I had heard stories like this from other runners before but never thought it would happen to me.
This was the first time I had done the Gloucester 10 mile race, a small event taking place on the Sunday between Christmas and New Year. After a couple of weeks of really good training I was looking forward to getting one final race in for the year and hopefully posting a fast time.
Within half a mile I was off the front with Dan and it was becoming increasingly clear that one of us was going to finish first and the other second. My legs felt great and I had just gone through a mile in close to five minutes feeling comfortable. To make up the full race distance, the course does an out and back section on an industrial estate before heading out on to country lanes. We completed this section and at the second time of arriving at a roundabout, were directed my the marshals to go round again. This was surprising, but I followed their instructions as I didn’t know any better. It very quickly became clear that we had been sent the wrong way.
Sadly, the lead car, which had pulled over prior to a narrow part of the course, was nowhere to be seen. Runners were backing up behind me and the marshals had no idea where to send us. Our chance of a fast time already out the window, Dan and I decided to abandon. We both agreed it would be best not to confront the organisers until we had had some time to calm down, so we went for a run of our own and discussed what had just happened. We were both very frustrated by the poor organisation that had cost us the opportunity to run a good time and most likely win some prize money.
The email sent by the organiser later that day did little to resolve the problem. The blame was pinned solely on the one marshal rather than the race director themself, there was no acknowledgment that this had caused huge frustration for a significant number of people (many others also stepped off) and there was no offer of a refund, something I had assumed would be a given in these circumstances. Furthermore, they published results despite an estimated 10% of the field running off course and the remainder covering a variety of different distances. They also gave prize money out, in what can only have felt like a hollow victory for its recipient. A poor showing from the organisers.
I am not annoyed because someone made a mistake; this happens all the time and is completely normal. What bothers me was the way in which the mistake was atoned for – or not, in this case. Dan and I have both contacted the race director asking why prizes were given out and how to claim a refund. We are both awaiting a reply.
I really like the 5k at the moment. I think it’s my new favourite distance.
Yesterday evening, Rich and I went down to Gloucester to run a road 5k that is renowned for producing fast times. The course is pancake-flat and has very few turns in it. His aim was to break 16:30. Mine was to run a personal best.
We thought that the one thing that could have slowed us down was not knowing the course but fortunately we got there early enough to be able to jog most of the course and see what it had in store. No nasty surprises there though. We entered the race, resisting our stomachs’ urges to can the race in favour of a chinese (the White Horse pub doubles up as a chinese restaurant) and made our way to the start. You know you’ve travelled a long way for a race when the organisers don’t recognise your club name.
After the entertainment provided by a very grumpy race official and a drunken man on a bike, the race got underway. The course had mile markers rather than k markers, which I always think is a strange way of marking the distance. Surely it is easier for competitors if the markers are for a fraction of the race distance. Two runners from Bristol and West went off fast at the front, followed by a pack of about 5. These guys were running at a quicker pace than I was comfortable with so I hung back, trusting my pace judgement after Tuesday’s 3 x 1 mile session at 5k pace. Rich tucked in behind me. The first mile marker was behind me before my watch showed 5 minutes. 4:58 on the clock. I was pleased with this as I felt I still had more to give.
As I suspected, the pack of 5 began to slow in the second mile, paying the price for some enthusiastic early pacing. I gradually reeled them in, trying not to rush things and wear myself out bridging the gap. When I got just behind the group I remembered what our club’s team manager for the road relays always says: when you catch someone up, go straight past them and don’t let them hang on to you. So I did. 9:56 for 2 miles.
This put me in third behind the two Bristol guys. One of them was clearly a class act and was pulling away for the win but the other was tiring. By this point, another runner from Cheltenham was shadowing me after surging out of the group behind. I chased down the Bristol athlete with about half a mile to go and the Cheltenham athlete went with me.
Looking at my watch as it displayed 13 minutes, I decided to launch my finishing kick early. We had come off the loop in the course and were back on the stretch of road we started on, running back towards the start/finish. I put in a surge, thinking it would be enough to break the Cheltenham athlete. But then with about 200 metres to go he came back at me, charging towards the line. I tried to respond but the hard running had taken its toll. I pushed on towards the line and was the third person to cross it. The timer shouted “31” as I did and I knew this meant 15:31, a new personal best; 15 seconds faster than I’ve run on the road and 5 seconds faster than I have on the track.
Rich crossed the line a few positions back in 16:26. He held his position well, and like me, achieved what he had set out to achieve.
It was worth the journey, and worth getting back at 10 o’clock on a week night for. A flat course is one thing, but having people to race against is another. The main attraction of this race was that we knew there would be lots of depth around our level. Our local parkrun is fairly quick but it is still hard to run fast there without people to race against. Perhaps we need to start venturing further afield to find races like this.