I had been looking forward to running the Whissendine 6ix (Six) mile race for some time – several years in fact. 2019 was the first year, I think, since moving to Grantham where there hadn’t been a Grand Prix on that weekend so I was able to make the short journey from Grantham to Whissendine for the Friday evening race.
The race marked the debut appearance for my Nike Vaporfly 4% race trainers. This hadn’t been intentional. Although I was curious as to their powers having seen many pro runners in them performing unbelievably and having been beaten by runners in races either wearing them or variants thereof, I had balked at the price of them considering the limited mileage they have before apparently falling apart.
By chance the day before Whissendine The Lincolnshire Runner posted on its Facebook page that they had been able to acquire a few pairs of Nike Vaporfly 4% and one of the sizes they had was mine (a 10). Not only did they have them in stock (A rarity indeed as they are usually only available in a select few outlets) they were selling them at £170, a significant saving on the RRP.
Normally you are just expected to comment on the post to secure your intention to purchase. I took no chances and was straight on the phone and giving them all my details with the promise that I would be there the following lunchtime to collect. The fact Lincolnshire Runner had them was particularly fortuitous as I had a fair amount of gift vouchers from them awarded as prizes in local races. Add to that cash I had also won and it meant that effectively I was going to pick these 195 gram wonders gratis.
As promised the following lunchtime, around seven hours before Whissendine, I was over in Lincoln in the running shop about to try on the shoes. As you are encouraged to whenever trying on a pair of trainers there the sales assistant suggested I head outside and try them out along the high street. This I did. I took three steps and was sold. No need to push them any further. I could see straight away what all the fuss was about.
While in store I tried on some other shoes I was curious about. The Hoka Carbon X disappointed – they felt less zingy than my Cliftons. The brand new Hoka Rincons however felt great – I vowed to grab a pair when they inevitably come down in price a little. I also ended up buying a couple of pairs of heavily discounted Nike Frees of various vintage. They have for many years been one of my staple training and racing shoes and was pleased to have some pairs to replace my ageing models. With the addition of some new Goodr running sunglasses I was distinctly lighter in the pocket than I had planned but pleased with my purchases and itching to get racing in the 4%s!
I headed to Whissendine with my friend and training partner (bike especially) Stephen. He had, the previous week, completed the insanely hard Wasdale X Triathlon – an Ironman length triathlon held in the Lake District and without doubt the hardest triathlon in the country, if not Europe and the world! Having done brilliantly to finish well inside the top ten but having suffered badly with the heat of what turned out to be the warmest days of the summer, he was happy to just be supporting rather than competing.
Once in Whissendine and having worked out where the start and finish was in relation to the car park, I left Mr Hobday to his own devices exploring the village and its pub while I warmed up and killed a bit of time. I did the mile and a half long warm up in my Hoka Cliftons, my race shoe of the previous year or so and now a back-up to the Vaporfly’s which were to be saved for races only. The first steps in these shoes, other than walking to the start would be when racing! The warm up was unspectacular, the right Achilles needed plenty of stretching before it stopped becoming annoying.
Once back at the car park I gathered the GRC troops for a group photo and then went for one last comfort break before changing into the trainers. Feeling like no other trainer I’ve worn, I walked a little gingerly the 100 meters or so to the start line where I made small talk with several competitors – mostly discussing the weather, which at around 22C and sunny was pretty warm but for me, not an issue other than the (recently found, having been lost for nearly a year) GRC vest received a rare outing! Club mate Chris Limmer pointed out who he saw as my main threat – a 16 minute 5K runner who, as it happened, was also wearing the Vaporflys.
On time at 7:30pm we were sent, with little fanfare, on our way. Having discussed the race several times with another club mate Jonny Palmer (not racing this year, but who won the 6ix in 2017 having finished second a year earlier) he had urged me to start cautiously on the lightening fast downhill start for after around half a mile in the heart of the village the road kicked up for a stiff climb out of the village itself before heading out on an undulating loop with the bulk of the climbs between miles three and five miles before a quick downhill half mile to the finish.
