Sunday September 8, 2019

I had a blog post which I never quite got out on time prior to this race, which basically focused on one thing that struck me five days prior to the race: possible plantar fasciitis. Yep, 10 weeks of training for my big tilt at bringing my 10K in line with my 5K time, and it came down to that. I completed my last training session on the Tuesday, on grass, in the sight of an England Athletics coach that took our club’s session that night. I spent the rest of my week doing the various things associated with trying to alleviate my condition so I could race – foam rolling, icing, compression, cross friction massage, eccentric stretches, essentially the kitchen sink.

I booked into this race, the UKFast City of Salford 10K, months ago, managing to get in for a very good price due to a discount voucher, which cut £5 off my race entry. I planned to make it a day trip with my family, as the race fell one day before my 35th birthday. However, things got upended by the great bane of many a public transport commuter. Engineering works. And so, my cheap day out became a more expensive overnight in Manchester, which meant booking a hotel, and finding fun things to do for my kids, which I was more than happy to do – I focused on making our stay about family time, with a 10K race thrown in.

Come race day, I still felt reserved about the way my foot felt – better than it did the night after my last run, but still not 100%. I had to eschew the Premier Inn breakfast, given my race day breakfast always consists only of porridge, banana and a cup of tea – not that it mattered, I’m well used to planning race day logistics – and so it would be fine, just get the tram to MediaCityUK and it’d be A-OK. Except, Transport for Greater Manchester decided it would be a good day to cancel all the trams over there for engineering works. On the same day as a race attended by around 3,000 people, and a little known cricket match down the road attended by thousands more.

The replacement bus wasn’t much better either – thanks to road closures, the nearest it got to MediaCity was Exchange Quay, around a mile away. And so I had to walk for a mile, with wife and kids, with a really heavy overnight bag/holdall, and thus my trip to bag drop, the toilets and my subsequent warm up had to be condensed into a rough 20-30 minutes before the race start. I won’t lie. It was a beautiful setting for a walk. But yeah, thanks for nothing, TFGM.

Rant over, let’s focus on the race itself.

I had asked one of my daughters on that walk to guess how many minutes I might finish the race in. She said ’35’. I promised her I’d try but it would be really tough. My PB offically going into this was 37:08, though I ran a 36:46 split in an overly long 10K earlier this year. So I knew I could get a PB. But despite the confidence placed in me by my running club colleagues and my seven year old daughter, I wasn’t so sure I was going to PB by such a long way. The foot injury I’d picked up placed even more doubt in my mind. But I was sure of one thing. I was going out to go all out for this PB, and see where I ended up. I was happy to suffer the consequences later.

The UKFast City of Salford 10K is held at MediaCityUK each September, not to be confused with the Salford 10K (not sponsored by UKFast), or the Run MediaCity 10K, which happened a week or two before this race. It has a reputation for being a fast course, renowned for its PB potential, and its one of the organisers, The Running Bee Foundation, top races, along with the I ❤️ MCR 10K in nearby Manchester. Last year it attracted around 3,000 runners, which isn’t too shabby at all considering it falls on the same weekend as the Great North Run.

After the bag drop and the pit stop, I bumped into my Harriers team mate Angela, also running the event, and discussed our respective hopes for the race. Then we got into the starting pen for the race. I wandered closer to the sign saying ’30 Minutes Finish Time’. I briefly felt like Icarus. Do I set off with the front runners, the proverbial sun to my wings, who based on last year’s results, might be running closer to 32 minutes? It didn’t take long for me to see common sense. I moved back a few lines and trusted I wouldn’t get bottlenecked at the start.

Chilled before the start
MediaCityUK overlooking the masses

The PA announced the men’s and women’s champions from 2018, both back to defend their titles, and after a round of applause for Mo Done, a popular local runner who’d recently passed away, and whom the final mile of the race – ‘Mo’s Mile’ – would be dedicated to, the runners were invited forward for the countdown, and we were shortly away after that.

Now honestly, much of what happened next kind of went by. It was a bit of a bunched start – I later found my chip time was 3 seconds lower than my gun time, which meant I gradually worked into my pace and soon enough, I did find the gap to begin opening up my stride. I didn’t find myself doing much overtaking – I was happy to keep stride with other runners and trust that I was going quickly enough for my target. Indeed, we seemed to reach 2km fairly quickly. We ran past the very place where Coronation Street is filmed, though all I could see from the road was what appeared to be a few giant satellite dishes. Just before 5km came the water point. I took a couple of sips, drenched it down my back, and into my face before leaving it near where I’d picked up. It felt like hard work, but I was comfortable, and able to push on.

In control early on

From then on I was hanging off the back of a runner wearing a green shirt for a good couple of kilometers, seemingly a good marker for me to keep up with. Between 4 and 3km to go, I got overtaken by someone, and they would become the new marker. I soldiered on but must concede that I was beginning to tire a bit. But there was a point where a weird synchronicity took over.

