Race Report – Woodhall Spa 10K – Sunday 3rd June 2018

Following on from the PB at the Lincoln 5K I went into the Woodhall Spa 10K with a sense of optimism that I could attack my 10K PB at a race that is renowned for being capable of some very quick times. The knee pain that plagued me for much of May soon disappeared – I used the Voltarol gel for a couple more runs before it was apparent that it was no longer required.

I was still training very much with running at a minimum. I waited three days before running then again two days later when I went on a 10 mile run to test the new Garmin Forerunner 935 I had treated myself to. The 910XT has served me very well but it is just starting to get a bit long in the tooth – battery life is not what it was and the repeated frustration of a very long reading at the 5K persuaded me to upgrade for a watch that will hopefully see me through another five years of running, cycling, elliptical training and, maybe, just maybe, some swimming. The watch was great, the next day I test an add on called Peter’s Race  Pacer which could be a godsend in longer races especially – more of that later.

What the watch couldn’t stop was some very sore Achilles thanks to some very tight calf muscles. Wednesday’s very wet run was made doubly miserable by the right Achilles aching constantly, as it did after Thursday evening’s post chain gang ride brick mile. I ran 10 mostly off road miles on the Friday, the right Achilles had a dull ache but seemed to be improved with some stretching of the calf muscle, which I was sure was the source of the problem.

Come Sunday morning and the right Achilles was still aching but I was willing to risk it for a stab at a quick time. Before leaving the house I optimistically set Peter’s Race Pacer for a sub-34 minute 10K, which would better my PB of 34:09 by 10 seconds if I managed to pull it off. When I stepped out of the house to get into the car I soon realised that the weather would be perhaps the major limiting factor in any such PB attempt. It was only 8am but already it was 18C+  and humidity was high, already feeling uncomfortably clammy just sitting in the car, let alone running.

I arrived at Woodhall Spa shortly after 9am. With the race not starting until 11:15am it gave plenty of time to prepare and also plenty of opportunity for conditions to heat up! The car was parked around a mile from the HQ so I changed into my kit at the car (It was already plenty warm enough to be comfortable in just a vest) and walked over to the start area. Once there there were some familiar faces from Grantham Running Club, so many in fact that by 10:15 or so we had enough to create a rather impressive group photo!

GRC at Woodhall Spa

With the photo done I ran a near 2 mile warm up, of two loops, the second mile progressively getting quicker. The right Achilles ached a bit but gave no undue cause for concern. The heat and humidity however was troubling, the sunshine, which had not been forecast, was rocketing temperatures well into the mid twenties Celsius which, coupled with high humidity, made running very unpleasant. With little that could be done about it though I set about stretching the calves as much as possible, seeking shade and timing the final toilet stop to perfection.

I made my way to the start with around five minutes to spare. I lined myself up near the front. Any thoughts of a victory were dispelled an hour or so earlier with the appearance of former winner Matt Bowser, who is one of the best runners in the region and has a sub-30 minute 10K on his palmares. I was not that fussed though about a good placing – ideally I wanted a good group of similarly paced runners who would hopefully see me through to a quick time.

The race started on time at 11:15am. As predicted Matt B and one other runner (William Strangeway) were soon disappearing far into the distance. There were around five or six other runners in front of me, the only one I recognised was RAF / Sleaford’s Iain Bailey, who I had raced against several times and had never beaten him. As he pulled 10 or seconds clear over the first mile or so this looked like it would be a repeat performance.

As mentioned earlier, I was using Peter’s Race Pacer (PRP) for the first time. The idea of this app is that you punch in a certain time for a race, e.g. 34 minutes for a 10K and it will tell you whether you are up or down on that target. That element is basically the same as Garmin’s Virtual Partner. What makes PRP pretty cool is that 1. It has all the key data fields required during a race on one page, namely elapsed time, HR, average pace for the run, instant pace, and distance run.  2. It will dynamically update what your finishing time will be. 3. the instant pace is an average of 10 seconds which takes out the discrepancies you can sometime get with instant pace – especially when a foo pod is not being worn (I was wearing one but it, wasn’t working!). 3. The potential killer feature is the ability for the predicted finish time to be adjusted by hitting the lap button when passing course mile / km markers. With half marathons and marathons especially, after a few miles a watch can often be 0.1 of a mile or more out, at the London Marathon I have been as much as 0.5 mile out once GPS has been lost / confused by underpasses and Canary Wharf buildings. Whereas I’ve relied on a little mental maths to try and approximate a finish time, PRP will adjust the distance and predicted finish time accordingly when you hit the lap button when passing a mile marker.

