There’s not many Christmas themed races that you can stake claim to having taken part in twice in one year, but the Keyworth Turkey Trot Half Marathon is one such race that I and, I assume plenty of others, can claim to have done in 2018. The 2017 race was postponed to February due to snow/threat of snow in the region and I took part in the rescheduled event, finishing 6th overall in 1:18:06 and recipient of a hamper for my efforts.
I went into the 2018 proper version of the race feeling distinctly jaded and glad it was to be my final event of the year. With that said I didn’t make a bad start to the race, with opening miles of 5:42, 5:41 and 5:54 before hitting the first big climb of the race which saw me drop to a 6:04 before recovering with a pleasant 5:36 on a quick section of the race.
The race, for me, was a fairly dull affair. I never found myself in a group, for the most part running alone, never being passed by another runner and the only interaction with other competitors when I passed the occasional athlete who was beginning to struggle. I made a point of trying to stick to around 5:50 miles which I was able to do until the second wave of stiff climbs at mile 11 on a constantly undulating course, which saw the pace dip to 6:14, then 6:08 for mile 12.
I did though catch a couple of younger runners at this point. My presence seemed to spur them into life for they drifted away again on the downhill drop back into Keyworth before I closed in on them again on the deceptively tough last half or mile or so back to the school and the finish line. Alas any hopes of picking off a couple of young scalps receded quickly as they both put in a sprint finish I had no hope of matching and didn’t really attempt. It was the end of the year, I wasn’t fighting for a place or a prize and I was pretty jaded.
I crossed the line annoyingly just outside the top ten (11th – I did have something to fight for). The time was 1:17:27, just under 40 seconds quicker than I ran in February and the second fastest trot for me. Maybe it was another underwhelming post race memento (Magnetic race pins – soon lost) or the instant realisation I’d not won a turkey (third V40) but I felt very little emotion after the race other than I was glad it was the last of the year. I could have done with a month’s rest or so but, alas, as I was now down to be running the Manchester Marathon (April 7th) rather than the London Marathon (April 28th), downtime was going to be minimal before the whole process began again.
Thanks to a lovely kind gesture by GRC champion of age grade Julie we did have a Keyworth turkey for Christmas dinner! She had won the V65 category but had already planned on something else for Christmas dinner. So it was that a week or so later a trade was made and I had turkey!
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!
Unless there is a dramatic change of heart, the Keyworth Turkey Trot half marathon will be my last race of 2016. This is a much hyped race, entries opened one morning in late September and all 1000+ places were filled by the same evening. I entered on a whim, confident I could sell my place if I didn’t fancy racing it after all.
As the weeks went by I felt more compelled to give it a go, and so trained semi-specifically for it. I ran three short interval sessions (pretty much the first of the year aside from one at the very beginning) and a couple of quick tempo training runs before committing myself to base training (i.e. nothing hard or particularly fast) in preparation for the London Marathon in April. I’d done a couple of long runs with a parkrun stuck in the middle, a long run on the hilly Newton’s Fraction half marathon course and three Tuesday evening runs containing the same killer hill at Great Gonerby. This was all done with the knowledge that the Turkey Trot is an undulating race with one stiff climb in particular – at around three miles.
Injury wise I was fairly clear of anything major – the left Achilles is still nagging away but continues to show every indication it is a calf issue. I’ve had a problem with a tendon aching on the top of the left foot – caused by overly tight laces on one run. It’s been tricky, but I’ve been able to continue running with some readjustment of laces and sticking with a couple of pairs of trainers that hurt less than the others. The cramp sensations I’ve been suffering at random periods for much of the past two years are much diminished – all but disappeared since I began having some regular physio to establish the cause of them. Early days yet but the suspicion is it is a significant lack of any mobility in the thoracic spine and other issues regarding flexibility in the hip and pelvis area. A daily dose of specific stretches and mobility exercises have appeared to work wonders. So it was I went into the race fairly confident I would last without cramping up or suffering with bad Achilles pain. I was though fighting the inevitable colds that are flying around town and being brought en masse by my youngest daughter. Come race day however I was pretty much bug free.
