Prince of Wales Hospice Pontefract 10k
By Danny Mann
When it comes to targeting a time there’s many in the crosshairs of a runner as they lace up their trainers; for some it can be a progressive process, much like a heavyweight contender has to pick his way through the mandatories and the journeymen before a title shot at the champ in Vegas, many runners tick off the sub 70 10 mile and sub 1:30 half before the shot at the bigtime of a sub 3 full in London or Berlin.
For me the one target I had craved perhaps more than any other (barring a GFA marathon time) is a sub 40 10k. I can’t really explain why? Perhaps its due to the perfect symmetry of having to run 4 min kilometres 10 times back to back; even converted to miles it roughly equates to a pace of 6:20 per mile to complete the 6.2 miles in a shade under the milestone. This sort of OCD pattern appeals to the type of boring man who runs his marathon training runs as 7 laps of a 3 mile loop around Crossgates as it allows him to leave water bottles on top of his car and gets him used to taking on fluid at the exact distances the water stations are apart in the Manchester Marathon!! Another reason is that after 40 the next “round” number is sub 30 and let’s be honest if you’re running sub 30 10k you’re probably too busy training with Mo Farah to cart your arse over to a racecourse at some ungodly hour on a Sunday morning. But that was exactly where we found ourselves gathered in our own little corner of Kippax as we prepared to go off in the 8:30 at Pontefract in the Kippax Harrier’s Championship Stakes. With points up for grabs there was the usual pre race chatter in our own little betting ring and we all sort to gain the full SP on all of the runners and riders; who was feeling good? Who was nursing an injury and who was in danger of been shot by the vet mid race!!? It was great to see Pete Blackburn and Ian Downham had allayed any fears of been non runners to make the start and were catching the bookies’ eye and their odds shortening by the second as the clock ticked closer to race time.
From my own point of view, however pleasant I may have found the riparian adventure along the banks of the Ouse the previous week, I’ll admit I was glad to be back at a race where the going would once again be more “Good to Firm” underfoot. My aims for the race were 2 fold: to be 1stHarrier home and to do it in a time that began with a ‘3’ and finally got me under the elusive 40 min barrier!! Back to back 10Ks of 40:21 and 40:19 at the North Lincs Half and a 1st10k of 40:03 during the Thirsk 10 mile suggested the time should be a given but those had come on snooker table flat courses; the undulating hills of Pontefract would pose a different challenge this coupled with a solid 18 months of marathon training had left me severely lacking in any speedwork, which is a pre requisite of any 10k training plan, thus the prospect of stringing together 6 and bit miles at around 6:15 a mile whilst having barely run any mile quicker than 6:30 would be tough to say the least. The prize of 1stHarrier home also wouldn’t be handed to me on a plate, Andy, Wayne, Ian, Alan, Pete and the other Kippax thoroughbreds promised to give me a hell of a run for my money!!
The start of the race was inside the park itself before a sharp right turn then a 1stfurlong up hill. I sought a good spot in the just behind the tape ensuring my hopes for sub 40 didn’t fall at the first and before we knew it we were under starter’s orders…and we were off!!
Any 10k you must go out hard and hang on, there’s no time to ease in as you can in a half or full; A perfect 10k requires you to tiptoe on the very edge of that bubbling cauldron of lactic acid, teeter too far one way and you’re in for a searing world of pain as your heart rate rockets, breath is ripped from your lungs like rags from a doll and your legs succumb to lactic debt and like a turbine that’s lost steam pressure slowly wind down to a standstill. Don’t go hard enough though and by the time you’re into your stride the race is nearly over and you haven’t got the miles left to move through gears and race to your potential. True to form all us Harriers shot out of the stalls and were on the bridle right away.
