Race Report – Oundle New Year 10K – Sunday 13th January 2019

GRC runners at the Oundle 10K.

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.

The GRC Men’s Winning team (L to R): Ian, Me, Flash.

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!


Race Report – Keyworth Turkey Trot, Sunday February 11th 2018

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 penultimate climb less than a mile from the finish. Dressed for the Winter Olympics! Picture c/o John Oldfield

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….

Collecting my glass memento and Co-Op ‘Hamper’

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!

The contents of the Co-Op ‘Hamper’

Race Report – Newton’s Fraction Half Marathon – Sunday 5th March 2017

Returning to the scene of my best ever race (I finished second in 2016), the 2017 Newton’s Fraction Half Marathon was an eagerly anticipated affair. Looking at the entry list beforehand I knew the chances of going one better or even equaling my performance were slim as the 2016 winner Adam Holland was back to defend his title, as was 2015 victor Ian Bailey. Still, on occasion, I allowed myself to dream what if they didn’t turn up? what if they had a bad race? Could I possibly win?!

Pre race training was a mixed bag. Beset by a succession of colds and a lingering chest infection that may or may not have been caused or aggravated or prolonged by possible over training, there was a nagging knowing that I went into the race just a touch below 100%. The long runs had been really good, many interspersed with a mid run parkrun, the longest being 24 miles. The marathon paced runs had been reasonable, but they and many of the bike rides I went on felt as though there wasn’t much more to give beyond the Zone 3 HR limits these efforts entailed. Running up hills and cycling up them at any great effort felt particularly arduous.

At least I wasn’t going into the race injured, even if I did try my best slipping on an icy bridge while on an early morning run earlier in the week. The right hip was a bit bruised and sore but didn’t appear to affect my running. I enjoyed something of an easy week, resting up completely the day before the race.

Race day dawned cloudy but the fear was that the weather would take a turn for the worse some time around the planned start time of 10:30am. I enjoyed the luxury of living within a warm up from the race HQ, warming up at home and jogging the two miles to the start. That jog felt easy enough but the heart rate was really high – nerves perhaps. I took that as a positive, proof that I was up for this race. Still dry, if breezy, it felt fairly warm. I opted to jettison the tights, going for shorts, long socks, long sleeved top and gloves combo.

Then, around 45 minutes before the start, the rain began to fall. Icy cold rain. Buckets of it. Relentlessly, driven in by a cold stiff wind. People did their best to seek shelter. It all got quite crowded, so I popped over to the leisure center where I could finish getting changed in the comfort of not that many people being around. I made a last minute decision to add a hat to the apparel. Unfortunately I chose not to put on the tights, a decision I think I came to regret.

Grandstand makes for refuge shelter. Picture c/o Gordon Geach.

Ten minutes before the start and there was no eagerness from anyone to head to the start line, the same with five minutes to go. I opted to run around the track and seek shelter in the grandstand, an option that soon became quite popular. The start time came and went, no sign of the starter, runners making their way in dribs and drabs to the grandstand. As I stood shivering with the rain showing no sign of abating, any pre-race nerves were replaced with apathy, a distinct lack of desire to subject myself to a freezing cold soaking. The only solace was that it appeared that no-one else seemed that determined to race, as no-one volunteered themselves to head to the start line until they were ushered to do so by the race starter.

No enthusiasm to join the start line as heavy rain falls. Picture c/o Gordon Geach.

Despite lack of enthusiasm I was one of the first onto the race track for the start, lining up on the inside of lane one. The pre-race formalities was mercifully brief save for a countdown that the starter insisted on being from ten to zero, much to the mirth of the drowning rats in lycra.

The start of the 2017 Newton’s Fraction Half Marathon. Picture c/o Gordon Geach
The start of the 2017 Newton’s Fraction Half Marathon. Picture c/o Graeme Jones

Finally off,  I made a brisk start and, thanks to being on the inside of the bend, briefly led as we exited the stadium, thankful that the rain that had been lashing into our faces on the start line, was now pushing us along as a tail wind.

The start of the 2017 Newton’s Fraction Half Marathon. Picture c/o Gordon Geach

That brief moment of euphoria leading the race, as I did in 2016 was even briefer than 12 months earlier and ended in farce. Exiting the stadium we were confronted by two young boys wandering across our paths. In a split second decision, I and a few others chose to veer to the right, while the majority veered to the left. Those who veered left thankfully told those who veered right were heading in the wrong direction! I only lost four or five seconds but it cost me precious momentum and several places.

