Right, summer is allegedly here, and despite the howling wind and hail, the 10K season is in full swing. The shire is full of villages and towns, each jostling for position as the weekends fill up with race upon race… and a couple of weekends ago it was the turn of the Market Drayton 10K, just over the Staffordshire boarder into Shropshire.
The MD10K has recently been voted ‘the best’ 10K in the country by readers of Runners World, and it’s easy to appreciate why… 1,600 entrants, a friendly, well marshalled and car free course, a couple of cheeky hills, a swanky technical t-shirt and commemorative medal, generous goodie bag containing beer vouchers, chocolate bars, sausage rolls, pork pies, trays of yoghurt and a gingerbread man… and that was just for the runners! Couple this haul with a fair ground for the kids, a fun run and lots of exhibitors selling cake and burgers, how could anyone refuse?
The week before had been an awful running week for me. I was breaking in new trails, was tired and had developed the appetite of a starving dog. Fair to say, I was not feeling the love. Such was the resulting apathy that on the pre-race Saturday night, I attended a friends party where I proceeded to eat a mountain of food and get well and truly whammed. Sunday morning did not disappoint, and I woke up with a hangover. I managed to force down my usual pre-race breakfast of bratwurst and poached eggs on toast (It hasn’t failed me yet) and took a deep breath…
Market Drayton, for all it’s charm, is a poky kind of place with car parking and access always an issue. Thus, we arrived early and went to the school hall to collect my t-shirt, and get a black coffee for my head. I wasn’t expecting to see many fellow Trentham Running Club comrades at this race. In 2012 there wee a good twenty or so of us, but enthusiasm for the 2013 event had been muted. Sure enough however, the green army started to roll up and make their presence known (at last count there were 17 of us) and soon we headed for the start line in loose battle formation.
At the start I glued myself to Ken, one of our seasoned racers. I knew full well that he would leave me for dust, but by doing so would carve a pathway through the mass of runners through which I could follow. Within 20 seconds of the hooter, I was over the line and once again in race mode. I chased Ken through the crowds for the first 200 yards or so, whilst having a private debate about giving up and heading for the bog… but soon enough I was out of the school field and onto the road.
The route had changed again this year, so whilst it was familiar, it somehow wasn’t. First we dipped into a housing estate that loops round the west of the village, past playing fields and driveways. Families with kids were out, clapping and looking on with banners. Taxi Lee soon caught me up with his long stride, with Cala and Lisa in tow… He said ‘hi’ as they zoomed past and called encouragement, but I was happy with my pace. I wasn’t looking at my watch, but my pace felt OK (considering the hangover) so I decided to settle with that for the time being.
Back into the centre of town, the route took us down past ASDA, up the high street and back into older residential streets. These were quieter, and narrow, but by then the field had thinned and I was enjoying the ride. I waved to my friend Katie, who was marshalling, and was starting to feel better. At the water station I ran by, not feeling thirsty, and started to look forward to the long downhill I knew was coming up somewhere along the way.
This is the thing with 10K’s: I always forget how long they are… Oh, it’s only 6 miles, I do that and more, several times a week! I tell myself, but on race day it somehow feels further. I also forget large chunks of the route that I have run in previous years, and therefore have a habit of thinking I’m near the end when I’m not. When the anticipated downhill arrived, I was surprised by how long it was. People I had passed on the relatively flat parts started to fly past me, but quietly welcoming the rest gravity afforded me, I maintained my pace and conserved a bit of my energy for the climb I knew waiting in at KM 8.
At the beginning, the marshals had been laughing about the notorious Phoenix Bank now being placed at the end of the race, and had also eluded to the fact that the wind would be whistling down bank towards us, further deepening our misery. Despite my muzzy head, my race strategy appeared to have worked, and as I dug in to the climb, I found I had plenty in my legs to power me up. A loud marshal at the top yelled at runners that we only had about 1km to go, and to get shifting! I could see the end in my minds eye, but knew that it was still mile away, and now was not the time to make the break.
The crowds were deeper here, and I saw a few people I knew: Old friends and people I work with, calling my name and cheering support. It made me feel great when, by all rights, I should have felt terrible. Back up the high street and towards the school, I knew that I still had to run around the edge of the large school field to the finish line. Once on the field I saw Cala, who was tiring, and slowed a little to encourage her along. Come on mate, we’re almost there… I grunted, don’t give up now! We ran around half the field together, until I saw Andy from club who called to Cala not to let me beat her… well, that was it! I went for it and did my usual ‘bloody mental’ sprint finish. Cala came in a few paces behind. Well done mate.
This was my fourth race of 2013, and despite the hangover, reckless eating, terrible pre race running and a hillier course than my previous PB, I set my fourth PB of the year, crushing my previous 10K PB I only set in March by a full minute. I have no idea how I did it, but you know what, I know I can go faster. I honestly believe that if you go into a race with no expectations and a relaxed constitution, great things can happen. This year the MD10K cured my hangover and the experience once again surpassed my expectations. As soon as we had finished the weather took a turn for the worse. I caught up with my inspirational friend Gemma (another PB there, superb!) and her Stone MM club mate, gave my friend Marie-Claire a hug, located the wife and child, and hung about with my club mates, basking in the post-race glow of grey cloud and drizzle. This is what Sunday afternoons are all about, I though to myself.
Within 5 minutes of the Shropshire rain, it was suddenly time for the comfy’s and some F1. It was a happy day.