The only issue with testing it at a 10KM race was that the markers were in kilometres which meant I had to use KM splits, which I’m not really familiar with. The watch still showed current pace and average pace in minutes/mile, but I did miss the affirmation of a mile split. I passed the first KM in 3:18 which I carried through to run the first mile in 5:33. For the opening minute or two I was running significantly quicker – sub 34 pace, but I soon settled into a pace which looked like it would bring me in at around about 34:15 pace.

Mile 3 having just passed a couple of runners.

The second mile was 5:34 and for a while things were looking good. I had  closed on and passed a group of three runners, those in the picture above in fact, and was closing down on Iain Bailey, who I passed at around 2.5 miles, and put a few second’s gap on him.

However, not long after passing Iain, the wheels began to slowly, but inexorably, fall off. The sun was well and truly out and it was rapidly becoming very unpleasant to run in. Then there were the rather ominous twinges of tightness and discomfort running from the base of the right Achilles and ankle further up and into the calf muscle. It was not bad enough for it to particularly slow me but it was not confidence inspiring and there was the fear that, at any moment, things could go bang! and it would be game over, not just for the race but for the foreseeable future.

The third mile was a touch slower again at 5:37, going through 5K in 17:20, which was nowhere near where I wanted to be at halfway. With thoughts of a PB well and truly out of the window it was just a case of hanging on and trying to find ways to keep the concentration high and run as fast a time as possible. There was the lure of trying to get a good age grade as this was a club GP Series race where Age Grade is all important. I had a feeling I could be on for a reasonable finishing position with the possibility of being first V40. There was also the lure of claiming the scalp of Iain Bailey, which ultimately would be the driving motivator as the finish line came closer.

Mile 4 was a horrible 5:48, but I was suffering, so clearly was everybody else as those behind me weren’t passing me and those ahead were not pulling too far ahead. The course itself is not entirely flat, no real hills to speak of, but little undulations that seemed to sap the life out of you when they climbed gently upwards, yet offered little benefit when dropping down. It was too a fairly boring course, with little in the way of crowd support or stunning scenery.

By mile 5 I was really questioning why I was putting all this effort in to do something as pointless as running 10K. This is not an uncommon thought during a 10K, it’s a tough distance run very close to maximal effort for its entirety. But with the conditions on this day proving particularly harsh, the wisdom of such efforts were hard to justify. The rot was stopped with a 5:42 fifth mile, although I was getting KM splits during the race that meant little.

What I was relying on was the finish time predictor which was settling at around 34:42. With just over a mile to run I was determined to keep inside 35 minutes, which would be a satisfying return given the conditions. That last mile lasted an eternity. I could tell that Iain Bailey was closing on me, as we returned to the race HQ there were more spectators, many of them appearing to be Bailey fans willing him on to catch and pass me.

I think as we passed the 200 meters to go sign he was within a second or so of me. Determined to not let him pass I put in a sprint finish that I’ve rarely mustered and came home to eventually beat him by a relatively comfortable seven seconds. As I sunk to my knees, I looked at my watch – 34:45 was the time, not quite what I’d hoped for, but it transpired that, with 82.99% age grade, it was, statistically, my best ever race – although it most certainly did not feel like it.

With the flow of adrenaline leaving my body, the pain in the right Achilles appeared to increase. I hobbled over to a tree for shelter, removed my trainers, and spent a good ten minutes watching GRC runners come home. It took some time for me to find out I finished 5th, which I worked out guaranteed me an Age Group prize. I hung around for an eternity for the presentation only for the MC to announce that Age Category prizes would be sent out in the post! Suffice to say, the envelope sent through my door with £20 in it was not as satisfying as actually being able to receive some applause on the day itself.

Holly and me Woodhall Spa – Age Group Winners!

I hobbled back to the car and drove home. Walking the next day was not easy but I was able to cross train, and after a couple of weeks I was able to start running again, albeit still with Achilles issues that I need to get to the bottom of the root cause. Tight calves is the likely issue. Until then running is taking a bit of a back burner to cycling, hopefully I will be fit in time for my holidays!


