Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Race Report: The 9Bar Chilly 10k

Someone pinch me!

I need to wake up...


I've just smashed my 2nd 10k race of the year with a whopping new PB of 46.54, that also included a new 5k PB of 22.43 for the first 5k of the race! This doesn't happen to me - I'm a slow plodder who prefers to put in long slow miles rather than short fast ones. But over the last 2-3 weeks there seems to have been a slight transformation - and it's all come at the right time!

As winter sets in and the temperature drops, my performance at The 9Bar Chilly 10k on Sunday will keep me warm for many months to come...

Given the race was a last minute entry and only 1 week after the Swindon 10k, I didn't have much time to prepare for it. The sole reason for entering this race was to get a PB. I'd learnt so much from the Swindon 10k. My main concern was around pacing, and more especially where ascents (no matter how small) are concerned. With this in mind I decided to run a couple of hilly routes during the week as preparation.

On the Monday I ran 14k at a slow pace that involved running up the Wash Water / Wash Common Hill; the Hill of Death; and Newtown Road Hill. All 3 are reasonable long and steep, but I made sure I kept to a slow gentle pace averaging 5:57 min/km. On the Wednesday I went out with the Newbury Runners for another hilly run - this time incorporating The Bypass Hill and Andover Hill and injecting a little more pace into the run (averaging 5.26 min/km over 10.80k). It felt good and much needed.  

Friday involved an average-paced 10k work lunch run that included some hills. I didn't want to go too fast; just a gentle run (averaging 5.30 min/km) to keep the legs ticking over.

With those runs in the bag I decided to call it quits until the race. This was my final chance to get a new 10k PB and I wanted to throw everything at it.

Target Time
Having performed so well the week before I knew I'd have to be on top of my game to beat my Swindon time of 48:08. I knew if I paced myself correctly I could go sub-48 mins; but I also knew the course was very exposed and any chance of a PB could be blown away should the weather turn for the worse and a head-wind appear. I therefore set myself a generic target of sub-48 mins; if I could run 47.30 then I'd be over the moon!

Arrival and Preparation

The night before the race it was the Newbury Runners Quiz Night. It was an amazing turn out; however I drank pretty much a bottle of heavy red wine and eat too many crisps and too much bread, cheese, olives, ham, etc... A fantastic night but when I got home I felt bloated and just a tad tipsy. I needed to sober up quick - and Diet Coke seemed to help.

When I woke in the morning I felt a little croggy but okay; thankfully the race didn't start until 10:30am. After munching on 2 large ham bagels and drinking a strong coffee, I had a shower, got changed and headed over the Castle Combe.

Before everyone arrived...
The event took place on the race track at Castle Combe. It was my first run around a race track and I suspected that I would get very bored very quickly (3.5 laps). However I was pleasantly surprised by the set-up. Rather an portable loos they had proper loos; they had a cafe, restaurant and a warm area to chill out and relax. Basically we could make use of all the race track facilities, and that really helped as it was a little cold. The 10k was not the only race taking place on the Sunday; there was also a Duathlon, but that didn't start until after the 10k race. As a result the place was buzzing with a great atmosphere.

Pre-race goodies
I went to registration and picked up my number and timing chip; they were also giving away free 9Bars and Jelly Beans. So I grabbed two bars and a handful of Jelly Beans and munched on them whilst fitting my number to my top. After pottering around for a little while I decided to warm up. The legs felt a stiff and those 'mind aches' started to appear; these are basically aches you all of a sudden feel before a race but in actual fact are not there. It's usually just stiffness. I jogged around the car park for 15 minutes or so trying to loosen up the legs whilst keeping them warm with my tracksuit bottoms. I got back to the car, stripped off, did another 5 minute jog and then we were called to the pre-race briefing.  This was it....

The Race
Once briefed we were escorted along a pit lane to the start line which was on the track itself. This was approx. 0.5 km away from the finish line and at the start of a gentle downhill section in the track. We were instructed to completed 3 laps and then take the pit lane to the finish line. Even before we started you could see the gradually ascents on the course. One day I'll run a completely flat route!

After the wheelchair participants started the runners then gathered at the start line and before you knew it we were off! It was quite exciting running on a track and I think that encouraged me even more to nail a good time. I could have played it safe and started slow - but I didn't. I had in my head that I'd run fast on the descents and flat and would slow the pace on ascents.

Lap 1
My opening lap was a pretty exciting affair. I loved the track and I felt good. Yes there were long gradual ascents but there were also some good descents. We had to run 400m anti-clock wise then loop back in a clock wise direction before then continuing around the track.

