Wednesday August 28, 2019

The UKFast City of Salford 10K is close. The big race I’ve been preparing for, it seemed fortuitous that an opportunity in club training and an opening in the calendar would give me the chance to prove to myself, at least, that I was getting in shape for a fast 10K. My training has been hit and miss at times, and I felt a 5K race in which I could test myself against others would be ideal.

The Leeds 5K Race Series is organised by EvenSplits and has been a fixture in the local race calendar since 2017. Held at the Brownlee Centre, a few miles north of Leeds city centre, it comprises of 10 races, held monthly on the last Wednesday, generally, of every month between February and November, and split into two races, an ‘A’ race, for runners aiming below 22:30 for the distance, and a ‘B’ race for runners at 22:30 or above. The top six results out of 10 races for regular competitors count towards the end of season prize.

I booked into this race only a few days before. I’m not normally free on Wednesdays due to family commitments, but on this particular week I was able to make some plans and sure enough, this was a race I could attend via public transport without overpaying.

I’d warmed up for this event with a track training session at my club, the Halifax Harriers, which included a mile time trial this week. The last time I ran a mile time trial at the club, I clocked 5:09. I’d gone flat out that day and wore regular running shoes. This time, I packed my track spikes, a pair of Nike Eldorets, and went out with the intent of going even quicker.

My watch is currently out of action, as the strap has broken. So I ran ‘blind’ and gradually cranked up the pace each lap, until I was all out on the final lap. I clocked the fastest time of all my teammates – 5:03! It was my second fastest mile of all time (not including downhill miles), but I was much happier with the manner in which I achieved it. I ran much more considerately, wound up the gears as I completed each lap and had absolute confidence in my ability. It paid off, and it gave me a massive boost heading into this race.

Stood on the viewing bridge above the course, about one hour before the race

I got there fairly early, around 80 minutes before the start of my race, but I got my kit on quickly and calmly went about until the ‘B’ race started. About 30 minutes from the start, I went through my warm ups and drills. I would be running without a watch again, but there was a timer at the finish line that would be ticking away each lap, and the race was also chip timed too.

The course as viewed from the bridge, north (above) and south

There were some serious looking athletes at this race, I sensed, judging by the intensity some were warming up. And there were kids entering this ‘A’ race too. One looked no older than 11, maybe 10. And some of them lined up near the front as all the runners assembled at the start line. That’s potential. But here, as a rainbow emerged in the evening sky, I remained focused on trying to get that PB and running below 17:30 for the first time in a 5K distance event.

The race director delivered the race briefing, gave us the countdown and we were off. It was quite bunched at the beginning, everyone vying for the racing line, and going up the hill for the first time, I was squeezed up against the verge. But such was the pace being set, it was comfortable. I had no concern about tripping up over anyone’s feet. I knew once at the top, the hill would initially level out and drop. And so here’s where I began to make my move to get a bit nearer to the front end. I moved off the racing line, and overtook a number of runners on my left, managing to reclaim the racing line before the left hand bend. As the race then dropped down the hill on the other side, I put the hammer down and opened up my stride. I knew to give myself the best chance of a PB would be to maximise my effort in this area.

By the time one lap was completed, I could see the clock up ahead, and I was sat in tenth. I went past the clock for one a bit laps in around 5:40. The track was exactly a mile in distance, so my mile time was probably around the 5:20 mark. So it was rapid.

On the charge down the hill on the first lap (in the blue of Halifax)

Up the hill again. I tracked three runners just in front of me, somewhere between breathing hard and holding back just a smidgen until that satisfying moment where the hill suddenly levels out. I opened my stride and gained a place. I was now right on the tail of 7th and 8th. The downhill section was coming, and my stride opened again. I finally passed them towards the bottom of the bend. Now, I knew this wasn’t going to stick, but it was in the plan to exploit the downhill as much as possible. I could afford to lose a little time, which I felt I would, ascending the hill on the third lap, so long as I didn’t completely fall apart.

By the time we got to the bottom of the hill to run the loop to the end of the lap, I’d dropped back to ninth but went through two and a bit laps at around 11:20. So I knew at this point I just needed to run the last mile in around 6 minutes or less. I felt in control, but I sensed the two runners ahead were starting to get away slightly.

I was passed again on the way up the hill and was really feeling it by now, but once we got to the top I opened up my stride again and with every sinew, strained to get down that hill as fast as possible. I did lose another couple of places as we came around the loop at the bottom, but it was nothing drastic. I wasn’t exactly falling off the back end and my pace hadn’t dropped considerably.

Up ahead, I could see the clock ticking at 16:something. The strides I’d been working on were absolutely essential now. The clock ticked from 16 minutes to 17 minutes, but it was fine. A new PB was here for the taking.

I dipped at the line, oddly – it wouldn’t make a difference as the chip was on the back of my race number. Still, I knew I’d gone at least 20 seconds inside my PB and minutes later it was confirmed. 17:12 – eclipsing my parkrun PB time of 17:32, which had been my PB since earlier in the year. And 12th place overall too. A superb result!

I was exhausted after crossing the line and had to sit down for a few seconds afterwards, but soon got back up and shook hands with some of the other runners. Including the winner, I think, who won the race in 15:32. Absolutely amazing running. I grabbed a post race bottle of water an a Snickers bar, handy stuff to refuel on. I couldn’t hang around too long though. I had a bus and a train to catch home, and so I had a recovery run back to the bus stop to get on with.

A very happy man, post-race

But what an incredible feeling it was to finally get the sub 17:30 I’d been after for so long. And since the start of the year, I’ve now taken a total of 39 seconds off my 5K PB. A target has been achieved, and it’ll be hard to beat it, but if I get conditions like this, and perhaps an undulating course like this, I might well be able to lower it further. That’s for another day though.

This is such a fabulously organised event, the enclosed lap course minimising the need for marshals (you can only go round it clockwise or anticlockwise) and the organisers were every bit punctual and clear with their race instructions. Kudos to them on what is clearly a well run and much loved event – 177 runners in the ‘A’ race alone, and overall well in excess of 300 – a brilliant turnout for a midweek event. I’d definitely come back here for more races in the series, although given my Wednesdays are likely to be off limits for the foreseeable, I couldn’t possibly guarantee when that will be. I absolutely recommend it though, a great PB course.

All in all, it bodes really well for Salford which, at the time of publication of this post, will be days away. I’m running myself into some good form and with two excellent times in the space of just over 24 hours. I’m counting down the days to my 35th birthday. Salford will be my final race as an 18-35, a Male Senior, or ‘MSEN’ as categorised. To grab three quick times in the space of two weeks is in my reach, and I’m feeling confident that it’s time to lower my 10K time once again.

Many thanks to Aaron Badkin for the race photo.

Leeds 5K Race Series website