With the final few months of the year looking rather busy for me, I wanted to get one more race in before the year was out. I looked around at several half marathons and eventually decided on the MK Autumn run, mainly as it was due to take place on a Saturday. My wife lectures at university most Saturday’s, so taking half of Sunday to go off and do a race isn’t entirely fair. This way I could do the race whilst she was working, and we could still spend the Sunday as a family.
When I looked more at the registration process, I noticed that they were also offering a 10K option as part of the event. I hadn’t raced a 10K in quite a while and was wanting to do some work on my shorter distances anyway, so opted for the shorter distance.
My best 10K time was a training run as part of half marathon training last year. I wanted to see if I was where I should be, so chose a favourable (for traffic) route around Rugby and managed to post a 44:18. My last race was just over a year ago, at Draycote. It was a tough day. If you’re not familiar with Draycote Water, it is quite exposed and makes for some tricky conditions when windy and raining. I finished in 45:44, quite a bit slower than the training run earlier that year.
Having signed up, I set my target at sub-44 and set about finding a training plan. I opted for a 12-week training plan from the blogger at the5krunner. It stated that it was personalised to my current level of fitness and was only £7.50 so I went for it. It gave me a predicted finish time of 42:45, which seemed ambitious but, trusting the plan, I went with it.
My week 6 5K test came in at 20:50, which was just 5 seconds slower than was predicted and a 26 second improvement on where I was pre-plan. Four weeks later I went faster still with a 20:26, which followed a hard week of training. I was confident going into the race that I could at least meet the target, and potentially go even quicker.
I got to the event nice and early, so that I could pick up my race number and go through my usual pre-race routine. It started and finished at the National Bowl in Milton Keynes. True to its name, it is a bowl, and the start and finish lines were at the base of the bowl. As part of my warm-up, I circled the bowl, which gave me my first indication that this may not be quite as flat as I had expected. This was just the start area though; it will be fine…
Having finished my warm-up, I was hovering around the start line, and noticed that there were no start pens or markers based on estimated finish times. It is at this point that you begin to look around, scoping out other people, passing judgement on how fast you think they will go based on only their appearance. Unfair, but it was all I had.
As the announcement came for everybody to make their way to the start, I made sure I got in there early and was maybe 4 or 5 deep when the race was started. You begin by going around the perimeter road of the bowl, which was the uphill section that I took in during the warm-up, but it wide enough to break through any traffic and get into a rhythm. Maybe too much of a rhythm. My target now was the predicted 42:45, which was 6:52/mile pace. The first mile involved an unexpected 21 metres of climbing, but I passed it off in 6:46.
Miles two and three were horrible. There were no significant hills, but there were lots of little ones, and each one was just enough to take the edge off the pace and put a bit of fatigue into the legs. If there was ever a course that deserved the tag undulating, it was this one. Mile two was a 7:05, mile three a 7:11. Way off target now and sub-43 no longer felt possible. As we came to the half-way point in the race, I had climbed 61 metres, and I was really flagging.
Another factor in this was the wind. As soon as I arrived at the bowl and stepped out of the car, I felt the wind. As the course was stated to be on cycleways, I was hoping it would be a bit protected, but it absolutely wasn’t. Just after passing through the first mile, I was given my first taste of its impact as we took a bridge over Furzton Lake. There were times when I was going uphill and into a headwind when it felt like I was going backwards.
Luckily, it was just after the half-way mark when the course levelled out, and started going downhill. Following the eager start, this was the first chance I had to open up and try to get back on pace. The field was spread thinly at this stage, and there were sections where I was running on my own. Mile four though I began to reel in a few runners ahead and found this motivating. I was closely following one guy for a while before eventually making a move and not looking back. The second was flagging somewhat as I breezed past, all very positive as I posted a 6:51 fourth mile. There didn’t seem to be any chance of clawing back the lost time, but at least I was now back on target pace.
I caught up with a third runner and was running right on his shoulder for a while. We were both travelling at about the same pace and I knew that if I kicked on ahead of him, I would be over exerting and he would be back ahead shortly after. However, particularly with the wind, I didn’t want it to seem like I was using him as a shield and as a pacer. Therefore, I kicked on with a few strides to get in front and then settled back into my pace. He sat on my shoulder as I had done to him but he was back in front again half a mile later. At this stage we were running along a hard-packed trail path in Tattenhoe Valley Park, which was just fantastic. The course was a lot tougher than I expected it to be, given that Milton Keynes is renowned for being pancake flat, but it was excellent. Mile five – 6:54.
I was really hanging on now, and the Redway Runner that I was following had kicked and I was struggling to keep up. As the previous two miles had been much easier than the first three, I was hoping that there would be no more hills to follow. I wasn’t sure my legs could cope with any more elevation gain. Sure enough though, just as Furzton Lake came back into view, so did the final hill. It wasn’t pretty, but I got over it and mile six in 6:59 and powered on to the finish. There was no one chasing, and no one to chase. Just the watch. I didn’t look at how I was doing, I kind of knew I wasn’t sub-43, but a PB was almost guaranteed, so I just pushed on for the line with everything that I had left.
I completed the last 400m in 1:29, finishing in 43:12, a PB of just over a minute. The time in itself was disappointing, but given the course and the conditions, I was, and still am, delighted with the result.
Going through the finish, I picked up my medal, a cardboard cup of water and some complimentary Haribo’s and took a seat on the grass to catch my breath. I took a look around and there didn’t appear to be many finishers around at all. I looked at the results afterwards and found that I had finished 12th out of a field of 432. The club runner I was chasing finished just 4 seconds ahead. It doesn’t sound a lot, but I am comfortable in the knowledge that I went as fast as I possibly could have during the race, and there’s no way I could possibly have gone faster.
I went around to my mums afterwards to collect the children, who had spent the day there. She asked how it went and I explained how horrible it was (and it was really horrible!). She responded by saying “ah, you didn’t enjoy it then?” Never said that, it was horrible, but I had a great time and thoroughly enjoyed it. It’s difficult to explain that to a non-runner. 10K though, in general, is a horrible race distance. It’s not too far off the effort level of a 5K, but at least a 5K is over relatively quickly.
As for the event; it was well organised, the course was great, the post race snacks were perfect and the medals were impressive. Certainly a race I would consider doing again.