Friday, 22 February 2013

Stamford St Valentine's 30K

The St Valentine's 30k was to be a good test of my progress in pursuit of a sub three hour marathon. Training has been going generally well although I do seem to be thrashing through hard runs followed by longer periods of rest rather than doing steady constant higher mileage. The Valentine's race is pretty tough, involving undulations some of which are steep enough to be called hills. I've run this race twice before. The distance is unusual, not short enough to really hammer it but not long enough to use the excuse of needing to run a steady, progressive pace.
It was a beautiful day for running with bright sunshine that had come to interupt the gloom of winter and remind us that better, spring like weather isn't far away. I set off from the housing estate adjacent to Queen Eleanor School in Stamford at a pace some way short of threshold and questioned through the first 10k whether I had gone off too fast. Not going off too fast is a golden rule of long distance running but it can also be used as good excuse on days when you not feeling particularly fit. "I'm not running slowly, I've just decided not to go of to fast".
At about 10k I was overtaken by a big pack of runners. I was surprised. By that point I was fairly well placed in the field and the runners in front were spread out in the distance. The pack of perhaps 7 runners engulfed me and it reminded me of various time during the London marathon when I have been on sub three hour pace and then the runner's world sub three hour pacing group (of hundreds) comes breezing past. It usually happens at a point when you are feeling low, slowing down and then you have to face the reality as you watch the swarm disappear in the distance that your sub 3 hour dream is fading fast.
At the Stamford race I journied on undeterred. I knew I'd put in a bit of training and when the usual thoughts of slowing down crossed my mind I was able to knock them into touch, keen to press ahead and give myself a decent test. The race route quickly leaves the housing estate to enter country lanes which pass between typical Lincolnshire agricultural fields. Most of the route is exposed but last week there was only a gentle breeze with occasional stronger gusts. The sun continued to shine brightly. It was a good invigorating day to race.
I passed through half way at 15K beginning to feel a bit tired and finding the thoughts to slow down harder to dismiss. The time on the clock at the side of the road was 1 hour 02 minutes. I did a bit of maths and came to the conclusion that I was almost 10 miles in and 1:02 was a respectable time. I needed that bit of encouragement, it came just at the right time. It was a good race time to defend during the second half of the race meaning that the negative thoughts would have to be withdrawn for a little while longer.
Keith can laugh about it now whilst Arthur reflects on the madness of it all.
By 20K I was pretty shot. I noticed that my pace had dropped considerably and I had a quandary with myself about whether to interrupt my pace and rhythm to get some food out of the zip pocket in the back of my shorts. I'd taken a handful of dried prunes with with me and against my better nature, a gel. I decided to hold off. I would use use the food as a treat at 25k instead.
Just before 25K I was overtaken for the first time in ages and that sealed the conclusion that it was time to eat. I shuffled the zip, retrieved the gel and swallowed it without much discomfort. I then grabbed a small handful of prunes and stuffed them into my mouth. The prunes weren't very chewable given that my mouth generally needed to be kept open to ensure that I could continue to gasp air which had been the theme of the previous 15k. I was grateful to see a "drinks stop ahead" sign and I was soon able to down a mouthful of water to aid the "prunes down the hatch" process. 
My minor food eating obstacle was through. I'd been slowed a bit but it would be worth it when the energy kicked in or the when the psychological effect that the energy was kicking in - kicked in - if you know what I mean?  I was encouraged and pressed on through the final 5K.

Scott Jones finishes his longest race so far.
The last part of this race in common with other similar races is that it goes on forever. Runners come back into the housing estate and there appears to follow turn after turn. With every turn I was staring longingly ahead through the curve of the bend to try and get a first glimpse of the school that would signify the finish. Eventually, after what seemed like a terrible succession of maze like turns I caught the first glimpse of the finish. I don't remember ever being so pleased to get to school. 
The race finishes in the school grounds but first there is the long slog around the playing field to negotiate. The organisers know how to kick a man when he's down. I was down by now. I laid it all out last Sunday and the uneven ground and longish, softish grass was just what I could have done without. I had tussled with another competitor overtaking each other at least three times during the course. I knew he was just behind so I had no choice but to keep up the pace and for the last time dismiss another thought to slow down. I was thrilled to see the race clock at 2:05 which I was fairly confident was a PB on the course. The race results confirmed a time of 2:05:03 (46th) comparable to  2:11:57 (92nd) in 2011 and 2:06:56 (62nd) in 2010. I was happy with my time even if the conditions were ideal.
More senseless punishment...
So what of the sub three hour marathon? With a pinch of salt I've put the time above into a few online marathon predictors and there are a range of results which predict I'll run between 2:57 and 3:01. So I have a chance, albeit a slim one and everything has to go right between now and the 21st April.
The Valentine's 30k is to be recommmended for a fair fee you can expect a good organised race through a testing course which provides excellent training for a spring marathon. A highlight is the good quality long sleeved t-shirt which always seems to fit well and it washes well too even If I do say so myself... 

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