Emergency Services Games: 10km Cross Country
A slight course alteration made for a better layout in my opinion. Overall the loop was the same, just that start and finish line was moved around a bit. This meant the grassed section was the start of each lap, and the finish was just after the steep hill. Potential for some exciting finishes. It also made thing little more spectator friendly.
Conditions were perfect. Cool, no rain, but the ground was a little wet underfoot. The grass had gone a bit nuts, and was a little below knee height, making for some slower going. I was feeling ready. The warm up went as it should. I was relaxed and keen to get under way. There was a good turn up, with a few familiar faces. At least a couple I knew would make things hard for me.
A quick race briefing at the start line, and we were sent off.
Up through the grass. It was heavy going, but it didn't stop plenty from hammering the first hill. I was caught between keeping things under control and remaining in a position where I could see what was happening at the front. The result was a went only a little harder than I really wanted to at the start. Onto the downhill and I moved my way closer to the sharp end.
A short section gave a view of the most of the field. The leader was really pushing out ahead. He was travelling too fast for me, but he looked awkward. Maybe he was also going too fast for himself. Second place had only small gap on me. I had seen him before, and had yet to beat him. A couple of the 5km runners were then in front of me, and I moved in with them. We made a little ground on the leaders, but I soon found the 5k-er's were slowing.
On the flat bike trail we had an out-and-back section. On the way out I remained in 3rd position. First was moving away and second kept trying to stretch that elastic to breaking between me and him. Around the turn around and I put back into 4th place. There didn't seem to be much difference between me and my passerby. My plan was to stick with my current effort, get through the hills without letting him get too far ahead. Then work at improving my position. For the rest of the lap I would map out the a few finishing strategies, depending on what unfolded. A couple of landmarks provided three potential locations to launch an attack near the end.
Through the first lap in just under 20 minutes. I now had a view of the first three places. 1st and 2nd had swapped, but both had put a bit more time into me. To my surprise, I was further back from 3rd than I expected. I had lost more ground than I wanted in the hills. There was plenty of distance behind me to the rest of the field. My position could be thought of as in no man's land, but it didn't feel that way. After all, I had a focus.
That focus was to get myself back into the top three. Only really way to do that, run faster. So I set my target to be in front of 3rd position and really picked up the intensity. I felt faster. Overall I moved away from most of those behind me. At the turn around on the bike path I counted off the seconds to get my gaps. First place was moving further ahead, and had about 2 minutes on me. Second had about 90 seconds and there were 40 seconds between myself and third. I hadn't made any in roads to that time gap. Surprisngly 5th place had closed a lot of ground on me, not enough to be a threat, but enough to make me think about it.
I put in as much as I could get out of myself. Doing everything I could to get the most speed from my legs. I picked my line through the corners. Ran on hardened area of the gravel section. Pick the more solid spots on the muddy uphill. Plus I went harder than I thought I could hold, and managed to hold it through to the finish.
I felt sick...
...and yet, it felt just right.
Someone told me, "doesn't look like you left anything out there." That gives a good sense of satisfaction. I was still in fourth place overall. It gave me 1st in my age group in a time of 40:33. Typically I don't like seeing a 10km time beginning with 40, but I'll take it for this course. The winning time wa about 38:09.
One question to be answered here: did I do the best I could?
The short answer is: nearly.
The longer version: Based on the decisions I made during the race, I got raced to the limit of my fitness. However, with hindsight, I would change a couple of things earlier in the race. The main change would be to stick with the runner who finished in 3rd, when he passed me around the 2km mark. It was a mistake to be so confident that I get back in front of him into the second lap. To stick with him, would have upped my intensity to area that may have been unsustainable, but then again I may have been able to hold it. More importantly it would have given me a better chance of being in the top three. Even if I blew, I don't think the slow down would have relegated me back to 5th.
The other potential change, if I could repeat the race, would be to just slightly increase my pace over those first 2km at the start. This is something I'll have to check against my half marathon race next Sunday, but again it could put be me in a much better position. In these small races, the mind can come into play a little more. Having a much smaller gap with the front two runners, gives more possibilities.
In the end, they are what if's, and I made a few tactical decisions. I was still very happy with my race. I put it a good hard, honest effort and achieved a decent result. Now to see what I can do in the half marathon on Sunday.