As I crossed the finish line of my fastest ever 10k, and my first PB at the distance since January 2011, nearly 3 years ago, I felt that my result only just fell into the category of ‘acceptable’. However unlike McCarthy, having had time to reflect on the run I’ve grown to become somewhat pleased with the performance.
Rick-ah-ric-a-reeeeewind back a few days and I’ll tell you a story of how it all unfolded…
Friday saw my final run with McCarthy before the race and the end of the training schedule in ernest. All that was left was a few miles at an easy pace on Saturday before Sunday’s race. I felt so confident at this point, and had so much faith in the training that had been done that the race itself was almost a formality. This wasn’t just me being arrogant and cocky, the truth was we’d put in a sensible and truly solid block of training that really was pushing us to the limit of what our bodies could take (given where we started from anyway!) Looking back at training it’s probably fair to say this has been the most consistent block of training we’ve ever done, or if not, it certainly comes very close. The sessions were well structured, they were demanding, but as much as it trained us physically, it gave me the psychological confidence and belief that a PB was a reasonable expectation.
So with such confidence, news broke that McCarthy would be out having a curry on Saturday Night, he’d already been flapping after having some wine on Friday night; clearly he didn’t share quite the same confidence as me. I tried to assure him that the training was done and that a curry would not be detrimental to the race. I cited one of my past runs, possibly one of my best performances which came following a night of Chinese takeaway, 3 hours sleep while camping in storm like conditions, followed by pre race bacon sarnies. As I did this, I developed a hankering for a curry myself. My lunch was decided – Tesco Finest Lamb Rogan Josh. Not only that but I would run to Tesco to buy the aforementioned curry to get in my final couple of miles. This came as a welcome break from the DIY I was enjoying Saturday morning, installing a new kitchen, Saturday was the day to lay the new floor… Saturday morning became Saturday evening, became Saturday Night, and Emma returned home just as I’d given up on the last few bits having run out of flooring to lay. 12 hours I’d been on my feet, and as I finally came to rest my legs felt somewhat tired. Well my whole body did! 11:30pm I settled into bed and set my alarm for 4:45am. Brilliant.
I was asleep almost instantly and what felt like seconds later the alarm was going off. Up I got, I showered, had some breakfast and headed to McCarthy’s and we hit the road for Leeds. The journey up was pleasant (aside from Chris’s beetroot flatulence) and passed quickly amidst joking and more serious race discussion we eventually found the targeted car park and warmed up.
Warmup went fine, legs felt okay, a little heavy but that’s often the case for me when I’ve tapered for a race. A few strides and stretches and we meandered towards the start assembly area. Chris was his usual nervy self, keen to get to the start as early as possible. By contrast I’m someone who likes to get to the start area as late as possible – usually just hopping the barrier with a few minutes to spare. But after a 2mi warmup, strides and stretching, we joined the start assembly area around 20mins before the start of the race… We had to, crowds were already growing and we needed to get somewhere near the front. Inside I’m thinking “this is f#cking stupid… What was the point in warming up to stand still for 20mins?” Though my thoughts were dispersed as the nerves were growing about the race ahead, and Chris and I began to worry about our start position. I repeatedly reassured him that we were better off to be a smidge too far back to control our pace in the first mile and not go haring off. As we noticed the demeanour of those around us I have to concede that I began thinking Chris was perhaps right, and that we should’ve been closer to the front.
After a painstakingly long wait, we were underway and battling our way through the smallest of gaps to make progress for the first mile, passing some familiar faces along the way (faces we should’ve positioned ourselves in front of at the gun really). 1km and we were already around 10 seconds down on target – I think Chris panicked because he picked up the pace almost as if to try and regain those 10 seconds within the next kilometer.
I have to say that I’m incredibly grateful to Chris for dragging us through the first half of this race… Once we started to find a smidge more space we continued moving through the crowds, and I felt shit. Each time I looked at my Garmin we were hitting target pace (or thereabouts) but I was working hard to stay with Chris. At times he opened up a stride length gap and I had to dig deep to hang on; I had visions of Edinburgh Half Marathon where I had a very similar sensation that my hip flexors felt ineffective and I couldn’t bring my leg through the stride properly.
After a loop around a retail park, the course seemed to be going very gently uphill a lot, and still I wasn’t comfortable, but tried to keep working knowing that my body had trained for the pace and regardless of how hard it was, I had trained for this and had to deliver. I knew we were nearing halfway and the road kicked up again (not steeply at all, but it was noticeable at race pace), which coincided with McCarthy pressing on a bit – I genuinely asked myself “is he trying to push on and break me here? Is this his bid to break away and beat me?” he opened up a few metres gap and it took a huge effort to reel him back in. Speaking post race it turns out he wasn’t surging to break away at all, I really was just feeling that shit.
Eventually the lead runners passed in the opposing direction, and soon after we hit the 5k marker, I hit ‘lap’ and was just utterly deflated to see 16:33. 18 seconds off target. It doesn’t sounds a lot but knowing how hard I’d been working, I had fears of not making 33 minutes, let alone a PB! I panicked and kicked on. Finally I was starting to do my bit of pacing for the MCKEP duo and aided by the slight downward slope a glance at the watch showed we were around 5:00/mi current pace. I carried on working at this intensity but not too long after I felt Chris drop away from me and for the first time I was finding a rhythm; I would say a comfortable rhythm, but I was definitely working hard. At this point of the race the ‘starting too far back’ was somewhat beneficial as I found myself working my way past people all the way towards the final km’s which was a big psychological boost, although starting further forwards and having a competitive group to run with for the whole run may have proven more useful… who knows?
At 8km the legs were tiring, but I was still closing in on people – I could see lead female Louise Damen ahead and passed her a little before 9km. All that was left was the big climb and sprint finish… I bought it home as best I could, crossing the line with the race clock showing me outside my PB. I think this started the initial feeling of failure.
Looking behind, it was longer than I’d have liked before seeing Chris come over the finish line, it was a ‘less than ideal’ performance for us both.
With time to reflect, the fastest time of my life, with a relatively short training buildup, and a sub perfect pre race buildup, and crowded/out of position start, combined with a terrible feeling first 5k… I’m pretty pleased with that you know. Pretty damn pleased indeed – and overjoyed at the idea that there may be more to come if I rectify those few issues!
And thus… Project Milford is born.