A pleasant feature of the Keyworth Turkey Trot is the relatively late start – 10:30am. I doubt this is to let runners enjoy a pre-Christmas lie-in. The reality is more likely to give any overnight ice and frost the chance to melt away. Thankfully after a day of heavy rain on the Saturday, Sunday awoke dry and with fairly pleasant temperatures for running – around 8C – albeit with a slightly annoying breeze. I awoke at the normal hour for a Sunday, had breakfast, the coffee, grabbed as much Match of the Day I could before setting off for the 40 minute journey to Keyworth.
I made it to one of three car parks (all with postcodes provided and walking distance to race HQ on the pre-race instructions – a great touch) with over 90 minutes to spare. This guaranteed a seat in the school hall used as Headquarters for the race. I went about preparing for the race, taking a risk with the Nike Frees as the last time I tried to wear them they were too painful on the foot tendon – but today they felt fine. I had the chance to chat with a few guys and gals from Belvoir Tri Club, who had appeared in huge numbers for this race, before bidding adieu and setting off on an uneventful warm up and a queue for the toilets, which was long, but well managed by race crew.
The plan had been for a pre-race Grantham Running Club group photo but this never quite materialised due to people queuing for baggage, toilets, warming up etc. I’m never a big fan of the pre-race photo, I’d rather be concentrating on the race, so ten minutes before the off and with a last minute trip to the loo required, I declared the pre-race photo postponed until after the race. I joined the front of the race with five minutes to spare, the race looked like it was going to go off early until someone on a walkie-talkie reigned in the enthusiasm of the starter and insisted it go off on time.
So at the prescribed time of 10:30 we were off. A key feature of the Keyworth Turkey Trot is the lightening fast start. The opening of the race is downhill and regularly sees runners hurtling off way faster than any pace they can maintain. A sting follows almost immediately with a drag uphill of around the same length before the race calms down on a section of flat before another downhill stretch as the local church is passed and Keyworth is departed. Much of the first three miles is downhill, albeit fairly gently. It is usually time to bank some seconds but at the same time being careful to not get too over exuberant and run faster than the descent allows for.
I had a fairly mediocre start to the race. My legs took a few minutes to come to life and a mile or so before the left Achilles stopped aching. The field soon became quite spread out with a rapid bunch of runners quickly disappearing into the distance. I went through the opening mile in 5:38, which I knew was eight seconds down on 2013, when I ran the race for the first and only time. The second mile saw me employ some tactics. We were heading west, into the not stiff, but noticeable breeze. I had two runners behind me who were clearly taking shelter behind me, so I slowed until they were forced to take the pace. I tucked in behind them. This wasn’t particularly comfortable as I was chopping my stride a bit but I reckoned the protection could help later in the race energy wise. I went through the second mile in 5:45 compared to 5:40 in 2013. Back then I was setting off at PB speed, this year I knew I was already a bit off PB shape, but looking forward to another solid race.
At the two mile point we turned left and the headwind was a crosswind negated by tree cover. Instinctively I pulled out from the two in front of me and put in a little surge. One was able to follow, the other began to drift. I knew from experience in 2013 that there would be a pair of hills just before and just after three miles which would further shape the outcome of the race. Not caring about drafting I pushed on and focused on catching the couple of runners ahead of me.
The first hill came at just before the end of the third mile, I felt strong and clocked 5:57, comparing favourably to the 6:09 I set in 2013. Back then at this point I’d began to feel decidedly dodgy and suffered badly on the second hill – which felt as though it was one of the toughest I’d ever encountered. This time around the hill was a challenge but felt relatively easy, certainly easier than the local Grantham favourites Casthorpe and Woolsthorpe. It seems that the three and a bit years of Granthams’ hills have weathered the legs well in coping with elevation. I passed the two runners ahead of me – but was a little perturbed that another runner passed me as we neared the top of the climb.