I didn’t have time to rue the lack of marshaling to prevent such an occurrence, I put my head down and tried to make up the places I had lost. The first mile heading to Barrowby was 5:39 which was pretty much bang on what I was hoping for, but already the first two – Adam and Ian, were well out of sight. A quick count up the road saw that I was sixth. On the second mile heading down the Drift towards the canal I passed the fifth place runner. Into the headwind he latched onto my heels and stuck to them. Into the headwind I was a bit perturbed by this but as we headed to the canal path and enjoyed a tail wind and a lessening of the rain, I was not upset that he didn’t want to help with the pace. The canal path was probably the wettest it has ever been when I’ve run along it, more puddles than solid ground it seemed, and I was grateful to have clear line of sight as I attempted to keep the fourth placed runner in check.

Splashing along the canal path. Picture c/o organisers.
Splashing along the canal path. Picture c/o organisers.

What was obvious to me now was that my heart rate was some way short of where I’d expect it during a half marathon, seeming to settle at or ever so slightly above my marathon heart rate. I was struggling to keep warm – my quads especially cold, I was struggling to maintain enthusiasm for the race and, moreover, the signs in recent training that the colds and chest infection were affecting the top 1% of my fitness were being borne out. The splits was between 5:40 and 5:50, which was okay given the conditions, but a little slower than perhaps I would have liked and certainly much slower than in 2016, when I was edging towards 5:30 on the canal path.

After three miles of canal path we exited at the Dirty Duck pub in Woolsthorpe. This was a key moment as the guy who had stuck to my heels failed to negotiate the treacherously slippery muddy exit around the style. I had learnt my lesson from the icy bridge on Wednesday and took extreme care. He went into the corner a little more aggressively and paid the price – a loud groan and soft thud I heard as he went down – thankfully without damage and without too much time lost. I pressed on, knowing that the first of the course’s main challenges – Woolsthorpe Hill lay just ahead.

Knowing the hill and its profile well I adopted a steady pace and went about getting up it with as little energy expended as possible. As in 2016 I didn’t think I was particularly effective up the hill, but I was able to close down the 15 or so second gap on the fourth placed runner and passed him two thirds of the way up the hill. I also managed to aggravate my left hip flexor, which loosened off a touch on the resultant downhill but never felt great for the remainder of the race.

As in 2016, the normal prevailing wind which blows you most of the way from Woolsthorpe to home was blowing in a near opposite direction, which meant that the normally quick run down to Denton was made much tougher, especially as there was little prospect of sheltering behind another runner. The third placed man was someway up the road, All I had to do was consolidate my fourth place with some steady running, which I did with a set of sub 5:50 miles through to mile ten and the approach to the stiffest challenge on the course – Casthorpe Hill.

Not quite as comfortably fourth as I thought. Picture c/o race organisers.

Before the climb itself there was a large ford to navigate as the road had flooded. I managed to get through unscathed, but the feet once again got a good soaking. I had a quick look back at the base of the hill and realised that the gap from me to those behind was far less than I had expected. Given that the climb of the hill felt truly horrible and an effort to even remain running as I neared the top, I felt sure that I would be caught. As it turned out, however bad I felt, it wasn’t as bad as those behind me for I would end up with the fastest time of the day on the Strava segment for the entire hill (most of the top ten are on Strava).

As I topped the hill and knew it was pretty much downhill all the way from Barrowby back to the Meres Leisure Centre, it was simply a case of ignoring the headwind and keeping things steady to the finish. The climbing of the hill had doubled my gap to the fifth placed runner, there was no chance of him catching me barring disaster. Last year when I entered the stadium I was also fourth, but the closeness of the race meant a sprint finish saw me come home second just behind Adam the winner. This year Adam had long since finished victorious in a big new PB of 1:12, Ian Bailey second in almost exactly the same time I ran in 2016, and David Greenwood was third forty seconds clear of myself, who finished in 1:18:01, a sub 78 clocking missed perhaps courtesy of waving and smiling a bit too much at my family who I spotted at the finish.

Coming into the finish, not really trying too hard! Picture c/o Gordon Geach.
Coming into the finish, not really trying too hard! Picture c/o Graeme Jones.

