The Thoresby 10 Mile Multi Terrain Race was very much a last minute addition to the 2017 race portfolio. Originally I had been content to concentrate on the Sleaford Duathlon being my main event of the weekend, but it was a call from two of my club mates, Holly and Penny, at GRC to complete a team for the race a week or so before it happened that piqued my interest. The club in 2016 had won the team prize with a relatively modest effort and were keen to repeat the success in 2017. I checked the results online and saw that the individual winning time for the 10 mile race was 1:06 and change. Given that i knew enough about the race that although it was off-road and undulating, it wasn’t that challenging an off road race and in recent weeks I’ve been running 10 miles for fun in under 65 minutes, the lure of a sure fire individual victory and possible team victory proved too great and within minutes of the call out on Facebook, I was signed up and a member of the catchy sounding Grantham Running Club ‘A’ team.
In signing up I’d conveniently forgotten the challenges of this weekend which partly explained why I’d chosen not to race on the Sunday. Not only was I taking part in the Sleaford Duathlon on the Saturday I was working on the United States Grand Prix. Not only was I facing the prospect of finishing after 1am on the Friday night, because they had moved qualifying until later on the Saturday to accommodate, of all things, a Justin TImberlake concert, I was looking a a very late evening’s work – hardly ideal for any race preparation, let alone when I’d already raced in the morning.
And so it was I finished second in the Sleaford Duathlon on less than six hours sleep. I finally finished work on Saturday evening at 2am on the Sunday morning, and so had less than five hours sleep before getting up and blearily getting ready to leave a quiet house, making the coffee as strong as humanly possible without it having an overly devastating laxative effect.
At least the drive to Thoreseby Hall, a little way north of Newark, not too far from Clumber Park, was blissfully easy on a Sunday morning, the loud music in the car being sung along to with much gusto ensuring I stayed awake while driving at least. I arrived an 1 3/4 hours before the start of the race – overkill perhaps, but I do like to ensure preparations aren’t rushed and I don’t have to queue for the essentials such as race number collection and Portaloo inspection. The hardest thing was trying to stay warm. Storm Brian had come and past during Saturday afternoon and evening, what followed was a stiff chilly wind that was something of a shock having enjoyed the balmy 22C at cross country a week earlier. I didn’t want to sit in the car so I changed into my emergency thermals, hat and gloves, and arrived at the conclusion that four layers was just about enough to stay warm.
At around 9:40 I went on my warm up jog of around 1.5 miles. I used the opportunity to check out the start of the course, which was flagged as being amongst the most uneven and potentially boggy in terms of terrain. It was certainly a little rutted, but thankfully not muddy. My Hoka Hoke One Challenger 2 trainers, pair 2 of 4 (!) that were worn for the first time at cross country a week earlier, were perfectly suited to the not particularly challenging off-road terrain. The warm up was very unspectacular, but at least there were no overwhelming aches and pains.
I wandered around slowly a bit more, finally ditching my clothing in the car to make it to a GRC pre race photo (1 of 2) arranged for ten minutes before the start. I made one last trip to behind a handy tree, before making my way to the start line, placing myself directly at the front with the Canix runners and their dogs, who were wildly excited to the point where it was near impossible to hear yourself think. Thankfully the organisers had the good sense to send the hounds and their owners off on their way a few minutes before our 10:30am departure, so the pre-race briefing could be clearly heard. This briefing did little but leave me more confused as to what the 10 mile runners were actually meant to do, I could do nothing but hope it would be fairly obvious on route.
It was probably rather foolish but all the while I stood on the start line I was utterly confident that I was going to win the race. In my mind, based on the totally fallible reasoning that because last year’s race was won in 1:06, the fastest other runner this year would also run 1:06, I reckoned that I would just need to set of at around 6:10 pace and keep something like that going for a very comfortable multi minute victory.
With the race organiser threatening to repeat the race instructions again to a large audible groan, the race was quickly started. It was a very short dash to the tight first left hand corner before we headed on a rough dirt track on our way to what lied ahead. I was third or fourth into the first corner, before several other runners came shooting past me. Early race over exuberance I reassured myself. After a few hundred meters I saw the lead group split and I made an effort to pass a few who did indeed go off too fast and sat in around fourth position.
