Sunday July 23rd, 2017

It was 6:50am. I had overslept by around fifty minutes, woken only by my eldest daughter climbing into my wife and I’s bed for the week, as fortune would have it, which would mean I had little over an hour to get my porridge, cup of tea and a shower. My phone charger had somehow disconnected overnight, leading to a futile struggle to get it anywhere near a sustainable level for a big day ahead. And to compound matters, I had an urgent sit down pit stop, if you catch my drift, before I could run out to Mile End Road to see the 205 bus starting to arrive. My normally careful and meticulous race day preparations actually felt much more like my regular work commute, a situation I rarely feel at ease with. Thankfully, due to a red light, I made it across the road and onto the bus, and before long I decided to put my faith in the announcements on the bus over Google Maps to ensure I could look upon some of the sights and sounds of my journey to Regent’s Park Station and not nervously into the blue light abyss that radiates my eyes daily. And relax…

This quite urgent first morning of my holiday came about as they tend to do these days. Once my tickets were booked for the World Para Athletics Championships and once my arm had been twisted to make the trip a week long holiday and not a weekend break, I set about booking the AirBnB (a process which took a good few months), before searching for races in the area that I could get to. Lo and behold, I quickly found the Regent’s Park 10K, part of The Race Organiser’s Royal Parks Summer Series along with Hyde Park and Greenwich Park. Fitting neatly into my holiday plans, I wasted no time booking my entry and thus my entire preparations across spring and early summer were built around a long overdue tilt at my 10km PB of 37:15, set over three years before at the Epilepsy Action Bradford 10K.

Nothing seems small in London, and so the walk to the hub at Regent’s Park itself be considered. It was a good 15 minute walk from the bus stop to get to the park’s Hub, passing the lush green space, the beautiful lakes and waterfowl along the way. Still, the Hub was easy to find, and sitting atop a solitary mound in the middle of the park, and registration would be straightforward enough. With that done, I carried out my own warm up concluding with a kilometre jog round a roughly 250 metre circle of grass. This was all before the organisers gave their briefing and sent out a man named Richard to carry out an energetic warm-up just below the Hub. It wasn’t quite like that bloke who pumps everyone up for the Great North Run, but nobody could fault it for enthusiasm.

Pre-race
Pre-Race

The route, by the way, was three laps of 3.3 (and a bit) kms each, and the profile described as flat. The course follows the Broad Walk section of the park, taking in the drinking fountain and visible sights of London Zoo, apparently. The weather was warming up slightly, the sun deciding to appear from behind the clouds, but thankfully it wasn’t too warm as to potentially be uncomfortable at all.

I gathered at the front of the start line, amongst a group of about three or four other, more local runners, discussing taking it easy to begin with. I’d have done well to take that on board. Yet as the race began, I set off quite briskly, establishing myself in second place behind a runner in yellow. I didn’t try to keep up with him, but that didn’t stop me running my first km in 3:21, which meant in all likelihood I was in for a hard time later on. Sure enough, my pace began to drop back, but I was still feeling OK at this point, despite noticing that there was the occasional hill on this course. Always food for thought for the speeding runner.

First lap, before hitting the sufferfest

I reached the end of the first lap marginally in second place, but would soon cede the place as I began struggling for pace and wondering to myself if I’d ever trust myself to pace a 10K properly. At this point, compared to the Halifax Harriers Summer Handicap 10K, my performance seemed worse, and I really felt myself having to push hard to stay within 4:00/km pace. Not even the peculiar sight of a camel in the zoo could fire me up, it seemed, and I was passed halfway round the lap to drop to fourth. Nonetheless, I tried my best to push, and by the end of the second lap, I had slower runners to use as markers. I then noticed my mile pace had moved back below 3:50, even 3:45, so I resolved myself to keep pushing. It seemed I had a bit in the tank yet.

I went into the third lap, with a part of me wondering if I should give up the PB attempt as I was passed by another runner to drop into fifth, occupying the final prize spot. Keeping an eye on my watch, I could see I was marginally on point, but I had no room for error or complacency. I pushed on as much as I could, using the downhills to try and increase my pace and fighting for every last gain. Into the last kilometre, and I sensed I needed a big push to get within my 37:15 from over three years ago. Roughly a 3:40 to be absolutely safe. I was absolutely straining at this point, putting in strides, getting closer and closer to the finish.

Finally I hit the final straight, and the clock was ticking on around 36:44. I had the time in my grasp, but not quite sub-37. I sprinted as fast as my tired legs would carry me, and crossed the line in fifth place, in a new personal best of 37:07. Finally, after injuries, setbacks, and tribulation, what started out as a rather lofty and ridiculous target of going sub-35 had resulted in an eight second improvement. I was more than happy to take that.

Post-race with the rest of the top 5 – in no particular order

I got my goody bag items (an organic energy drink, a bag of Hippeas snacks, some iced tea (which I didn’t enjoy), and a Nature Valley bar; plus the medal, along with a t-shirt which cost a tenner (I normally wouldn’t, but heck, I was on holiday), and handed in my prize ticket (which would later be posted and would turn out to be fluorescent yellow running socks!). I also had my photo taken with the other four runners who placed ahead, as you can see above.

With that, I got my bag, changed out of my sweaty gear and proceeded to walk back through the beautiful surrounds of Regent’s Park, before wandering past the large queues of Madame Tussaud’s back for my Tube train from Baker Street, heading off to enjoy the rest of my day at Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park.

Race over, I could now look ahead to the remainder of the year and indeed, the rest of my holiday!
Looking back on my race, I clearly still, after all this time, need to learn a good pacing strategy rather than going hell for leather from the start. I almost paid for it here. I sound harsh on myself, but I had placed a lot on this race as far as a personal best goes, one that I knew I was capable of. That said, I can be pleased with my resilience in the last third of the race to make sure I wouldn’t keep looking back to 2014 and wondering what might have been. I can certainly take heart from refusing to give way to the thoughts on the third lap to hold back and try again another day. Had I done that, I feel I’d have truly regretted everything about how I approached the race, but the lull around halfway certainly gave me that glimmer that I hung onto.

Additionally, while where I finished wasn’t a concern this time, the fifth place was yet another top 5 finish in what is turning out to be my most successful calendar year yet.

A big thank you to The Race Organiser for such a great event, in terms of overall value for money, superb organisation and a real friendly, encouraging atmosphere, and indeed in selecting beautiful locations such as this one within the capital and beyond for staging their races. Should I be back in London any other time than the Marathon, I’ll be sure to check out what The Race Organiser might have going on in the area, and I’d certainly recommend you give them your consideration too, particularly if you’re on a longer break as I was.

Cheers to Basil Thornton for the race photos – these can be viewed here.

Event results here

The Race Organiser website