So I capped my last week of training before the taper for Bandera with 100+ miles and two shorter-distance races. The legs were a bit sore from the effort at Saltwood yesterday and the week prior, but they also felt a little lighter during the race than they did yesterday, so I felt like I'd be able to give a PR a reasonably honest shot. I ran the race in 36:29 last year after posting a 17:20 out and 19:09 back (ouch), and have run 35:30 (short course ~6.1 miles) since. Based on recent races, I figured that a sub-35 would be a reasonable goal.
The course at Harrietsham is all pavement and pretty challenging for a road race, with rolling hills on much of the route. The out has a net drop, while the return has a net climb, with the nastiest hill left for the last kilometer.
Although there were only 350 runners in the field, the tone was way more racing focused than the festivities from yesterday. My brother had looked at the start list and informed me that a few of the guys from Tonbridge Athletics Club were likely to run sub-32, so I knew I'd be in the chase group, but hoped that I'd have a couple of guys to race with.
Got out for a short warm up with my brother then headed to the start by the church. Gun went off and I managed to keep from bolting, settling in behind a pack of 10-12 guys through the very early going. The pace felt good. By the first kilometer (they mark kilometers in 10k races in the UK, not miles as they annoyingly do in the US), I was 10-20 meters behind the lead pack of nine guys with two guys close at hand in front of me, so 12th after a first split of 3:09 (31:30 pace)! I was pretty confident there would be some carnage in front of me with that many guys at that pace, so I settled in, got comfortable and waited.
The next two splits came in at a more reasonable 3:23 & 3:35, which was approximately where I wanted to be, although I eased off a bit on the mental concentration through the third kilometer. I got a wake-up call from an Ashford AC runner who passed me somewhere here, and so set about re-establishing the 3:20s I wanted. The next two kilomenters were largely flat and came in at 3:28 & 3:42. I eased past the Ashford runner early and set about picking up the other two guys who had been running 10-15 meters ahead of me. I caught them both by the 5k split which posted at 17:19.
At the 5k last year (17:25), I tanked badly, and seeing the split this year I thought any hopes of going under 35 were unlikely given the course heads mostly up on the way back up. The sixth kilometer, however, had some very fast sections of drop where I was able to pick up a good head of steam, posting a 3:09 before settling in for the climb back out. With a figurative second wind kicking in and a nice literal tail wind blowing at my back, I felt strong and thought I might have a chance at picking off the eighth-placed guy who was a good 20 meters ahead of me. Kms 8 & 9 came in at 3:28 & 3:21, and just as I passed the 9k marker, I caught my final target for the race, slipping into eighth. The total split up to 9k was 30:48, so I figured I had a very good shot at going sub-35, despite the one nasty hill left to climb.
Knowing this was the last race of the year, and the last one before Bandera, I wanted to finish on a mentally and physically strong note, so I pushed the whole way in and crossed the line in 34:48 for a PR of over a minute. I'll take it. The most encouraging aspect of the race for me was my strong second half which I ran just nine seconds slower than the first half, despite the extra climbing and fatigue.
My brother, who said pre-race that he'd be happy to go under 40 minutes finished in 39:59.6!
Time to rest up for two weeks to get ready for 62 miles of rolling, rocky gnarliness in Hill County Texas. After a strong week, I feel ready to give it my best shot.