It was never going to be the easiest race to make in the first place – a 7:15pm start on Friday Practice Day for the Austrian GP – a day when normally I’ll often not be done and dusted until gone 8pm. Throw into the mix an early afternoon hospital appointment with my wife in Nottingham, a short affair in duration that threw up more questions than answers; more uncertainty and doubt when what we really want and need is clarity and assurance.
I would not have considered racing were it not my second claim club Grantham RC’s flagship race – the Summer Solstice 10k. From what I’d seen in the preparations for the event, the committee had pulled out all the stops to host a race punching well above its weight when you consider how youthful and relatively small Grantham RC is compared to more established clubs. If I could not help in the operations of the race, the least I could do was to turn up, race, and hopefully secure a relatively good race position.
With just a couple of hours to finish work that would normally take four, I somehow reached a state where I could leave to head to the race HQ at 6:30pm. Thankfully I’d thought to have all my kit laid out ready to change, which I managed in less than three minutes. I was soon in the car and heading to Long Bennington, approximately 12 minutes drive from Grantham. I was out of the car at 6:55pm and, after the merest attempt at a pre-race stretch, I embarked on an equally half-baked attempt at a warm up run. Normally I like to arrive around 90 minutes before the start of the race; today I had to condense all those preparations into 20.
I wormed my way to the start line with around three or four minutes to spare. My mind was buzzing with thoughts of anything but the race I was about to take part in. I felt distinctly detached from those around me, as though I really didn’t belong here. I didn’t bother to look around to see what the competition was – I heard the quickest entrant a few weeks back had estimated a 34 minute finishing time, so it was possible I could, on a good day, be somewhere near the front.
As we lined up on the start line, the minute warning given, I stood still – eyes staring into the still bright evening sun. My mind may have been foggy but the weather conditions around me could hardly have been better – blue skies and not a breath of wind. It may have been a touch on the warm side but I’ve for a long while, ever since I began running on the F1 Grand Prix circuit essentially, considered a hot race something of an advantage for me, once I’d established, perhaps wrongly, that coping with the heat whilst running is mostly a case of mind over matter. The shades would justifiably stay on for the entire race.
From a countdown of five the race was off exactly on time. It took around 20 meters of running to establish exactly who was going to win, and win at a canter – Ben ‘2:17 London Marathon’ Livesey, who ran 29:28 at the Leeds Abbey Dash 10k last November, was entered, racing, and going to win. He inexorably and effortlessly glided away from the rest of the field, from the look of the pictures of him racing barely breaking sweat as he coasted to a course record 31:58.
Meanwhile I found myself in a group of around ten runners which quite quickly whittled itself down to around six. I was sitting fifth overall when we remembered Ben was racing, I made a brief surge at around a mile to take second position, but at that moment my mind switched irrevocably from thinking about the race to mulling over matters deeper. The first mile was pretty swift – 5:26, it felt comfortable but not a pace I could sustain with my mind in another place. Fairly soon I found myself fifth and gradually losing ground on the third and fourth place runners, conversely easing away from the sixth placed runner. I was, metaphorically, physically, and mentally in No Man’s Land.
The Summer Solstice course is a rural square shaped countryside course, with hints of the fens that lie not far to the east. This makes it a somewhat lonely race, low on spectators, with mostly straight to gently meandering lanes to run along. The second mile came at the first turn – I clocked 5:44. The next road to run along was around a mile and a half long and I had little but the occasional passing car to break the loneliness. My mind at this point was in something of a turmoil, questioning the point or purpose of racing. This is in stark contrast to the runs of recent times, which have provided a lifeline in attempting to bring clarity the subject of such gravity.
Through the third mile in 5:45, I passed the 5k marker in approximately 17:40, not bad for a June 10k when hayfever can wreak havoc with my running. Not long after passing the halfway point there was another left hander and the only humour of the race when an enthusiastic, but possibly naive volunteer at the race’s only drink station, elected to hold the cup of water high above his head for me to grab. I declined his cup and went instead for a child’s, who held it at a far more comfortable waist height. One sip to wet the back of the throat and a little over the back of the head and that was it for race refreshment and straight into the only significant climb of the race, which in reality amounted to little more than a drag.
It was enough though for the third placed runner to slow significantly, both I and the fourth placed runner closed on him rapidly so that by the fourth mile (5:46) the two ahead were running together and I was around 20 seconds behind. The fifth mile I cannot recall running any slower but it was logged as 5:54 (Adjusted to 5:44 on Strava GAP, so presumably it was a slight incline over most of the mile). I’d had a few cheers of support from marshal’s who recognised the Grantham RC vest but not necessarily the runner. Into the final full mile of the race and I passed Scott, who was a marshal with his son. He willed me to push on to try and catch the two in front of me. I tried, and I did manage to close the gap somewhat, but they were seasoned, experienced runners who knew too how to extract that little extra something in the final throws of a race.
As we entered the final four hundred meters of the race I pushed fairly hard but not as hard as I could have in better circumstances – I was satisfied with what I’d done. I finished fifth, with my fourth fastest 10k time – 35:36. All things considered a good result, and maybe the last result of any significance for a while as efforts focus elsewhere to things that really matter.
Swiftly recovered, I picked up my memento pale ale and half pint glass (The glass will see use – the ale is up for grabs to anyone who likes beer….) I chatted for a while with fellow club mates who finished, but soon had to leave – there was work at home still to be done. It was a shame I couldn’t enjoy the race more, it pulled off the rare trick of being a slickly run, fully chip timed race with the atmosphere of a small summer village fete.
I hope very much to be able to race here again next year, with the mind all clear. With everybody who I hold dear – here.