Race Recap: Fred Hughes 10

This post could also be titled: weekend two of “crazy January,” in which I have a race every weekend for five weeks in a row. It started with last week’s Met League cross country race and will finish on 8 February with the final Met League outing. Today was a fun change, though, as it was a road race rather than the cross country that has dominated the racing schedule since November.

The Fred Hughes 10 is an “undulating” 10-mile road race in St. Albans (north-west Greater London). Apparently it was cancelled last year due to snow, and this year they changed the course at the last minute due to flooding. We had 1.7 miles out, then two times around a 3.3-mile loop, then the same 1.7 miles back. I was pleasantly surprised at how countryside-like the course was; much of it was on quiet country lanes surrounded by farms and pretty green fields (and the hills were not that bad, especially compared to our “roller coaster” tempo run route). The periodic sunshine helped, too.

Despite positive self-talking myself for all of Saturday, the adrenaline kicked in early and I felt ill and didn’t sleep well the night before the race. That didn’t worry me too much, though, as I’d slept well on Friday. I hadn’t been that nervous for a race since I-don’t-know-when; the nerves must have gone into overdrive because this was my first race longer than 10k since the Kyiv Half Marathon in 2012. I knew I could run the distance — my recent long training runs have all been over 10 miles — but I wasn’t sure what pace I’d be able to maintain for 10 miles.

After the usual few toilet trips, J, CW, B, and I headed for the start. I told myself just to relax and enjoy it, to keep the others in sight but ultimately run my own race, and not to push too early so as to have some gas in the tank for a strong finish. Oh, and also to be under 40 minutes at the halfway point to give me some leeway and the possibility of finishing under 1:20:00.

Overall, my personal goals — and race tactics, if you can call them that — worked. After a slowish first mile (just about 8:00), CB, J, and I ran together until they surged ahead between miles 4 and 5. Though tempted to keep up with them, I told myself it was too early — just run your own race and keep them in your sights if you can, the voice in my head advised. I plugged along, setting pretty even mile splits between 7:30 and 7:40, and watched CB and J catch up with CW and one of our male runners.

Knowing the middle miles would be the toughest — mentally, if not physically — I popped a few jelly babies into my mouth, hoping the sugar kick would keep me going. Luckily, I ended up running alongside a man from another club for miles 6-8 or so; he could tell I had my eyes on the club-mates ahead of me and was great at pacing and encouraging me. My rough plan was to start pushing for home at mile 7, but when we got there I could see that I was slowly catching up with my club-mates and decided to keep running along at my own pace until mile 8.

With two miles to go, I knew we had some uphills in store — but also downhills, which I tried to use to my advantage throughout, shortening my stride and letting gravity do most of the work. Maintain an even effort throughout, no matter the terrain. We finished the second loop and turned onto the straight stretch back — a sip of water, and then 1.7 miles to go. Let’s catch them.

I picked up the pace and changed my breathing pattern. My “pacer” noticed, and told me to “go get ’em” (or something along those lines) as he was running out of gas. J was in sight, and I caught up to her just after mile 9 — “Come on, J, less than a mile to go! Let’s catch CW.”

Continuing to push and knowing I only had about five minutes left to run, I set my sights on CW, also aware that CB wasn’t far in front of her and might also be catchable. But I had to step on it, as CB just edged me out in last week’s Met League. Don’t wait, just go! You can run hard for less than five minutes. By this point, we turned the corner and had 400 meters to go. Run, I thought, it’s just like being on the track. You can do one lap in 90 seconds or less. CW groaned as I passed her shouting encouragement but not stopping to chat because CB was just around the corner. Use the downhill finish, I told myself. 200 meters to go as I passed CB. Don’t let up, she’ll have a good kick, too.

I ended up finishing just one second ahead of CB with a final time of 1:16:17 for the 10 miles. That’s an average pace of 7:38/mile. I came 217th out of 662 finishers, the 29th woman out of 256, and the 3rd Heathside woman of 10 who finished. I am pleased with that, especially as it was my first time running a 10 mile race. I also hope the nerves were all shaken out today so I won’t be so nervous before the Watford Half Marathon in two weeks. Now I know what I can do at a longer distance and have some confidence going into the half, which will no doubt be a friendly competition, as always, between my training partners and me.

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