For previous years’ races, please click below:
- Wythall Hollywood 10k 2013 review
- Wythall Hollywood 10k 2014 review
- Wythall Hollywood 10k 2015 review
- Wythall Hollywood 10k 2016 review
- Wythall Hollywood 10k 2017 review
This was my sixth outing at this race, making it the most attended event from my personal running history.
A common trend in 2018 will be remembered for weather conditions wreaking havoc on race plans. In March, it was snow and freezing temperatures. In June and July, it’s record-breaking warmth. Here’s a little fun-fact for you readers: only 20% of the energy we use in running goes towards motion; the remaining 80% is expended as waste heat. This is obviously welcome in cooler conditions as it’s free central heating, but in warmer conditions, it’s a double-whammy energy cost as we use precious calories to also shift the unwanted heat that we generate from running.
The recent warm Wilmslow Half Marathon left me feeling well conditioned to the heat and I was pretty confident a fresh 10k PB was mine for the taking; after all, this was my PB course from 2016 until only a few months ago! Rather than get greedy and potentially blow-up, I had my sights set on a very modest finish of only 38:30, with a slower first 5k and a faster second 5k to better suit my racing style.
Arriving at race HQ with Lis, Dave and Simon in tow, it was good to see the race in rude health. This was the first iteration with chip timing and by the organisers’ own admission, they’d also outgrown the previous registration room to spread out more widely across the venue. I collected bib number “888”. Ahead of time, the organisers invited people to pick bib numbers of their choice from a certain range; 171 was unavailable to 10k runners, so I went with “888”, which is considered very auspicious in Chinese culture. The logic is the Mandarin or Cantonese pronunciation of “8” sounds like the word to strike it rich. By contrast, “4” is considered very unlucky because it sounds like death. Would the bib bring me luck or only misfortune?
There were many familiar faces dotted around the place as is typical for a race that borders upon several local running club stomping grounds.
Simon and I split from Dave to complete our own warm-up. Whereas I normally like to cover 2 miles before a 5k up to the half marathon, the heat was incredibly noticeable at only 08:30, prompting me to chop it down to just a mile. Staying cool became the new goal!
With chip timing in place, there was no need to pitch up on the start line like in years’ past, but I guess old habits die hard. Huddled together, the air was thick with anticipation or perhaps it was just the humidity?
Even at 09:15, the mercury had already reached 22°C and with nary a cloud in the sky. Off the line, I could already tell I was working harder than I wanted to be. One could almost cut through the air with a knife as it entered my lungs, and my legs were heavy despite a lighter second half to the taper week. Most of my peers hared off into the distance, but as tempting as it was to go with them, self-preservation for the first half was the aim of the game; an average of 3:50 per km was the target to allow for the above said modest 38:30 PB.
Shortly after turning the first corner, everybody almost came to a standstill when a flatbed truck, with what looked like a cement mixer on the back, partially blocked the route and prevented the lead vehicle from going any further! Cries of, “Keep right,” filled the air as we tried our best to nimbly pass the blockade. I spoke with the 5k winner after the event, who ended up making a wrong-turn with no lead vehicle and fewer marshals on hand, many having relocated temporarily to get the flatbed truck cleared off.
The first km came in as expected at 3:51, though it still didn’t feel as easy it should have for the opening split of a 10km, especially when I purposely held back…
The dreaded second km signalled the first of two not-insignificant climbs on the course. This was my opportunity to draw a little closer to the groups that had formed ahead of me, especially as I hugged the racing line of the course, though by consequence ended up running clear of any shade on offer. 4:14 popped out, whereas I’d targeted closer to 4:05; it was at this point that I decided chasing a firm time was no longer sensible in such conditions and I withdrew to largely running by feel.
Over the brow of the hill came the instant relief of the fast downhill stretch all the way to the Phoenix complex. It took a little while, but my legs began turning over more quickly to capitalise on the descent. Even with gravity on my side, I could still only manage to push out a 3:55 split, confirming my thoughts that a scaled back effort would pay dividends in the second half. Average pace hovered at 3:59 per km, so it was still uncertain if I could even break 40 minutes on such a warm morning!
A number of years ago, I was interviewed for runABC Midlands and I waxed lyrical about this particular race. One stand out feature is the gentleman with a hosepipe to cool runners as they pass the Rose Bank Stores & Saddlery premises. “Full blast, please,” were my words as I neared him, to which he kindly obliged to give me a thorough drenching. Ah, bliss! A momentary lapse in concentration from the relief meant I only had enough time to target the final cup of water from the nearby volunteers. Guess what… We both fumbled it! “Shit,” I cursed. Thankfully, a chap behind had grabbed a spare in time and handed it over – my saviour! Down the hatch it all went until the next scheduled water stop within the Phoenix complex.
As I entered the Phoenix premises, exiting was Damian Cartland, giving me a cheer in the process. 4km came in at 3:52, so the pace was finally starting to come to me.