My plan was to hit 6:15 minute miles for the 1st5k and hang on best I could on the uphill slog back so I was delighted to crest the hill and my watch register a 1stmile of bang on 6:15, I knew the course then made an undulating but gradual descent to the turnaround point at 5k and when the beep of my Garmin heralded a 2nd mile also bang on 6:15 I was pleased with my very rare metronomic progress and pacing nearly a third of the way in. Running right on threshold pace meant a battle to keep focus and ensure rhythm and cadence were in sync therefore with the blinkers on I hadn’t made so much as a sideways glance to see if any fellow Harriers were coming up the rail with the early running but as we rounded the turnaround point I knew it was the moment of truth to see how hard I’d have to push back up the hills to secure the 20 points!! A skip round the cone that marked the halfway point and the countdown to seeing the 2ndplaced Harrier began, 1,2,3,4…..Jesus there seemed to be a sea of red and white heading down the hill towards me!! Eventually amongst the red and white of Hyde Park Harriers and Selby Striders I saw the red and white I was looking for; Andy Hill, awash with an air of steely determination and running strong towards halfway. I calculated I was approx. 45 seconds in front; Andy would need to make up 15 seconds a mile on the return to catch me, If I could average 6:30’s on the return, I’d break 40 mins and Andy would need to average 6:15 a mile, now the Skipper is a fantastic runner and I’m not saying he isn’t capable of that but if he managed it on the final net uphill 5k of 10k I’d shake him warmly by the hand and congratulate him on a fine win because there was no way on earth I was splitting 6:15’s on the way back!!
Straight after the turnaround the long, arduous climb began and by now I had an interesting sub plot developing in the race and one I hadn’t experienced previously but it promised to make for an interesting final 5k and would see me becoming something of a pantomime villain to the crowds cheering on the run in back.
For pretty much the entire race I’d been running alongside the eventual female winner and as the stream of runners heading to halfway and the crowds lining the roads realised she was the leading lady in the race, the support and cheers grew with every stride we took past them which should’ve been uplifting and encouraging at such a tough part of the race, unfortunately though there was only one person they were cheering for!! Everytime I looked to make a move to steal a small lead she closed the gap spurred on by shouts of “Go on 1stlady” “You can catch him” “Don’t let him get away” I’d expected to battle the hills on the way back but not the people of Ponte imploring me to slow down!! By now we were about 4 and half miles in, neither us were letting up and the pace was still fast and tiptoeing the lactic tightrope, I’d steal half yard on a hill and as soon we reached the top she’d close the gap. I’ll be honest I was getting schooled; the poise and fluidity with which she increased cadence and speed was almost imperceptible meaning before I could react and head off the attack she’d stolen a yard. All 5ft 2in and 7st of her gliding along effortlessly was impressive from a technical running point of view and was in stark contrast to myself who you could practically hear change gear like a knackered old truck at the bottom of every incline. To go back to the boxing metaphor she was a world class Featherweight in the ring with a lumbering has been Heavyweight, out scoring and out boxing with ease, the ref would have stopped it before we reached mile 5. Thankfully this journeyman only had to connect with one haymaker for the knockout and my chance came deep into the 12th as we began the final downhill 500m to the finish and I knew I could sustain a final attack safe in the knowledge I could soon stop. At last this juggernaut ground into gear and I was able to make a decisive break, snap the elastic that seemingly bound us all race and kick for home. For 6 miles we had both ran alongside one another both utterly absorbed and committed to the task at hand, both enjoying our running but no acknowledgement or word had passed between us….It was a bit like been back with my ex!! But now with 200m to go I had the lead much to the disdain of the supporters who were still imploring her to catch me. A final turn back into the park and I was through the finish line in a time of 39:05. Both aims achieved and on a course much tougher than I’d imagined. I congratulated and thanked her for spurring me on as she crossed the line a mere 7 or so seconds behind me. I had no choice but to be gracious and magnanimous in victory as deep I knew it was only a genetic advantage of been able to take 1 stride to her 4 than had seen me prevail on the run in; if it come down to actual running ability she’d have destroyed me!!
A sub 40 and a highest finish percentage wise of 14th/673 felt good; for me it marked the completion of a journey that probably began in the pissing down rain, by a field someone near York as cold and drenched my legs had yielded to the inevitable and ground to a halt with 10 miles still to go in October’s Yorkshire Marathon; the final 10k that day took nearly 1 hour and 35 mins to complete and as I crossed the line, drenched, hypothermic and projectile vomiting into the gutters of York University I seriously contemplated jacking in this running lark for good. So to cross the line and complete the set on Sunday of Marathon PB, sub 1:30 Half and Sub 40 10k felt good and I was glad I kept training, so not only do I want to congratulate all my fellow Harriers who ran fantastic races on a tough course on Sunday but to thank everyone at the club for their support, friendship and encouragement and for keeping my running. When I joined around 2 years ago, I was 15lb heavier and struggling to break 4 Hours for the marathon and 1:45 for a Half, running was a grind and I struggled to find motivation to lace up the trainers, now Tuesdays are a highlight of the week and it is a pleasure to run with and race against such friendly, inspiring and supportive people. From the bottom of my fancy Nike 4 Percents I thank you all!!