This week’s a bit full-on. In amongst deadlines, event-planning and coaching, I’m also doing three races. I didn’t plan it that way but, you know, if races I want to do get organised for the same week then what can I do? (I know – not do them.)
Last night was the first installment in the triptych. I ran the Swinley 10K Forest Trail last year on an evening which was even hotter than last night. I was pleased with last year’s run – 52:57 for a trail 10K – and wanted to use it as a benchmark for my progress (or lack of) this year.
This race isn’t just an off-road 10K. Those of you who know Swinley (perhaps from mountain biking) will know that it has its share of hills. It’s also a charming mixture of dry mud, loose shingle and – everyone’s favourite – sand. The race also follows several sections of singletrack so, if you’re stuck behind someone who suddenly slows down or starts having confidence issues relating to tree-roots, your own pace is done for.
I decided to bike to the race (it’s all good triathlon training) but had a nightmare of a journey there. Bracknell has great cycle routes but the map leaves a lot to be desired and the signposts are only useful if you happen to know what “Birch Hill” means in relation to your journey. Add in one lady who sent me the wrong way, and three lads who sent me the correct way but “Nathan’s way” (whoever Nathan is, he doesn’t use cyclepaths), and there you have me pelting along the Nine Mile Ride (surely one of the most dangerous roads in the area) at 6:45pm for a 7pm race.
I had no expectations for the race (it’s hard to have expectations for a trail race, where conditions count for so much). I didn’t think I’d get a PB (this time last year I was taking my running a lot more seriously) and I was really treating it as a tough bike/run training session.
So I was pleased to feel pretty good, actually. I look at my watch and it said I was doing 6:45 minute/miling, so I assumed it was having trouble talking to the satellites through the trees and turned it to HR mode (because who doesn’t like to spend the next hour or so watching their own heart-rate climb skyrocketing to alarming levels?)
The first 3K were tough, as my legs got over their 55-minute bike commute and got down to the hilly, twisty, knobbly task ahead.
At 2K, I got grit in my contact lens. No amount of blinking would dislodge it. I thought about stopping but in truth it would have just been an excuse, and who wants to DNF because of a contact lens? At 3K, I got a stone in my sock. At 4K, I decided to just get on with it.
As I saw the 5K marker, I switched my watch back onto timing mode and saw that I was on 25minute 5k pace. What? How come? That wouldn’t excite me during a road-race but here, it was pretty good. I also saw that I was doing sub-8m/m. Eh? I had noticed I’d been picking people off and not seeing them come past again. Sometimes I guess it’s worth not keeping an eye on your watch and just running how you feel.
At the water stop I had a gel, took one swig of water and then dumped the remaining 450ml over my head. Bliss. I then tried to pick the pace up, identifying a few women in front of me to chase. I passed the lady in the nice orange top, the teeny tiny woman in black and even the very serious-looking woman with pipecleaner legs and a Camelbak, who looked like she was training for a mountain marathon. (Perhaps she was training for a mountain marathon, in which case me passing her during a 10K isn’t really anything to
write home blog about.)
The course opens up in the second half, but also contains some pretty hefty hills, one of which is sandy. Like last year, I decided to walk up it. It’s probably quicker than trying to run. A quick look at the heart-rate…177. Can we all say “high-beater”?
Down a nice bit of a hill and a chap chooses this setting to strike up a conversation. “Where’s dull-which?” he asked (having noticed my snazzy club top, of course). I dunno mate, but Dulwich is in South London. He asked me a few more questions about Dulwich and then I think he got the idea from somewhere that I’d rather use my breath to transport oxygen around my system than talk right at this moment.
The km markers were coming thick and fast and I was really pleased with how I was feeling. I tried to pick up the pace where I could and did a bit of maths in my head. By 8km, I reckoned I could get a PB for the course. By 9km, it was clear I would. I overtook one last lady as I crossed the line, clutching my hernia (don’t ask) and hit my watch. 52:06 – a 51s PB. It’s not much, but I’ll take it! (I didn’t cycle there last year, either)
then went home. The bike home was much more straightforward, by the way. Stay tuned for races two and three…
Finish: 52:06 (8:24 pace)
97/233 in the race
23/66 female finishers
15/50 in my category
(Winning lady: 42:27)