Another year, another Wythall Hollywood 10k medal and bib
For the 2013, 2014 and 2016 races, please click the following:
Third time the organisers have laid on a 10k version of this race, and my third appearance. Read on to find out what happens when Andy goes to Hollywood (lame, I know…)
I’ve only ever run this race in its 10k guise, but have known about its 5k version for a number of years. Its popularity really shot up with the introduction of a 10k option, and I guess that’s due to the likes of Parkrun claiming their stake on 5k events – others I’ve spoken to also share this view.
It’s usually sweltering whenever this race takes place, but doubles up as a good source of heat training in the process. Unusually this year, conditions were grey and cool to be pretty optimal for faster times; despite this, I was still offered the choice of downgrading from the 10k to 5k, much like in 2013’s scorchtastic event.
The race doesn’t boast the fastest of 10k courses out there, mainly due to the 1km of incline that needs to be tackled twice. Granted, there is a long descent on the other side, but most of us never truly do the ups or the downs justice. With this in mind, I didn’t want to set anybody’s world alight and simply aimed to dip under 40 minutes with as little distress as possible. No real rhyme or reason involved; sub-40 just looks good on paper! This would call for a minute’s improvement on the 2014 race and with little to no 10k specific prep in the last couple of weeks…
Lis and I rocked up at race HQ and bumped into Ed Barlow in the car park. I shared that I felt like I was truly in 40:15 shape on the Wythall Hollywood course, but Ed reckoned I could go sub-40, referring to my much better shape than a year ago when I could only scrape 40:58.
Race bib collected, I bumped into Paul Harris, another Cannon Hill Parkrun regular and we had a chat about his chance encounter with Paula Radcliffe the previous week along the canal towpath. Other familiar faces present included Ben Clarke, along with many others from Kings Heath Running Club and Bournville Harriers.
What’s nice about the Wythall Hollywood 10k and 5k is the size and location of the event; both allow for a decent warm-up beforehand without much planning required. The surrounding roads were quiet even though they had not yet been officially closed to allow for a stress-free build up.
Mile jog and 300m effort done, I ventured back inside to grab Lis and we began loitering by the start line. It was there that we were forced to endure a dodgy techno version of Human League’s “Don’t you want me” that accompanied the mass warm-up taking place at race HQ. A Birchfield Harrier also shared in our disgust of the butchering of an 80s classic. Speaking with the Birchfield Harrier further, I quickly learned that Simon and I had both competed at the farcical Worcester City Half Marathon last summer. He too was aiming for a sub-40 finish so there were likely to be a fair few gunning for the time out there.
Anybody suffer from vertigo? Photo by Lis Morgan
Soon, the rest of the field made their way over to the start line, marked out ingeniously by flour. Interestingly, the organisers shared that the UKA official wanted to sit-in on the pre-race tour of the course so any fears of a short course were quickly dispelled (should have taken note of this in my pacing strategy). Bang on at 09:15, we were released into the wilds of the surrounding countryside.
With the 10k and 5k races taking place at the same time, there were plenty in the opening scrum but things quickly settled down and groups formed. Chris Callow, a KHRC member and fellow Cannon Hill Parkrun regular caught up to me and revealed he too sought after a sub-40 finish; we ended up sticking together, trading positions every once in a while.
Turning left on to Packhorse Lane, the pace nosedived by a good 15 seconds or so. I found myself at the front of my group but with a sizable gap to make it to the pack ahead; I decided to stick with my group and would let those ahead come to me instead over the duration of the first lap. In spite of the cool conditions, there were awkward gusts of wind that seemed to hit from all sides. As the race progressed and the field thinned out, there were few people to hide behind and take shelter from – such is the disadvantage of smaller races.
On the other side of the climb, I was shagged. My breathing was erratic and I was on the cusp of working too hard for the first half of the race. My legs lacked any freshness or zip, most likely due to the enthusiastic Parkrun the day before. I eased off the gas on the descent when I really should have taken more control of the distress. I’m perfectly fine with suffering through fast 5ks, and fast half marathons can be eased into, but 10ks are just a constant barrage of discomfort pretty much all the way from start to finish when run properly.
Entering the Phoenix business park, the awkward switchback slowed things down further. The turn was incredibly tight and there wasn’t much room to go wide to maintain speed either.
Almost at halfway – photo by Lis Morgan
Lis was stood between 4k and 5k with a bottle of ice-cold water – something she’s done for me every year at this race. It’s simply so much easier drinking from a bottle than it is trying to grab a cup, spilling it everywhere and then accidentally waterboard yourself by choking on the water!
I managed to pull away from my group on the home straight of the first lap and decided to try and make it to the next group. Time-wise, I was down by 8 seconds or so on target, so I’d managed to undo some of the damage from the 1k climb earlier.
I was reeling runners in and claimed the scalps of a couple of Bournville Harriers and a BRAT. One elusive Bournville Harrier remained in the distance regardless of what I threw in to try and catch him – he turned out to be the same chap that got me back on track during my recent Cannon Hill course PB.