The route - multiple laps
I was in the zone and pumped in a 4.23 min/km, 4.26 min/km, 4.36 min/km and 4.41km for the first 4k respectively, which ended up being over 1 complete lap. As I crossed a timing mat I got a huge encouragement from a marshal who yelled "Go Newbury!". On that first lap-ish I managed to overtake a number of runners. I'd been lucky with the weather. The track was wet and there were still rain clouds in the sky, but there was no rain or wind and the temperature was just right for running. In fact I'd say they were perfect running conditions! I felt good as I reached the 3k mark. I knew I was running a little too fast (especially the first 2k), but at least I stuck to my plan and slowed down on the ascents. Now that I'd "banked" some time on the first couple of kms, I could now pursue that strategy with a little more confidence. One thing I didn't want to do was drop below the 5 min/km mark.

Lap 2
The second lap was interesting. It started well enough with a 4.35 min/km and 4.46 min/km respectively, but with the constant gradual ascent mid-way through my HR was sky rocketing. I then hit another incline and I just needed to stop for a couple of seconds to get my breath back. Movescount suggested I stopped for 10 seconds before then continuing. I completed my 7th lap (just over the 2nd lap) with a rather disappointing 4.53 min/km. I was also noticing that for the first 5k the km markers were in line with my watch. However as we got beyond that I started to notice the markers were a little long. Some will say it's the GPS on the watch that is a little out. I'm not too sure about that. My watch is pretty accurate, as demonstrated in other races. I suspect it could be the racing line the runners were taking. It didn't really impact me, but I did figure that this race could be a little long.

Lap 3
I'd chunked the race up into 3rds, and this helped me loads. I was on my final lap and I knew how to control the pace. In fact my pace was pretty good and with the exception of the high heart rate, my legs felt strong. This was also the lap I started to over take some of the back markers. I've never done that before and it was a nice feeling. Advantages of running 3 laps on a track.

10k Splits
I did the 8th km in a time of 4.36 min/km which I was chuffed with, especially given the disappointment of the 7th km. I also looked at my time and at the 8km marker I was running at 37 minutes. I calculated in my head that even if I covered the last 2 kms in 10 minutes then I'd hit the 47.xx minute mark for the race. But I wasn't thinking like that. I now wanted to hit the 46.xx mark. However the 8km point also marked the start of a long ascent. I controlled the pace and although I was puffing a little I still managed to overtake yet more back markers. In fact I was using them like targets to pick off. I completed the 9th km in 4.46 min/km and a running time of 41.47 minutes. 

I crossed the 9km marker and went round the final bend only to be confronted by the steepest section on the course. I was starting to feel a little sick at this point. I ran up it but needed to stop twice to catch my breath. Very frustrating but I calculated I could lose a couple of seconds here but make up for them on the final stretch.

Finishing Stretch
10k Split
At the 9.75 mark I left the track and entered the pit lane. There was no way the finish was only 250m away. It was a gradual descent to the finish line. I felt like throwing my guts up but started to increase the pace to make up for the time I'd lost by stopping. I heard my watch beep to tell me I'd hit the 10km mark but the finish line was still in sight. I was focusing all my energy on not throwing up. There was nobody in front of me to use as a target so I kept pushing. I crossed the line, stopped the watch, collapsed to the floor and chucked up!!!! Thankfully the only food inside me was the 2 9Bars I'd eaten. Thankfully not much came up; more baulking than anything else. A marshal came up to me and offered a cup of water, but I couldn't drink anything for fear of bringing it back up. I collected my medal and a bottle of water but couldn't face any more of the 9Bars on offer. Once I cleared the finish line I looked at my watch and I'd recorded a time of 46.55 minutes. I'd also ran 10.80 km.

Once I composed myself I needed to see the official time. I headed over to a monitor, typed in my number, and was delighted to see 46:54.7. I was so happy! I'd completed the race in 46.54 with the final km (despite the two stops) in a time of 4.46 min/km. I looked through the splits on my watch and saw I crossed the 10km mark in 46.33 minutes. Although that time will not be recognised as the official 10k time, it does give me a huge confidence booster going forward.

I headed back to the car to change and couldn't help but smile. It was then a case of hitting Facebook and letting the world and his dog know. It may not be a quick time for many, but for me it was quick...and probably the best I've ever ran.

