I booked this one to be my last attempt at a 10K PB in 2015 – my 16th and final race of the year. I had no idea at the time though that this one would be almost entirely off road – I’d made the silly assumption it would be on paths. I started to wonder if a PB was possible, but I decided that as long as I beat my time from Rockingham I’d be happy.
On the night before the race it was cold – so cold in fact that the temperature hadn’t risen above zero by the time I left the house. Feeling really cold I decided I’d wear my hoodie for the race – it felt like even once I got running I probably wouldn’t be warm enough. Getting to the race proved trickier than expected – due to the frost over night I had to first clear my windscreen first. No more than 5 minutes from home I then got a phone call to say that my back tyres looked flat so I turned around and headed home to get them pumped back up (fortunately although my car doesn’t have a spare tyre it does have a pump that operates from the car battery). Once both rear tyres were pumped up I was finally on my way from Leicester to Nottingham… just 15 minutes later than intended.
At Wollaton Hall & Park it was a pay and display car park – it felt a bit wrong that the grounds owners were profiting from a charity event, and at £4 a car they must have made a reasonable amount too! If the proceeds from the parking were going to charity too though, then that would be okay. For a while I sat in my car before heading over to the registration desk to pick up my race number and blue MoRunning head band. I decided I wouldn’t wear the head band but thought it may come in useful in the summer months. With number in hand I headed back to my car to get some safety pins for attaching the number (there were none in the envelope and couldn’t see any available).
Again I sat in my car for some time after fitting my number, and didn’t leave it until 09:43 – just 2 minutes before the warm-up was due to start. I was still freezing cold but as the crowds of people drew closer there was soon the advantage of shared body heat – just like penguins in Antarctica (though to be honest I was probably warmer in Antarctica). At 10:00 the 5K runners headed off, though for the next 10 minutes there was the odd straggler run (or walk) to the start line to begin the 5K race a little late. About 2 minutes before the 10K was due to start two more 5K runners walked to the start and carried on walking. At this point the 10K group was then called to the start line. Although I was already standing close to the start I soon found myself towards the back as more people squeezed in front.
At 10:10 the race started – I was that far back that I just walked until a couple of paces before the start line and then broke into a gentle jog – waiting for an opportunity to start passing. It was getting frustrating being held back, but I soon found I could run out wide (and avoid the cones) to begin passing and by the time we left the grass briefly for a muddy/gravelly path I was towards the front of the 10K pack. Moments after this we then passed the last of the 5K starters who were walking onto the adjacent field. This next field was already churned up from the runners that had passed before and I found myself wondering what it’d be like once the 10K pack had fully crossed it for the first lap as well. It didn’t help that after 570 miles the trainers I was wearing didn’t really have any tread left in them – it was my intention for this race to be their last.
Both the 5K runners and the 10K runners were doing a 5K course around the grounds, but for those doing 10K it’d be a second lap. It seemed likely that the second lap was going to be trickier, without even considering that muscles would be starting to tire during the second lap. Still, on the first lap the route continued across the field and I did my best to run around the worst of the mud, but it was still difficult in places to not lose my balance. Eventually we got to a muddy hairpin bend and found I had to slow considerably for it – making a mental note to try and take it wider on the second lap. From this point the route followed a muddy track through the trees and eventually up a hill back to the Elizabethan country home, Wollaton Hall.
By this time I’d already passed over a couple of dozen 5K runners, and I wondered if it would have been better for the 10K runners to have started 30 minutes after the 5K start in order to give them more time to get around. I just hoped it didn’t bother them seeing a number of us 10K runners passing. At the top of the hill the route winds around in front of Wollaton Hall and then along a path on the other side. For this bit you have to be careful with overtaking as there are also oncoming runners (though to be honest you should be careful throughout as there are other park users – such as some that were playing golf in this weather!).
For a while it does remain on this path and it was a chance to gain a bit of speed whilst going down hill on a relatively decent path. I was still passing a few 5K runners down this stretch, but also managed to overtake a few more 10K runners before the path turned back to a muddy mess. Moments after getting back into the mud a 5K runner slipped over a couple of steps in front of me – it took a couple of steps for me to stop and turn to help, but in that time another runner had already stopped to help pick her back up so I carried on running realising there was nothing I could do.
