Saturday 15 October 2011

Shuttle 10K: The final tune-ups for Abingdon Marathon

For the past few years, ever since our club won the first team prize, I've wanted to race the Shuttle 10K.  It's supposed to be a fairly fast course and it falls as I usually approach the fastest part of my year.  Unfortunately, it also usually falls during my annual retreat to the beach with my in-laws.  This year, though, the host club moved it to the beginning of October.  So, I pencilled it into the calendar and waited to see if I really wanted to race a 10K just two weeks before my target marathon at Abingdon, instead of one last long run.

As I have mentioned in a few other posts, my wife and crew-chief extraordinaire has been enjoying a fantastic year in her own running.  After narrowly missing the two-hour mark when knocking five minutes off her half-marathon PB, Nic has become a speed-work enthusiast.  Shortly after our beach retreat, she headed out for a five mile tempo run and ended up knocking a few seconds off her 10K PB, even though the 10K included a slow mile to get into the groove before heading for her tempo pace.  Since we wouldn't have another opportunity for a fastish 10K course until the Spring, and you never know how long a run of good form will last, I re-arranged my last few tune-up runs and fixed the Shuttle on the race calendar.

The reschedule meant that my final goal-paced long run moved ahead one week, which would leave me racing on an incomplete recovery - great for training, but not ideal for racing.  With 10 days to go before the Shuttle, I really didn't have a clue how fast I would be able to run.  All of my racing for the year was based around strength and endurance.  There had been no PB attempts, no fast road courses - nothing, in fact, to prepare me for a quick 10K.  Being an occasionally curious soul, I was looking forward to finding out just how fast I would be compared to 2010's series of personal bests.  When, on the 24th, I held my pace at 7:35 for the first 10 miles, and then got bored and sped up for the last 10K, I decided I was actually faster than I'd thought.  Not as fast as last year, but probably able to sustain the effort for longer.  So, I figured I've give the shuttle a go as a full-on race.

The morning saw Evesham bathed in sunshine to accompany the wonderfully, unseasonably, warm temperatures.  We headed over to Stourport ready for a hot race, and found that the western side of Worcestershire had missed the weather report and was instead cloaked in a shroud of high grey clouds - ideal for a 10K.  When the horn finally sounded to set us off on our 3/4 lap of the track, the clouds were starting to break up and the temperature finally started to climb into the high teens.

The course itself is fairly mundane.  The first mile takes in a fairly narrow footpath alongside a busy road.  It had the appearance of a path that once allowed comfortable overtaking.  Now, though, the path is generally a squeeze for two, so any passing had to be done on the grass banks.  It wasn't ideal, but it also meant that I had some obstacles to help keep me from going off too quickly.  I was able to start steadily at 6:49 - the first time in a long time that I've been within a second of my first-mile goal pace!  I started to speed up after that, aiming to average 6:45 for the next 4.5 miles. 

Mile two passed without really seeming to, and then mile three came, with its "big" hill.  I'd had a chat with Richard Warder, the race director, before the race, and he had confirmed my research that the hill was fairly minor and had equivalent ascent and descent that would allow one to regain any lost time.  With that in mind, I looked at the 5-10% grade, shortened my stride, and enjoyed passing my fellow competitors safe in the knowledge that I would be able to recover at speed in just a few hundred yards.  In the end, the uphill was only a quarter-mile long.  This gave me a 400 yard downhill dash during which I concentrated on getting as much air as I could into my lungs and my fastest mile of the race.

By this time, the sun was finally out and I began to wonder if there would be a water station on the route.  The race had a few issues with water previously, so I assumed there would be a station around half way.  As I neared the end of a rather dull mile four, I gave up hope of a chance to refresh my sticky mouth, turned a corner, and saw the volunteers at the ready.  With a few gulps of water and a nice splash onto my chest to help keep cool, I embarked on the hardest mile of the race.  Other runners were few and far between, we were back onto the first mile of the course on a short second lap, and I was starting to be tired without having that buzz of knowing it's nearly over.  I struggled to keep my pace anywhere close to my 6:45 target.

With the final mile underway, I was passed for the first time since mile two.  I stuck to the runner, obviously feeling good, and held on grimly.  Then, we left the road for a section of dirt track, and runners again started to come back to me.  I got a real boost from seeing nearby runners struggle with the change in terrain while I was actually finding it nice to get off the road.  I pushed harder, and left the others well behind.  As the track, and its final lap, approached, I tried to pick up the pace again.  By the time I hit the track, I was running at a delicate balance between searching for more speed and trying to keep my breakfast down.  The sprint for the line brought be within a few seconds of my best 10K time, and was short enough to keep me from decorating the infield.

As I'd guessed, I'm not quite as fast as I was at this point last year, but I've gotten much better at holding my pace.  Now, it's just a case of seeing how that all translates into the PB attempt at Abingdon.  And for those waiting to find out how Nic ran:  she succeeded in making use of her fantastic form and dropped her PB by 2:30!

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