Two Races, One Prize

race to the start line
This morning’s Brooks Brighton 10k was the thirty first running of the event and my second participation. My first was last year’s race at which I set my existing 39:33 PB – my only 10k under 40 minutes. I entered in late September confident that by race day I would be fit and ready to improve my PB. Although my previous 10k in Bournemouth at the beginning of October had not quite gone to plan – I finished in 40:04, short of the 39:29 target I’d set myself – I felt confident that this time, with several more productive weeks of training behind me, a good PB was achievable.

Four days before the race I began to develop a cold and two days before the race I added a toothache to the, by now, flourishing cold. On the day before the race I had to acquire some clove oil to subdue my toothache and that evening my wife seriously suggested that I pull out of the race. As I had on the previous night I went to bed sensibly early to get as much sleep as I could and was relieved to find no sign of my toothache and the merest hint of my cold when I awoke on race day.

Re-invigorated by my recovered health I pinned my race number to my vest, collected my other race kit together and added post race water, banana and cereal bar to the passenger seat before hopping in to the car and pulling out of the drive. I estimated that I’d be parked in Hove about half an hour before race start. Within just a few yards I realised I’d bought no money and so returned to pick up a credit card for the petrol which it looked as though I might need on the return journey. Setting off again I relaxed long enough to get several hundred yards from home before remembering I’d need change to pay for parking when I arrived. I turned around and drove home again. I could only find a £10 note and so, departing for the third time, had to detour via a shop to break the note. Having delayed myself significantly I realised a typical journey time would now only get me to the car park in Hove about 15 minutes before race start. And I seemed to remember that covering the distance between the car park and race start the previous year had taken around 20 minutes … Including running part of it, perhaps 2k, as a warm up.

I pinned my race number to my vest, collected my other race kit together and added post race water, banana and cereal bar ...

I pinned my race number to my vest, collected my other race kit together and added post race water, banana and cereal bar …

Fortunately the roads were clear on a Sunday morning heading out through Croydon and down the M23 to Brighton. Suffice to say I probably set a PB for my trip. Checking the time (and my speed) constantly en route I was relieved to park and start my watch at 9:11am to begin my warm up along the seafront towards Brighton. The piers took a long time to start getting closer … 2k and 10 minutes later I reached the burnt out West Pier and could see I wasn’t going to be passing the Palace Pier any time soon. Smiling blithely to myself I rationalised that since the race was chip timed there was no point in exerting myself unduly to get to the start and decided to maintain a sensible warm up pace and join the field as far forward as was practical. Stopping my watch as I neared the start area I re-tied my shoes and, as I walked up to the field, noted I’d run about 3.3k in a little over fifteen minutes. I walked down the side to pass as many runners as I could before joining the throng. And shortly after I did so I noticed the race had begun. Walking in the crowd I barely had time to become concerned that being hemmed in on all sides my starting pace would be so slow that it would compromise my race.

Brighton West Pier

The burnt out West Pier …
[ photo David Iliff* ]

I needn’t have been concerned. Although I was clearly out of position relative to the runners around me I think this actually worked in my favour as most of them were probably, as I often do, running a little too fast at the beginning. Consequently, even though I did pick my way through and around some other runners where this could be done without expending disproportionate effort, the fields’ relatively accelerated pace helpfully held me at a pace closer to my own target than I would probably otherwise have achieved with a clear road ahead. I recall seeing 3:54/km during the first kilometre and reflecting that I certainly wasn’t being held up. I decided to aim for 3:57/km (39:30) for the first half of the race with a view to picking up my pace towards 3:54/km (39:00) in the second half if I felt strong enough.

Having run East off the start line we turned around a cone just after 1.5k and from about this point the field had become spread out just enough that I no longer felt constrained by it and was able to pick a line between and around other runners at will. Only rarely did I have to check my pace briefly as larger groups formed momentarily before breaking apart again to reveal my path forward. I made it my focus to watch for these groups forming, gently ease up as I approached them and anticipate the gap / side which would open up allowing me to pass easily without adversely affecting any of the other runners and with the minimum need to decelerate or accelerate myself. Psychologically this continuous flow of passing other runners helped me enormously. Also I noticed that my watch chimed the passing of 2k and 3k within just a few metres of the official markers which encouraged me further as the pace displayed on my watch would be very close to the pace I was actually running.

