Putney 10km – a review

Putney 10m Running to the finish

It was rather last minute (I submitted my entry just 10 days before the race) but The Putney 10km potentially offered the final chance to break 40 minutes for the distance in 2017.  Suddenly available to run races on a Sunday with a clear conscience (swimming lessons have been changed) I scoured the web for a chance to run fast in one last attempt.  About ready to give up I stumbled across the Putney 10km on the RunUK website.  Not a company I had heard of, I looked into the race and came up lacking much information. Sod it, I thought, and I hit enter on my application form.

In the week running up to the race I received a perfunctory email regarding basic event details and it was a case of collecting race numbers and timing chips on the day.  Keen to not miss the race I made sure I had made a note of the full address for Barn Elms Sports Centre, and studied the Google map telling me how to get there.

As such, despite a night of poor sleep thanks to a coughing child and a morning spent in the darkness thanks to a power cut, I left early and made good progress up the A3 past Richmond and Wimbledon and into Putney.  I parked easily because I was nice and early and set off across the building site that currently masquerades as the Barn Elms Sports centre.  Unaware of the actual course I was surprised to be walking across the playing fields, but heartened by the fact that despite the drizzle the ground still felt firm under foot.

Being early meant plenty of milling about, and also the chance to have a little jog and do a few plyometric warm up exercises.  All the while I ummed and ahhhed about what to wear.  I had gone in vest and shorts but as more and more people seemed to be wearing long sleeves and, frequently, even jackets with numbers pinned on, I began to contemplate putting a long sleeve tee underneath the green and black of the Gees.  Almost ready to pull the long sleeve on I looked at the dial in the car which read 8 degrees and decided to MTFU.  Many people looked at me like a loon as we mingled in the starting area. But I knew I had made a more sensible choice than they had.  Following a group warm up (man, I hate those things) we were called to the start line according to projected finish times.  Hoping for a sub 40 I was in the second row and finally found myself amongst people also hardy enough to just be wearing a vest.

Putney 10km Route
Twisty turny; the Putney 10km route map

The course starts on the grass of one of the many rugby pitches and in an attempt to round up the distance it resembles a stage in Snake when you have to start backtracking. Eventually though, we were on a footpath and heading towards the river.  From here it was a simple act of following the good signage with support from marshals stood out in the cold and drizzly weather.

Turning past Craven Cottage, Fulham’s home ground, we passed the 5km mark and I saw the lead bike heading back towards me followed by the eventual winner, Mark Vardy, who was running phenomenally.  The water station came and went (who needs water on a 10km?) and then we were heading back past the Cottage and making our way back towards the river.

For me, this was truly about digging in now.  My watch was ticking off the laps (set to one mile) but I wasn’t looking at them; my goal was simply to run as hard as I could. I was a matter of meters behind a Fulham vest, but with a couple of miles to go I was joined by a Sandhurst Joggers vest and another guy.  I got the sense that all three of us were trying to reach the same target and we pushed on well – while I wasn’t checking my watch, Sandhurst barely stopped looking at his.

After crossing the river we were back on the unmade path were footing was a little slippy so I searched for whatever firm ground I could.  We turned onto the playing fields again and re-entered the  snake pit.  In those situations it is hard to know when to open up your sprint, but I kept pace with those around me and pushed as hard as I could.

Putney 10m Running to the finish
Charging into the finish line

It was only on rounding the final turn that I saw the clock and knew that the time had eluded me, again! I tried to remember what my PB was and whether I had beat it, then remembered that I needed to finish strong and to stop dwelling.

The Sandhurst guy never passed me, but looking at the results he wins based on chip time!

Crossing the line I was awarded my medal, a bottle of water, a capri sun, a kit-kat, a banana, and a bottle of coconut water.  What a haul!!

 

In December there can be no guarantee for good weather.  We were lucky on Sunday in that the worst the weather got was a little bit of drizzle mid race.  Having been dry for the preceding few days the rugby pitches were firm and not too greasy in the damp.  It could have been a different day though and times could have been much slower with 10% of the course something of a slippy mud-bath.  For us this weekend though, conditions were perfect and I’d recommend the race in future years.

Cabbage Patch 10 – A Review

 

As something of a running institution, I did not have to look beyond the Cabbage Patch 10 when selected my 2017 races which have focused on trying to set PBs across the board.  I pressed submit on my race entry way back in February (despite the fact that my hip was still causing significant issues at the time) and, as is always the case, the race sold out quickly.

