I’m not sure when I changed from being a person who hated the idea of running into someone who thinks that signing up for a 10K race is the perfect way to celebrate a birthday, but there you go.
Looking back at my records I realize just how few 10Ks I’ve run. 2 in fact, since my most recent race at Egmond was 10.5km, just to be awkward. Since it’s been so long, this seemed like a great opportunity to set a new benchmark for myself and see where I was at. The first 10K in 2008, I ran in 1:06:52. Since then I’ve only become slower, with my second 10K in 2009, taking me 1:10:36. I’ve been running far more regularly though recently, and so in the week leading up to the race I had some hopes that I might at least manage to run faster that than most recent race, and hopefully get somewhere close to my fastest time. Having put in 40km the day before the race, running, cycling and skating, though I wasn’t sure that I’d be in great shape, and decided to take the race as it came.
Despite all the NS’s best efforts, I managed to arrive in Schoorl in plenty of time for the race. In fact, having allowed for train chaos I ended up hanging around for over an hour before the race, with the choice between an overheated, overcrowded sports hall, or waiting outside in the snow. Obviously, I choose the latter option, and had a nice time chatting to a local lady who always comes out to support the race and had been standing at the finish line clapping for everyone coming in, for a couple hours.
Finally it was time to head to the start line, and try to keep warm in the crowd of shivering runners. Eventually, after the elite runners and the business teams had set off we were able to walk up to the start line, and with our own starting shot, we were on our way. I say eventually… we probably only started 3 minutes or so after the first runners, which is nothing compared to the wait at larger events. When I ran the Damloop in 2009 I set off about 2 hours behind the elite runners… who had already arrived in Zaandam quite some time before.
The course was rather narrow the whole way, and I had the very unusual experience of never being out of the crowd. As a back of the pack runner, I’m used to things thinning out very quickly and having a lot of room. Of course, there were people overtaking me the whole race, but I also did my own fair share of passing, and found myself pacing those around me without struggling to keep up.
My Garmin was spot on with the km markers for the whole race, almost unheard of. I checked it at the first km marker to see how I was getting on, and saw I’d run the first kilometre in 6:40 min. More or less stationary for many of the runners I know, but for me, heading towards rocket fuelled. To beat my previous 1:10 time, I needed to keep under 7 min/km, so things were going well.
I kept going, and was surprised as we reach the 2km marker to realise I was still feeling good – breathing easily, legs moving steadily. Usually the 2nd kilometre is the point where the initial adrenalin has worn off and things are beginning to feel like hard work, so that was a pleasant surprise. We were on a path through the woods at this point, though to be honest I was hardly taking in my surroundings, as I was far too focused on my breathing and the sound of the footfalls around me.
We hit the 3rd km and my average pace was only improving, at around 6:35min/km. At this point I really began to believe that if I kept the pace up I would at least set myself a new PR on the first 5K, though I had little expectation I could hold that pace for the rest of the race. Still, the first 5K in 32:30 would leave me with a bit of wiggle room for my 1:10 goal, even if I slowed down in the second half… which I always do.
We’d hit Groet at this point, and were met by a loud band. This was more or less the only mental marker point I had for the race, and it comes rather early in. After passing a little way through the town we veered off to the left and entered into the dunes. This was where the route started to get a little tougher. The surface changed, and was rather sandy with a little snow mixed in. More to the point, the path started to climb. We’d had a little up and down before (in fact the elevation profile from Garmin shows that the previous climb had been much steeper), but this was just non-ending… Such a gradual gradient, but there was virtually no relief from it.
Despite the climb, I was still holding steady at the end of the 4th kilometre. We passed the aid point but I didn’t even think about getting a drink, I was in the best rhythm I’ve ever had, and I didn’t plan to lose it.
Further and further we went through the dunes, I kept expecting the path to dip down again and give us a bit of relief, but no, we just kept gradually gaining height. Before I knew it we’d hit the 5km marker, and a clock. I’d intended to check my start time, but I never even saw the clock at the start line. Either way, it didn’t really matter, my Garmin was almost perfectly in sync with the markers and I knew from the average pace it was showing that I’d just run a 5K PR!
Onwards and upwards then, and this was where I really had to dig in to hold the pace. Now I had greater things in mind… having run a 6:30min/km average for the first 5K I was on target for a 1:05 finish, outside of my wildest dreams. I had no idea if I could hold the pace, but I wasn’t going to let it slip now without a fight. This is probably the first time I found myself actually running a race without any goal in mind other than making it to the finish line in one piece, and without being picked up by the sweeper van for being too slow.
Up, up the path went, and down, down a little my pace went. Not by a lot, mind you, the 7th km the slowest of the race, took me 6:43min/km. A week ago I’d have considered it miraculous if that had been my fastest pace. Finally, blessedly we began the approach back into Schoorl, the path turned finally downhill, and I managed to grab a bit of speed back.
We hit the 8km point and I was pretty sure I was going to PR. I had to work pretty hard then to keep my focus and to just relax and not push myself too hard. Another turn and I recognized the path from the start. Not so long and we’d be coming past the 9km marker I’d seen on the way out.
We hit 9km, and my pace had increased slightly again. I wasn’t thinking of anything at this point except staying in control. The PR was in sight, my breathing was sitting on the edge, and the only thing I needed to do was just keep things running steady.
One more turn onto the main street, lined with crowds all cheering. I sped up a little, who wouldn’t… passed the final Mizuno banner over the street and set my focus on that finish line. The clock was ticking down, 1:09 and small change… even though I knew that the time on the clock was meaningless, my sole focus was to cross before the 1:10 hit… hardly aware of anything around me, my head went down, my legs and arms started pumping and I burst into a sprint and flew across the finish.
For once in my life I remembered almost instantly to stop the Garmin: 1:05:00, which showed a perfect 1:05:00, far, far better than I expected to do. Checking the official results, it turns out that I set 3 PRs out there:
the first 5K: 32:39 (breaks last year’s Zandvoort time of 33:02)
the second 5K: 32:20 (just beat my own new 5K PR!)
and the real biggie: my new 10K PR: 1:04:59!