So it was not a podium finish, fourth and the solace of another V40 prize courtesy of the real first V40 finishing third. The race was something of a disappointment, it left some questions regarding my form which I hope are just a temporary blip caused by illness. The 2017 Fraction will not live as long in the memory as the 2016 edition, but, in reality third was probably the best I could have hoped for so it wasn’t a disaster by any means. I’m also feeling a lot fresher than I did after the 2016 race which I hope will see me in better shape come the London Marathon, which is the next target.


Race Report – Dambuster Duathlon – Rutland Water – Saturday 5th March 2016.

My first, and until last Saturday, only Duathlon was in November 2007 when I took part in the Ballbuster at the legendary Box Hill. That was a unique experience – 8 mile run, 24 mile ride, 8 mile run up one of the most scenic but overrated hills in England. It was a tentative first foray into multi-sports, I’d taken part in my first ever sportive a week earlier suffering from a heavy cold and hadn’t really recovered a week later. While I quite enjoyed the experience cycling took a back seat a few months later when the first child was born and I concentrated on running.

Last June I took part in my first sprint triathlon and the Dambuster Duathlon at Rutland Water was to be my first real attempt at giving a Duathlon my full attention. I had entered last year’s Clumber Park Duathlon but was unable to take part due to injury. This year I was more or less fit to go, despite suffering from the calf tightness that has burdened me on and off for the past six months.

Not only was I concerned by the calf in the days before the Duathlon, the weather was looking decidedly iffy for race day, with predictions of ice and snow at worse, cold and windy at best. With snow falling in much of the country the day before, it was touch and go. Thankfully the snow didn’t reach the East Midlands and when I woke at 5am, it was raining, it was cold, but it was above freezing and looking ice free – so the race would be on.

It was going to be a family affair heading down to Rutland Water. Most of the packing had been done the night before so the early morning start wasn’t too traumatic and we arrived 90 minutes before the 8:15 start. My pre-race routine for running races is very well established now, but I am still a total novice at ‘athlons, so spent much of the 90 minutes pfaffing around. I had trouble getting my front wheel back on the bike thanks to it being so cold I could barely feel my fingers.

Once the bike was safely stored in transition and I decided I wasn’t going to risk trying to mount my bike with the shoes on the pedals, I fretted over what to wear right until the last minute. Eventually I opted to be as warm (and slipstreamed) as possible on the bike ride, even if that meant being a little overdressed for the run. This meant I wore the following: thin tights with triathlon shorts underneath; compression socks, a thermal vest, Witham Wheelers short sleeved cycling jersey, arm warmers, thin running gloves with thick winter gloves ready on the tri-bars for the bike leg. At the last minute I went with running sunglasses as the sun began to unexpectedly peer from behind the thick clouds. I also ditched the beany hat and the ear warmers and the second long sleeved thermal top.

I managed an underwhelming warm up of just under a mile, which offered encouragement in the fact the right calf just ached a touch rather than downright ached. I headed to the start area for the pre-race briefing. One final pit-stop and I found myself running frantically to the start line, the organisers opting to start the race a couple of minutes early.

With a starting horn we were underway and quite quickly onto a patch of grass that, for the moment was firm underfoot. The pace was frenetic, this being a World Age Qualifying race meant the quality was high. I made a solid but not over exuberant start, keeping in view the familiar site of fellow Belvoir Tri Club runner Adam Madge. With the first mile covered in 5:39 and with a heart rate of just under my half marathon figures, I felt fairly comfortable and truly in my comfort zone in the familiar surroundings of a road race.

We had a small patch on grass, which was slippy but not too bad before heading out for another mile or so before turning back for the return 5k. I passed Adam in the second mile as I ran a 5:35 and began picking off runners as I settled into a good rhythm aided a touch with a nice tailwind. The third mile was 5:38, when we turned and began to face a cold headwind. I had been overheating a touch with all the clothes I was wearing, now I felt comfortable.

Then it began to rain, a brief but fairly heavy shower. It didn’t really slow me too much with a 5:39 but during the fifth mile my right calf began to tighten and ache. Previous experience of the issue meant I knew I could carry on running through the discomfort, but it was enough to make me mentally want to ease up the effort. Add to that the short off-road section had now begun to get churned up and muddy plus the icy cold wind had become a head wind, the fifth mile slowed to 5:58. The final full mile was a rolling affair, still picking off runners I was motivated to put in a final surge, running 5:48 for the final mile and completing the 10k in a respectable 35:20.

