If you’re seeking 10k with a bit of a difference, this may well be for you. It’s scenic, it’s traffic-free and it’s off-road. Having said off-road, it is run on woodland trails so is perfectly OK for road shoes (in car terms, what one might call a ‘soft-roader’). It’s well organised, well supported and, combined with the other factors, it’s unsurprisingly popular. The race is fully subscribed well in advance.
With this in mind, I ensured that I made my entry in good time. Having taken part in this over the previous two or three years I was looking forward to it again. A couple of inclines – one quite noticeable just after the half-way point – do not necessarily make it a PB course but, on any given day, one could still pull off a decent time. Of course, this assumes that one is fully fit and injury-free.
This would be my just my second run in ten days, following a bit of a strain to an Achilles at a recent half-marathon. I gave the Berkeley 10k a miss as a result and walked – rather than ran – the section of the Cotswold Way I’d be covering in the forthcoming relay event. I managed a short and slow jog just the evening before going to Westonbirt, largely to verify that I’d at least be able to start the race.
I came with four colleagues from work – two who had previously run this as their first 10k, caught the running bug and had since added to the purple army, plus two others for which this would be their first (though one of those had already joined the Almosts – still working on the other!).
Recalling that there had been a bit of a queue for number collection last year, we arrived in what we thought was good time… only to find ourselves at the end of a long queue in the driveway. As it turned out, the delay was actually quite brief; the queue itself a result of the main car park filling up and a few cars having to be turned around and diverted to an overflow in the adjacent field.
Fortunately (or due to the above?) number collection was rather more rapid and we were ‘trimmed and pinned’ in good time. We met up with some other Almosts (not as many as last year, though there were a couple of other events taking place on the same evening) and had time for a group photo before moving to the start area.
My warm-up consisted of stretching the offending Achilles. That’s it. It was quite a muggy evening; I was managing to gently perspire without even moving! Running in high temperatures, in general, does not bother me too much. Add humidity into the equation and I’d probably prefer to be moving, simply for some excuse to be sweating!
My plan for this evening was to take the first portion of the race very steadily and ‘ease in’ the Achilles. Assuming I’d make it to the 6k mark – with the inclines behind me – unscathed, I might then look at picking up the pace. I positioned myself somewhere hopefully appropriate for this; in a field of 800-plus runners, one’s initial pace is likely to be dictated by those in the immediate vicinity.
Off we went, commencing with a small loop around the open area known as The Downs, before a sharp descent past the Woodworks took us onto the first, admittedly gentle, incline into Silk Wood. This would take us past the 2k mark before we levelled off. I was settled into a very pace that was very comfortable for the bulk of, and simply manageable for a specific portion of, me.
I passed one or two purple runners, Cos nursing tired legs having completed the Worcester marathon just three days prior! The tendon in question was not troubling me and I descended past the 5k mark mentally preparing for the short but rather more aggressive incline that would take us towards the water station. I crested said incline, having favoured the ‘good’ leg for the climb and caught up with one of my work-come-Almost colleagues as we took on much-needed water (did I mention that it was hot and sticky?).
We carried on together, back past the Start / Finish area and crowd waving us on, and made our way into the Old Arboretum, for what would be the final 3½k. Despite the shade form the trees people were still feeling the conditions – Gareth, with me, in particular – and we were all grateful to the on-course volunteers who had extra water bottles handy.
After snaking our way through the trees (useful shade!) we passed the 9k mark, with just the final wooded section to complete before breaking back into the open for the final ½-kilometre and the finish in sight. We could hear the crowd and Gareth was persuaded to push on at this point picking up his pace – not quite as impressively as Cos, who breezed past the pair of us, making a mockery of post-marathon recovery!
Gareth marginally missed out on ducking under the hour mark – considering the conditions, that was pretty impressive. I followed him in, a little under a minute behind: far from my quickest 10k, but very much intact and no complaining from the Achilles. A good sign, as I had committed myself to a half-marathon the following Sunday. Our colleagues did rather well too – the sole ‘non Almost’ would have been the first male club finisher had he joined!
I heard a lot of positive feedback from both fellow Almosts, and others, who were here for their first time. It really is a 10k worth doing if you have not done so. It will be at the same time next year (the website has already stated May 23rd 2018), so put a reminder to enter (several weeks in advance!) into your diary.