In places along this stretch it was trick to pass as there was the occasional group of people running 3 or 4 people side by side, though I found that running along the water’s edge allowed me to squeeze passed and keep on going. Once passed the water it was a gentle incline back up onto a path and to the Hall. This is where we could see oncoming 10K and 5K runners (which earlier I had seen oncoming 5K runners) and was then the start of the second lap as the course rejoined the grass.
During the first part of this second lap I didn’t feel that well – it felt like my lungs were cold and I started to slow. This carried on for about 1Km but had passed before I got back to the hairpin bend. The field leading up to the bend this time was far muddier and I found it incredibly slippery trying to tackle it at pace, so tried my best to dodge the worst of it. Just as I got around the hairpin bend I saw a group of 4 or 5 runners cut off the corner (which would have added an extra 200 metres onto the route) though I couldn’t tell if they were part of the race or just out on a Sunday run.
Half way up the hill back to the Hall I started to walk – I had no idea why, I wasn’t out of breath, though I think maybe my legs were wanting me to. During this minute of walking a fellow 10K runner passed me that I’d passed a few minutes earlier and I decided I wouldn’t let them out of my sight. I looked behind me and could see the next 10K runner about 300 metres behind me so started back running.
By the time I reached the front of the Hall I’d just about caught up with the other runner, but he had just found a second wind and started to speed off in front of me. For the next few kilometres this became a bit of a cat and mouse game as we’d both keep overtaking each other. This time getting onto the path with two-way traffic I was still seeing some 5K runners heading towards the finish, though I was also still passing some on my side of the path as well.
On the down hill stretch I passed a couple walking the 5K that I had passed previously at the start of the previous lap – it was good to see they hadn’t given up and were now only 2K from the finish. This time the muddy stretch before the water was an obstacle course – trying to miss the worst of the puddles and muddy patches whilst also trying to avoid those out walking their dogs. At one point I had to jump into some branches sticking out of a bush in order to avoid a dog that had already come close to tripping up one runner. Around the edge of the water I was running side by side with that other runner and I was about to speak to them, but then they sped off in front, before suddenly dropping his speed again which meant again I caught up and briefly overtook. This continued until the gentle incline back up to the house when we caught up with another 10K runner. This time I overtook them both and kept going, starting to increase my pace as we approached the Hall.
Once I hit the grassy bit that led down to the finish I was ready to start sprinting but found that I’d lost some stability in the mud and had to slow down a touch instead. As the hill down started to reduce it’s incline I found it was safe to speed up again without slipping too much but didn’t quite manage the spring finish I normally would.
As I crossed the finish I glanced at my watch for the first time in the race and found that it was a sub-45 race, but I was incredibly disappointed. The weekend before I’d managed 44:10 on a race track (true this was in strong winds whilst jet lagged) and had been disappointed with that, but this weekend I was even slower. I finished with a time of 44:27 coming in 21st out of 677 finishers – putting me in the first 3.1% of finishers (there were a handful of 10K runners that either DNS or DNF so aren’t included in these numbers).
The marshalling on the course though was good – a couple of them towards the end did cheer on runners as they passed. There were even a few spectators braving the cold near the start that were mostly cheering on all runners. Some of the other people in the park didn’t seem that happy to have people running through it though.
Maybe finishing 21st isn’t that bad, but it still felt like I’d slowed down so much since my current 10K PB was set back in March. I’d failed in my attempt – it was incredibly disappointing, and now wouldn’t get another chance until the middle of 2016. Every 10K race since then I’ve been gradually getting slower.
There’s no point in dwelling on the bad race, it’s too late to change it’s outcome but I can focus on what I can control – my next few months of training. With Canalathon in March I now have 4 months to increase my distance to something suitable for an Ultra marathon, whilst also trying to increase speed. It’ll be a tough winter of training but I need to at least try and get back to at least the speed I was previously and hope that the training pays off for the Manchester Marathon in April.