Monday, May 26, 2014

Bupa London 10,000 Race Report

Believe it or not, this was the first (running) race in which I had taken part in my home country in over 25 years! I always enjoy running in London and feel that either the relatively flat sea-level terrain or the distractions of familiar haunts contribute to me running faster than usual. This time it was not to be...

On the plus side, this was probably the best organized running race I have competed in. In spite of 18,000 people participating, everything from picking up the race number to dropping off my bag went extremely smoothly. Even though the odds were against it, I even bumped into the only other person I knew was running: an old school friend I hadn't seen in the best part of 15 years...

I was in the first coral behind the championship runners (I think the men had to have a sub 32 minute time and the women sub 38). I was surprised how sparsely occupied my coral was, as well as the fact that most of the other guys in it (at least the one I asked) were aiming for times (like 42 minutes) that were not really appropriate for starting so far forward. I thought, what with the UK being a bit of a stickler for rules, people would adhere to their projected finishing times. The start was quite funneled so I thought there might be a bit of a melee but, as it turned out, there was nothing to worry about, at least not in that respect.

I was worried about my foot, though. While warming up, be it running up and down or bouncing on the spot, I got that sharp pain and numbness in my toes. I started to think that it could actually force me to stop. While it's true that I have managed to do all of my training in spite of it, one thing is running on the predictable surface of a treadmill belt, another is running on roads with lots of turns and other runners. My brother was coming to watch me run with my 3 year old nephew (for probably the first time since he was a small boy himself!) so I started to fret about how I would get back to the start if I had to pull out - I had taken no money with me. It wasn't really the best frame of mind to be in, just before the gun went off.

The championship runners got about a 2 minute head start on the rest of us which certainly helped reduce the congestion, although I did catch up some of the women at least. The first kilometer was fairly quick (3:24) and the second was right on the money (3:33). I saw one of the guys I had been talking to, just up ahead - he was only 17 but was aiming for 38 minutes - a little bit too enthusiastically, it seemed. The third kilometer was OK, too (3:35), but then something weird happened for the 4th kilometer: it took 3 minutes and 56 seconds! It's true that there was a bit of a climb involved, but this could only mean that the kilometer marker was in the wrong place (I was going by the markers and not by the GPS on the Garmin). The question was whether the 3rd kilometer had been short or whether the 5th kilometer would be. At halfway, I glanced at the clock, but it showed the time for the championship runners who had a head start on the rest of us. My watch said that that just over 18 minutes had passed. I hoped that the wind and the incline would be in my favour on the way back.

The route is pretty scenic, apparently taking in Admiralty Arch, Nelson’s Column, St Paul’s Cathedral, Mansion House, Bank of England, Leadenhall Market, The Monument, Millennium Bridge, Tate Gallery, Cleopatra’s Needle, the London Eye, Big Ben, the Houses of Parliament and Westminster Abbey. I just noticed the river - mainly because it was more windy running alongside it - and Leadenhall Market, because here there were some cobblestones which made me worry for my foot. Amazingly, I didn't get a twinge of pain in the whole race. I think that, above a certain velocity, I tend to tread more on the outside of my foot and I'm fairly sure that the problem is around the big toe (the bunion).

My mental arithmetic is not that good at the best of times (in spite of a degree in Mathematics) so you can imagine how it is in the closing stages of a 10K race. The good thing about aiming for a time around 35 minutes is that you are thinking in terms of 3:30 splits. I knew that most of them were over the 3:34 splits I would need to get a personal best time - especially the 4th one - but I thought that I might still make it. So working backwards from a goal time of 36 minutes, I calculated that it was indeed still possible to get a sub 36 minute time. As I approached the finish line, I could see the time was some minutes and 40, 41, 42 seconds so I decided to sprint for the line - of course, the minutes were irrelevant because again, they applied to the championship runners. Had I realized that I had forgotten to "carry one" in my mental arithmetic and I was in fact "only" breaking 37 minutes, I perhaps wouldn't have bothered. In hindsight I'm glad I did, but it was disappointing to see the Garmin showing 36:50 instead of 35:50 as I had thought.

I've thought that a great feature for the GPS watches would be to "snap to the kilometer / mile markers". The idea would be that, if you press the lap button under this mode, the watch resets its GPS estimated distance to the nearest kilometer / mile. In this way, the GPS estimated speed and projected finish time would be quite accurate (assuming the kilometer markers were well placed!). Perhaps the GPS watch manufacturers would be reluctant to add this feature as it might seem tantamount to admitting that they are not actually that accurate. My watch estimated this 10K race to be 10.3 kilometers which is an unusually high error - this would equate to a 43.4 kilometer Marathon! The route traced out by my watch is indeed a bit "wobbly" - perhaps due to the cloud cover and the tall buildings in the city - but New York Marathon only came out at 42.5 kilometers by comparison. Also, when I traced the route out on Google Maps, it came out about 300m long and it is true that they changed it this year, to end in front of Buckingham Palace. It's tempting to think that this would neatly explain the extra minute but it's hard to believe that such a high profile race (that Mo Farah won last year!) would not be accurate to the millimeter.

At the finish line I saw my brother, my nephew and his Grandma - my brother's mother in-law (what does that make her to me? My aunty in-law?). I was wearing my spiderman t-shirt which my nephew thought looked more like an ant. I proudly showed him my medal, thinking that I would give it to him, but he didn't seem to be that impressed. I think he liked the one he had made on the HMS Belfast the day before.

So, what do I conclude from all this? I should probably do less running on the treadmill and more on the track, do a few longer runs and with hills, and probably cut down on the TV (which I obvously don't watch when I am running outside). In the end the same things that make training seem easier and more bearable probably make it less effective. There's probably a fundamental law of adaption in there somewhere which can be summed up by TNSTAASB: "There's No Such Thing As A Silver Bullet".

I'm going to get my foot checked out and maybe ease up a bit on the running for a bit (although, the Santander 5K race must be soon - the only realistic chance I have of getting on the podium these days). Searching for a silver lining to the cloud, I realized that at least I don't have to go as far as London to run my best times, I can just stick to local races. My idea of finding a less taxing (from a training point of view) substitute to the Marathon of specifically preparing and travelling to big 10K and Half Marathon races hasn't worked out as well as I would have hoped. As a friend said recently, after New York Marathon, nothing seems quite the same: in Europe people tend to only support their own whereas in the States, everyone is cheering for you. In the end, there are so many factors (wind, humidity, altitude, travel, illness, injury, hills, windy as in whine-dy route) that it makes more sense to just run more races, hoping for that lucky break, than to train so specifically for one. The Marathon is different in that you don't get add many shots at it. Quite how the professional runners can be so fast and so consistent amazes me.

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