Race Report – Woodhall Spa Sprint Triathlon

June 14th saw my long awaited debut at a triathlon. Preparations had gone reasonably well. The cycling was improving week on week, the days proceeding the triathlon saw another Witham Wheelers Ten Mile course PB at the club championships, then an entertaining first-time chain gang ride on the Thursday evening which averaged over 22mph for the 40 mile ride. The running has inexplicably been better than it has ever been and the swimming…. Well the less said about the lack of swimming training the better. An indication of how little training I did was that my googles broke mid-swim six weeks ago and it took me three weeks to get around to replacing them.

I was probably more nervous for this triathlon then I’ve been for many a year at a running race. What was immediately apparent the day before when preparing kit was that there is so much more to remember to pack for a triathlon than a running race. I  thought I had it all covered when my wife suggested I pack my swimming goggles at close to midnight – probably the second most important bit of kit required.

An early six o’clock wake up call and a military operation to get everyone up and out of the house before seven am went smoothly. The drive to Woodhall Spa was painless and we were there just under two hours before my allotted start time. We were very lucky to get the last car park space in the main car park close to the event. Had we been a minute or two later we would have had a lengthy walk which, with no buggy for the two year old, would have been interesting.

I collected my race number and caught the last few minutes of the race briefing. Nothing too complicated, just a few rules that had to be adhered to or face the risk of time penalties or worse. Back to the car and it was time to reassemble the bike, which thankfully was mostly painless. I changed into my Aldi special tri suit and went to rack my bike. An immediate school boy error was that most other entrants had bought some kind of box to store all the kit required for the run and swim. I had bought nothing and had to improvise with a plastic bag. Nothing too disastrous but it would make things a little trickier than necessary.

Once bike was checked over and racked up I went for a 10 minute run warm up. That at least felt familiar and I was pleased to see that the running legs felt good. After saying farewell to the family, who were firmly entrenched in the kids’ playground, I headed to the pool where we would begin the triathlon with a 400 meter swim. I was there 20 minutes before my start time and I took the time to check over the procedure and protocol and generally become more nervous.

At 9:36 I was called with five other swimmers to our lanes. I was in lane 4. The gentleman next to me I think was a fellow novice, a fellow novice also in an Aldi special tri suit, who was not convinced it was going to last the swim. I reassured him that I had tried the suit once in the pool and it hadn’t disintegrated, so I hope that put his mind at rest.

At 9:38 we were off and I headed off for a long 400 meters. The pool is 33m long and heated, which most proper swimmers dislike, but I rather enjoyed. My front crawl is inefficient and ripe for ripping apart from a coach and improving, but for now I just swam the best I could without killing myself through drowning. I counted down the lengths – 12 of them – which seemed to take an eternity, but I had my family standing poolside cheering me on which helped immeasurably.

Finally I’d completed the 400 meters and I clambered somewhat ungracefully from the pool, pulling off the swim cap and hurling my goggles at my wife, which she amazingly caught. I’d put 10 minutes down for my predicted time, and, according to the results, 10:00 is what I clocked, so at least I know I’m not very good at swimming very accurately. The triathlon was run as a time-trial so I was surrounded by fairly similarly untalented swimmers – the results show I set the 412th fastest time out of 663 who completed the swim. If I ever do another triathlon then it is clearly the swim where I can make some significant gains.

Another area where I can improve dramatically is transition. My first experience of swim to bike was nothing short of a farce. I struggled to find my socks in the plastic bag, then couldn’t tighten properly my cycle shoes. I struggled with the cycle mits then the gel number belt. I dithered over whether to wear a long sleeved cycle jersey, the temperature sitting at around 12C. After 20 seconds of further indecision I opted not to wear it and with the aero helmet on I wobbled off in my shoes to the transition line – where I stopped again to try to fasten the shoes before climbing the bike and heading off, having set just the 549th fastest time through T1.

Once I’d settled into the saddle at least now I felt I was tackling something I was relatively familiar with, having tackled a couple of months of time trials. The legs felt surprisingly stiff after the swim, but I soon began to pick off cyclists ahead of me. The 25km course is fairly technical with plenty of turns and some rough surfaces along the way. I tried as best I could to remain in the tuck on the tri bars and pushed at around 90% of what I have been doing in the time trials. The ride got easier in the second half as it turned out we had been mostly climbing gently for the opening 20 minutes or so. In fact I was just getting my legs used to pedalling when I realised that we were coming back towards transition.