If you are looking for a 10 mile race to set a PB at, I was of the opinion that the Cabbage Patch 10, now in its 35th year (making it almost as old as the London Marathon), was probably the sensible choice to make. I was right!

The race gets its name from the local pub, The Cabbage Patch, whose landlord organised the first race many moons ago.  Previous participants include Sir Mo, Paula Radcliffe, and Richard Nerukar (who ran it in 46:02 in 1993).  The course is set around Twickenham, following the south side of the river towards Hampton Wick where it crosses to the North side and then back through Ham and towards the finish line via Marble Hill Park.  Literally, the only hills are at the two bridges crossing the river at either end of the course. Flat? You bet.

If I were to have any criticism of the race, and I do only have one, is the organisation at the start.  Runners are held, all 1,600 or so, on the pedestrianised section of the high street.  This is sensible – the roads for the race are not closed.  The problem with this narrow funnel though is that despite being less than about six meters from the start flags I could not hear a single word being said by the race organisers; maybe none of it was interesting, but I would have liked to have been able to listen and decide for myself.  The race starts at 10am and once the buses have been stopped the runners move onto the main road for the start.  At this point, my pet peeve of all races kicked in; why in the hell can’t people work out that the front of the pack = fast runners?  I even heard some people remark that they were glad they were toward the front to avoid the congestion.  No, mate, you WERE the congestion!! ARRGGHH.

So I spent the first half mile or so running around and dodging runners already going backwards and jostling for position a little.  But from here-on-in I have no further negatives.  The marshall support was superb, the crowd was thin, but supportive, and the route was beautiful.

From a personal point of view I struggled at times, but I can’t blame the race for that.  I went off at what felt like a reasonable pace, but by about the third mile I felt like I was working too hard.  I had been fighting off the germs that my delightful family were trying to share, and it was a humid morning, but these are probably just excuses.  Small groups of runners had formed in little clumps of target times and I seemed to have gotten caught up in one apparently aiming for about 1:08 (according to one guy asking another just ahead of me.)  My target was low 70s – which would better my best 10 mile effort by almost 20 minutes.  I had carried a gel with me, and between about 4.5 and 5 miles I slowly consumed this.  I passed the halfway point as the roadside clock clicked 34:00 – a little fast perhaps.

Almost instantly my guts started really grumbling about the gel.  Indeed it was so uncomfortable that I was certain I was going to have to slow or, even worse, stop.  Quite how my 6th mile was the third fastest of the race I have no idea!  From here though, despite the uplift in my mood regarding the pace, I began to lose my head a bit and just struggled a tiny bit more.  The climb to the bridge at eight miles was the final nail and I was certain that the wheels were going to fall off completely.

As a result of the twisty nature of the course (and a quick jaunt through an underpass) my Garmin had failed to keep in sync so I was never entirely sure how close the finish line was, but all I knew was that I was desperate to get there.  The final corner is a sharp ninety degree left turn and the clock appears in front of you under the finish gantry.  I gave all I had left and crossed the line in 1:09:17 ; taking 20:34 off my best set in Dorking (the race that sealed the need for knee surgery in 2014.)

Upon crossing the line I collected my medal, then a bottle of water, then a giant banana, then a can of beer, then a chewy flapjack, then a t-shirt; possibly one of the best race t-shirts I have ever earned.  Value for money = very good!

 

With huge thanks to the amazing Abradypus I was able to put diesel in my car and drive home, basking in the glow of a race that didn’t feel great but for which I managed to beat my target.

So, would I recommend the Cabbage Patch 10 as a race to do? In a word; YES! There are a lot of club vests on show, so it’s a competitive field, as can be attested by the former winners, but there are also a great many non-club runners; it is welcoming to all.  As far as distances go, the ten mile race is not the most common in the UK, but it comes at that perfect spot between a 10km which takes an enormous amount of effort, and the half marathon which for many can seem like a ridiculously long race.  With good marshal support, excellent race organisation, and a nice flat course, you should definitely sign up for next year; I am already thinking that I will!

The race website is here, but remember you will need to sign up early; it sells out for very good reason!

Barns Green 10km – a review

10km medal from Barns Green 10km Race

Whilst the Barns Green 10km race is only in its second year, you can tell the Half Marathon event has been running for years (about 35 I think!) as the organisation and event village was pretty darn awesome. I parked easily and the glorious sunshine, rare this September, made it pleasant to walk around the well-appointed race village.  The village hall was used for kit storage and last minute entries – not a facility I had to use, so I can’t comment on how smoothly that was working.  The village included charity stalls, massage tents, an oatmeal wagon, fish and chips, burgers, ice cream, a carousel and other fun-fair events, and a stage where a pre-run warm up was hosted.

