Running is an amazing pastime, perhaps unique in that one weekend you can be racing in one of sport’s most famous and iconic events – the London Marathon – and the very next weekend you can find yourself competing in the Langtoft 10K – a race that last year had 207 finishers and this year around 27 spectators (Some of those being marshals). When I pulled up with my travel companion Scott, we both were singing what the hell / f**k am I doing here (I was singing the Radio Edit). This is in no way disrespectful to Langtoft, a fine example of a fens village, it’s just that the weather was pretty terrible. Very wet and decidedly windy. The wet we could just about cope with. A windy race is not usually a fun race, especially when it’s taking place on the Fens – a part of the world where the wind speeds feel doubly strong thanks to the flat (some may say featureless) terrain.
What made it even worse was that just a few days ago I’d barely even heard of the race, let alone intended to run it. I heard Scott was planning to run on Wednesday, then on Thursday another club member offered up his race number as he was unable to take part. I let him know I was tempted but wanted to see how our club run went in respect to how the legs were after Sunday’s London Marathon. The 12 miles were fairly tortuous, with the upper glute area (In the right leg especially) which had cramped first in the marathon, aching enough for me to beg Scott for a lift home from the club rather than jog the mile or so back. During the course of the run and the lift home, I went from yes, I am running it, to no, back to yes, then no, then I left it at maybe.
Friday morning and I struggled out of bed with stiffness but managed the elliptical trainer for ninety minutes. I saw no effects from that and although the right quad ached a fair bit I committed myself to racing on the Sunday afternoon. I took Saturday off entirely to let the leg rest up some more. Come Saturday night and a fair amount of massaging and stretching, the leg felt at around 80%. Sunday morning however saw the right leg feel fine, but the left hamstring near the groin aching, in a manner not dissimilar to how the right leg felt before the Notts AC Five Mile Race.
Coincidentally it was at that race in July last year where I last wore my Nike Lunar Racer 2 trainers (Save for an aborted warm up at the Lincs 5k the following week and at the club handicap race a few weeks after that). They were undoubtedly fast but they wreaked havoc to my Achilles, leaving them with literally bloody blisters. They had been consigned to the great trainer rack in the sky but for some reason or another I decided to give them another chance – albeit with a modification performed by my talented wife, who made several incisions to the Achilles tab with the intention of reducing the pressure it applied.
We arrived at Langtoft an hour before the off. We stumbled upon fellow club runner Stuart and proceeded to collect our numbers from a gazebo which was leaking water at an alarming rate, not only for the well being of the inhabitants but because it was also meant to be doubling up as the baggage area. We opted to use the boots of our cars…
Around half an hour before the off at 11:15 we set off for a warm up / late fitness test. The left groin / hamstring was stiff and quite sore, but was manageable and didn’t hinder my gait. Happily too my right quad was pain free and the trainers felt great. So the race was on, but I didn’t think that I was quite up for giving it a full out attack. I’d mentioned on Thursday I would be happy to pace some of our runners. We met another club runner Anna on our warm up. She is a relative novice to the sport but has bags of potential to her already considerable ability, as she demonstrated when she seemingly waltzed around to a 3:13 clocking at her debut marathon at Manchester two weeks ago. She had no idea what she could run, but I think she could run around 39 minutes currently. Stuart fancied a sub 38 stab, his best around a minute slower than this.
I was in my usual last minute queue for the Portaloo, making it to the start with a fairly safe three minutes to spare. I hooked up with Anna and Stuart and made a final decision to aim for a 38 minute target, but planned a 6:30 clocking for the opening mile. As the klaxon was fired for the start of the race however this time seemed a little slow for however hard I / we tried, we couldn’t run any slower that 6:05 pace. There’s always a little exuberance at the start, but it seemed that the planned 6:30 mile was going to be thrown out of the window.
Also thrown out of the equation was the much feared bad weather. The rain had stopped shortly before the start, and with the cessation of precipitation also seemingly came a ceasefire in the strong winds. We were faced with a cross wind for the opening kilometre or so and it barely registered, much to the relief surely of every runner.
