A sobering experience.

In terms of races, I have been living on a bit of a cloud the past months. I have only been taking part in 5 km races since June and each one has left me with a satisfied feeling. Be it a PR or a nice placing, things were going good.

With my training reaching longer distances again, it was time to have another go at racing a 10 km. The one time I raced it before was a disaster in terms of pacing. It was also my first race ever, so that probably is somewhat of an explanation. This time, I would redeem myself.

Course details

To my annoyance, the course is actually around 9.2 km long. This is quite clearly stated on their site, though the event still is called a 10 km. No chance of setting a PR here.

Though honestly, even if it were a proper 10 km, this would still not be a course to set PRs on. The first two km are somewhat flat, but after that a first hill starts. This first hill is 1.2 km long and averages about 5% (dixit Strava). Once you have suffered through this, you can catch your breath on an 800 metre downhill. Hope you do, because from 4 km to 4.6 km is another climb, this one around 3%.

You are then presented with another opportunity to maybe recover a bit as things stay flat till 5.3 km. Another hill of just over 3% brings you to the sixth km. A short downhill delivers you at the bottom of the final climb. This one is only about 400 metre, but the gradient is around 4%. You can possibly place a bit of a kick here because once you crest the hill at 6.7 km, it is pretty much downhill till the finish line.

Strategy

My belief before the race was that conquering the first hill was really the only challenge I should properly plan for. Reason for this is that that first hill makes the rest of the course look peanuts when looking at the course profile. If I had written things out like I did for the previous section, maybe I would have planned differently. As it is, I only considered the big hill and dismissed the rest of the course as “flat enough”.

With that explanation in mind, my plan was to start around 4:00 per km pace, take it easier on that first big hill and then try to get closer to said pace again. I also knew of two other people taking part, let us call them A and B, who both should be around my pace. If I were to spot either of them, I might be able to stick with them, making the pacing slightly easier.

Training

I have been working on making 50 km running per week the new normal as well as getting ready for the start of my 20 km door Brussel training cycle which will start the second week of March. The weeks leading up to this race were: 50.6 km (included a 5 km race), 40.3 km (an 80% volume week), 52.2 km, and 55 km (including the distance I ran on race day). This was always spread out over four days. I feel like I should also point out these are the highest distance weeks I have ever done, so I imagine my body may be needing some extra getting used to still.

Not much is going on in terms of workouts, my second run of the week sees either strides or a tempo run. This is still more of a base building period that I hope will put me safely at the start of my 20 km training cycle.

In terms of things besides actual running, I have been doing a bit of the Myrtl routine to help against a weird feeling right hip. I think it has been working, it has been feeling better again.

As is likely evident from my weekly distances, there was no tapering for this race, though I did do the last run before the race (11 km on Friday) at a recovery pace.

Morning of the Race

I had some trouble falling asleep the night before and ended up with only six hours of sleep. Had a bowl of cornflakes and a bunch of water and left to take the metro with the girlfriend, who would be doing the other event today, the 20 km. Once there, we lost a lot of time standing in line for the toilet. By the time we got through all that, there was no time left for a proper warm up so we went to line for the start.

The 20 km and the 10 km started at the same time, adding up to about 1700 people. Most people were already in place and I had some trouble moving more to the front. Eventually I gave up and waited around the tenth row or so. It was a relatively wide street as well so all in all I decided I would need to do a bit of weaving in the first kilometre or two. I did not see B while waiting for the start signal, but I spotted A a few lines before me. He could be a target of the weaving.

Race

A horn sounded and off we went. I immediately noticed that my failure to move more to the front before the start was a pain now. The people around me started noticeably slower and I had to dodge, squeeze, and use my elbows creatively. As soon as possible, I moved outside of the stream of runners and into the (car free) opposing lane so I could speed up without worries. After two right turns I did a similar thing using the sidewalk. As I approached the end of the first km, things were not as crowded any more and I also spotted B. I crept closer to her, finally falling in step aside her after one km. Grunting “Hey” and matching her pace, we continued and reached the start of the first hill.

Splits kilometres one and two: 4:04, 4:05.

