Following on from the PB at the Lincoln 5K I went into the Woodhall Spa 10K with a sense of optimism that I could attack my 10K PB at a race that is renowned for being capable of some very quick times. The knee pain that plagued me for much of May soon disappeared – I used the Voltarol gel for a couple more runs before it was apparent that it was no longer required.
I was still training very much with running at a minimum. I waited three days before running then again two days later when I went on a 10 mile run to test the new Garmin Forerunner 935 I had treated myself to. The 910XT has served me very well but it is just starting to get a bit long in the tooth – battery life is not what it was and the repeated frustration of a very long reading at the 5K persuaded me to upgrade for a watch that will hopefully see me through another five years of running, cycling, elliptical training and, maybe, just maybe, some swimming. The watch was great, the next day I test an add on called Peter’s Race Pacer which could be a godsend in longer races especially – more of that later.
What the watch couldn’t stop was some very sore Achilles thanks to some very tight calf muscles. Wednesday’s very wet run was made doubly miserable by the right Achilles aching constantly, as it did after Thursday evening’s post chain gang ride brick mile. I ran 10 mostly off road miles on the Friday, the right Achilles had a dull ache but seemed to be improved with some stretching of the calf muscle, which I was sure was the source of the problem.
Come Sunday morning and the right Achilles was still aching but I was willing to risk it for a stab at a quick time. Before leaving the house I optimistically set Peter’s Race Pacer for a sub-34 minute 10K, which would better my PB of 34:09 by 10 seconds if I managed to pull it off. When I stepped out of the house to get into the car I soon realised that the weather would be perhaps the major limiting factor in any such PB attempt. It was only 8am but already it was 18C+ and humidity was high, already feeling uncomfortably clammy just sitting in the car, let alone running.
I arrived at Woodhall Spa shortly after 9am. With the race not starting until 11:15am it gave plenty of time to prepare and also plenty of opportunity for conditions to heat up! The car was parked around a mile from the HQ so I changed into my kit at the car (It was already plenty warm enough to be comfortable in just a vest) and walked over to the start area. Once there there were some familiar faces from Grantham Running Club, so many in fact that by 10:15 or so we had enough to create a rather impressive group photo!
With the photo done I ran a near 2 mile warm up, of two loops, the second mile progressively getting quicker. The right Achilles ached a bit but gave no undue cause for concern. The heat and humidity however was troubling, the sunshine, which had not been forecast, was rocketing temperatures well into the mid twenties Celsius which, coupled with high humidity, made running very unpleasant. With little that could be done about it though I set about stretching the calves as much as possible, seeking shade and timing the final toilet stop to perfection.
I made my way to the start with around five minutes to spare. I lined myself up near the front. Any thoughts of a victory were dispelled an hour or so earlier with the appearance of former winner Matt Bowser, who is one of the best runners in the region and has a sub-30 minute 10K on his palmares. I was not that fussed though about a good placing – ideally I wanted a good group of similarly paced runners who would hopefully see me through to a quick time.
The race started on time at 11:15am. As predicted Matt B and one other runner (William Strangeway) were soon disappearing far into the distance. There were around five or six other runners in front of me, the only one I recognised was RAF / Sleaford’s Iain Bailey, who I had raced against several times and had never beaten him. As he pulled 10 or seconds clear over the first mile or so this looked like it would be a repeat performance.
As mentioned earlier, I was using Peter’s Race Pacer (PRP) for the first time. The idea of this app is that you punch in a certain time for a race, e.g. 34 minutes for a 10K and it will tell you whether you are up or down on that target. That element is basically the same as Garmin’s Virtual Partner. What makes PRP pretty cool is that 1. It has all the key data fields required during a race on one page, namely elapsed time, HR, average pace for the run, instant pace, and distance run. 2. It will dynamically update what your finishing time will be. 3. the instant pace is an average of 10 seconds which takes out the discrepancies you can sometime get with instant pace – especially when a foo pod is not being worn (I was wearing one but it, wasn’t working!). 3. The potential killer feature is the ability for the predicted finish time to be adjusted by hitting the lap button when passing course mile / km markers. With half marathons and marathons especially, after a few miles a watch can often be 0.1 of a mile or more out, at the London Marathon I have been as much as 0.5 mile out once GPS has been lost / confused by underpasses and Canary Wharf buildings. Whereas I’ve relied on a little mental maths to try and approximate a finish time, PRP will adjust the distance and predicted finish time accordingly when you hit the lap button when passing a mile marker.