I was 23rd overall and 6th in my age category at the end of the first run. Not bad, an indicator that the quality of field was high. My transition was a disaster. I struggled to fasten the helmet, I then opted to run barefoot to the exit of transition before putting my bike shoes on. This meant my feet were soaked before I started the bike ride. My official transition time of one minute is respectable. However I believe I spent the best part of another minute trying to put my bike shoes on, in a panic I’d not realised I hadn’t loosened the velcro fastenings, making them impossible to put on!

Once I’d mastered the art of putting on a pair of shoes, I set off on the bike leg. However it took another minute or so before I could begin cycling in anger. I put on my thick winter cycling gloves while riding okay, but then when trying to tighten my helmet using the wheel on top of the wheel, found it was impossible to do so with the gloves on. I couldn’t ride with the helmet so loose so I had to remove a glove, tighten the helmet and put the glove back on again, all done at fairly low speed.

Finally once onto the main road I was able to begin riding. The legs felt quite tired after the ride but I was able to get them going after a couple of minutes. The feet began to chill in the cold wind, the gaffer tape I’d put on as a potential fix on the ventilation holes failing badly. However, the gamble of wearing extra gloves paid off to some extent, as except in the final miles when the rain fell and we faced the full brunt of the arctic induced headwind, I was not dangerously cold, just cold enough to not be able to put a satisfyingly full effort in.

What was soon apparent on the bike ride, not that I needed any confirming, was that to cut it with the big boys at this level, an entry level road bike simply won’t suffice with the all singing carbon fiber TT bikes the vast majority of those who came flying past me were riding. I was thoroughly demoralised on the first downhill stretch at the start of the Rutland Ripple where I was going full gas trying to keep up speed when a guy on a fast TT bike flew past me freewheeling! I watched him all the way to the bottom of the hill when not a single pedal revolution occurred, yet he must have put 150-200 meters on me. I managed to catch most of it back on the subsequent ascent, before he swiftly disappeared when the road plunged back down again.

That became the pattern of the remainder of the ride. I could hold my own on any hills the ride had, but on the flat stuff and the descents I was horribly exposed and not best enjoying it. All the while my calf grumbled and I wondered how it would fare on the final run leg. I entered the final transition point having taken 1:19:02 on the bike leg. Far too long when the fastest bike leg was a staggering 59:52. I will never be that quick but I am hopeful that with some decent equipment under me and more practice at time trialing I could knock many minutes off this time. As it was I dropped overall from 24th to 65th and from 5th at the end of the opening transition to 12th by the time I re-entered it.

The second transition was almost as calamitous as the first. I got off the bike okay, opting not to take off the shoes and instead try to run in cleated bike shoes, which is not easy. Not paying attention I ran into some barriers with the bike, fortunately without damage, but with some seconds lost. I then couldn’t find my place in the bike racks, running down the wrong channel. It was only the screams from my wife and kids that pointed me in the right direction. At least I was able to remove the helmet without difficulty, my hands still warm. Apparently there were a number of competitors who required assistance as their hands were too numb to feel what they were doing.

Despite the woes, somehow apparently I climbed two places during transition. I set off on the final 5k leg just a few moments after the leading competitor had finished. I hadn’t time to dwell on the enormity of his achievements, instead I had to try and get my legs working again for the run leg. The first patch of grass was now churned and muddy, my shoes slipping helplessly. I then struggled as best I could for the first mile, the calf aching, the quads not best pleased. It felt slow, but the first mile was covered in 6:05. I then struggled loads on the longer grass section which was slippery in and muddy.

At the turnaround I spotted fellow Belvoir Tri Club member Adam just a few seconds behind me. Keen to be the first Belvoir home, I picked up the pace a touch once the grass section had been muddled through, ignoring the increasing ache in the right calf. The second mile was a 6:03 and the final mile was run at 5:48 pace, which was good enough to keep Adam at bay and to complete the final 5k leg in 17:25. My wife and children were there to greet me, which pleased me enormously but there was a real sense of disappointment at the finish. I was frustrated that the transitions were so bad, disappointed with my effort in the bike section, grateful that the bad calf made it to the finish but frustrated that it hindered my performance a touch.