As we ran on the slightly rough grass passing a lake, the pace for a few seconds settled. Then a runner in orange visibly picked up the pace and began to pull well clear as we entered the wooded section I ended ventured to on my warm up. From now on it was uncharted territory. Still I was strangely confident as the runner continued to hold his gap with no sign of slowing. Novice who will blow up in a minute or two! I thought to myself as I found myself behind a pair of runners in blue and white vests who both looked familiar, although I couldn’t quite put my finger on why they were so.
We briefly left some woodland and took a right onto another dirt track, slightly uphill but easier underfoot. The first mile clicked over on the Garmin – 5:59. A fair bit quicker than the 6:10 I had envisaged, especially considering it was very much multi-terrain and the second half of the mile slightly uphill. Still I felt sure that the pace would soon ease.
Just before we reached a main road, we turned left into more woodland. We were on a muddy path just wide enough to fit two runners, and heading slightly downhill. With oak tree cover it felt very much like we were in a tunnel, and on an act of impulse i picked up the pace, passing the two similarly clad runners ahead of me and rapidly closed on the orange vested runner in front of us. Without hesitation I passed him as we left the woodland and turned left back onto a path, more gravel like this time – clearly more often used by vehicles.
It was here we dipped sharply down and came across the Brighton Beach stones we had been warned about – placed on the gravel path by the owners of the land presumably to try and stop a flooded path during heavy rainfall. As suggested I veered to the right and took to the narrow grassy bank to avoid the ankle shredding stones. It was here we passed the first of the Canicross runners who had set off minutes before us – the dogs far less enthusiastic and seemingly keener to explore potential rabbit holes than take part in a 10 mile race.
We soon turned right and uphill and into a stiff headwind, which until now we had been mostly sheltered from by woodland. As we did the second mile split appeared on my Garmin – 5:45! This was definitely not in the plan – nearly 30 seconds quicker than the pace I’d envisaged when planning on racing twice in consecutive days. I put it down to the downhill nature of the mile and pushed on. With three runners still on my shoulder it would maybe tactically have made more sense to have tried to get the others to share taking the pace especially into the headwind. But I decided that attack may be the best form of defence and opted to make a concerted effort to keep the lead no matter what. Part of that decision was borne from the nature of the terrain underfoot. With the wide variety of surfaces I wanted to be sure of a good footing, and this was easier if I was at the front, not following someone and paying more attention to not tripping over their heels rather than taking care not to trip over tree roots. What made the decision easier to justify was that after around 2 1/2 miles the three behind me, which soon became just the two similarly attired runners seemingly were around a second or two behind me rather than right on my back, therefore not able to enjoy any slipstream benefits.
The pattern of the race remained static for the next three miles or so. I stayed at the front, with the two runners giving chase just behind me. We were not alone though, passing a succession of Canicross runners and their dogs, and a fair few marshals still making their way to their posts. Mile 3 was 5:57, 5K passed in just over 18 minutes. Mile 4 was a 5:47, despite having the steepest part of the course to navigate. The excuse for the speed of that mile – there was a lovely gentle downhill stretch on a paved avenue totally covered by trees and offering total protection from the wind.
The fifth mile saw the 10 mile and the 10K race split, the signs and some marshals taking us sharp left through a grassy section in the woodland. Footing was a little tricky here, but was easier when we were guided by the signs to bear right – still on grass, but with the trees wider apart, the going underneath less rutted. This initial diversion for the 10 mile runners was less than a mile before we rejoined the main course. This was more woodland, the going underneath was a mix of grass and muddy tracks, nothing too slippery but you had to pick your path carefully to avoid hitting the really boggy and potentially slippery stuff. As the Garmin hit the fifth mile in 5:49 I wondered what on earth I was doing running at this sort of pace that I’d be pleased at when running on flat smooth tarmac, let alone muddy uneven trails.
As we headed gradually uphill we were warned by numerous signs that the 10 mile runners would be heading left and the 10K runners would be turning right. That should have been straightforward enough. However as I approached the junction there was a brief moment of confusion. The two marshals were standing in my path with their back to me unaware that I was approaching as they enjoyed something that was on one of the two’s smartphone. That wouldn’t have been too much of an issue, but for a split second I saw three alternative routes, a right which I knew I shouldn’t take, a slight left and a sharp left, these two I suddenly got very confused over what was the correct route.
