Up until early December 2018 I was very much under the impression that I would be taking part in the 2019 London Marathon, courtesy of the championship place I earned with my 2017 qualifying time. I was going through the process of entering and making double checks when it dawned on me that the same weekend as London featured the F1 Azerbaijan Formula One Grand Prix, which meant I would be working and there would be no London Marathon for me in 2019. Alternatives were looking thin on the ground, thankfully Manchester on Sunday April 7th was a date free in the diary and so, at great cost, it was entered.
The downside to running Manchester, aside from not being able to run London, was that being three weeks earlier than London it meant that my usual Christmas and New Year wind down on running which stretched to late January was not going to be a thing in 2019 – which was a pity as I was crying out for a good rest after the Keyworth Turkey Trot! The week following the Trot I was running a marathon in training (2:56 – for no real reason other than I could) in the fen lands of Langrick and Coningsby, the day after finishing first at Boston parkrun. I did at least have a quiet week of running the week before Christmas, doing quite a bit on Zwift instead. Christmas Day I had off before running 17 miles on Boxing Day.
The post Christmas family visits cut the mileage – Minehead parkrun saw me pull off a surprising first place given I was outside the top five at halfway – it also saw a bout of the killer leg cramps which I’ve barely suffered all year, they did again the following day before a pleasant enough last run of the year in Stroud (After an abductor scare) which had me knocking out some sub 6 miles for fun. And so the first week of January, where I’d normally be running at most 11 miles in one go, had me running 20 miles (with a 17:35 parkrun in the middle) on the first Saturday, in addition to loads of Zwift in a 56 mile opening week.
The following weekend was the Oundle New Year 10K, which was to be my first race of the year and the opening race of the 2019 Grantham Running Club Grand Prix Series. I was the 2018 Champion and so wanted to defend my crown with a good start to the year. It was the first time the Oundle 10K had been hosted but a 20 mile race there the previous March had been well received and I was optimistic of a good event. What I wasn’t doing though was treating it a priority event – I’d run 10 miles the day before including Belton House parkrun at marathon pace. The legs felt okay, I did though have ongoing issues with my left big toe, which would be troublesome for much of the opening quarter of the year (And still continues to be a nuisance).
I think I was the first competitor to arrive in Oundle, although a few others soon followed. Mindful that I was in marathon training I planned to run a longer warm up than usual. As the race was a two lap affair I opted to run a lap of the course, which would give me a chance to see what was on offer. The positives was that it was the type of course I enjoy – mildly undulating with just a couple of short, relatively stiff ascents followed by long slightly downhill stretches. The immediately obvious spanner in the works was that for around a mile we were to have a full on, near gale force headwind on a totally exposed country road, which was also slightly uphill. The real bummer was that as the course was triangular in shape, at no point did we enjoy the full effect of the wind on our backs – at best it was a rear crosswind. The wind was also strengthening all the time, it would be significantly more blowy come the opening lap of the race and even worse on the second!
The start of the race at least was fairly kind, slightly downhill for the opening half mile before a rise and a left turn into the headwind. I soon settled in fourth place – the leader and one other runner pulled out quite a gap, I soon closed in on the third placed runner with club mate Ian Williams a few seconds behind me in fifth. The opening mile was clocked at 5:43, things slowed dramatically as we hit the headwind. Sitting in the third placed runner’s slipstream, I felt the pace slow, I moved ahead and picked the effort up a touch. Feeling the full force of the wind I was unable to pull clear. To try and shake the guy from my slipstream I drifted slowly from one side of the road to the other. Somewhat surprisingly he didn’t follow me but stuck resolutely to the inside of the road. Still unable to pull clear and aware that I was wasting energy, I then slowed up and went back into his slipstream, hoping he would help take the pace.
I later found out (Because he sought me down on Facebook and messaged me!) that he was a bit irked by my tactics. I had no qualms in doing what I did. Quick times had already long gone out of the window. We were fighting for third place and I was using standard tactics to try and get him to help with the work and to minimise my exposure to the wind.