During the race I had no idea where i had finished. I found out on Facebook that I was eighth in my age group (57th overall), which was better than I had thought I had managed. For a first real effort at Duathlon I should be happy, but there is knowledge that I could have done better that has tempered the joy. The weather too made it a mostly miserable affair plus too many novice mistakes put me out of the comfort zone I enjoy when taking part in running races. Hopefully at my next Duathlon I should have a TT bike in my possession which means I will be able to compete on a more level playing field.

From London to Langtoft For Their 10k

Running is an amazing pastime, perhaps unique in that one weekend you can be racing in one of sport’s most famous and iconic events – the London Marathon – and the very next weekend you can find yourself competing in the Langtoft 10K – a race that last year had 207 finishers and this year around 27 spectators (Some of those being marshals). When I pulled up with my travel companion Scott, we both were singing what the hell / f**k am I doing here (I was singing the Radio Edit). This is in no way disrespectful to Langtoft, a fine example of a fens village, it’s just that the weather was pretty terrible. Very wet and decidedly windy. The wet we could just about cope with. A windy race is not usually a fun race, especially when it’s taking place on the Fens – a part of the world where the wind speeds feel doubly strong thanks to the flat (some may say featureless) terrain.

What made it even worse was that just a few days ago I’d barely even heard of the race, let alone intended to run it. I heard Scott was planning to run on Wednesday, then on Thursday another club member offered up his race number as he was unable to take part. I let him know I was tempted but wanted to see how our club run went in respect to how the legs were after Sunday’s London Marathon. The 12 miles were fairly tortuous, with the upper glute area (In the right leg especially) which had cramped first in the marathon, aching enough for me to beg Scott for a lift home from the club rather than jog the mile or so back. During the course of the run and the lift home, I went from yes, I am running it,  to no, back to yes, then no, then I left it at maybe.

Friday morning and I struggled out of bed with stiffness but managed the elliptical trainer for ninety minutes. I saw no effects from that and although the right quad ached a fair bit I committed myself to racing on the Sunday afternoon. I took Saturday off entirely to let the leg rest up some more. Come Saturday night and a fair amount of massaging and stretching, the leg felt at around 80%. Sunday morning however saw the right leg feel fine, but the left hamstring near the groin aching, in a manner not dissimilar to how the right leg felt before the Notts AC Five Mile Race.

Coincidentally it was at that race in July last year where I last wore my Nike Lunar Racer 2 trainers (Save for an aborted warm up at the Lincs 5k the following week and at the club handicap race a few weeks after that). They were undoubtedly fast but they wreaked havoc to my Achilles, leaving them with literally bloody blisters. They had been consigned to the great trainer rack in the sky but for some reason or another I decided to give them another chance – albeit with a modification performed by my talented wife, who made several incisions to the Achilles tab with the intention of reducing the pressure it applied.

The Achilles Tab Surgery Applied To My Nike Lunar Racer 2 Trainers.

We arrived at Langtoft an hour before the off. We stumbled upon fellow club runner Stuart and proceeded to collect our numbers from a gazebo which was leaking water at an alarming rate, not only for the well being of the inhabitants but because it was also meant to be doubling up as the baggage area. We opted to use the boots of our cars…

Around half an hour before the off at 11:15 we set off for a warm up  / late fitness test. The left groin / hamstring was stiff and quite sore, but was manageable and didn’t hinder my gait. Happily too my right quad was pain free and the trainers felt great. So the race was on, but I didn’t think that I was quite up for giving it a full out attack. I’d mentioned on Thursday I would be happy to pace some of our runners. We met another club runner Anna on our warm up. She is a relative novice to the sport but has bags of potential to her already considerable ability, as she demonstrated when she seemingly waltzed around to a 3:13 clocking at her debut marathon at Manchester two weeks ago. She had no idea what she could run, but I think she could run around 39 minutes currently. Stuart fancied a sub 38 stab, his best around a minute slower than this.

I was in my usual last minute queue for the Portaloo, making it to the start with a fairly safe three minutes to spare. I hooked up with Anna and Stuart and made a final decision to aim for a 38 minute target, but planned a 6:30 clocking for the opening mile. As the klaxon was fired for the start of the race however this time seemed a little slow for however hard I / we tried, we couldn’t run any slower that 6:05 pace. There’s always a little exuberance at the start, but it seemed that the planned 6:30 mile was going to be thrown out of the window.