I very briefly took the lead before team mate Chris took the helm and led a group of five us down towards the pub where Stephen was waiting with a load of other supporters basking in the pleasant warmth of the midsummer evening sun. The shoes felt great but, as the second placed finisher at Sleaford told me a mile or so into the race, they were going to take a little while to get used to, particularly the sensation that my feet could burst out of the flimsy fabric of the trainer at any second, especially as the laces felt a little looser than I prefer.
We slowed inevitably up the hill out of the village. I was happy to sit at the back of the group in fifth and make my way up the climb as economically as possible. We turned left not long after leaving the village for a spell of flat before a long descent. Chris lost the lead to the young runner who he had touted before the start of the race, and another runner who took on the pace and began to eke out a gap ahead of everyone else.
Passing the first mile in a solid, if unspectacular 5:38, my fears that the lace on the left shoe was actually coming undone proved unfounded and as we headed gradually downhill I found my feet, so to speak, in the new trainers and began to pick up the pace, passing Chris and another runner to move into third. The second mile may have been entirely downhill but I was encouraged to clock a 5:20 mile, the kind of split usually reserved for a good mile in a 5K race.
Going into the third mile I passed the touted lad in the Vaporflies which confirmed my hunch that although the shoes were undoubtedly very fast, you still have to have someone doing the pedaling, so to speak. With the leader by now 15-20 seconds down the road I was content to finish second and just focused on running as well as possible. To my delight I actually found myself halving that gap as we hit halfway in 16:34 after a 5:36 third mile.
Taking a left turn I instantly recognised the road as the one I had driven along to get to the race and knew that it would be a test with a set of rollers to contend with. On the first climb I quite quickly closed and pulled alongside the leader. He said ‘Well done!’ and with that I pretty much knew that, barring disaster, the race was won. Without actually realising I pulled out a race winning gap on that climb, which was almost a mile long and saw a 5:45 fourth mile clocked. After a quick descent it was time for a second shorter, but steeper, climb. It was here where Stephen had come out to cheer me on, expecting me to be well up the order but not actually leading. He commented after the race how the ‘flys had made my running form look far more efficient, even on the climbs. All I was interested in was how big the gap was to second which he said was plenty.
Heading back downhill and going through mile 5 in 5:33 I must admit I’d forgotten there was a final climb into Whissendine itself before the finish. I was tiring but the predicted finish time on my watch of 33:33 was scarcely believable! This meant around 34:30 for a ten KM when a month or so earlier at Whissendine I’d struggled to break 35 minutes on a flat course! It also represented an 82 second improvement on my six mile PB, set at Stratford way back in 2012.
With this quick time in mind and the stress of holding my lead diminished with the assurance of victory. I relaxed as I made my way to the top of the final hill and enjoyed the lightening fast descent to the finish just as Jonny promised. I crossed the line, hands aloft but barely out of breath in 33:33 – just as my watch had predicted earlier in the race and with a 5:30 final mile to close.
The first thing I did after the race, after stopping my watch and grabbing a cup of water to juggle with alongside the memento beer glass and unwanted beer was remove the Vaporflys! I was determined to not put an extra meter on them that wasn’t necessary! After some congratulations from the officials I was grabbed by a reporter from the local radio station who asked if i could be interviewed live. I reluctantly obliged and duly gave what must have been an excruciating spiel on what had just unfolded.
Keen not to embark on any more media relations I decided to head back along the course back to the car so I could change into my Hokas for a warm down before the prize giving. Taking it easy in only my socks I was given the hurry up via a phone call from Stephen who alerted me that the awards were going to be handed out without me!
I jogged back down to the finish just in time for the traditional prize of crystal cut glasses to be handed out. With that done and the end of race group GRC photo done there was little left to do but to head back to the car with Stephen and head home triumphant and very pleased with a most unexpected victory!