Monday 8 September 2014

Winchcombe 10K - Another One Hill Wonder!

August Bank Holiday weekend, and what should be done?  Join the throngs and sit on the M5, M6, M25, M62, A66, M3, etc. only to pitch a tent and watch it rain?  Or, hop over to Winchcombe and put in a nice little 10K tune-up for my summer A-race at Kenilworth two weeks later?  I like the idea of avoiding the motorway craziness that kicks off every holiday weekend on a Friday lunchtime (we were on the Cotswold Way near Leckhampton instead).  Nic was working the weekend, so it was a perfect opportunity to join my fellow EVRC runners taking the scenic route from Sudeley Castle to Belas Knapp and back again.

The Winchcombe 10K is one of those events that get under your skin.  The first time I did this race was in 2009.  That day, I remember, I was mostly feeling quite ropey even during the warm-up, and I then spent 10km trying to keep my ill-chosen muesli down.  But, the desire to run the race properly stayed behind.  Since last year, I've been helping to publicise the event to help get numbers up and to get more people out enjoying our local trails.  This year, it fit my schedule (being both home and uninjured at the end of August has been tough for the past few years), so I was excited to be able to toe the line.

Together with 15 other Evesham runners, I rocked up at registration fairly early, curious about how many runners would see the dry weather and decide to come along.  Parking outside Sudeley Castle a little after 9AM, and warming up in its lush green grounds is certainly a nice way to start a Sunday morning.  Hanging around and catching up with friends just added to the pre-race enjoyment.

I headed over to the start line, in the shadow of the castle and just past the incredibly tempting play park, just in time to see the kids' 1K fun run finish.  I remember doing "fun run" events as a kid.  Not so much about "fun" and much more about "run faster than that kid next to me".  It finished in a tie, which was pretty cool to watch.  It wasn't one of those "let's finish together" ties.  The lad out front was running scared, trying to protect his lead from the 2nd place runner.  Over the final 20m they both went through the horrible push/pull of the sprint for the line, tying up as they pressed for victory, and finished close enough together to have needed a photo if it had been a pro track race.  It was definitely a good day for racing hard.

At 10:30, it was the adults' turn.  We did a lap of the field, including a few little undulations to make the first K interesting, and then headed along a lane towards the cricket ground and the foot of the hill.  I was running hard enough to make conversations short, when the climb began.  From the cricket ground to the top at the barrow at Belas Knapp is a nice little 600ft climb, with a few runnable sections and a few gut-wrenching speed-hiking sections (well, for me, anyway).  The views along the climb are quintessentially Cotswold, with towns, villages, and farms nestled into the hills and valleys.  Towards the top, if you want to turn around and look, is a fantastic view down over the Castle.  By the time I got there, sweat was pouring down my face as I picked up the pace along the flat path to the barrow, so my view was a bit obscured.

The run down the hill is, in my view, a much bigger challenge than the trip up.  We shot down the road back towards the cricket ground, at a gradient that makes running fast both easy to start and difficult to maintain.  Halfway down, the route leaves the road, and I shot through the gate at top speed and back into the field down to the cricket ground.  I was moving at something close to my one-mile PB pace, and started to chase down some of the runners who had left everything on the steep road section.  Normally, on this little section of the Cotswold Way, I would look up and enjoy the view as I dropped back into Winchcombe.  Normally, though, I am far more than 2km from the end of my run and in no great hurry.  This time, my eyes stayed on my footing and I enjoyed racing instead.

The final 400m of the route is on the Castle drive, which includes a nice fast down to a little bridge across the Windrush followed by an equal rise to the finish line.  I tried desperately to chase down the runner in front (Kevin Dunlop, who did very well at The Evesham Ultra), but merely succeeded in getting close enough to see him cross the line.

Standing by the finish, clapping runners in and chatting with friends and race volunteers gave me a chance to reflect on the nice post-race atmosphere.  The busking accordion player who provided the background music added to the fun with a selection of TV and video game tunes in addition to the more common repertoire.

Sometimes, it's tough to beat a one-hill wonder when you're after a short race.  Sure, a speedy road race can be a great way to get a good time, but if you want to get in touch with your inner 10 year-old, find a big hill and race down it as fast as you can.  If you want to do it in beautiful surroundings amid a fun crowd of runners, add the Winchcombe 10K to your race diary.

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