The hill came and ended early on during the fourth mile. The pace for that mile averaged around 6:55, so I knew that I’d have to forget about recovery and put in some effort to get that average down. Thankfully that was made easier by chasing down the guy who’d passed me on the hill. Once I caught him we actually worked together for a bit taking the pace. He appeared to be working hard so I reckoned eventually he would tire, but for now he was useful company. The fourth mile was the slowest of the race – 6:03, but that was ten seconds quicker than in 2013.
The next few miles were fairly unremarkable. We passed through a couple of pleasant villages where there was great support, and a few other places with small pockets of spectators, otherwise there wasn’t much to entertain other than the aim of getting to the finish as quickly as possible. The fifth mile was a quick 5:35 (5:45 in 2013), the sixth was slower at 5:55 (6:00 in 2013), but the constant elevation changes made consistent pacing tricky. The seventh mile was 5:51 (5:52 in 2013) and it was here my mind got a little confused as the rolling hills I’d remembered as being at around 10 miles were evidently three miles earlier than the brain had processed them as being. It may have temporarily forgotten two miles or so, but the memory of a very pleasant gently descending stretch of road came flooding back.
By now I had pulled slightly clear of the runner who’d passed me on the hill and I was chasing two runners in front of me. Mile 8 was 5:45 (5:51 in 2013) and mile 9 was 5:40 (a swift 5:32 in 2013). As we came to a small village where Keyworth Rugby Club were playing, I feared the sight of a whacking great hill. Fortunately we turned right and along a stretch of flat road I knew would lead to a left hand turn and the final hills of the race. As we did I caught one of the two runners in front of me, just as we were cheered on by his (heavily pregnant) wife sporting a helium balloon for the husband who was celebrating his birthday with a rather swift half marathon. Sadly for him I was offering no gifts and I passed him as we turned left, faced the headwind, once again, and began climbing.
The tenth mile was 5:48 (5:45 in 2013). I now began pushing to try and put a gap on the birthday boy who was proving stronger than his slight fade a few moments earlier had suggested. This last hill was a real pain – not particularly steep and with a brief descent in the middle, but seemingly going on forever. Still mile 11 was 5:57 (6:04 in 2013), and I knew that most of the way to the finish was downhill. I pushed on hard, fearful that I would be caught, but now my left hip and groin were giving a few aches, so I was tempered a touch. The 12th mile was another 5:57 (6:02 in 2013). The first half of the last mile was all downhill and quite steep in places. This though was almost a hindrance as it caused a little cramping in the left quad. Thankfully the descent ended and the cramp desisted and I pushed on, still thinking I had a runner right behind me.
The end of the Turkey Trot was a killer in 2013, an ill-timed hill right near the finish put pay to a chance of a PB. This year I felt stronger and knowing there would be a hill, better prepared. I didn’t know it at the time but I climbed that hill only a few seconds slower than the winner which is fairly satisfying. I logged a 5:37 for the final mile (5:41 in 2013), and with a glance at the watch knew I was going to beat 1:17.
I crossed the line in 1:16:45, unaware of my finishing position (It was eighth), but made immediately aware that I had won the prize as first veteran finisher! I knew what was coming! First I received my multi-tool medal from Santa himself. I quickly got changed and got out just in time to photo most of the GRC runners coming to the finish line. Star of the day was SJ who knocked an impressive four minutes off her PB. I had little doubt she’d do well having struggled to chase her down on the way to Belton House parkrun a few weeks earlier!
With all the GRC runners in there was finally chance for the obligatory group photo:
Then there was a bit of hanging around for the prize ceremony. Kudos to my team mates for hanging around, even if one had to disappear for what appeared an inordinately long time sorting out their dodgy guts! As has been pointed out I’ve received my share of odd prizes recently. This may not quite have topped the slap of stilton, but the frozen turkey is certainly a prize that would be mostly wholly inappropriate at any other time of year – but at this time was most warmly received – Christmas dinner is sorted!
With that the day was done and home we headed. All in all a good day’s work. Very pleased to have broken 77 minutes for the half, especially as the average HR was 3-5 beats lower than it usually was. I didn’t push full gas, that’s for sure, yet managed a respectable time. With Christmas fast approaching it’s back to base training preparing for the London Marathon. Next race (Hopefully) the Folksworth 15.