Feeling pretty good, I moved in front of her and set my own pace. Things were naturally going slower than the previous splits, but in my mind I kept the effort reasonably similar. I also figured the downhill right after the climb would be sufficient if I did push a bit too hard. I crested the hill and was glad the hardest part of the race was behind me. I did not look back, but assumed B was still close enough behind me, which would validate my “I went up it at the correct pace” assumption.

This turned out to be somewhat true as she raced past me halfway down the hill. Going by her speed, I must have had created somewhat of a gap going up the hill after all. I figured it would be easy enough to follow her now, it was downhill after all. Looking back at my heart rate however, this might have not given me the recovery my body could have used at this point. She was clearly much more efficient at running down the hill, easily making up what she had lost in the uphill. The fourth kilometre was past us and so was the downhill.

Splits three and four: 4:32, 3:58.

The next climb started and I noticed I had a bit more trouble keeping up. Around this point, we also split away from those running the 20 km, removing some of the people around me. B was slowly breaking away and I gave up trying to match her pace as it was beginning to give me issues. Looking back at the heart rate data, it went up even more on this part, but sadly enough I had not given my heart rate a look yet. The flat section that followed gave me some respite, but I already saw the next hill looming beyond it, which did not help my motivation. I pushed myself over it and survived the sixth kilometre.

Splits five and six: 4:49, 4:32.

As the watch beeped, I decided to switch the screen to show just my heart rate. Clearly my body was not liking my pacing, so maybe running purely by heart rate would work better. Garmin’s colourful display was showing dark red: my heart rate was close to my maximum heart rate (that is, the maximum I have been able to spot so far, anyway). I swore at myself for not having it open from the very first minute. I tried slowing down a bit, but also told myself that the long downhill towards the finish would be nearby now. If I reached that point, then it would be smooth sailing. Reality disagreed.

As I was going up the final hill, a side stitch hit me. I could not remember the last time I had one of these, but there it was. I hoped that my slowing down would make it go away so I could still make the most out of that long downhill.

Split seven: 4:24.

I reached the blissful downhill, the difficult parts were all behind me, my heart rate started slowly going down, I regained my breath pretty much completely. Just one thing remained.

That damned side stitch.

As it turns out, having a side stitch makes it really difficult to run at a decent pace, even when going downhill. I could not speed up the way one should on this part of the course and people started passing me left and right. There was nothing I could do and I dared not switch away from the heart rate view of my watch lest I see the disappointment of my total time.

Of course, I could not avoid that forever. As I neared the line, I saw their clock ticking past 40 minutes and knew today was a failure. I jogged past the line and munched down some of their fruit, cookies, and tea. I briefly talked to A as well as B and then went for my “cooldown” of eight something kilometre to reach my quota for the day.

Splits eight and nine: 4:48, 4:36.

Results

My Strava activity and the official results for your viewing pleasure. My official time ended up being 40:24, 61st out of 848. Over two minutes behind B and over three minutes behind A. I would say I lost about 15 places in those last few kilometres of downhill. This following image is quite telling, it shows my time compared to some others on Strava who took part in the race. I am the red line.

redline

This race definitely did not go as planned. Whining about it will not help though, so it is best to see what can be learned from it and move on.

Main take away is, I think, that racing only by feeling is not a great idea if you do not have experience in the distance. I really should have kept an eye on my heart rate as well, then I might have noticed sooner that I needed to slow down. For my next 10 km race, on 17 April, I will try out some different data fields on my watch. I have two screens on my watch with three fields each. I will try overall distance, lap pace and current heart rate on the first (main) one. I will still have to think what I will put on screen two to complement this while also keeping it useful as a “backup main screen”, though realistically I will not be actively changing screens during a race.

Secondly it will be useful to write out in words how the profile looks like before the race. This forces me to think deeper about it then “oh that looks quite alright”, an approach that failed here. Only time will tell whether that is sufficient of course.

Finally, if I had ignored B on that first major downhill, maybe things would have gone slightly better. This feels secondary to the first point though. If I had been going too slow, then following her would have been the right choice.

To close, I must address the prize winning part of the title. The girlfriend and I hung around for the podiums afterwards and dropped our bib numbers into a raffle they were apparently holding as well. To my surprise, my number was called and I won some beer: four bottles of Rochefort and a Rochefort glass. This also happens to be my favourite beer, so that made it a happy day after all. My self destruction had not been completely useless.