There was a choir at one point of the course and the song they were singing was ‘Livin’ On A Prayer’. Fun fact: I saw Bon Jovi live at nearby Old Trafford stadium way back in 2002. To be hearing that song, at this moment, with Old Trafford stadium not very far away, was one hell of a moment. It gave me a bit of impetus to kick on, and sure enough I felt energized.

Later I felt myself tiring mentally. I’m not sure why. My pace didn’t feel to have dropped. I thought briefly about hanging back but instead, do what I usually do in times of desperate need – give myself a quick slap across the face – which seems harsh but trust me, it works. It got my adrenaline going again. And with the mile mark arriving for ‘Mo’s Mile’, I charged down one of the few drops in the race and gained a place. I wasn’t able to make it stick, but I still had energy to keep going as the route ran back along Trafford Wharf Road. Then as the race began to arrive back towards MediaCity, I got passed by one or two others, seemingly finishing stronger than myself. But I could hear and sense the crowds by the finish. There were mere metres to go now.

About to see the clock and go nuts!

I turned the final corner, the could see the seconds on the clock ticking. 20… 21…22… I couldn’t see the minute counter. I truly conceded at that point I’d run 37 minutes and twenty something seconds. But as I neared the finish line, I finally caught full site of the clock. 35:23…24…

I absolutely lost control. I pumped my fist in the air and yelled ‘yeeeessssss!!!!‘ as I crossed the finish line. The PA seemed to have a laugh at my reaction, and I didn’t mind one bit. I had done it. I broke my PB for the first time since 2017. Not just broken it. Absolutely obliterated it!

Daughter #1 came to the barrier. I told her “you were right!” Daughter #2, her twin, came over, and we shared a huge embrace over the barrier. My wife was surprised to see me coming into the finish so soon!

My time was confirmed by the chip at 35:26. I had taken 1:42 off my 10K PB, and finally cleared sub 37, and cleared sub 36 in one fell swoop. All on the cusp of my 35th birthday. And remarkably, my foot gave me no issues at all, with no sign of any ill effects either after the race or any sign of decline in the days after either. I couldn’t have asked for the race to go any better.

This was such a brilliant event. The organisers did a brilliant job at once again attracting such a large crowd of runners, and such an incredible standard too. Credit goes to the volunteers operating the bag drop, who came out to runners stuck in the queue to speed up the process as the start time approached. The marshals were all in the right place across the course. My only negative would be that my bag didn’t contain a medal – which one runner told me was a problem they had last year. However this was rectified by one of the finish line volunteers when I enquired. All in all, everyone involved with a volunteering or organisational role was top notch.

Make no mistake, this is a PB worthy race. Anyone looking to improve their 10K time, regardless of ability, has to consider it. But aside from that, it carries a tremendous positive energy about it. An enormous sense of joy and pride fills the event, from the winner taking the men’s title in well under 31 minutes, to the man who completed the entire course this year on crutches. The Running Bee Foundation stands for promoting health and wellbeing initiatives, and it really shows with the effort they put into making this event a huge success.

Reflecting back on my own training experience for this race, it is clear that the belief placed in my prospects for this race by one or two of the coaches, and numerous teammates and my kids, wasn’t misplaced. I must admit I lacked belief that I was capable of such a time. For weeks I honestly felt at the limit of my capabilities as a runner. I’m sure many of us can relate to that. But until now I wouldn’t publicly admit that. It was only in the last two weeks where a club time trial and a 5K race opportunity would shift my mindset from merely hoping to PB to expecting it. From hoping it would happen, to determining I would make it happen. That shift in belief was important, but equally so is the fact that physically, I’m sure I arrived into this race on a peak. I had two very good results before the race, and even when I got struck by injury, I was sure as hell I would get to the start line, and that I would race exactly as I intended to. Indeed, one of my fellow runners online neatly summised my race in four words: Played for and got!

Its time for a break for now, as by the time of publication, I’m now 35 years old and therefore in some races, I will be categorised as ‘V35’ or ‘M35’. I’ve kind of dreaded getting old in the past, but hey, I’ve got something to look forward to now – racing in age categories gives great opportunities to aim for age group prizes within races and maybe one or two records at club level. I’ve also got the small issue of having a tooth out, which will shelve me for a few days, but I’ll be back at it soon enough.

And excitingly, I’m not showing any signs of slowing yet. I’m quicker over 5K and 10K than I’ve ever been. I once looked at a sub-35 minute 10K as a pipe dream, a lofty target to strive for improvement towards. But yet again, I seem to have ripped up any reservations I had and, not for the first time, taken huge chunks out of my personal best. Sub-35 is no longer an impossibility. Its right there to play for.

Race photos taken by Mick Hall Photos

All other photos my own or taken by family

Full list of results here