Passing back through the start area just after 3k I spotted a friendly face – a member of my running club in the crowd – who cheered me on. As the race continued West I started to look for other Beckenham RC shirts and vests in the sea of runners I was passing through and as I approached each one I called out, “Go Beckenham!” and held my thumb up as I passed. As I currently do most of my running in the mornings I don’t actually see my club mates very often, but hopefully my club vest offset the fact that many of them probably wouldn’t have recognised me even from the front! As the race continued the sensation of passing other runners, picking up the fastest in any particular group and following them through before passing on the way to the next group, was exhilarating. Through kilometres 4 and 5 my current kilometre pace occasionally showed 3:52/km or 3:53/km and as I reached half way and saw my average pace to that point stood at 3:55/km I felt sure that 3:54/km (39:00) was a real possibility. At about 6.5k, and just a few hundred metres away from my car,  the course turned around a cone again and I headed East once more.

Quite quickly I became properly aware of the effort I had been putting in for the first time. Looking at my current kilometre pace I briefly saw it showing 4:05/km and then 4:02/km and I found myself beginning to consider settling in behind one of the stronger runners and holding on. Even now though I was still passing runners constantly and didn’t want to give up on the promise of the first half of my race. I resumed my focus on following the fastest runner in any particular group and using him or her to get to the next group. My current kilometre pace settled back below four minutes. Once kilometres 7 and 8 had passed, my watch still chiming within a few tens of metres of the official markers, I started to consider the finish. The Palace Pier is only about 500 metres from the finish although it seems further and reflecting on last year’s race I had decided that pushing hard only from this landmark actually left my finishing push too late. I decided to push from 9k.

Brighton Palace Pier

The Palace Pier is only about 500 metres from the finish … although it seems further.
[ photo Ian Stannard* ]

As my watch chimed I gradually accelerated, focussing on my form and not tipping myself beyond the point at which I could maintain my effort … As I passed the pier the finish did still seem a long way off. And I was already pushing hard and had been for 500 metres. I saw another Beckenham shirt and recognised the wearer. Surely I could catch him? These sensations; physical and mental, of striving to catch the runner ahead, deciding that I can’t and then resolving that I will … And the repetition of this struggle as the line at last begins to become a believable reality, encapsulate what racing is to me: It’s difficult and exhilarating, impossible and wonderful. All at the same time.

And the feeling lasts such that it is still powering me completing this at a few minutes before midnight rather than sleeping as I surely should be.

prize numbers

finish time chip 39:04 PB (gun 40:22)
splits pace
3:59, 3:57, 3:53, 3:53, 3:53, 3:55, 4:01, 3:59, 3:58, 3:36
approx HR
151, 155, 158, 160, 160, 160, 160, 160, 160, 163
biometric summary average HR – 159
max HR – 165 (estimated personal maximum – 172)
average cadence – 185
approx start weight – 67.9kg
positions by chip time
(gun time)
overall – 196 (270) out of 3173
gender – 186 (246) out of 1670
category VM40-49 – 54 (73) out of 543
on time warm up – 9:11am, 3.2k, 15:24
race – 9:31am, 10.0k, 39:04
warm down – 10:33am, 3.3k, 16:21
on reflection It transpired that the car park meter was out of order and so I didn’t need any change. And I didn’t need petrol on my return journey either.
Notwithstanding all the runners I passed, probably hundreds, the lag between my gun positions and chip positions clearly shows I was still significantly out of place in the field even by the end.

* Photographs of both piers are used under Creative Commons licences. Original images and license details can be found within the respective Wikipedia articles; West Pier and Palace Pier.


Crystal Palace parkrun 213, 10, 38, 50, 67, 90, 11, 2

Following my 5k/parkrun PB at Dulwich parkrun last week I decided to return to my regular long easy run day of Thursday and forego any attempt to improve my PB further today. Nonetheless I still wanted my parkrun fix and so chose to run Crystal Palace parkrun event number 213.