We went through the first mile in 6:10. Anna was just behind what we thought was the lead lady and fellow club member Will was way up the road seemingly in the first half dozen runners. Anna made it to around 10k but declared the pace a little too hot. We wished her well, she struggled with what is hopefully just cramp in her calf but ran a great debut road 10k in 40:24 to take third position in the women’s race. Stuart looked set to try and stick with the pace, we went through two miles in 6:07 and I tried my best to keep the pace consistent, which was happily relatively easy thanks to the flat terrain and relative non-presence of the wind.
The first inclination of Stuart struggling a touch was at the first water station where he needed to pour a fair amount of water to cool himself down. We went through the third mile in 6:11 and past halfway in around 19:10. 38 minutes was just about on if we could negative split the second 5k. This however was beginning to look doubtful as we hit the only significant climb of note – barely more than a 1% drag, but it was into the wind and slowed us to around 6:55 pace for the first quarter of the fourth mile.
Happily there was a descent to follow that helped us make up some lost time but, for the first time, Stuart was struggling to stick to my tail. We went through the fourth mile in 6:13 and began the opening tenth of the fifth mile in around 6:20 pace, me having to slow a touch to keep Stuart on board my train. I then made a decision ,as we made a turn that saw us head back to the start and enjoy a breeze on our backs for the return, to pick up the pace to what I thought we would need to break 38 minutes. I did this for a couple of minutes, looked around and saw that Stuart had no response.
I then looked ahead and saw Will, who had at one point been well over a minute ahead of us but now was just about within eyeshot and seemingly fading. This, I thought, was hardly surprising as he had run 17:02 at Peterborough parkrun the day before and had completed two speed sessions during the week. Tough going for a seasoned pro, let alone a raw 19 year old.
Feeling like I had a bit of running left in the legs. I began to pick up the pace. I passed a couple of runners as I went through the fifth mile in 5:56 and recognised the road to be the one we began the race on. Knowing we were in the final stages of the race with a fast flat run to the finish, I poured on the coals, running with an abandon I rarely allow myself. I caught and passed the lead lady, who totally unseen by us at the start, had opened a sizeable gap on her rivals. Will was now just 30 meters or so up the road and I doubled my efforts to catch him which I did just as we passed the 9km marker.
The sight of another GRC vest certainly spurred Will on, for he instantly matched my pace and, for a while, increased it. On another day I would have buckled and let him go ahead, but today I was having none of it, and just as I felt he was beginning to slow, I pushed again. The sixth mile was covered just as we turned left into the final twisty section at the finish HQ at Langtoft Primary School. It was a 5:22, one of the fastest miles I’ve ever clocked in a race.
I now had a sizeable gap on Will, which was just as well for I misheard a marshal’s cry of Well Done Grantham! for Hold On Grantham! at a left hand turn just before the finish. Luckily no damage was done for I soon realised the error of my ways and took the correct route to the finish line, clocking a pleasing, given the circumstances, 37:23, and finishing in a respectable thirteenth position. Happily too the modified trainers had been a resounding success, the Achilles unstressed by the modifications and the trainers still structurally sound despite being having several incisions.
Will came home not long after, as did Stuart, who had slipped a touch to finish in 38:54, but this was good enough to claim a new 10k PB. Anna came home not long after and then Scott, who was not that happy with his time, but the year is still young and there is plenty of time to come back into form.
There was no thought of a warm down, the left groin really tight as soon as the race had finished. We hung around to see Anna claim her third place prize, she was in esteemed company as Aaron Scott, who finished third in the Championship race at the London Marathon (with a 2:20 clocking), collected his winner’s prize having just missed out on the course record.
In terms of size, prestige and importance, it was a million miles away from the London Marathon. But, as I mentioned at the top of the report, this is what makes running such a great and unique sport. From ultra professional to grass roots in the blinking of an eye, but with a similar spread of quality and enthusiasm at both events. A very good little event is the Langtoft 10k.