‘Which way should I go?’ I shouted to the marshals. ‘Which race are you doing?’ one of them asked. ‘10 Miles’ I shouted in reply, sensing I didn’t really have time for a calm conversation into where on earth I should be going. ‘Left!’ came the reply. ‘Which left?’ I screamed, as the two blue vested runners closed down the 2 or 3 seconds I had eked out on them and turned left just as one of the marshals clearly pointed with her arm which direction we should take.
It then became patently obvious. The tighter left led us to a fairly wide gravel path, the ever so slightly left was heading into woodland through a path that may or may not have actually been an official path (Although in my defence as I approached it, it definitely looked as though it was). As I thanked the marshals for their attentiveness and prompt action in a manner which may have been slightly politer had it not cost me the lead of the race, I sprung from a dead stop into a rage of pace, as I immediately pulled alongside the two now co-leaders and reasserted my authority over the race taking the lead once again.
As I retook the lead a moment of levelheadedness hit me at just the right moment when a surge of adrenaline had seen me briefly overexert myself. The temptation was to push really hard up the drag that awaited us to reestablish the 3 or 4 second lead I’d had a minute or so earlier. Instead I knew that the best way to tackle the next mile or so was to revert to the level of effort I’d been making up to five and a half miles, trust that this would be enough to break the elastic with the pair behind me and if it didn’t then they deserved to win.
As we went through the sixth mile in 5:55 with the pair still just a second or so behind, the thought running through my head was the charity fight in Rocky III between Rocky and Hulk Hogan playing the role of H
ulk Hogan Thunderlips. This is the fight where Rocky reckoned on a bit of friendly jousting and showboating before being either allowed to win or at least draw in a non-exerting manner. Instead he got pummelled relentlessly by Hulk, who hadn’t read the correct script. It all ended amicably enough, but Rocky was pushed far harder than he had wanted to. This was a bit like I felt now. Thoresby was meant to be a bit of fun, a fairly low key race where I turned up, put on a show at a pace I’m comfortable with in training, win by 3 or 4 minutes and return home with a lovely trophy. Now I’d gone through 10K in a whisker over 36 minutes, working far harder than I’d ever intended, with seemingly no let up in the pressure.
At around 6 1/2 miles the ten mile runners rejoined the main course having looped around to approximately the 3 mile marker on the 10K course. This meant we had some mostly familiar terrain to contend with, starting with the short steep drag which this time around had a good number of runners taking part in the 10K race, which started 15 or so minutes after the 10 mile race. On this little steep climb I didn’t give a full look back, but I glanced over my shoulder and just sensed that perhaps the gap had grown to a couple of seconds. I didn’t look back again for another 3 miles. I pushed on, dodging the 10K runners and then dodging the 10K runners and the slower 10 mile runners. This was a bit like a multi-lap parkrun but on steroids, for this was a race where trophies were at stake rather than a free to enter timed run where the only competition is yourself. With most of the paths, be they gravel, mud, tarmac, or grass, only just wide enough for two lines of runners, picking the right route to pass became crucial, like Outrun, but windier. And colder.
Mile 7 turned out to be the slowest of the race at 6:02, but it featured at least two climbs. Mile 8 was back on the nice avenue and was quicker at 5:48. This section saw the second moment of confusion with marshals. They were handling the first section where 10 mile and 10K runners split. As they saw my number they pointed me in the direction of the 10 mile loop. I was pretty sure from the pre-race briefing we were meant to follow the 10K signs on the second lap so I began shouting ‘TEN MILE RACE! LEADER! SECOND LAP!’ I think I said this two or three times before the hand arrows changed from pointing left to right. This section of virgin territory for the 10 mile runners was on grass again but easier than the 10 mile loop. The ninth mile saw the 10 mile and 10K runners rejoin and then split again. The traffic was becoming a real issue as this was the muddy, sometimes boggy section, with sometimes only one clear defined path, and I was having to get quite audible (e.g. Coming through on the left! or coming down the middle!) to ensure that I didn’t end up careering into the back of someone. I thanked those who made space, had sympathy for those who were clearly new to racing and weren’t expecting to be overtaken in such a manner, and scorned those who were wearing headphones and were oblivious to anything and everything around them.
