The 2017 Keyworth Turkey Trot was meant to be a thrilling conclusion to the inaugural Grantham Running Club Grand Prix Championships. I had worked out that I needed 1:17:20 to secure an age grade sufficient to overhaul Series leader Rob Howbrook, assuming he wasn’t able to improve his age grade himself. After running a minute quicker than that at the Worksop Half Marathon, I was quietly confident, but after a month of injury post Rockingham Duathlon I was barely able to bring myself to attend the event let alone consider winning.
It therefore came of something of a relief when dire weather forecasts on the day before the December 10th race day forced the organisers to postpone the event. With no prospect of the race able to be rescheduled before the end of the year, it was Rob who took the club title and also the club champion title as a consequence. Although I could claim I had been denied the opportunity to win, the reality was that the hip and a recent bout of illness meant that I would have needed a miracle to win.
When it was announced just before Christmas that the Turkey Trot had been rescheduled to February 11th, I had mixed feelings. It did give me something to aim to get fit for, but on the other hand I’d not considered racing so early in the year. Once my physio’s exercises and all the other exercises I grabbed together and put into practice eased my hip woes, I planned on taking part in the Trot, albeit going in to it with the intention of it being a hard training run rather than a race to peak for. This was a different attitude to what I took for the 2017 Folksworth 15 in late January, which I used as a race to train for before beginning my marathon training.
As it was a training race I didn’t taper for it, the winding down of running coincided with a planned step back week after three weeks of increased running mileage. I worked hard on the bike in the days leading up to the race. I increasingly found myself bothered with a chest infection which, on the evening before the race, driving back from Yorkshire after visiting relatives, was threatening to explode into the full blown fever half the family was already suffering. I fully expected to wake on Sunday morning unable to move or breathe – as it was I was able move and breathe, albeit feeling just a little stiff and breathing through a slightly blocked nose and chest that did like to cough quite frequently.
I made it to Keyworth nice and early with over 90 minutes before the start of the race. With a bitter cold wind I minimised the time spent outside, just 1.5 miles for warm up before a quick trip to the toilets (not much of a queue with numbers down on usual thanks to some key fixture clashes) and more waiting inside, posing for photos and generally trying to keep composed.
I made my way to the start line with just five minutes or so to spend shivering away, despite being attired more appropriately for a cross country skier in PyeongChang than Keyworth in South Nottinghamshire. Not wanting to commit wholly to racing, I lined up a few rows back from the start, which I immediately regretted when the firing horn was sounded, as I was stuck behind some fairly slow runners for a few seconds. Up to speed I was alarmed to find myself running faster than anyone else in the field and heading towards the lead, so I eased up a touch on the downhill dash to the first uphill kick of the race.
On the kick up a small group of three or so just eased away and I found myself in the second group of four or five runners. Once at the top of the short climb we turned right and into the stiff, cold, headwind. I had two choices, either push on and commit to racing with the lead pack, or ease up and be a part of group two. I went with the latter and eased off, tucking in behind two taller runners and trying to get shelter. Whether this actually helped in the long run I’m not sure. I found myself constantly having to check my stride, possibly expounding more energy than had I just sucked up the wind and ran to my own pace.
Mile one was 5:42, as was mile two as the mostly favourable gently downhill road was tempered by the wind. I kept to the plan of tucking in as much as possible, feeling fairly comfortable, but feeling more as if I was racing than training hard. Approaching the amusingly named village of Bunny we turned sharp left and suddenly the headwind was more a cross tail wind. I took this as my call to push to the front of the group and just push the pace on a touch, knowing that this section has the first of two periods of climbing. As I went through mile three in 5:58, the road went upwards and the group fell apart. I found myself third up the first hill, with perhaps three behind me. I then caught the two ahead midway up the second climb before losing them again as the road continued upwards. 6:04 was mile 4, the Strava GAP of 5:24 feels about right as it was the hardest mile of the race.
Miles 5 and 6 I tried to relax and push on the with the plan of it being a training run. This kind of went out of the window when I caught the two runners ahead of me and was still within shouting distance of the lead group of (I think) four runners. 5:39 for mile 5 was heavily wind assisted, mile 6 was slower at 5:56, but featured another climb where I dropped one of the runners I was with but was dropped by the runner who I thought was suffering, but instead pushed on once at the top of the climb and was able to slowly but surely pull clear of me by some margin.
Miles 7 and 8 took us up to and through Willoughby on the Wolds. I didn’t feel great here and ran 5:52 and 5:57, although they were both predominantly uphill. Mile 9 is nearly all gradually downhill and normally where you can push on for a quick mile, but this year the crosswind made the going tough. At one point I was nearly blown off the road! I forced out a 5:55, but was caught by a V50 runner who was looking remarkably fresh. We chatted for much of the tenth mile, commenting on how we felt the mile markers were somewhat inaccurate. This 5:54 mile felt fairly comfortable as the wind was nearly on our backs.
This wasn’t to last as we turned sharp left to head towards Keyworth. This mile and half section is at the best of times tough with one long drag uphill, then a downhill swoosh that punishes tired quads before another steep climb before a welcome plateau. This year a block headwind made it almost unbearable. Despite this I managed to ease clear of my recently acquired running partner. It was clear I was stronger than him on the hills and he was a little quicker on the flat and downhill sections. No matter how hard it felt I needed to push on and maximise my gains on the uphill sections.
The first climb saw us battling wind and gradient, inching slowly towards welcome shelter in the form of a tall hedge roadside which, once I reached it, instantly gave me at least a one mph speed boost. I went down the hill as relaxed as possible, sensing just a little discomfort in the left hip, before pushing on again for the second hill. Mile 11 was the race’s slowest at 6:16; mile 12 as I thankfully hit the plateau was still slow at 6:13 – the wind still very much a factor, although there was now some protection from the houses as we returned into Keyworth itself.
This flat section seemed to drag on forever, far longer than it has in previous years. Finally I dropped downhill and knew the race was nearly done. There is however one last sting in the tail in the form of two final climbs in the final half mile. I felt like I was running on empty, yet Strava suggested I was second only to the winner (and only a couple of seconds slower than him) in this tough last part of the race.
The final hill done it is mercifully a short downhill dash to the finish back at the school. I clocked 1:18:06, my slowest of three Keyworth Turkey Trots but, given the wind, probably not too far off in terms of performance from the other two. I finished sixth, my best yet (I was seventh in 2016), and again I claimed the winner’s prize in the V40 category, thanks in part to the race having prizes for the top 5, of whom at least two were V40 runners as well. News broke that the traditional turkeys handed out as prizes hadn’t survived Christmas and so it was we received hampers, or more accurately, a Co-Op shopping bag with some random weird and wonderful food and hair care products. The kids liked the soup….
To summarise, I was pleased with the performance given that my training was delayed two or three weeks by injury and I went into the race with something of a chest infection. I do wonder what I could have done had I committed to going with the front group in the opening stages, which I felt I had the capacity to do, but opted in the interests of the long term goal of not doing. I think I may have been able to have gone a minute or so quicker, but ultimately didn’t have enough on the day to go much quicker. If I had done that and the race was in December I may have grabbed the club’s GP prize, but that is all conjecture and speculation!