Anyway, after sitting in and taking a breather in his slipstream for a short while, I sensed again that he was slowing the pace (which is all quite legitimate, or it may just have been getting a greater than usual benefit from tucking in behind someone). I also had club mate Ian closing and so I decided to put in a real surge to pull ahead and clear of both Ian and the fourth placed runner, so they couldn’t benefit from my draft. My tactic worked, although the exuberant acceleration probably didn’t help in the long term. We had a couple more minutes of running into the wind, where I was able to eke out a few more seconds.
Mercifully after an interminably long time we turned left and dropped downhill with a crosswind to neither aid nor hinder us. This quicker section saw the mile two split come in at a semi-reasonable 6:06 – the reality was that it had been much slower for much of the mile. The third mile (5:42) was a more standard affair as we headed back into Oundle and turned left again back towards the start. I pulled a few more seconds clear of Ian who had moved into fourth place and was beginning to close in on the second placed runner who looked like he was beginning to labour as we passed halfway.
I was running fairly strongly but had an issue with the right Nike Free I was wearing in that the laces were coming undone! By 6K they were near completely untied and although the shoe wasn’t going to come off it was moving around a lot and was not particularly comfortable, especially with the laces slapping against my legs. I did though at this point pass the second placed runner – a mobile phone being held in his hands gave a clue that this was a fairly novice runner with plenty of talent but lacking in race experience. The fourth mile saw the best of any help from the wind and being slightly downhill was the quickest of the race in 5:33.
Mile five was arguably one of the hardest I have ever raced! Back into the headwind at the top of the triangle, trying to pull clear of the two runners behind me, the wind was relentless and I think the strongest I have ever faced in a race. Giving it absolutely everything (more effort than running 5:30 pace) at one point it slowed us to slower than seven minute miles. There was nothing that could be done except dig in and work to the corner where I knew there would be respite.
Once at the corner I knew I couldn’t finish with my trainer undone in its current state without a risk of injury. While running I took off my gloves and tucked them into my shorts, choosing to come to a stop at the bottom of the hill where I could come off the road and onto a path. The stop to retie the laces was quite quick considering it came while I was second in a race and the rapidly beating heart rate with adrenaline coursing through the body. Ian came past me and offered me encouragement as he went by, thinking that I had an injury rather than a mechanical mishap.
Refreshed after the impromptu stop and feeling much happier with a trainer firmly attached to my foot, I recommenced running and very quickly closed down the three seconds or so to Ian. As we approached a bit of an uphill drag I wasted no time passing him and attempting to break clear. This I did, but he never dropped back more than a handful of seconds. This was the first time since I suffered stitch in the Summer Solstice 10K a few years back that I had come under pressure from a fellow GRC runner in a race. On the one hand it was great because I want the depth of the club to grow, on the other I was keen to still beat Ian and also to retain second place!
This I just about managed to do. Having run 6:27 in the mostly wind affected fifth mile, I picked up the pace to 5:46 for the sixth mile and 5:16 for the closing few hundred yards. The time of 36:42 was my slowest since the 2015 Langtoft 10K- which I didn’t race properly having paced others to halfway. I felt as though it was a bit of a rusty January opener but knew the time was not indicative of the form I was in. It was when I looked at the results and saw that the winner John Uff clocked 35:13 yet had run a full two minutes quicker at the Telford 10K in December that the true effect of the wind was apparent and that Ian Williams’ 36:48 PB was a sign of a runner who could, and would, run much quicker in 2019.
With GRC second and third (the first double podium finish for the club) and Joaquim ‘Flash’ Jeronimo eleventh it was a double trophy to collect as winners of the team prize as well as second overall (I couldn’t claim the V40 prize too, alas). We missed most the prize giving as we had just gone on a cool down, luckily we were there to collect the team prize.
With the trophies handed out and marathon training in mind I went and did another three miles cool down to bring the mileage for the week up to 66. This time I ran a clockwise lap of the course we had raced on. My conclusion, having been blown along the windy section at sub 7 minute miles with almost literally no effort was that it would have been a much quicker race had we been able to run it the other way round!
A weird race this – I should have been delighted with second. I didn’t run badly, yet the result seems a little underwhelming, perhaps the slow time (Which didn’t help my GP Series), perhaps the mechanical with the shoe. Perhaps it was just a fairly low-key race in early January and nothing to get overly excited about. I will remember the race more for the wind than anything else – I hope it will never be that windy in a race again!