Really wasn't sure I was going to even be at the start for this one! Had had no response back from my late entry but finally got the okay from the organisers Friday lunch-time. With my cold and feeling pretty bleurgh I was struggling for motivation but it's so rare a chance to race in a top quality HM with a lot of others comes along that I had to really go for it. My training in recent weeks had been solid with a good leg at THR that I knew even with the cold I had a decent shot at a PB and maybe even tickling the sub 70 barrier...
Got over the day before and kipped at my brother's place. Definitely better than staying at home and going on the day. Felt much more professional even though it was only a bed, duvet and pillow - without creature comforts of home definitely helped me focus better.
Got over fairly early as still needed to pick up my number. Was struggling a bit with what to do as around 9 it was still pretty chilly and I needed to drop my bag off, run for 15 minutes to warm up in my warm stuff and get down to the start in plenty of time. Eventually settled for dropping bag off at half past and stripping down to racing kit with just a bin-bag over the top and slowly jogging down to the start-line. Met Mark (Coro) and Graham Robinson (not Breen!) from GCR who I figured I'd be in a fairly tough battle with through the race before John Hutchins and Kev Quinn joined us from the elite athletes area! Had also seen Chris Smith who I'd had a good battle with at Stevenage before he got away around mile 7/8. I always feel slightly odd racing Chris as on the country he is an absolute demon (9th place in SEAA XC to my 93rd place and 52:xx to my 58:xx) and almost a mile clear of my whilst on the roads we're pretty well matched! Odd case of a runner who loves the mud and one who hates it.
Right- to the race plan- I figured the plan had to be to go out at 70 minute pace (5:20) and see what the hell happened. Mentally I had the splits I needed down as 26:40 and 53:20 at ten miles - I was actually slightly out as whilst the pace needed was 5:20 it was 5:20 and a bit and the splits needed were 26:43 and 53:26... I also figured that Mark and Graham would both be looking to run or at least head out at 5:20s so if I stuck with them I'd probably be okay. Keith (TT) as well as I figured he'd be looking at very similar if he wasn't doing it as part of a long run!
So- race began and I was feeling pretty crap tbh. I was coughing and spluttering all over the place trying to clear my system out. The pace felt far too quick for HM pace. I fairly quickly found myself on Mark's shoulder and before long Graham joined us. Keith was nearby and then an AFD athlete (Breen) joined us shortly after and I could hear someone catching us from behind. It was Chris Smith and with that battle was joined! We clicked through the first mile in around 5:20, and the second mile very similar for 10:41 with Keith easing off from us somewhere between these I think. I was a little worried that we were only just on pace but given how poor I was feeling (thoughts of dieing badly sadly dripping through my head) I was happy just to let the pace go. The third mile contains a fairly decent hill in it which I was glad to get to the top off with our group still intact with the mile in 5:30. 10 seconds off the pace now but I figured most of that was the hill. The next mile we sped up a bit and the group was shifting along fairly nicely but I was still finding myself occasionally bumped around a bit and took the lead a few times just to get some space as well as dropping off the back. I was having a tough time and wondering if I was going to get through when we hit a fairly substantial downhill just after the fourth slightly faster mile in 5:16 and Breen started to push clear. I was lucky here as earlier I had been a metre off the back but right now I was in place and accelerated to stay with him with Chris Smith joining us but getting the sense a few of the others had slightly dropped off. We scuttled through that mile in 5:15 which gave us 26:44 for 5 miles. Okay- but 4 seconds off- given how I'd been feeling earlier I'd definitely take that though! I then took a brief stint at the front through the twists and turns after almost falling over Chris Smith at one tight turn and during this mile we caught Glenn Saqui of Highgate. That mile was a very quick 5:09 and have to admit I was definitely feeling it as we went through 10k in 33:07 (7 second road PB!). The next mile was a bit slower with the twists and some gentler uphills taking their toll together with the pace as we clocked 5:29 but were still just about reeling in Stu Huntingdon who was running a very solid debut HM despite some fairly serious stomach problems and blisters. We caught him on the monster of a hill at 7 miles - thankfully knowing this was the last one in the course we worked together and whilst I drifted a bit off the back I caught them up again on the flat with the split of 5:33 being slow but knowing we had now done all the major hills.
Our group had been working for a while now each taking turns in the lead (with Graham being the real powerhouse taking most of the slack), and we knew we were going for a good time. Miles 8-10 were actually pretty good for me. My left calf was tight but I knew I was on for a good time as we alternated and got the important miles done and dusted. 5:20 before a moderately stunning 5:04 using a downhill on the 10th mile to go through in 53:22. Queue a quick conversation with Breen, Me: "We're on for sub 70 pace" Breen "Great", Me (to clarify) "70:00", Breen "Feck!". At the time I thought we were 2 seconds out as opposed to 4 seconds under.
I really started to feel it in my legs and lungs over the 11th mile as we started really pushing with a 5:21. It felt much tougher though- especially as Chris Smith edged to the front and started building a small gap. Breen and Smith were both clear of me at the 11 mile mark but not by much and the gap wasn't growing- we were also finally reeling in Josh Guilmant who had been a tall ghost in the distance most of the race. Breen caught him whilst still 5m or so clear of me and I surged a little bit to get onto Josh, rested for a second and then pushed again. I was back on Breen as we went through 12 miles in 5:19. The last mile and I really had nothing as my legs were tired and mental fatigue was starting to set in - I clicked my garmin to lap time just so I had proof I was actually getting closer. Chris was still 30m or so ahead but I was focused on just getting to the stadium. I could hear the names (Lindsay!)being announced as they finished. I saw the entrance to the stadium and the 13 mile mark and glanced down at my watch "69:23" - I had a shot! I surged into the stadium to see Kev Quinn finishing and just threw everything into it to try and get to the line in time - I was terrified of going over on the 90 degree bend on the slightly odd and slippy flooring! I still didn't believe it even as I crossed it with 69:52- sub 70 accomplished and some awesome runners behind me. Very pleased with a 63 second PB (which was only set a month ago!). Slightly strange to have come all the way to Reading for Chris Smith to finish in the place ahead of me again but I'll definitely take it and was also made up for Graham Breen to break 70 as well which he totally deserved as the engine and workman of our group.
Hopefully a photo up soon!
5 5:15 (26:44)
10 5:04 (53:22)
13.1 0:29 (69:52!!)