What better way to spend a bank holiday Monday, hey? The first sunny day of a miserable weekend, a lovely park by the sea and, with me being me, a 6.2 mile race during the hottest part of the day. A late entry thrown in for the Sandgrounder 10k all the way over in Southport and then just like that, my second race of the year was all done and dusted.
It was all a bit last minute this one. I only found out it even existed on Friday, but as a lover of a good old fashioned day at the seaside I rather foolishly decided that the best way to enjoy one would be to run ten kilometres first in the baking sun. Perfectly normal behaviour.
Due to all the lateness, the training was pretty much non-existent. Not quite to the level of a full on month of running abstinence leading up to last May’s Port Sunlight 10k, but certainly nothing you could seriously consider as decent race preparation. Since staggering over the marathon finish line nearly two months ago, there’s only been three parkruns, nine gentle jogs home from work and a few miles on the bike. That’s it. Needless to say, expectations of a decent result were pretty low.
With the race kicking off pretty late at 11:15am, we had plenty of time to head over and get signed up, but it’s safe to say that I didn’t take the pre-race preparation entirely seriously. A final meal the day before of an old Fray Bentos pie I’d found at the back of my cupboard followed by a couple of glasses of wine and a late bedtime is certainly not how Mo “Quorn” Farah would do it, but as I was planning on running this one just for the sheer hell of it I thought it wouldn’t do too much harm.
However, when I realised on the way over that this was my tenth race at this distance, I began to think perhaps I should have chosen a bigger run to mark the occasion, aiming for something a bit more special. A high placing, a fast time, a big charity total. Perhaps another tilt at last week’s Great Manchester Run with 40,000 others would have been cool, coming almost exactly six years after my very first 10k in the same event. In the end, my décima 10k did end up being pretty special, but not in the way I would ever have imagined it.
Arriving at Victoria Park for registration, there was a nice little buzz around the place as a couple of races had already taken place that morning and plenty of people were milling round the tiny race village ahead of the main event. It looked like a pretty serious field, with a lot of affiliated runners in vests adorned by their club colours, and I kind of felt a bit out of my depth stood there in my old school PE shorts and my unruly mop of hair flapping about in the gentle sea breeze. We lined up on the startline and with barely a second’s pause, we were off heading round the park for the first of many laps.
The opening mile brought back some unpleasant memories as I’d inexplicably found myself right at the very front of the field. Without the usual congestion at the start of a race, it was easy to hit a fast pace early on. Too easy, in fact as I noticed I’d started at well under six minutes per mile on the flat, wide pathways around the park. I remembered the City of Manchester 10k all the way back in 2008 where I found myself sucked into the pace of those around me, far, far beyond my capabilities and then suddenly completely melted not long after. I tried to hold back and let a few go past but it was easier said than done. I felt amazing on the first few hundred yards and it was mentally difficult to keep the exuberance down and concentrate on the race as a whole.
I’d let a few go on ahead as we headed out of the park and onto the perimeter road for the first time, but I couldn’t be sure quite how many. After a slightly ludicrous opening 6:04 mile, my mind predictably began to drift towards the sub-40 minute target that always sits on my mind on these races, despite finally hitting it last October. I still felt remarkably fresh and although it was a warm morning, the conditions were pretty damn good for running. The course was nearly pancake-flat and it doubled back on itself so frequently I lost count of how many times I saw my support crew cheering me on to give me that extra little push. I started to reel one or two of the faster starters in again as we went over half distance, and then with the first four miles all falling under that magic 6:27 pace, I suddenly had over half a minute in the bank and began to feel, quite seriously, that this might actually be on.
The thing with a 10k though is that it’s always just that little bit longer than you remember from the last time. Because the time spent PROPER SUFFERING is – relatively speaking – quite short, then when looking back on a race it’s often forgotten the bits where you felt like you were about to collapse in a sweaty, broken heap. Unlike the latter parts of a marathon, where the pain builds and builds over literally hours, it’s usually just the case that you have a bad mile or so and then suddenly you’re on the home straight and it’s all over. Heading out onto the park perimeter for the second time, I had that bad mile. The combination of heat and poor preparation began to take its toll and the ever-so-slight incline up to the furthest point absolutely ruined me. I’d had one chap on my horizon for almost the entire race and with all of my recent races ending with a huge sprint finish I’d felt like I could take him and nab another place back, but after that fifth mile I knew there was no chance. It didn’t matter a great deal though; the bad mile was just ten seconds outside my target pace and I still had a chance of the sub-40. I just had to finish the job.
The last mile was pretty horrible as well in all fairness. We looped back into the park and round towards the finish, but I was pretty much spent by then. The adrenaline of seeing my supporting crew again and then the finish line spurred me on a bit, but not enough for the big finalé. I noticed the clock on the line was already showing over 40 minutes but didn’t pay much attention to it. My splits had been good enough, so I just figured the gun time must have started a little early or something. I staggered away from the finish line and checked my watch and was gutted to see it read 40:19. Nowhere near.
I couldn’t get my head around what had gone wrong at first, but the disappointment was tempered somewhat when I was told I’d finished in a very respectable ninth place. I could scarcely believe it. A field with the number of entrants in three figures, chock full of members of actual running clubs and whatnot, and I’d beat all apart from eight of them. My best ever result.
The time thing was still nagging at me though and I eventually realised it was because I’d clocked the distance at 6.31 miles, around a tenth of a mile longer than it should have been. Whether my Garmin had let me down on the way round or the course was slightly too long I’ll probably never know, but whatever it was, those extra 200-odd yards made all the difference. According to Runkeeper, my average pace was 6:23 per mile: well within what I needed to hit that magic barrier, and in fact on target for a 39:35 which would have been my second fastest ever. If (and this is a massive if, considering how completely rinsed I was at the end) I’d managed a big finish like Standalone, steaming over the line at 5:10 pace, it could even have even been a brand new PB. Not bad considering the almost complete lack of preparation.
In the end though, my décima will just go down on my results page as an above average time coupled with a surprisingly good result. Ninth overall and sixth in my category is something I’ve never come remotely close to achieving before. It was a real effort at times as the lack of training kicked in over the last couple of miles, and I only wonder what could have been achieved had I gone all in for this one. A decent event on a flat course, really well organised with a friendly atmosphere and a cool little medal, maybe I’ll come back again one year and try again with a bit more training in the legs and see what happens. Maybe not. But this was a proud morning regardless, and all that was left was a well deserved cider in what was left of the sunshine and a fish supper dodging the seagulls. Job done.