The 1k climb on the second lap was a solo affair with nobody around me at all to work with. A shocking 4:20 split stuck its tongue out at me – I was well and truly haemorrhaging time and the Garmin further revealed a 36 second deficit on target. I kinda lost hope of a sub-40 finish and moved over to my B target of 40:15 along with some much needed recovery on the descent.
I audibly groaned a few times from the suffer-fest. A Dudley Kingswinford member pulled up alongside me and gave me some encouragement to “dig deep”. I tucked in behind him for some shelter from the wind and things instantly felt much calmer. In hindsight, those few minutes of tranquillity probably did me more harm than good in the long run…
We passed by the lady on the water station, this time impressively dual-wielding cups of water with both hands. The guy with the hosepipe gave me a good drenching and a cheer – he’s been there every year. With only 2k left to go, I began to wind the pace up in an attempt to get closer to a sub-40 finish again. I tried to get the DK club runner to stay with me but he was already redlining and pushed me on. The descent had done its job of recovery and I managed to find second wind for a strong entry into and exit out of the Phoenix complex.
Form deteriorated in the last couple hundred metres… Photo by Lis Morgan
With just 1k remaining, I mustered what was left for an aggressive final assault on the course. Conveniently, the organisers placed a clock next to the 9k marker, which happened to read 36:15 as I ran past. All of a sudden, sub-40 was possibly back on. A 3:45 1k split was certainly achievable, but in between the finish and me was a 3m climb along with the awkward twists and turns to get back into race HQ for the finish. Once over the Hollywood Bypass, I had Lis spurring me on to kick. A couple of stragglers finishing up their 5k, or entering the second lap of the 10k, drifted into my path and required sudden evasive manoeuvres to avoid – not easy when you’re charging down the home straight on tired and unsteady legs.
I hung right, then left, then right again and I was back at race HQ. I caught a glimpse of Khalid Malik, who had finished his 5k whilst in the midst of fasting for Ramadan – truly impressive stuff. A female voice cheered me on by name, whom I unfortunately did not catch sight of (very sorry). I had to evade one more 5k runner who seemed unsure of which line she wanted to run, so I ended up running wide around her for the finish. The clock was on 39:55 and I still had a couple of metres to go. “WHATEVER YOU’RE GOING TO DO, DO IT NOW!!!” I screamed at myself inside my head. I closed my eyes and charged for the line, legs at full tilt…
Pain. Lungs on fire. Quads and hamstrings tight. Here’s the Garmin data for this race.
I scooted off to the side of the finish chute and lowered myself down on one knee for a moment or three. I screamed a few times – something I seem to be doing with much greater regularity of late… The Bournville Harrier that proved so elusive to catch came over to help me up, and I duly shook his hand in the process.
Just shy of a sub-40 finish at the Wythall Hollywood 10k 2015
I looked at my Garmin and 40:01:26 stared back at me. “Damn it!” I cursed to myself. I’m sure I could have found an extra 2 seconds somewhere out on the course, and hence my earlier comment about easing off just a little too much when I came into contact with the DK club runner on the descent. Still, a reasonably substantial course PB.
The chap with the medals was placing them around finishers’ necks; I simply asked for mine in my hand so that I could duck out of the funnel and lean against something.
Simon and I have unknowingly faced off a couple of times at races – photo by Lis Morgan
The DK runner and Simon Rhodes came through shortly afterwards. I gave the DK runner a knowing nod because he seemed like he was in a rush to get out of there, but Simon was keen to talk. A very nice guy he was and it seemed we’d actually had many more close encounters than first thought at a number of races over the years.
Soggy and cold after the Wythall Hollywood 10k 2015 – photo by Lis Morgan
Lis and Ben Clarke caught up to me just as the heavens opened up to soak everyone in the process. Moving inside, we bumped into Paul Harris and Dave Johnson, also taking shelter from the rain. We ended up having a good old natter with Ben, who explained the timing failure at Cannon Hill Parkrun in more detail (he wasn’t to blame!) Just as we decided to leave, some volunteers came over to offer us a king’s ransom in leftover cookies and bananas – the perfect end to any race surely?
Thoughts and conclusions
I’ve not had a near miss of a target like this since the saga of trying to go sub-20 over the 5k distance (20:00 on the nose on one occasion). I made the schoolboy error of not factoring in for additional distance and in this case, that 20 – 30m extra equated to about 4 seconds.
There are some positives, though. In 2013, I ran 42:28 and then improved by 90 seconds in 2014 with 40:58. The pattern of improvement, whilst beginning to tail off, still continues with almost a minute’s difference this year. 40:01 on a less than ideal course bodes very well for the flat as a pancake Magor Marsh 10k in two weeks; I’m praying that it’s a legal course because I’m running out of opportunities this year to produce a respectable 10k time that’s in line with my current ability.
Sticking with trends, I continued that of poor race preparation where I never seem to enter this event with the best of intentions. 2014 involved pigging out on too much meat the day before and also breaking in new racing flats during the event. This year saw me blast out a 19:28 at Cannon Hill Parkrun the day prior (slow up to 4k, and then a 3:40 final k).
All said and done, I’m pretty happy with the outcome. Let the training continue!