Also thrown out of the equation was the much feared bad weather. The rain had stopped shortly before the start, and with the cessation of precipitation also seemingly came a ceasefire in the strong winds. We were faced with a cross wind for the opening kilometre or so and it barely registered, much to the relief surely of every runner.

We went through the first mile in 6:10. Anna was just behind what we thought was the lead lady and fellow club member Will was way up the road seemingly in the first half dozen runners. Anna made it to around 10k but declared the pace a little too hot. We wished her well, she struggled with what is hopefully just cramp in her calf but ran a great debut road 10k in 40:24 to take third position in the women’s race. Stuart looked set to try and stick with the pace, we went through two miles in 6:07 and I tried my best to keep the pace consistent, which was happily relatively easy thanks to the flat terrain and relative non-presence of the wind.

The first inclination of Stuart struggling a touch was at the first water station where he needed to pour a fair amount of water to cool himself down. We went through the third mile in 6:11 and past halfway in around 19:10. 38 minutes was just about on if we could negative split the second 5k. This however was beginning to look doubtful as we hit the only significant climb of note – barely more than a 1% drag, but it was into the wind and slowed us to around 6:55 pace for the first quarter of the fourth mile.

Happily there was a descent to follow that helped us make up some lost time but, for the first time, Stuart was struggling to stick to my tail. We went through the fourth mile in 6:13 and began the opening tenth of the fifth mile in around 6:20 pace, me having to slow a touch to keep Stuart on board my train. I then made a decision ,as we made a turn that saw us head back to the start and enjoy a breeze on our backs for the return, to pick up the pace to what I thought we would need to break 38 minutes. I did this for a couple of minutes, looked around and saw that Stuart had no response.

I then looked ahead and saw Will, who had at one point been well over a minute ahead of us but now was just about within eyeshot and seemingly fading. This, I thought, was hardly surprising as he had run 17:02 at Peterborough parkrun the day before and had completed two speed sessions during the week. Tough going for a seasoned pro, let alone a raw 19 year old.

Feeling like I had a bit of running left in the legs. I began to pick up the pace. I passed a couple of runners as I went through the fifth mile in 5:56 and recognised the road to be the one we began the race on. Knowing we were in the final stages of the race with a fast flat run to the finish, I poured on the coals, running with an abandon I rarely allow myself. I caught and passed the lead lady, who totally unseen by us at the start, had opened a sizeable gap on her rivals. Will was now just 30 meters or so up the road and I doubled my efforts to catch him which I did just as we passed the 9km marker.

The sight of another GRC vest certainly spurred Will on, for he instantly matched my pace and, for a while, increased it. On another day I would have buckled and let him go ahead, but today I was having none of it, and just as I felt he was beginning to slow, I pushed again. The sixth mile was covered just as we turned left into the final twisty section at the finish HQ at Langtoft Primary School. It was a 5:22, one of the fastest miles I’ve ever clocked in a race.

I now had a sizeable gap on Will, which was just as well for I misheard a marshal’s cry of Well Done Grantham! for Hold On Grantham! at a left hand turn just before the finish. Luckily no damage was done for I soon realised the error of my ways and took the correct route to the finish line, clocking a pleasing, given the circumstances, 37:23, and finishing in a respectable thirteenth position. Happily too the modified trainers had been a resounding success, the Achilles unstressed by the modifications and the trainers still structurally sound despite being having several incisions.

Will came home not long after, as did Stuart, who had slipped a touch to finish in 38:54, but this was good enough to claim a new 10k PB. Anna came home not long after and then Scott, who was not that happy with his time, but the year is still young and there is plenty of time to come back into form.

There was no thought of a warm down, the left groin really tight as soon as the race had finished. We hung around to see Anna claim her third place prize, she was in esteemed company as Aaron Scott, who finished third in the Championship race at the London Marathon (with a 2:20 clocking), collected his winner’s prize having just missed out on the course record.

In terms of size, prestige and importance, it was a million miles away from the London Marathon. But, as I mentioned at the top of the report, this is what makes running such a great and unique sport. From ultra professional to grass roots in the blinking of an eye, but with a similar spread of quality and enthusiasm at both events. A very good little event is the Langtoft 10k. 

Langtoft 10k Grantham Running Club Post Race Photo.