Where do I start? Prior to the race I had fears the course would be boring and, should I experience any degree of bad whether, the chances of a PB wiped out. The reason for traveling the 54 miles to the event was solely to get a PB. What a pleasant surprise I had when I turned up:

  • Event organisation was top-notch; lots of friendly marshals who went out of their way to help you
  • The facilities were excellent! There were real toilets and although they were not the cleanest, they are much better than portable toilets. There was a cafe/restaurant and a lounge area where you could chill out pre- and post-race with a warm coffee
  • The race is also held on the same day as the Duathlon; which meant there were lots of competitors and supporters around. In fact there were over 1,200 competitors covering the two races. So a great turn out!
  • Lots of free 9Bars (both pre- and post-race)
  • Running on a track was a great experience. I suppose if it were Silverstone it might not have been as much fun as that track is longer; however having a short track ensured you could learn to manage the pace based on the ascent/descents. It also allowed the possibility of over taking back markers. This helped me immensely towards the end of the race when I could pick off back-markers and thus help to keep my pace. I also loved the nice smooth running surface!
  • The final stretch to the finish was great. It was slightly downhill which made it more enjoyable
  • The whether conditions were perfect for running!!! A little chill with overcast clouds and no wind whatsoever. It was great. I've heard nightmare stories of earlier races this year when the event was put on and it was so windy that getting a PB was near-on impossible. Not this time. It was perfect PB weather!

So from an event perspective my assessment is wholly positive! It is also an event I'd like to run again - a number of times! 

From a race perspective I can only be ecstatic about my performance. Yes I wish I hadn't stopped 3 times but even then I still managed to smash my 10k PB. The fact I also went sub-23 minutes for the first 5k (I've never run sub-23 mins for a 5k) made the end result even more special.

HR vs. Pace vs. Altitude
A number of people ask why I stop in races? I think the answer lies in my heart rate. As a result of the all the ultra running this year, my legs are strong and they don't get tired on 10k runs (irrespective of pace). However I'm what you may call a "high-beater" - that is my HR gets very high when I increase pace. The bulk of this run was done with an average HR of 178 bpm, peaking at 188 bpm towards the end. Running such distance with such a HR is difficult, and it is made harder when there is an incline (irrespective of how minor it may be). Every so often I need to take a moment out. I stop for between 5 - 10 seconds and I find that is enough time to help me compose myself. On a 10k race this will happen 2 - 3 times during the latter stages. I figure the time I lose here I make back up again as I can continue at the same pace.

Race Stats
Talking of pace - this was the first race where I have really controlled the pace from the outset. I had a clear plan on what I wanted to do and how to approach it, and I pretty much delivered on that. I aimed for sub-48 and I got a sub-47 with an average pace of 4.39 min/km. I have to be happy with that.

Could I have run the race better? Probably...but not on that day. I did the best I could at that time on that course in those weather conditions. If I'd spent more time training then I could probably have gone quicker. However that's a case of what-ifs-and-buts.

So I end my racing season of 2014 with 2 storming 10k PBs - and that makes me one happy northern boy!

Next Challenge
With Nicholls Jnr No. 2 arriving next month I've promised my wife that will be it as far as races go for a while. When I talk of "a while" I cannot put a definitive timescale on it. No racing for the first 3 months of 2015 is a certainty with the following 3 months also likely. Even then (from summer 2015) it would only be short 10k races as opposed to half marathons and above. As for my beloved ultra-marathons. Well I don't envisage tackling another one anytime soon. Not because I don't want to, but more because I won't be allowed to! It's one thing entering an event and spending a day out to run it; it's something else completely to train for several months to prepare the body for the onslaught an ultra puts it through. Realistically I'm probably looking at 2017 before tackling my next ultra.

So what lies next? 

Over the next 3 - 4 weeks in the lead up to Christmas and the birth of Nicholls Jnr (due date 22 December) I will be focusing on the following:
  • Getting my 5km Parkrun time down. Official PB currently stands at 23.20; however I smashed that on this race with a 22.43. That doesn't stand officially as it was part of a 10k race; therefore my goal is to get my Parkrun time down to sub-23 mins
  • Focus on seeing if I can maintain the 10k times on some training runs - more especially around the Thatcham Loop or on Greenham Common
  • See how fast I can cover a half marathon distance. My half marathon PB is 1hr 57 mins which I got at Henley in October 2013. I haven't run a half marathon race since. I suspect I can easily beat that, so will give it a try on a number of training runs. I ran a very hilly 17.2km route last night in 1hr 27 mins, so I am definitely on target
Even when the baby is born I will still continue to run. I don't want to lose my base fitness. However I'm not sure how much time I will have to run. Very little I suspect. It may be a case of throwing in a short run during lunchtimes / as and when I can. One thing I cannot do is not run and put weight back on. That would be plain wrong...

