|(photo off net)|
Many of you will know Highclere Castle as Downton Abbey. I'd never been before, but while looking for a 10k race to replace this weekend's Winchester Half, I came across the Highclere Castle Challenge, and we accordingly spent an hour this morning racing round the park and estate with four hundred or so other runners.
It was misty when we arrived and the parkland looked very eerie and beautiful as the early morning sunshine tried to break through....
We made our way over to collect numbers and had a look at the course map (showing various
I started at the front today, because I've been getting grumpy having to wade through runners before I can get into my stride. As a result, there was a huge surge of energy as the front runners sped off down the hill.
We started out over the park, over long, wet grass which isn't the easiest surface to run on, and then turned left out along a lane that wound up and down and round about until it reached the castle. It's a very beautiful building and I had a bit of time to admire it as we ran past. I want to go back and visit when it's open to the public.
The course took us along tarmac for a mile or so (they'd put in a detour to avoid mud, much to mine and M's disappointment, although everyone else seemed relieved at this!) and then went off through pine forest along a gravel track. Once we'd done the first couple of miles I felt I'd warmed up and my pace started to flow better. I picked up some speed and started to overtake, instead of being overtaken, which always feels good. As usual, I'd clocked a few runners ahead of me who'd gone past me at the start that I knew I wanted to reel in, so I kept my focus lightly on them and gradually the distance between us began to wear down.
The hills were my friends and I overtook more people on them, then got past the people I'd had my eye on. I knew I was running faster than last week and the knee was holding up well so I decided to give it a bit of a test and kept my pace up.
A lady kept running past me, then I'd catch her on the hills, then she'd zoom past again. I suspected she was a novice runner because the more experienced ones keep an even pace and can run all the way up the hills. We fell in together at mile 5 and I congratulated her as she came past me again. She steadied her pace and we chatted a bit. This was her first 10k! I thought she was doing brilliantly and told her so.
I knew there was a final hill to come and warned her it was ahead, but where I knew I needed to hold something back to get up it and be able to sprint the final km strongly home, she cracked on and then half way up the hill flagged so I went past.
We could see the finish about half a km away, but I knew from my watch that we were only at 8.5km and had another 1.5 to run. Sure enough, the marshals turned us away and we headed off in the opposite direction. The lady ahead of me groaned and her pace slowed. Races are so much about the mental approach. Because I'd been prepared for the extra loop it didn't effect me, but it really got to her. We ran together for a bit, and it turned out this was only her second 10k. A little ahead of us a lady in a green t-shirt looked to me catchable. I suggested we aimed to overtake her, thinking it might boost my running companion's morale, but she didn't feel able, so I went on on my own.
When I caught the lady in green I could hear she was breathing heavily. You could tell from the way she was running that she didn't have much left in the tank whereas I was feeling strong and had energy left for the finish, thanks to conserving it earlier. I drew level; she made a valiant effort to keep up but I knew she wouldn't. It felt good to run strongly past her and gave me a boost that fired more energy into my legs.
Next up was a chap I'd been running near for most of the race, only he'd gone ahead a km or two back. Now I could see he too was paying the price for having pushed too fast too soon. I suspected he was also new to running the distance, so I called out some encouragement as I went past, and he told me my footsteps behind him had spurred him on a bit but now he was fading again. Follow me, I suggested, I'll get you there. But by now we were in the final 800m and I knew I'd got energy left over to sprint, so I picked up the pace and he just didn't have the oomph to stay with me.
One of the things you fear when you're sprinting ahead to the finish is that someone will come up behind you and overtake. All the power in a sprint is with the person behind- they've got all the information and then can choose to sit on your heels and time their overtake to maximum impact, ie so close to the line you won't have time to catch them. I know- I've done this myself before :o)
I was running hard and could hear voices and footfalls behind me, so I pushed as much as I could and then risked a glance behind to see how close they were. Relieved, I realised they were too far behind to catch me. I could see from my watch I was going to beat last week's time by five minutes, so I ran as fast as I could and crossed the line feeling thrilled at the way the race had gone. Five minutes faster than last week and no knee pain.
The Clarendon half next weekend is looking healthier than it has in a while!
The race was topped off by M receiving an age category prize from Lady Carnarvon for being the fastest old man in his age group :o)
What a fantastic race- we will be back!
How was your weekend?