When we entered 2020 long, long ago in faraway January, I imagined my year would be chock full of 10k road races. There are loads of little events over that distance in my local area, and I intended on entering as many of them as possible. Obviously that did not happen. Indeed, only this past weekend did I complete my third ever 10k race, at RunThrough Bedford Autodrome, a well organised and covid secure day of running over various distances including: marathon, 16 mile, half marathon, 10k, and 5k.
The first thing to say about the race, and the event in general, is that it was fantastic that it was even on. The RunThrough events are not the cheapest, but when all health and safety considerations of this strange year are taken into account the money seems well spent. The races took off in waves, starting with the marathon and moving down the distances towards the 5k. Within those waves runners were organised into groups of 4 depending on predicted finish time, and those groups were set off at 10 second intervals. To my mind, this system worked smoothly, and the exciting experience of race day was hardly hindered.
The only negative of the system, and as far as I can tell it’s an unavoidable one at a muli-distance event like this, is how quickly I lost sight of my fellow 10k runners. There were some extremely quick runners competing, and they shot off far in front, but even those closer to my pace were lost in the crowds of marathon/half marathon runners which we were overtaking all the way around our 2 laps of the (car) race course. For an inexperienced racer like myself, it can be extremely useful to have other runners to tail, chase, or gauge pace off. Although there was no end to the number of runners which we were overtaking (they were running over 4 times as far as us, after all) none of them were moving at a similar pace, and I ended up running the majority of my race solo, despite all the feet on the track. I imagine this issue was less of hindrance for those surrounded by other similarly paced runners, but in my position, far off the very sharp end of the front runners, but still in the upper portions of the finishing places, I was a little lonely.
Still, it was a great event. Personally, I found it to be an interesting exercise in expectation management. I have raced dozens of 5ks, and in any case there isn’t a huge amount of room for tactical pacing there anyway, but the 10k does have room for more thoughtful planning, and ultimately I haven’t really raced enough of them to know what sort of pacing works for me.
Even more of an issue was how I wasn’t really sure what time I was aiming for. I knew I was well ahead of my pb of 38:30ish, but exactly how far ahead? Could I hit the 35’s? Or was I better off just trying to slide under 37? In the end I came in at 36:23 and I’m very pleased with that, but I didn’t feel like that right away. I walked away from the finish line disappointed. I felt like I hadn’t given my all, and that I really should have been seeing a 35 at the front of my time. On the drive home though, I was reflective, thinking on just how thrilled and surprised I had been when I had gone so comfortably under 39 at Silverstone last year, and comparing that feeling with my disappointment on crossing the line at Bedford, despite making another 2 minutes of progress, and despite my inexperience in the race, and despite the lack of track training this year…
I realised that I was doing myself a disservice. 36:23 is a great time, especially for my third ever 10k. Yes, there is a bit more to go, there is more speed in these legs if I can retrieve it, but how can I be disappointed with a sub-36:30?
I failed to set a specific goal, so what was I supposed to be happy about? What was I trying to achieve? I couldn’t possibly have surprised myself, or have met my goals, if I didn’t have a specific goal in the first place.
I’ll be back at it with another 10k this weekend, and I’ll be sure to go in with a more specific and realistically plotted goal (probably scrawled on the back of my hand as a reminder as I start to hurt). This race has hopefully shaken the rust off a little, and let me set my race pace sights in place, so really choosing that goal should be nice and easy…