Cirencester Park 10k
14th June 2017
The phrase, Technology is only as good as the user, was aptly demonstrated by my efforts to find Cirencester Park. I should point out that Cirencester Park is easy to find – it’s a great big space just on the outskirts of the town itself. Finding the correct entrance was a challenge; simply typing ‘Cirencester Park’ into either of the map apps I had available led me to one entrance accessible by pedestrians only, and another (at the wrong end of the course, as it turned out) with a locked gate. Double-checking the race page and actually putting in the postcode solved the issue. Is technology foolproof? Perhaps I am the fool that is said proof.
Fortunately I (with a few colleagues) had set off early from rush-hour Cheltenham, avoiding the Air Balloon route (or what is none-too-affectionately known as the ‘missing link’ – a stretch of single carriageway above Birdlip on the main – dual-carriageway – route between Brockworth / M5 and Swindon: a perfectly-designed bottleneck). Arriving in good time, despite our tour of outer Cirencester, my question on how flat this run might be was answered when I saw the 2k sign near the (correct!) Park entrance. The road dropped at that point. To reinforce this we drove in on part of the route we’d be running. Going uphill by car, though we would be running in the other direction. So – all downhill for the moment.
What goes down… presumably this would mean some inclines as well. A few fellow Almosts who were already there had taken part in this event before, and confirmed that it would not be totally flat. Added to that was a temperature well into the twenties. This may well be quite a challenging 10k. On the plus side, the park itself was a great setting for the run and, being in the park, it was effectively traffic-free.
Collecting my number, and chip, I spotted a course map. It’s an exaggerated figure of 8 comprising of a 3k loop from the start followed by a 4k loop before revisiting the 3k loop to the finish, almost exclusively on tarmac with the exception of a couple of short woodland track stretches. No elevation profile was on display – guess I’ll just have to see for myself!
A junior 3k race preceded the main event – a great excuse for a family evening out. I watched them set off but did not see the race through as I needed to join the queue for the portaloos. Runners will always outnumber loos, so queuing is simply inevitable. I used the time in an attempt to make a complete hash of attaching my chip to my shoe; at least I was more efficient when it came to pinning my number to my vest (I have succeeded in stabbing myself in the past).
Suitably kitted (and relieved!) I made my way back to the start area and we were soon called in. Before I knew it we were being counted down. In no small panic I fumbled over starting my GPS watch, hoping that it would pick up a signal before we set off. Not quite; the hooter sounded and off we shuffled (big crowd, single-track road through the start). It did get going before I crossed the start itself, so my watch time probably reflects my chip time, as opposed to gun time.
The race began by heading into a section of wood, snaking through it and heading back out on the far side of the polo pitch. My first kilometre was spent largely finding a pace amongst the initial crowd, until the field began to spread out a little. We joined the road we had driven in on, takin in a medium descent before having to negotiate a car that appeared to have turned up at precisely the wrong time (fortunately a marshal was on hand to guide runners / vehicle appropriately).
Passing the 2k mark, we reached what was probably the lowest point of the course, and immediately began climbing. It was a long steady ascent to 3k, (and what would be the finish next time around that loop!) which I managed by latching onto a couple of runners that appeared to be making reasonable progress. We passed the start / finish area, with ample encouragement from the crowd, including recently-completed-the-race-to-the-tower-ultra, Norm (congrats on completing that, by the way!).
Still well over 6k to go and I was not feeling so full of energy, and a little concerned over whether I would keep up the pace. Had I put too much effort in early on? I attempted to relax as best I could whilst maintaining the pace of those immediately around me. We were still making progress and I decided that, as long as I could keep this up, I should at least try to maintain it until such point that I may simply run out of steam.
The road between 4 and 5k was long and straight – not my favourite way to pass a run! There was a brief respite via a couple of turns and a change of underfoot conditions as we passed through another short wooded section. As we exited, and turned another corner (by the water station), I saw another long straight stretch of road. This time, it was possible to see where the (faster!) runners were turning at the far end. They were at an elevated level relative to me. Yup, this was not just a long straight, it was also on an incline.
I was still managing to make progress, though, and passed through 6k determined not to blow it at this stage. We peeled off into another wooded section just as we were about to crest the incline and followed the track through that section, and through the 7k mark. As we rejoined the loop that would take us through to the final 3 kilometres I caught up with a couple of the colleagues I had arrived with.
Encouraging them to come with me (in reality it was a half-hearted gesture in the form of a limp wave of the arm) I pressed on. Once I realised that they had not stepped up I tried to up my own pace, largely in fear that they would re-pass me near the end and strike a massive dent to my ego (yes, I’m one of those who, when I pass someone I know, I run partly in said fear!).
Passing 8k we took on a descent, meaning that my pace would naturally increase (there again, so should most others). Completing that drop I turned left for the last 1½k only to hear footsteps draw up behind me and a ‘Hey Phil’ – yes… one of the two colleagues I’d passed had indeed successfully given chase.
As we hit the 9k mark and started the long incline towards the finish he opened up a gap on me. Annoyingly, it wasn’t a large gap, more a teasing, tantalising, one. The sort that I should breach if I could really put in the effort… but I did not have the legs left for it. Instead I kept pushing as best I felt I could and even managed to pass a few other runners before we crested the climb for the final 150 metres or so.
At this point I was more concerned about anyone behind who may put in a sprint. I was trying, but failing, to do that myself, barely managing a faster version of my canter. Fortunately there were no Usain-Bolt-wannabees and I crossed the line with a little remaining pride.
It turned out that I was just a minute shy of what I term as a respectable benchmark time I had set earlier in the year. Something tangible to feed the ego on! OK, it’s not the flattest course and I did feel that I was having to put in a constant effort (though that was probably due to simple lack of speed on my part), but the setting and atmosphere is great and a good time is very possible. Rich Smith managed a PB… his previous PB had been set in the same event a year ago.
Big kudos as well to our junior member – Holly Linton not only won her age group prize but contributed to the ladies’ team prize as well (along with Gemma and Vicky), in her first competitive 10k!