It wasn’t my intention to take part in the Folksworth 15, rather an opportunity arose a month before the race for me to take someone else’s place due to injury. I had planned originally for January to be a strictly base building month ahead of the London Marathon, but then something in me said it would be a shame to turn down a chance to race (for free) on a free weekend when you are in reasonably good shape.
Indeed 2016 ended and 2017 began with a flurry of ‘race efforts’ interspersed with some serious Christmas eating and drinking. I ran Belton House parkrun for four consecutive weekends: on Christmas Eve as part of a 17.5 mile run (5th, 17:55); New Year’s Eve a very surprising 3rd in 17:00 (My third fastest ever 5k and definitely the fastest off road 5k!); January 7th I came first in a pleasing 17:29 as part of a 14 mile run; and January 14th I clocked 17:16 for second place, part of a 20 mile run which averaged 6:30 per mile. With no specific training I was clearly running myself into good form – perhaps the best 5k form I’ve been in.
There was no real taper for Folksworth other than the concession to have a day off before the race. Race morning awoke cold with temperatures struggling to climb above freezing. With ice a real risk I wondered whether the event may be cancelled but there was no indication so I left at 8:30 for the 50 minute or so journey just south of Peterborough. I parked up next a small farm barn (an official parking spot) and jumped into a waiting minibus arranged to take runners to race HQ. All very well organised!
Despite arriving well over an hour ahead of the start race HQ (A small primary school) was pretty crowded. I met up with some of the 18 or so strong Grantham Running Club contingency taking part in the race. I changed into my race kit – I opted to go in a full thermal mode, so went for running tights, compression socks, short sleeved thermal layer and new GRC long sleeved top, which had only been once before at a small inter club cross country race held on ‘Madge’s Farm’ on January 2nd, which I somehow managed to win. I also opted to test the Hoka One One Clifton 2’s for a race with the view of saving them for the London Marathon. Since putting around 300 miles on them I’ve come to enjoy their cushioning and sense of rebound with light weight credentials – it was these shoes I ran the fast parkrun times in.
The warm up was brief – just over a mile to survey the condition of the course, which was cold, frosty, but pretty much ice free. The biggest issue around the start was the state of the toilets and in particular the portaloos, which had all frozen solid and were in a very sorry state. It was a case of holding your breath and spending as little time in them as possible! Rather than head too early to the start I took sanctuary in the post race hot drinks area which was sparsely populated and did a pre-race stretch. I got to the start line just a few minutes before the start and, like quite a few others, used the local farm land to fully empty the tanks, embarrassingly caught on camera!
There was precious free pre-race race ceremonies or speeches, little more than a warning to watch out for ice and then a countdown from 5 down to 0 with the race kicking off exactly on time at 11am. I’d lined myself up in the second row, having seen inevitable (and actual) race winner Aaron Scott warming up that there was no point going off with the leaders. That said my pace was pretty quick for the opening half mile – nearly 5:30 pace before the gaps developed, race order was formed, and I settled down to a 5:46 opening mile.
From the off I felt as though my legs weren’t quite at the party on this day, feeling a little heavy and sluggish. The second mile slowed to 5:54 (although Strava GAP reckons it’s worth a 5:45) as there was the first of three climbs on the 7.5 mile lap. It was here I passed the seventh placed runner. On the fairly frosty descent I pulled clear of him but the sixth place runner was already some way in the distance. It was going to be a lonely race! The third mile had the hardest climb on the course – not massively steep but enough to slow the pace to 6:12 (5:38 on Strava GAP). It was here the support of marshals and spectators came into its own. This is not the most interesting of courses and it is the enthusiasm of those helping and watching that keeps you going.
Miles four and five are on a top of a ridge, mostly flat but with a nagging head wind on this day which just made running feel a bit tough. I clocked a consistent 5:51 and 5:52, by now resigned to just having the splits on my watch to keep me motivated as all hope of catching any one in front looked remote. To break the monotony I decided to take on water at the first drinks station. The water in the cups was icy cold and as I took a mouthful it chilled the chest and prompted a coughing fit. I decided from then not to take on any more water.
The sixth mile saw us turn left and head towards home on a most enjoyable gradual downhill stretch, made complete by the nagging headwind becoming a near tailwind. It was here I was thankful for the Hoka’s as the tarmac is well worn and hard on the soles of the feet – memories of suffering in my Nike Free’s when I ran this race last three years earlier came flooding back to me. I clocked 5:34 (A leisurely 6:02 on Strava GAP). The easy mile came to a crashing halt with a cheeky little climb early on in the seventh mile, but today I climbed with little fuss and managed to break 6 minutes for the mile with a 5:57 (5:40 GAP).
As I completed the first lap and passed halfway I glanced at my watch, it read 44:02, which meant I was just inside my course (And 15 mile PB) of 1:28:39. This gave me a brief moment of motivation as I was keen to try and break 1:28, and so I was in with a shout. Mile 8 was 5:42 (5:55 GAP), but I waned on the ninth mile with a 5:57 (5:53 GAP). The tenth and eleventh miles had the two climbs, I felt like I struggled as I clocked 6:02 and 6:20, but these were worth a 5:56 and 5:44 apparently.
It was nearing the top of the second climb that I glanced back to see if anyone was within catching distance. The eighth placed guy appeared to be closing, this gave me the motivation to keep the tempo going. On the flat ridge and into the headwind I clocked 5:58 and 5:51. Turning left onto the lovely long descent I allowed myself a look back to see whether eighth place was any closer. I thought he was but a marshal assured me I still had a healthy gap.
This good news relaxed me somewhat tackling the downhill fourteenth mile in 5:36 (6:04) knowing that I could take it fairly easy if necessary on the final climb and still finish seventh. The thought though of a course PB spurred me on up the final hill and around the last corner down the long barely downhill stretch to the finish. I turned left into the finish area, glancing at the finishing clock which had me, having run a 5:51 final mile (5:31 GAP), just under 20 seconds inside my PB with a chip time of 1:28:21.
With the race done I didn’t have long to wait for the next GRC runner to finish, Chris Limmer coming in around four minutes later. We went to change into warmer clothes before returning to the finish to see nearly all the other GRC runners finish. I tried to organise a post-race picture of all of us, it turned out to be an impossible task. We went to the prize giving ceremony. As in 2014 I missed out on a prize by one position, I was second V40, the first V40 finished ahead of me in sixth. As in 2014 I was somewhat relieved I didn’t win a prize, as recipients appeared to be mostly getting a random selection of wine glasses that I don’t need!
With that done I walked back to the car and headed home. My immediate post race opinion that it was probably the most boring race since I last run the Folksworth 15 (But more boring than that) hasn’t really changed much, but it was an encouraging start to the year. I hope that the rest of the races in 2017 see a bit more race action!