This race would mark the start of what I had planned on being a ‘busy’ five weeks, or so, of 10k and half marathon races on my calendar. It was also an opportunity for me to break the 2-hour mark again, having failed to do so in 2016 (excuses, for the three events I had participated in that year, being (i) a hilly off-road half (ii) a ‘hangover’ half and (iii) accompanying a first-timer).
Unfortunately (depending on your point of view) the Eurovision Song Contest took place on the same weekend – the evening before the race, as it happens. This is a competition that divides opinion; I happen to fall into the camp (take that as a pun if you wish) who likes to get involved in it and, consequently, I would not expect to go to bed fully sober.
Fortunately I woke on race morning with what felt like a clear head (though still struggling to make sense of the winning act; a Portugese chap with a tramp-like face and neurotic-whining-dog-like voice). The weather promised to be good for racing; dry but cloudy and not too warm. Never trust the forecast…
Arriving at Race HQ, opposite the Leisure Centre, I collected my number and chatted with fellow runners. There was a bit of a breeze and I was keeping layers on for as long as I could; a good sign for running conditions. I was still hopeful of a sub-2hour run but was not overly concerned whether I’d make it or not.
We set off at 10am, and the sun promptly came out, making a mockery of the not-too-warm prediction. As we made our way through the town I eased into a comfortable pace – whatever that may be. An aversion to looking at my watch, lest I over-analyse how I am doing against what I think I should, leaves me rather naïve when it comes to knowing my pace. Not that it would matter at that time - a diversion along a narrow cycle path limited progress as we became a little congested.
We looped through the Northway estate, taking on water from the first station, as the temperature was – to my mind at least – still rising (I did speculate on whether the barometer may also be getting low) and, via a couple of undulations (bridges), towards the main road that would take us past the old Ashchurch army base. From here we would head to Aston Cross and turn left, towards Bredon.
The breeze was now on our backs; with none in our faces it felt even warmer! I was making steady progress at this stage, but was conscious of a slight tenderness at the bottom of legs. I’d stretched my Achilles a little after the club handicap race, the previous week, and they were apparently reminding me of this. However, it felt manageable and I was still feeling OK.
Just ahead of half-way, at Kinsham, we turned right to head towards Kemerton. At this point, it was really warm and felt as if there was no breeze at all. I was rather hoping that there would be some respite over the final 10k and was quite pleased to find that, as we turned onto the Kemerton Road to commence the long run back to Tewkesbury, we were running more into the breeze – very welcome.
I was still feeling good – how long would this last? I was aware that I has been running quite nicely in previous events before suddenly finding myself empty on stamina. I managed a spread-arms pose (yerrrrs – I won’t dwell on that) for club photographer Rob and, as we passed the 9-mile mark, I was convincing myself that I could keep going over the last four.
I was ‘tagging along’ with a couple of runners who appeared to be holding a good pace when we encountered a competitor on the side of the road being tended to by a couple of fellow runners. Having had some first-aid training I thought I’d better offer my services (nothing, of course, to do with an opportunity to take a blameless rest) until the experts arrived. Precisely at this point in time, the clouds decided to hide the sun and it felt instantly cooler.
Once we were up and away again, I had cooled to the point of being a bit stiff and it took a good half-mile to ‘shake up’ the legs again. However once I had done so the benefit of a break was apparent; I felt relatively fresh again and set about the final three miles as if it were a 10k (no – that isn’t an arithmetic fail, I’m talking about relative pace!). The road back towards Tewkesbury was slightly undulating, which may have been a bit of an issue had I ran ‘normally.’ Instead I found myself attacking the inclines as if I had a point to prove (or just seeking to make up a little time..?).
We came back into Tewkesbury town just as we passed the 12-mile mark and I was picking off people like somebody who had horribly misjudged his initial pace. It was quite a good feeling! The support through the town centre pretty much carried me towards the finish and, as I crossed the line and stopped my watch it dawned on me that I had actually dipped under two hours. Cue ridiculous (and somewhat smug) grin.
The smugness didn’t last – as I made my way back to Race HQ is became clear that the tenderness in my Achilles was a bit more than just a manageable niggle. They were pretty damned stiff. Looks as though I’ll be taking at least a few days’ rest; not a great start to what I had planned as a busy period in my running calendar!
Still, the plusses. Two hours – broken (perhaps Eurovision is a good pre-race preparation). Event itself – good race, pretty fast course and, on the whole, well organised, very well supported.