There were two tips I took with me to this triathlon. The first was to put talc in my socks to allow them easy passage onto my feet after the swim. This worked a charm. The other was to drop down on to the small chain ring and pedal at more than 100rpm for a km or so before the end of the bike ride to help the beginning of the run, where I should try and maintain a high cadence of more than 190bpm for the first half mile.

Entering the bike to run transition.

As the transition came to me rather abruptly, I only had 20 seconds or so to spin the high cadence before I was screeching to a halt and unclipping the shoes from the pedals. No thoughts of trying to get the feet out of the shoes while on the bike. I kept things simple and waddled as best I could in my cycle shows to my bike rack. The second transition was still not that quick (dithered over removing gloves and sunglasses) but happily better than the first one – a mere 406th fastest and only 30 seconds or so slower than most of the quicker guys and girls as opposed to 90 seconds at T1. The bike ride though was a much more pleasing state of affairs – my split of 42:16 turned out to be the 56th fastest bike leg – only six quicker than me were not members of a triathlon club.

It was now the moment of truth – how would the legs feel after the bike and swim on the run leg? I know from a few previous attempts at a post bike ride run (Known as a brick run for reasons I know not), that it can feel alarmingly bad, as though the legs are almost disconnected from the brain in terms of working properly or feeling normal.

Thankfully the moment the run began they felt almost as though I hadn’t cycled or swam at all. I didn’t have to worry about the high cadence thing and cracked on with the run. The only difficulty I had with the run was that the Garmin – which I’d used on Auto Multisport for the first time, for reasons best known to the circuitry contained within, decided to swap my familiar pace guide of minutes per mile to minutes per kilometer. I didn’t have the foggiest what pace it was suggesting I was running and so could only rely initially on old fashioned tips such as it felt quite quick, it felt comfortable, and I was passing people regularly and not being passed.

It was though a huge relief that the watch beeped to give me a mile split – 5:31. I was a little shocked by this – this was the same sort of pace I ran at the BUPA 10K! Boosted by this positive split I pushed on again, not letting the somewhat dull course and the brief emergence of some warm June sunshine put me off. I ignored the drinks stop at nearly half way and clocked the second mile in 5:34. At this point we were running on a narrow pavement which was quite uneven and with not much room to pass runners. It wasn’t a huge issue but it slowed me a touch.

I recognised at a corner that we were heading back towards transition and I realised that the legend of triathlon distances being a little fast and loose in terms of accuracy would hold true, for it was no time at all that I was ushered off the pavement and into the finish chute, which, according to my now metric Garmin, was around 200 meters shy of 5km. I averaged 5:35 for the final mile and felt no ill effects after the finish – a million miles away from the similarly paced 5k I ran at Melton Parkrun just a month earlier.

First Triathlon – Done!


Once I’d had my transponder removed and I’d reunited myself with family, I went to get my finishing results, which were then verified the next day. The run split was timed at 16:37, which was the third fastest of the day and bettered only by the winner overall and the seventh placed finisher. That rapid run saw me finish in 1:12:44 which was good for 67th position, which was exactly a third better than my unstated desire to finish in the top 100. Clearly there is a lot of work to be done on the swim, bike and transitions, but there could be a future in triathlon – if I can get myself a load of money!

Still feeling fresh I decided not to try and disassemble the bike into the back of the car, and set about riding the 30 odd miles back home which was a pleasantly leisurely affair. I had chance to mull over my first triathlon and whether I actually enjoyed it. I concluded that it on the whole it was a good experience but I am not sure whether I enjoyed it that much. That, more than anything, was down to it being a sprint triathlon. All three disciplines are over so fast that it was all a bit of a blur and I didn’t have the opportunity to appreciate the surroundings or maybe embrace the experience with fellow competitors and spectators like you arguably can at longer events or at an event where you are taking part just to finish. The same holds true of my comparative dislike of shorter running events like 5k and 10k over the longer disciplines. So, to conclude, it wasn’t the discipline I didn’t enjoy, it was more the type of discipline that perhaps isn’t my cup of tea.

It’ll probably be another year before I tackle another triathlon, but I hope to do a duathlon in the Autumn, fitness permitting. Until then it is work on the cycling, the swimming and the running…