The only issue with testing it at a 10KM race was that the markers were in kilometres which meant I had to use KM splits, which I’m not really familiar with. The watch still showed current pace and average pace in minutes/mile, but I did miss the affirmation of a mile split. I passed the first KM in 3:18 which I carried through to run the first mile in 5:33. For the opening minute or two I was running significantly quicker – sub 34 pace, but I soon settled into a pace which looked like it would bring me in at around about 34:15 pace.
The second mile was 5:34 and for a while things were looking good. I had closed on and passed a group of three runners, those in the picture above in fact, and was closing down on Iain Bailey, who I passed at around 2.5 miles, and put a few second’s gap on him.
However, not long after passing Iain, the wheels began to slowly, but inexorably, fall off. The sun was well and truly out and it was rapidly becoming very unpleasant to run in. Then there were the rather ominous twinges of tightness and discomfort running from the base of the right Achilles and ankle further up and into the calf muscle. It was not bad enough for it to particularly slow me but it was not confidence inspiring and there was the fear that, at any moment, things could go bang! and it would be game over, not just for the race but for the foreseeable future.
The third mile was a touch slower again at 5:37, going through 5K in 17:20, which was nowhere near where I wanted to be at halfway. With thoughts of a PB well and truly out of the window it was just a case of hanging on and trying to find ways to keep the concentration high and run as fast a time as possible. There was the lure of trying to get a good age grade as this was a club GP Series race where Age Grade is all important. I had a feeling I could be on for a reasonable finishing position with the possibility of being first V40. There was also the lure of claiming the scalp of Iain Bailey, which ultimately would be the driving motivator as the finish line came closer.
Mile 4 was a horrible 5:48, but I was suffering, so clearly was everybody else as those behind me weren’t passing me and those ahead were not pulling too far ahead. The course itself is not entirely flat, no real hills to speak of, but little undulations that seemed to sap the life out of you when they climbed gently upwards, yet offered little benefit when dropping down. It was too a fairly boring course, with little in the way of crowd support or stunning scenery.
By mile 5 I was really questioning why I was putting all this effort in to do something as pointless as running 10K. This is not an uncommon thought during a 10K, it’s a tough distance run very close to maximal effort for its entirety. But with the conditions on this day proving particularly harsh, the wisdom of such efforts were hard to justify. The rot was stopped with a 5:42 fifth mile, although I was getting KM splits during the race that meant little.
What I was relying on was the finish time predictor which was settling at around 34:42. With just over a mile to run I was determined to keep inside 35 minutes, which would be a satisfying return given the conditions. That last mile lasted an eternity. I could tell that Iain Bailey was closing on me, as we returned to the race HQ there were more spectators, many of them appearing to be Bailey fans willing him on to catch and pass me.
I think as we passed the 200 meters to go sign he was within a second or so of me. Determined to not let him pass I put in a sprint finish that I’ve rarely mustered and came home to eventually beat him by a relatively comfortable seven seconds. As I sunk to my knees, I looked at my watch – 34:45 was the time, not quite what I’d hoped for, but it transpired that, with 82.99% age grade, it was, statistically, my best ever race – although it most certainly did not feel like it.
With the flow of adrenaline leaving my body, the pain in the right Achilles appeared to increase. I hobbled over to a tree for shelter, removed my trainers, and spent a good ten minutes watching GRC runners come home. It took some time for me to find out I finished 5th, which I worked out guaranteed me an Age Group prize. I hung around for an eternity for the presentation only for the MC to announce that Age Category prizes would be sent out in the post! Suffice to say, the envelope sent through my door with £20 in it was not as satisfying as actually being able to receive some applause on the day itself.
I hobbled back to the car and drove home. Walking the next day was not easy but I was able to cross train, and after a couple of weeks I was able to start running again, albeit still with Achilles issues that I need to get to the bottom of the root cause. Tight calves is the likely issue. Until then running is taking a bit of a back burner to cycling, hopefully I will be fit in time for my holidays!