Crystal Palace parkrun: Two and a bit laps. Essentially half a lap climbing and half a lap descending a 37 metre elevation change between the lowest point in the South just behind the start and the highest, North-most point … When the dog bites, when the bee stings?

Personally it was my 10th parkrun at Crystal Palace Park and my 38th overall. Continuing at my present average rate of participation I should become a member of the parkrun 50 club in July 2015. Hopefully this will ensure I receive a 50 club t-shirt in good time to use it as my race shirt in my first marathon, aged 50, at Brighton in Spring 2016.

There’s something about the start of Crystal Palace parkrun that affects me like no other. Certainly the tree lined avenue, part of the park’s original layout, that embraces us all as we run off the line is a starting vista that few other parkruns can match, but it’s more likely to be something mundanely physical I think. Whatever the reason I always have a strong feeling of light headed-ness, perhaps an endorphin/adrenaline rush, as I run between the trees. So much so that I often wonder if I’m ok … But it passes quickly as the course turns right off tarmac onto a path at the end of the trees and the gradient, imperceptibly at first, begins to increase.

The start

There’s something about the start of Crystal Palace parkrun that affects me like no other …
[ photo license* ]

The course has a character that has grown on me. As someone who seeks out flat courses and fast times I like Crystal Palace parkrun more than I should. 🙂

Because the inclines and descents around the course are so significant there is little opportunity to settle into a particular pace and so the fact that I am still without my Garmin was always going to be less significant here than on a flatter course. In any case, as I’ve been discovering recently, I am actually able to pace my training runs and races quite well without information on my wrist anyway. I set out with a target of 20 minutes and an idea that my course best of 19:45 might be within reach given my recent form and that I am now distinctly lighter, 67kg as opposed to 71.5kg, than I was when I last ran Crystal Palace parkrun competitively just under a year ago.

Holding my starting position until the end of the avenue I carefully picked my way through a handful of runners into relatively open space as I headed East. Passing the eventual finish point there were a dozen or more runners ahead of me and I stayed comfortable and relaxed anticipating the steep section just beyond the approaching left turn into the trees. Working just hard enough I reached the high point of the course in the North corner of the park and relaxed into the beginning of the downhill section. Though this is currently a little slippery in places due to wet Autumn leaves, it is a great place to stretch out and enjoy a sensation of lightness and speed. A couple of gentle curves later the course turns right to meet itself and down the steepest descent, already traversed uphill earlier in the lap, which needs careful handling particularly given the almost 90 degree left turn, with a coincident surface change from tarmac to path, at the bottom. Passing runners earlier in their first lap on the short two way section of the course is brief respite on relatively level ground before the course drops away again down the path along the East side of the park. A couple of roller coaster like dips later I found myself at the Southern most point of the course and contemplating the start again. I glanced at my watch and it showed 9 minutes. I realised that if I could reach the finish point within 2 minutes that a further full lap from there taking another 9 minutes would put me close to my 20 minute target. In the event it took only around 1:50 to reach the finish area and I felt confident I could complete the final lap in 9 minutes or better.

Another lap of the course and I pushed for the line, stopped my watch as I crossed and glanced at it briefly before being handed finish token 11. Seeing 19:42.77 on my watch I allowed myself a discreet, manly fist clench and assumed the post parkrun position; hands on knees, panting hard. I like the finish funnel position at Crystal Palace; it makes for great finishing experiences and I enjoyed cheering several groups of runners over the line as I recovered further. A first timer at Crystal Palace parkrun struck up conversation saying that he’d seen my Beckenham RC top and decided to follow me on the assumption that I’d know my way around. Which was nice. He finished a couple of places ahead of me and we chatted, as one does, about parkrun PBs, flat courses, marathons and such. Which was also nice. 🙂

Thanking the volunteers I set off for home and the official results subsequently confirmed today’s time as 19:43; an improvement on my previous course best, set in the already mentioned run last November, of 2 seconds.

This post has been brought to you by the numbers 213, 10, 38, 50, 67, almost 90, 11 and 2.

* Photograph of Crystal Palace Park used under Creative Commons licence. Original image and license details can be found within the Wikipedia article Crystal Palace Park.