Thursday, 20 November 2014

Race Report: Swindon 10k

Well, well, well....my first 10k of 2014. A complete contrast to last year when I ran so many; this year has all been about long distances. Nonetheless with my distance running on hold for a while due to the impending birth of our second child, I've decided to focus the last couple of months of the year on getting both my 5k and 10k PB times down.

Prior to the race my official 10k PB was 53.30 which I got at the Wargrave 10k back in June 2013. I've ran 10k races since but mainly hovered around the 55.xx mark. My last official 10k was the ADP Highclere event in September 2013 when I got a very disappointing 57.56. With only November to really get my PB down, I entered my first race - the Swindon 10k.

Some Training - But Not A Lot Really!
Having ran quite a few 10k races last year I knew what it would take physically to go sub-50. I attended 3 parkruns to improve my 5k pace. I wasn't aiming for a parkrun PB; but more just to get the body used to running with pace again. During those weeks I also did some speedy training sessions along with some hill training. 

It was then time to throw in some 10k training runs with pace. The first of these was a 10.7km extended Thatcham Loop which I completed in 54.14 and with a 10k split of 50.28. This gave me some confidence to go forward. The following week I ran the same route (a mixture of hills and flat) but aimed for 10k exact. I controlled the pace well and completed it in 48:06. I was very happy with that, especially given some of the hills. It was a huge confidence booster...

Target Time
My main target was to go sub-50 mins; if I could get close to the 48 minute mark then I'd be really happy. 

The Newbury Runners Massive!!
What a busy bunch of runners we Newbury Runners were on this Magic Sunday!

A small contingent headed over to Gosport for the Half Marathon and, in some tough conditions, performed amazingly. Swindon nonetheless was the main event as far as numbers go. An impressive 22 Newbury Runners attended Swindon, and that made the event very special. A number of us travelled by mini bus. Mark Hayes managed to get the school bus and, at some crazy early time, picked everyone up from various locations. I was the last to be picked up and within matter of minutes there were cries for coffee (yes Sue Bennett, we know who you are - lol). So we got as far as Chieveley Service Station before we made our first stop (a stupendously long distance of 3 miles away from where I was picked up). Still it was all good fun and, with coffee in hand, we headed off for the big adventure!

With Jason navigating and Mark driving we somehow managed to arrive at the event without any hiccups. When I say without any hiccups - we arrived at 9:15am and the race didn't start until 11:00am! That allowed plenty of time for us all to bond (take the piss) even more as we huddled in the bus to keep warm.

The first thing we did was go to get our race numbers and timing chips. It was a foggy and reasonably chilly morning. Race numbers got we headed back to the bus to keep warm and have our "Newbury Runners on Tour" pictures taken. 

Picture 1 - some of the gang (I'm on the far left - 322)
Having sat in the bus for a [long] while it was time to get out and start to warm up. To be honest I was enjoying being in the bus but I nonetheless hauled my backside out and started to warm. I jogged around the car park 3 times (once with Brian) and I have to say it was a little cold. My wrists tend to hurt when it's cold and I was wishing I'd brought gloves with me.

Picture 2 - The whole gang!
Lately I've been suffering from a little pain in both shins. Not too sure what it is but I've seriously reduced the amount of mileage I've been running during the weeks leading up to this event as a precaution. The warm-up jogs seemed okay but I could feel something - hopefully once I got running proper and the legs warmed up then I'd be okay.

So with everyone stripping off their warm clothes it was time to make a slow move towards the start. It was still misty but at least there wasn't a strong wind. If there is one thing I hate running in, and that is wind.

Jason (left) and Brian before the race

As we got to the start there was some confusion as to which way we should be running. Whilst others started to discuss this, we Newbury Runners decided to pose for yet more pre-race photos. If there is one thing we like to do, it is pose for photos!

Eventually the race organiser spoke through a megaphone and informed us that where we were standing was not the start (about 100m out) and that when we do start we needed to run around a 400m loop twice before then heading off onto the rest of the course. Ooooh - this was going to be fun: 600 people on a 400m tight loop. I needed to make sure I wasn't trapped at the start.

We shuffled to the start and I chatted to Nicki and a few others. She was aiming for a 50 min PB and I had a feeling she'd get it. 