One of the two marshals at the second 10 mile / 10K split, tried to send me on another loop of the race. The other marshal recognised me as the f***er who spoiled their Youtube video or whatever it they were watching and sent me the right way with a comment in passing that I don’t believe was entirely complimentary. A lot calmer than I was 20 minutes or so earlier I gave a cheery wave and pushed on.
As we left the woodland and appeared to run through what may have been a farm yard or a forestry base, the path widened significantly and curved to the right before taking a sharp left. It was here I afforded myself the first big look back since the 6 mile marker. I saw two runners, but they were definitely two slower 10K runners and no the boys in blue chasing me down. I reckoned that even if they were just around the corner out of view I had at least a fifteen second lead, and with just over a mile remaining, victory was now mine barring some kind of disaster, such as heading the wrong way.
The ninth mile was a 5:49. The brain wasn’t working too well, but with the stopwatch still not showing 53 minutes it was obvious I was going a fair bit quicker than 1:02 pace. The last mile initially was a long mostly downhill stretch on a single track road, which would have been lightning fast were it not for the strong cross wind on exposed land that threatened at times to blow us off the road. Thankfully the road headed back into woodland as we approached Thoresby Hall and the finish. I took one last long behind me and to my relief saw no-one in view. I began passing loads of runners now, Canicross runners, 10K runners and I think some 5K runners too. It was quite unlike any other race finish, except for loads of parkrun finishes and the Rockingham Duathlon, which had runners in different races finishing at the same time.
There was a good crowd coming into the finish, but none were cheering. The finish chute marshal seemed unsure whether to send me to the finish or to send who on earth knows where. With the Garmin approaching 10 miles I knew to take a left and begin a mini sprint to the finish. The spectators and the race official appeared a little bemused when I raised my hands when crossing the finish line, why was I celebrating a 52 minute 10K? they appeared to wonder.
I decided to tell him that I was the winner of the ten mile race, around about the same time as his colleague in the chip timing van tapped him on the shoulder to tell him I was the race winner of the ten mile race. Word soon got around and it was announced a few moments later that the winner of the ten mile race had crossed the line. A belated round of applause followed, which was then followed by a big hug from friend and club mate SJ, who was on massage duty.
I looked at my Garmin – 58:25 for 9.99 miles! Not an officially measured 10 mile course but clearly not far off it – multi terrain, windy, tired, third fastest 10 mile race time! A few moments later (41 seconds to be precise) the second placed finisher crossed the line and the third followed suit 13 seconds later. I went back to congratulate them. The third placed finisher I recognised instantly, Marlon was the Rushcliffe AC runner who narrowly beat me in the Holme Pierrepont 10K back in the summer. The second placed runner I’d definitely recognised but at the time couldn’t quite place him. It was only when I got home and
stalked followed Steve on Strava and checked his Power of 10 that I sussed out that he was the Rushcliffe AC runner who finished third at my club’s Summer Solstice 10K in an ever so slightly faster than I’ve ever run before 34:02. They congratulated me on my strong run, pointing out that they both rarely run further than 10K, so simply ran out of steam not long after that point in the race.
I was already happy to win; now I was even happier that I’d beaten runners who had beaten me over the summer. Had I known beforehand that they were racing I doubt I would have run with the same confidence I did. I had considered it my race to lose, little did I know I had to work as hard as I did to win.
We had to wait an eternity for the prize giving to take place. This was not ideal as I had work in the afternoon that would stretch until the early hours of the morning and had an early getaway for a short half term break planned the following morning. Finally the prizes were presented. i was the recipient of a rather underwhelming trophy, but the winner of a rather snazzy bobble hat. They didn’t have club colours so I settled for the colours of Austria for reasons unknown.
The main reason I had entered the race was to complete Grantham Running Club ‘A’. My teammates and I nervously waited, hoping that my winning time and Holly’s podium finish could ensure victory. Alas the telltale blue sweatshirt of a third Rushcliffe AC runner should have been a clue that they anticipated a team victory. And indeed they did with a pretty impressive 3:01:48 for the three strong team, just a minute slower than our own club winning 10K team! I had to settle for second in the team competition, a mere 30 minutes behind Rushcliffe. I did though get to accept the 10K team prize on their behalf as they were nowhere to be seen!
With that, the race was over and done and there was nothing left to do but drive home. My second multi-terrain victory and definitely the more satisfying in the manner in which it was won. Off now on holiday and prepare for next week’s race!