On the approach to halfway, I finally caught Barry Fallon. Without even looking back, he knew it was me. Like a Bond villain, he mused, “I was wondering when I would encounter you, Andy.” It must’ve been my cadence, because Barry wasn’t the first and won’t be the last to recognise me from my pitter-patter footstrike. I told him to focus on reeling the lead woman in (she turned out to be a 5k runner), who remained just 10m or so ahead of us.
A little further on was Lis waiting for me with a par-frozen bottle of water. Whilst in years past, such a bit of assistance was a welcome nice-to-have, this year it became an essential. Cracking the bottle open, I glugged some of the refreshingly cool water down for immediate relief. I offered it to Barry and the others in the vicinity, though there were no takers, so I poured the remnants over myself. Right away, I felt super-charged from the cold water and I was able to power on to halfway, netting a 3:57 km and a 19:51 5k split.
As several runners made their way towards the finish for the end of the 5k race, I veered left for another lap. This was the first time in all the years I’d run this race where I looked longingly at those finishing the 5k in envy – the warmth changed everything. I also found myself running solo, with Barry’s group behind me and Andy Piddington way off into the distance.
Unexpectedly, a sudden rush of strength enveloped me. The effort, in spite of running alone felt manageable. I would even go as far as saying the fifth and sixth km were the most comfortable of the entire race! 6km clocked in for 3:57, remaining steady.
Turning for the climb once more, I steeled myself to graft. Andy Piddington was still ahead, but his margin on me had decreased slightly from before. I repeatedly told myself that each step I could close on him was additional time chipped away to get under 40 minutes, which was still not a guarantee at this point with only 3:58 average pace on my Garmin and the knowledge that the course measured slightly long from past experience. Slowly, I worked my way up to Andy; neither of us had ever met before, but we both knew of each other and shared some pleasantries. 7km came in at 4:06 to be, annoyingly, just a second outside of my 4:05 best. One year, I will get under 4:00 for the exclusively uphill km…
I continued to stick with Andy for some company, hoping that he’d take advantage of the descent and push the pace on. Ahead of us was a pair, clearly working together to drive onwards. Whilst our pace did rise, I wasn’t satisfied it was fast enough so I went it alone and broke off from Andy partway through the split for 3:50.
Passing the man with the hosepipe once again, I made the same request for a full blast once more. Grabbing a cup of water was faultless on the second occasion.
Gradually, I drew closer to the two runners in front of me. Bad timing struck as I wasn’t fast enough to get clear of them before the switchback in the Phoenix complex, and nor did I want to purposely slow to avoid clattering into them. With mere metres remaining and without a single word from me, they both parted for me to run through and be first at the switchback! I thanked them both as I tried my best to navigate around the cone with my Titanic-esque turning circle. There really isn’t an elegant method on this part of the course, due to the narrow path and the lack of anything physical to swing around. 9km came in at 3:45.
Exiting Phoenix, I knew I had fewer than 4 minutes to tolerate before I could stop. Barry and Dave were on the other side of the road, both receiving cheers from me to keep plugging away. I began encountering lapped runners and a bicycle paramedic who insisted on incessantly getting in my way, just as I wanted to up my tempo. In the distance by no more than 100m was somebody in a white t-shirt, who became my final target to try and pull in; I was reasonably confident I had enough gears to shift up to in my pursuit before running out of road. Lis continued to lend her support, providing a few brief moments of welcome distraction as the effort notched upwards. As I closed in on the finish, I came to the realisation that the guy I tried to chase down had also increased his pace for the gap between us to be frustratingly maintained.
With fewer than 200m remaining, I kicked in the hope he had no response. Whereas he took the wider line around a straggling 5k runner, a small enough gap on the race line remained for me to creep past her in a bid to close the precious few metres. I received a few cheers from the Kings Heath Running club volunteers on hand for a welcome boost. Sadly, this also alerted the runner to how close I was to keep the pressure applied in his kick for the line, beating me to it by just one or two steps!
Here’s the Strava data for this race.
Despite this being easily in my top 3 warmest races, I finished feeling not too shabby at all – I guess that’s the result of me capping the first half’s effort. I finished in 17th place with chip time coming to 39:21, which I was pretty pleased with in light of the conditions and how my peers fared. runbritain rewarded me with a handy -0.7 performance based on the 2.2 condition score (1.0 would be considered average conditions for those of you unfamiliar with runbritain’s handicap system).
I caught up with Damian afterwards, sharing my revised race strategy of basic survival before I sat down in a makeshift shower to cool down.
I’m confident I would have achieved a PB that morning under cooler temperatures, though I’m serene about the outcome. The heat easily cost me by about a minute, so here’s hoping the upcoming flat Magor 10k is much cooler, otherwise that’s it for my spring-summer season.
Depending on how things go, I may be a no-show at the 2019 10th anniversary race due to potentially racing at the Swansea Half Marathon. Without the clash, I’d be there in a heartbeat – it’s such a good event!