Friday 16 March 2012

The Blackminster Half "Scorpion Run"- and an "accidental" PB

My friend Linzi and her husband decided at some point last year that they would organize a race in aid of local charities.  As it happened I didn't have a race planned, so I decided that the best way to support would be to take part.  Falling three weeks after the first trail marathon of the year and two weeks before the first ultra, I figured it would be a great chance at a speed session to keep the "go far, go slow" mentality at bay.  In light of recent improved performances, I briefly thought about trying to break the 90-minute goal that's been toying with me for the past few years.  Luckily, Nic reminded me that I'm naturally an idiot and should probably not have two focus races in the same month (who's the coach, now?).  The weekend before I kept to my training plan and put in my toughest back-to-back (23.5 & 10) so far.  With those sessions, the exhaustion-laced mid-week runs, a light head cold, and feeling totally wrecked the day before, I was pretty circumspect about how the race could pan out.

EVRC turned out in numbers for this excellent local race

On Sunday, I woke up feeling pretty reasonable.  The cold was shifting and the sun was shining (well, once it rose high enough).  I'd settled on a half-way house of a race plan to run as a goal-marathon-pace session, and then speed up in the second half if I felt OK.  When people asked what I had planned, I kept saying "I'll go with 7:15s and then see how it goes", or "1:35ish".  I'm not sure I believed it, but it was the sensible approach.  My strategy was to only show the lap time on my watch, and concentrate on keeping each lap effort in the right zone.  When Race Director Colin (Mr. Linzi) called all runners planning for sub-1:30, about 10 people headed for the line.  So, when I lined up behind them, I was unnaturally close to the starting line.  But, I kept in my head "7:15 for the first mile".

Sunny, yes, but not quite warm enough for  standing around in a vest

Then, of course, the horn sounds and off we go.  I saw 6:45 on the lap time after a few hundred yards and immediately eased off a bit.  I didn't really want to knock myself out after 8 miles, and I also didn't want to overcook any of my club-mates who had said they'd try to hold my announced pace with me.  The first mile included some nice gentle downward slopes, so I ended up with a 6:52 - just a bit faster than planned!  With deceptive gentle upward slopes for the next four miles, I eased back a bit but was still running sub 7:10.  It certainly helped to have plenty of friends and club-mates along the route cheering us all on.  The Day family mobile cheering service was especially appreciated - for a while, every half mile or so Roger and Maz were stopped by their bikes cheering us on.

The course started to ease back "downhill" (well, it's all pretty flat, really), but I was now in the "windy" section of the course.  Luckily, race day was calm for the breezy aerodrome area.  I tried to tuck in behind the only nearby runner for some shelter, but he was struggling.  So, I pressed on at a steady pace and he clung in behind me.  As we eased up yet another gentle slope, I kept the effort consistent and my drafting partner retook the lead.  This time, I stayed tucked in and kept there for about half a mile before he tired again and finally dropped off the pace.

Around the village of Marcliff, club-mate Ben had enough of my steady-effort method and pulled away up a hill to the cheers of his family.  We were approaching 8 miles, and I was nearly content to let him go.  I wasn't about to ruin my race plan by running someone else's race with another 5 miles to go.  He was obviously feeling pretty good, and I still had no idea how I was feeling.  Nothing hurt too much, but I wasn't exactly "in the groove".

We carried on through a nice flat section for a couple of miles before we approached the advertised "sting in the tail" - a short, sharp up followed by a steep down and then another short ascent.  It's the sort of topography that makes you look up and notice, but is perfectly manageable when you're used to the hilly trails.  I knew as this section came closer, if I could see Ben, then I could catch him on the steep descent.  Sure enough, half-way down I flew past Ben, gave him a thumbs-up of encouragement (I fully expected to see him again soon), and carried on down the hill.

Finally, with only two miles to go, I allowed myself to "race".  I pushed up the pace to make sure that Ben would have a struggle to catch me.  I was happy if he did pull out all the stops and beat me, but I saw no reason to make it easy!  At last, I felt like I was really running strong.  On the final section of the "sting", Nic was enjoying her official photographer role, sitting in the sun taking pictures.  She shouted encouragement as I smiled for the camera. 

Still smiling with just over a mile to go.

Once at the top of this last little hill, it was a little over half a mile down the hill and along the road to the finish.  I had no idea how far back Ben was, but I knew he was close enough from the encouragement he was receiving.  I had plenty of strength left, and just kept pushing the speed up all the way to the finish line.  On the final approach around the school field, I saw the clock and realized I had a good PB on the way and sprinted for all I was worth to burn off those few extra seconds.  I planted both feet on the chip mat to be sure the time was registered and gave Linzi a big hug of thanks for the great race.  I'm not sure she appreciated the sweaty embrace, but I hope the sentiment was well received!

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