The Ribble Valley 10k: 27th December 2016

For nearly all of my races so far, the journey to the start line was more draining than the race itself. Here, I don’t meant ‘journey’ as a metaphor for the long-term emotional toil of training- it’s not that kind of blog- I’m talking about the actual time it took to travel to the races.

There was the six-hour York-Exeter drive the day before the Devon Coastal Trail Marathon, the ten-hour Beijing-Amsterdam flight the day before the Brussels Marathon and even the one race near my home city- the Great Wall Marathon- involved a 4 hour coach ride into the countryside. Those long journeys have a way of tightening up your legs and making you feel lethargic. For each of those races, I convinced myself that it didn’t really matter but I’m quite sure that I would have run a little bit faster each time if it weren’t for the travel.

For the Ribble Valley 10k on 27th December, I left my mum’s house at 9.15am and was standing on the start line at 9.28am. I wasn’t going to be able to use travel time as an excuse this time.

There were also the weather conditions, which were perfect at about 6°c, with hardly any wind and, according to the P.A. announcer, “lots of oxygen in the air.” I warmed up for the race feeling quite good, although my legs had a little bit of marathon training heaviness in them.

The front of the race emerging from the mist. I’m five minutes back down the road at this point.

My aim for the race was to get below 39 minutes. My only other 10k race ever was the Great North 10k last June, where I ran 40.50. That race happened before I started my Brussels Marathon training and I also paced it quite badly, so I was sure I could go faster. In September I did 39.50 on the treadmill just to prove to myself that I could go below 40 minutes but I hadn’t run a fast 10k since then.

Since the race was also the UK Northern 10k Championships, there were quite a few Serious Athletes there, although the front of the field was quite different to the front marathon field. The 10k group looked younger, healthier and much less grizzled than the marathoners I’m used to seeing. I knew that the quality of the field would pull me along and my hopes of a good time were high.

When the gun went off, I realised that I had started a little too far back, which meant I had to skip around a few people in the opening stages, but it did mean I was passing people most of the way and didn’t get overtaken too many times.

The course starts at Clitheroe’s Roefield Leisure Centre it heads down a relatively steep hill to Edisford Bridge and then up a 3km climb towards Bashall Brook and back.

The downhill section had begun. Look how happy I am.

If the course starts and ends in the same place, how can it be more downhill than uphill overall? The answer is, it can’t. But it can feel like that when you’re having a good day. High on adrenaline and with fresh legs, the opening climb flew by and then it seemed like downhill for the rest of the race. In reality, the downhill sections never lasted that long, but I made the most of them by stretching out my legs and really letting go.

I was running without looking at my watch and I really think this helped because I wasn’t holding myself back. I felt good the whole way and I think I judged my effort fairly well, meaning I had enough energy to power up the final hill and pass a few people. The spectators on the home straight gave me an extra boost.

I approached the line thinking that I might just have done enough to break 39 minutes, only to look across and see the finish line clock at 36.54. I was genuinely shocked and enormously pleased. My final position of 135th shows just how many fast runners were there and how much further I can still push myself.

The time has given me extra confidence in my marathon training, which is clearly benefitting my speed as well as my endurance. It has also shown me the value of running to feel rather than a pre-determined pace or heart rate, although I’m not sure I’d be confident enough to do that for a whole marathon yet.

At the finish. “36.54!? That can’t be right.”

As an event, it was friendly, well-organised and timed perfectly to help me maintain a focus on running over Christmas. I’m sure I’ll be running it again next year.


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