly used adage, but in this case, there actually wasn’t any more I could have done out there without ending up in a hospital at the end of the race. On a positive note, it does confirm that I, without doubt, would have been faster in more mild conditions; runbritain agrees and gave me a -0.7 performance score versus the race’s 1.5 condition score, bringing my overall handicap down to 4.1. To give myself a chance at redemption, I’ve entered the Telford 10k that takes place in December, where you’ll find me racing in exactly the same attire without a single moan!

Here’s the Strava data for this race.

Tonight, I learned a fellow runner and supportive friend of mine very recently passed away. Darren was always a source of inspiration to keep me pushing beyond my own limits – it seems only fitting that this race report’s dedicated to him. R.I.P. Darren – you will be missed.

Magor Marsh 10k 2015 review

Magor Marsh 10k 2015 review

ABC. It’s easy as… 234…?

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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.

Pre-race

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.

The race

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.

Andy Yu at Magor Marsh 10k 2015

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!

Post-race

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

Andy Yu on runbritain

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!