It’s a ritual; the race number scrunch. Race day tomorrow. #barnsgreen10k #projectsub40 #marginalgains

A post shared by Chris Mercer (@cmmercer) on

As a creature of habit, I declined the offer of a group workout to music, and settled instead for a few laps of the field and my tried-and-tested high knees, heel kicks, twinkle toes, and Eric & Ernies.  A few little burnouts across the football pitch and I was about ready to go.

Again, a smooth process as we headed across the field at Barns Green Village Hall and lined up ready to go.  The race briefing had asked people running forty minutes or less to line up at the front, so I duly obliged given that 39:59 was my target.  With a brief word of support for the event’s charity, St. Catherine’s Hospice, at exactly 10:20 we were off.

I had set my watch to record the laps (miles) of the race, but actively turned off the alerts and beeps so that it wasn’t warning me or telling me when I was clocking off the miles and encouraging me to glance down and see what was going on with my pace.  Whether this was the right idea, who knows, but I was keen to try and get out and just run to the best of my ability.

I was aware that I was in the top 15-20 or so – a group of three or four had broken away, another 6-8 seemed to have grouped behind them and I was in the next 6-8 that seemed a little more stretched out.  A guy in a bright orange top was four or five meters ahead, and in the opening few miles the fella from Dorking and Mole Valley swapped places once or twice before he finally pulled away as we cruised through Christ’s Hospital.

Christ’s Hospital, by the way, is even more glorious than it looked in School of Rock.  What a stunning location for a run.  The gravel sections caused me to loose pace a few times, and I tried hard to get back into me 1,2,3,1,2,3,1,2,3… rhythm in my mind and as we crossed the playing fields the wind whipping around slowed me further – convincing me that I was started to struggle.  The footstrike behind me and the breathing I could practically feel on my back signalled to me that I was being caught, and quickly.  As we were about to leave the school grounds I was overtaken by a guy with a man-bun!  I tried to hold on, but it didn’t last long.   Back to my own race again.

The drive into Barns Green had shown me that the course wasn’t so flat as advertised and I knew that turning left would see a hill in my vision.  Head down and focus.  That was all I had to think about.  As my pace slowed the leading lady came absolutely cruising past me.  She flew up that hill like nobodies business – at this point all I could think about was that I needed to do more hill training.  The hill lasted longer than it seemed to have done on the drive in, and whilst I still wasn’t looking at my watch, I was pretty sure I was slowing down and had likely missed my target by now!

The final stretch was all downhill, and this was my chance to gain whatever time I could.  I had been passed by one other runner as we crested the hill, but coming down the other side allowed me to catch one ( a guy who I have seen at Cranleigh parkrun int he past, and who has always beaten me.)

As I saw the clock at the finish line my heart sunk.  I hadn’t looked at the time throughout the whole race, but there it was in day-glo yellow: 40:45 – I had missed my target.  I pushed on as best I could and stopped my clock at 41:01.

Results from the 2017 Barns Green 10km
At least I made it onto the first page of results

With chip removed, medal hung around my neck, and banana eaten, I headed to the massage tent to get my pre-booked post-race massage and stretch from Alan Law Physiotherapy.  Holy crap it was great.  First, the physio performed some lovely massage to leave my legs feeling better then when I had started the race, and then a lovely lady did some active stretching on my lower muscles, all while I enjoyed a freshly brewed glass of Mint Chocolate Torq recovery drink.  Perfect!

The race pack had threatened that the car parks wouldn’t allow runners to leave before 12:30 but once it became clear that other cars were moving, I was keen to get home.  The race village offered a range of food and entertainment options, but really I just wanted to be back with the family so I was pleased I was able to leave.

In summary

I would recommend the Barns Green race to anyone – it was superbly well organised, bands on the course were good, and the chance to run on closed roads is always welcome.  What I don’t agree with though is the billing of a flat race!  The route could be pancake flat throughout (which it isn’t, with the odd rise interspersing the route) and that final hill would still be a complete pain in the arse, or glutes!  I can’t say much about the half (though of course it does follow much of the same route for quite a way, but I suspect that there is a reason it has been running for so long, and that is because it is just a jolly good event.  I am already considering an early bird entry to the 10km next year, so it must be pretty good!

 

The face of a guy who have it all he had, but the final hill killed him off. #barnsgreen10k #done

A post shared by Chris Mercer (@cmmercer) on