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...


  1. Well done on your PB, a nice end to your year

    Why do you stop, it doesn't make sense? Of course your Heart rate goes up when you increase your pace, is human physiology....extra effort = increased exertion.
    I don't understand what you mean by high beater, I know a lot of people who race at 190+ sounds like your threshold endurance needs working on.

    1. Thanks for the comment. I stop to catch my breath because if not my pace would drop. Taking a few moments out then allows me to continue. But yes you are probably right about the threshold endurance and needing to improve it. Spent most of the year running long distance so threshold endurance wasn't really a factor. This was only my 2nd 10k of the year so more training is definitely required.