Another race and another early start. This was my 4th ever running race. The March edition of the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park 10k Series.
On Saturday 4th March I took part in the 4th race of my running career. The Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park 10k (QEOP10K). I picked this race as it was a flat 10K that fell on the last weekend of of my base training period for my longer term goal of the Slateman Triathlon in May. I wanted an event I could use to test my threshold pace to set my training levels for my next phase of training, and this race seemed to be ideal. The fact that it the course is through the most inspiring sporting venue was just an added bonus.
Although I was using this race to assess my current fitness levels I did hope to set a new PB for a 10K in the process. My current best time had been set during my previous race, the Perkins Great Eastern Run Half Marathon, at a little over 46 minutes. My fitness is currently not at the same levels as it was when I peaked for this specific race in October, but I felt that it being a 10K race only and an additional six months of running in my legs breaking the 45 minute barrier was an ambitious goal that would push me to my limit.
It was an early start to the day. 6am Alarm. Up for coffee and some chocolate and peanut butter overnight oats. Into the car for 7 for the hour and a bit drive down to the Olympic Park from Peterborough. As we got in the car the air was crisp and the sky overcast, a little bit of a concern as I planned to run in a singlet and shorts, but the weather forecast had said no rain for London. Driving down the M11, Ed Sheeran’s ÷ on repeat, any weather worries we instantly alleviated as we crested a hill to see Canary Wharf glisten in the sun on the horizon.
We arrived at the Olympic park with an hour to spare and parked in the Westfield Shopping Centre. A bargain for central London at just £9.70 for a whole day. We grabbed our kit and headed over to sign in and pick up our race packs. Greeted by the wonderful volunteers we collected our race packs and found a bench under the Orbital. The great thing about the running scene is the eclectic mix of people you find at the start line. Looking around as we pinned on our race numbers and stripped down for a warm up I saw runners with different builds, ages and abilities all here for the shared goals of doing their best and having a great time.
After stipping down to my shorts and applying my Muc-Off warm cream, posh deep-heat, I left the bag with my wife to check in at the bag drop and headed off for warm up with 20 minutes to go before the start. My warm up was 3 laps around the Olympic Stadium (I refuse to call it the ‘London Stadium’) with two 40m sprints to wake up the legs. I finished with 5 minutes to go and headed to the start for my pre-race wee.
The race started and finished outside The Podium Cafe under the Orbital. The course was three laps of the south park taking in the sights of the Olympic Stadium, Aquatics Centre and the view over Canary Wharf. A relatively flat course with a couple of shorts digs up and over the bridges of the canals.
This was the first time i had started at the sharp end of a race before and the pace was rapid. As we began i knew i wasn’t going to be in contention for the prizes for the top 10 but I immediately felt good. I was running in the top 30 but after 200m I could see that there was already a gap opening between the group I was in and the one in front. I quickly decided to jump across and try to hang on. Christ it was fast! I latched onto the back of the front group and put my head down, focusing on keeping my breathing relaxed and deep. I hung on for the opening kilometer, running my fastest ever kilometer at 3:47, before I had to back off and settle into my own pace.
I was quickly joined by a handful of runners from behind, although some did shoot straight past. By now mid way through the first lap I didn’t know or worry what position I was in, all I wanted was to get home in under 45 minutes. Settling into what felt like a good pace I was ran with a group five other runners.
The weather had turned out to be perfect as the sun shone down keeping the muscles nice and warm. As we ran along a canal back towards the start of the second lap I could feel that today was going to be a good day.
As we approached the end of the first lap the group surged as we climbed the short ramp up from the tow path. Not wanting to blow up I a let a little gap open up between myself and the group. I knew I could bring them back at my own pace over the next lap. More importantly I knew I was there to run a time not race these guys.
As we approached the start/finish line I saw the race clock. Just over thirteen minutes had passed since the start. This was fast! I was going to smash my target. Brilliant! As we came over the line the race organiser shouted, “Current positions.” Pointing to each of us individually “26,27,28,29,30,” and finally to me, “31.”
Crap, I can get a top 30 here, I suddenly realised! I was actually racing a 10K. Now that I knew a sub 45 was on I instantly reset my goal to finishing as high in the placings as I could. Remarkedly I found my legs had an extra gear and quickly rejoined the group.
From the previous lap I had realised I was a quicker downhill runner than most of these guys. As we approached the slope down to the towpath I accelerated. Using the decline to gain speed i tried to open a gap. All bar one of the group could follow me. Brilliant now I’ve secured a top 30 position in an actual race.
Along the towpath I decided to to hit the front and set the pace. I thought a couple of these guys sound like they are dying, at least I know I can run this fast. Let’s see if they can. I was joined on my shoulder be two other runners, another two behind. As we hurtled down the towpath we began to lap runners, weaving in out to find space. As we reached the rise over a bridge another runner surged. I followed with two others, but the final member of our group lost contact. Brilliant one more down.
As we headed out on the long stretch to the halfway point, past the Aquatics Centre, I retook the lead of the group. Dead on the halfway point I lapped my wife and shouted some encouragement..
We crossed back over the canal and down another slope to the towpath. Again I surged, this time gapping my companions. I was clear, but not for long as I was quickly joined by two runners. Another one gone.
As we hit the final rise of the course the same runner from before accelerated. I followed but the final member of our trio could not. As we entered the final lap it was just the two of us left. No call for positions this time, too many lapped runners, but I knew we were 26th and 27th.
Now that it was down to two we settle into a rhythm for the final lap, exchanged introductions and decided we were now working towards getting home in under 43 minutes.
As we came to the bottom of the first ramp and turned back on ourselves to head down the towpath we caught glimpse of the 25th place runner. His canary yellow vest and black shorts bobbing up and down no more than a hundred meters ahead. I turned to Ossie, “Last kilometer we take him.” We put our heads down and set about slowly closing the gap.
Gradually we got closer and with about a kilometer and a half to go, just before the final down slope, we caught him. I immediately accelerated into the downslope, trying to catch them by surprise and claim that 25th place. I got to the bottom in the lead but was quickly brought back.
Along the towpath we raced. Trying to hug the inside of the shallow turn as tightly as we could. Dangerously close to the unprotected edge and a six foot plunge into the chilly water below. With a single kilometer remaining we were neck, neck and neck.
With 300m to go we hit the final rise back up to the concourse to the finish. Ossie surges again but we stick together. All three of us want to say we finished in the top 25. Into the final 100m and the canary yellow runner opens up his sprint. Ossie responds. I try but my legs are done, I accept defeat for myself, but cheer on Ossie from behind. Alas the yellow runner has timed it perfectly and preserves his 25th place.
As I come to the line as hard as I can I see the the clock – 40:59, 41:01, 41:02. I raise a fist and punch the air, let out a scream and cut the tape at 41:03 in 27th place. I can’t believe I just did that. I not only smashed my target and properly raced a 10k. I find my companions, shake their hands then find a bench to recover and let the achievement sink in. Perhaps I might be a pretty good runner.
After a tasty recovery drink and collect my medal and goody bag and race bag I layer back up to keep warm. I meet my brother and wait to see my wife runner under the bridge chasing a gorilla down the towpath. We wait for her to finish, in a much better time than she was expecting. Brilliant day all round.
All in all the QEOP10K was a massive success. I definitely assessed my current fitness levels, which were significantly better than I expected. Set a new PB for 10K. Experienced proper racing for the first time. Plus have given myself a massive confidence boost going into the next phase of my training. Roll on May.