After a recent spell of cold weather, an intrepid team (yes team) of McCarkiss runners set out to race the Ashby 20, a highly rated event around the picturesque Leicestershire countryside. The sun was (slightly) out, and a bit of a breeze blowing, but otherwise ideal conditions for the undulating/ hilly course (according to elevation profiles, the race website, other runners, etc.) or pancake flat course with no noticeable climbs (as Hatswell was adamant about).
With Simkiss arriving at least 20 seconds before the gun, there was time for (brief) team tactics (the race being scored on finishing position, not time), and then we were off. Each with a different plan: Hywel to go for it as if it were a race (it was…), Simkiss to have 5 miles easy, then 15 miles marathon pace in an attempt to not fall into the trap so many before him have and ruin their London Marathon chances by running too hard @Ashby, and Hatswell to use it as a good quality training run after 4 weeks out injured.
Hywel was immediately in the front pack where Woodward of Hermitage, recently returning from injury began to make an early break with Limmer of Portobello RC, leaving Hywel and Gareth Lowe to chase them down over the remaining miles.
Behind Hywel, Simkiss and Hatswell were enjoying a nice chat for 5 miles, probably a bit faster than intended (around 6.25 per mile), leading a group that occupied something like 20th-25th position. As the 5 mile marker hit, it was time for the first acceleration from both, a jolting 45s per mile down to 5.40 for Simkiss, and a more pedestrian 10s/mile for Hatswell.
By this point, Hywel of the Davies and Gareth of Lowe were bearing down on Woodward and Limmer as they returned to the area of Leicestershire now known as ‘Little France’… by Normanton le Heath, Davies and Lowe had moved into the top spots, heading back towards Ashby de la Zouch to start the second lap of the course. Simkiss was making good progress through the field an enjoying working his way up to runners ahead. Expecting to be able to latch onto his prey momentarily for brief respite before moving on towards the next victim.
Originally Hatswell’s plan was to accelerate each 5 miles by 15s/mile, from 6.45, eventually aiming for the last 5 at 6 minute mile pace. Having not run a mile in anger for the entirety of February due to injury (falling over when jogging home from an interval session), this should be a good workout. Having had an extremely encouraging 36.15 the week before at the Fradley 10k(ish), this all seemed quite achievable. And with Simkiss motoring on with Hywel in the lead pack, this was as good as the team title sewn up.
Following the chat with Simkiss, as he put the burners on, given the pace was already 6.25, a slight increase in pace was fine, and led to pulling away from the group they had been running with/shielding from the wind. All fine and dandy, catching the next group a few miles down the road, ticking off the miles in the sunshine. At 10 miles, it was time to increase another 10s, which felt more like work, but it probably should – half way in to a long race.
Hywel was running strong alongside Lowe in 1st/2nd place, and Simkiss was zooming in on the dot ahead of him that was 7th place. As Hywel and Lowe passed 12mi, Lowe wound the pace up, and with one eye still on London, Hywel contemplated whether to surge and go with it, risking blowing up further down the road, or take the arguably more sensible and reserved option of maintaining current pace and holding position.
At this point however, a little further back down the road – disaster struck Hatswell. It seems the calves he thought were made from muscle and fat, had somehow turned to spaghetti. From 10.5 to 11.5mi they started to become tighter, with 11.5 through 15mi leading to a very dark place, with thoughts of quitting running, despair at how this can happen, and fears of letting the team down. Added to that a realisation his half marathon PB is 3 years old, 10k PB 2.5 years, and on this form, that might be as good as it gets. By the time the half marathon came up in 1.24 he was in survival mode, trying to shuffle home without losing too much time. Whilst utterly miserable, at least 15miles brought the realisation that he would finish, even in a dismal time.
Simkiss, having passed 7th place, was getting conflicting messages of whether he was 6th or 5th from Marshalls – his target of Marathon pace remained the same though, having now passing another 2 runners there was nobody within sight distinguishable from the backmarkers completing their first lap. Simkiss waved to the crowds and thanked the marshalls, enjoying the event as he continued at target pace – That was until a cyclist travelling in the opposite direction gave word that 3rd and 4th place had blown and were struggling. 16mi down, 4 to go… it was hunting season – and an eagle-eyed Simkiss could see a grey dot in the distance… could it be Woodward?
It was… and word came to through to the engine room for ‘full steam ahead’. Fortunately that was just about sufficient to maintain the targeted 5:40/mi, as the remaining mileage dwindled… Simkiss caught and passed Woodward at 18mi, at which point 3rd place came into sight; an agonisingly closed, yet impossibly far ahead distance of about 30m. Hywel was finishing in a comfortable second place as Simkiss finally conjured up the willlpower to surge on an incline in a classic catch-and-pass manoeuvre. One that he nearly regretted as the threat of hamstring cramp grew with every step closer to the finish line. He was able to hold it together though, and unbeknownst to him, the surge was enough to create a decent sized gap to the now 4th placed athlete – and Simkiss finished 3rd.
Damage control and a lot of willpower brought Hatswell home in 2.12, over 10 minutes slower than he did the same course in 2 years previously (when barely training from plantar fasciitis). On finding that the McCarkiss team had finished 2nd and 3rd, it confirmed that his performance had snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. Even a relatively pedestrian time of around 2.06 would’ve led to a comfortable team beer fund. Instead it was a drive home and mope around the house, only to be told off by Mrs H for having had a morning away from the kids, and then being miserable.
Switching to the first person, what caused it? I had been injured for all of February, but having run just over 36 minutes for 10k the previous weekend and then managed two interval sessions, the equivalent performance should have been better (which it clearly wasn’t). Setting off too fast? 6.25 was a clear 20s faster than planned, yet I was chatting happily with Simkiss about moving house, work, and life in general, so it shouldn’t have caused a catastrophic failure that early.
A new baby in November does mean sleep deprivation and running being somewhat deprioritised (the medium long runs in the week become mediums, and the 2nd run of the day often gets canned), but that doesn’t explain it. One thing that I hadn’t factored in was the wind, and being on your own – in accelerating and trying to move through the field, by definition you are on your own, with nobody to share the work. This definitely didn’t help, but again doesn’t explain it. Ultimately I think it was a little of each of them, and ‘just one of those days’. Looking on the bright side, if you don’t have days when you underperform, you also don’t have days when you exceed expectations (for example the previous weekend).
In conclusion from the team perspective, 2/3rds of a success, is not a success, despite two amazing performances. Roll on London for the survivors (HyKiss), with Hatswell’s training on life support. Based on Hywel and Simkiss however, team McCarkiss may well have two sub 2.30s to look forward to – coming soon the race report of how they get on (along with the Berlin race report?)