The Stamford 30K
Leading up to Keswick, there are a couple of intermediate points that I have set myself to see what kind of shape I’m in, and the first was yesterday in Stamford. A rolling 30 kilometre road race route, it would show: 1) Whether I’m as fit as I was at this point last year when I ran it in around 2:18:40; and 2) Specifically, how my endurance is coming along. I have been training well, sticking to my training plan, and my average pace has been improving over the 60 minute sessions that I generally do on a Thursday night, notwithstanding some horrible icy conditions we’ve had on the rural roads out here.
I hadn’t run a race since October last year, and with 5 weeks of decent training behind me, hopes were high for a decent performance. There were 5 runners from our club taking part and Mark and I, as training partners, planned to run together with a 2:15 goal, equating to 3 sections of 10k at around 45 minutes each. The first couple of miles were a bit downhill and we had recollections of some tougher climbs in the middle section from last year so had ideas about putting some time in the bank early on in case the pace slowed later.
As we’d remembered, the first 2 miles were predominantly downhill so we managed to average 6:48 pace without getting out of our ‘Recovery’ Heart Rate (Maximum 154 BPM). This was the plan; getting under our average pace without taking too much out of ourselves for later. The hills soon started, but as the distance markers were each KM, the race soon seemed to pass and before we knew it we had reached the end of the climb at 9KM and it was time to gel up. I discovered Clif Gel shots last week and had a chocolate one with me (slightly risky, having only ever had the espresso flavour before) and I can report that it was delicious, like eating chocolate fondue! First 10k done: 43:40!
The second 10K was full of hills; nothing like those to be found at Keswick, but the constant undulations soon started to hurt our quads and slow the pace a little. There were no miles in this section that didn’t have a climb lasting at least 200 metres or so, just enough to knock us out of our strides. Just as we were feeling the pain, however, the little milestones started to come - 1 hour (8.49 miles); half way (1:06:40); 10 miles (1:11:25) and we could start thinking about the final push to the finish. 20k down, 10 to go: 1:29:22. Could we run the last 10k in 45:38? We had given back a lot of the time that we had earned with our faster start but were both really struggling to keep the pace down at the 7:10-7:15 that we needed at this point.
As we descended down the slope into Great Casterton where the drinks stations, like all of those that had come before, were staffed by friendly encouraging and noisy marshals (loving the use of the cowbells!), we had both all but given up on this particular chase. There was a sharp turn left onto a main road where we passed the 22km sign, leaving 5 miles to the finish. Mark didn’t want to know what the time was looking like but I couldn’t help myself; we had put a little more in reserve and now needed 5 miles at 7:16 to get the time we were looking for. There was more climb than descent remaining, but it was now very much a case of pushing as close to the limit as possible and seeing what happened - we both knew that we were going to set PBs over 30k, whatever the final miles had in store. As it happened, Mark pulled away over the last mile and got under 2:15 by 20 seconds or so and I was left needing a 4:26 final kilometre to make it. The course finally leaves the road with around 500m left to run and goes around the perimeter of a school football pitch - a deeply uncomfortable way to finish with 130 minutes of road in the legs already! I turned the final corner with 50 to 80 metres to go with the timer in full view at the finish line… 2:14:45, 46, 47…
Over the line with 3 seconds to spare!
I improved my time by almost 4 minutes from last year, and picked up about 50 positions to finish in 101st place out of 700 or so starters. Certainly not a result to put me on UK Athletics’ radar, but a pleasing improvement for me!
So, I’ve got through my first major goal on the way to Keswick, now it is a case of working on getting my longer runs up past 2 hours and moving past the 20 mile mark, including getting off-road for a long run at least once per week, and adding some hills! On the face of it, a gently undulating 30k road race in rural Lincolnshire and Rutland doesn’t bear any resemblance to a 50k trail race in the Lake District, but it’s done wonders for my confidence and shows that my general fitness is improving. I have also planned a recce lap of the full Keswick route to run on either Good Friday or Easter Saturday, to see what the course holds in store for me. This time I’ll be taking a picnic and lots of photos, knowing that the second time it will be a bit less comfortable!