The Race
Pre-Race Photo
With the start line approaching the speed people where walking started to increase and before you knew it we were over the timing matt and the race had begun!

As predicted I was starting to get blocked and feared that unless I got to race pace quickly then I'd start to fall behind and struggle to make the time up later in the race (mistake!). I darted in and out of people and at one point even ran on the grass verge to avoid people. Before I knew it I'd completed the initial loops and headed out onto the main section of the course. In essence the rest of the course consisted of approximately 4km loop which you have to run around twice before then running back to the finish (to make up the 10k). 

Mark - Newbury Runners Winner - 41 mins
Me at the start
As I headed out on the main section of the course my watch beeped and I'd cleared the first km in 4.35 min/km. That was fast - in fact that was my 5km race pace on a good day. Yes I felt good but my aim was to stay around the 4.45 mark for the first 5km. The next section of the course had a gentle descent, flat, ascent and before I knew it I'd completed the second km with a 4:37 min/km pace. Hmmm - this was still a little too fast, but I felt good.

At the 2.3km mark the route then gradually started to go up hill. It wasn't a steep ascent but it was long. In fact that up hill section continued for approximately 2km. I don't run so well up hills - it messes up my pace and breathing. I just knew I had to be careful about this section on the next lap. I looked at my watch on the 3rd km and I'd done it in 4.39 min/km. I really needed to slow the pace down slightly. The 4th km clocked a 4:43 min/km - this was more like it. I needed to stay around that pace for a while.

There was a water station around the 5km mark but I elected not to stop. The course had gone a little flat at this stage and as I passed the 5km mark some family members from the Newbury Runners told me I was the 2nd Newbury Runner at this stage. That felt good - I'd completed the 5th km with a 4.52 min/km and 23:14 for the first 5km. I knew I was running a little too fast and so figured if I kept at the pace of the 5th km for the remainder of the race then I'd easily come under the 50 minute mark.
Me around the 5.5km mark
Jason - will get you next time mate!

It wasn't long however before a couple of Newbury Runners over took me leading up the 6th km. I again completed that 6th km in 4:52 min/km. At 6.2km we then turned left and headed up the 2km gradual climb. I should have slowed down but instead I somehow increased the pace slightly and completed the 7th km with a 4.48 min/km. However I had to stop to catch my breath for a couple of seconds. That's when I heard someone yelling behind me it. It was Jason!!! He was yelling at me not to stop. He passed me and I immediately carried on running but at a much slower pace. That's when Nick also passed me. I could have pushed on quicker but decided not to. I ran a little longer and took another tiny break to catch my breath. I completed the 8th km in a time of 5:07 min/km. Not good - I'd dropped below the 5 min mark for a km for the first time.
Me - coming towards the finish

The 9th was slower - I again passed the water station and was now suffering slightly because I'd gone out a little too quick when I knew there would be some hills. Had there not been hills I would have easily maintained the pace; but the gradual incline for 2km did affect me. After yet another little stop to catch my breath I completed the 9th km in 5:19 min/km. The final push was now to the finish line - and even that required yet more up hill running. Remember these hills are not really hills - they are gradual ascents. However they were never ending and after a while it does get to the legs. I got through the finish line and completed the final km in 5:05 min/km for a total finish time of 48:08 and a new 10k PB by over 5 minutes!

On the whole I have to be happy with the time I achieved. I set out to go sub-50 and would have been even happier with a 48.xx time; and that's exactly what I did. However there is part of me which thinks I could have gone quicker!

The main problem I had was the constant gradual incline and the pace I ran the first 5km in. Had the course been flat then there's a very good chance that I'd be able to continue at that pace; however the constant incline (although not steep) sapped some of my energy and my pace began to drop slightly in the final 2km. That is the complete opposite of what happened on the training run when I maintained a pretty constant pace (despite steeper hills) and got pretty much the same time. In the back of my head I know that if I were to run on a flat course then I should be able to go sub-48 mins.

Next Challenge
No sooner had I finished this race than I signed up for another. I'm now scheduled to run my final race of the year, and probably the last race for at least another 6 months whilst Nicholls Junior No. 2 gets to grips with the world. Next Sunday I am running the "Chilly 10k" at the Castle Combe Race Circuit. It's a flat 3.5 lap route of the track. It will be boring, but as long as there is no wind then I am hopeful of going sub-48 mins.

Wish me luck....!

p.s. Many thanks to Edwina Gudgeon for the photos above - they are great!