My final race before the Manchester Half was to be the Standalone 10K. I picked this race as it was nice and close to the half – giving me the same kind of ‘tune up’ that a half (a little bit further out) before the marathon does. It was also a race back down near my family home and organised by my old running club, North Herts Roadrunners, and gave me the opportunity to complete the ‘Goose Slam’ – PBs in every major distance between the mile and the marathon in the calendar year. The 10K was the last that needed to go, with 36:16 my previous best.
My form had started to feel a little patchy in the run up to the race, but after a good track session on the Thursday before the race, I felt ready to go. The plan was to run 5:40 miles, aiming for a 35:30 finishing time.
The Standalone 10K starts from Standalone Farm in Letchworth, with the route a one lap square, heading east, then north, skirting around Stotfold, and then back south to finish at the farm. I went to Standalone Farm a lot as a kid, and a part of the bonus of the race was to be able to go and look around the farm – to be honest I had forgotten how big pigs are!
Standing on the start line I got a few comments about my vest. At local races in Leeds I would now just about recognise all of the local club vests, but as I was back down south mine stood out like a sore thumb, particularly as I took my spot in the front row or two from the start line.
I had spent a while on Saturday looking at the course map and Google street view to try and work out the elevation profile. The race was mainly run on closed roads, with a coned off stretch along a bypass and a main road over the final two miles. I thought my research was telling me that the first two miles would be a bit up and down and would need to push on, the middle would ease off and go downhill, and then the final two would again be a push to the finish.
When I went off and the race had settled down, I realised that I was ahead of a few old club mates, people who I knew where far faster runners than I was. This made me question myself – had I gone off too fast? Was the course tougher than I thought? The first two miles were ticked off in just under the pace I had set myself, 5:38 and 5:35, so everything seemed to be fine.
The middle part of the course showed where experience of the route really comes in to play. On the downhill section I took it easy, staying within pace whereas I probably should have taken it harder. At this point my former club mate (clearly pacing their race perfectly) came past me, and then on the run up to Stotfold through mile four there was more of a climb here than I thought. I was running a hard pace, and perhaps my patchy form was also coming to the fore, and keeping pace and pushing harder up the inclines started to become difficult.
The final two miles were just awful. The wheels weren’t coming completely off, but the legs, heart and chest just suddenly weren’t there for pushing at 5:40s up a relentlessly steady incline along a heart-sappingly straight road. At first I didn’t think the situation was that bad until I realised that mile five was stretching out to a 6:07 mile. I was in danger of, if not failing to break my PB, at least not getting under 36 minutes, which would have been a disappointment for me.
Screwing my face up, I only had one choice, to keep on pushing harder even though I was falling apart a bit over the final mile. I knew I was getting closer and closer to Letchworth as the road was familiar to me, and I was pulling the time back towards 5:50 for the mile – 5:49 in the end as the watch ticked over, and just the final run in to go.
The finish had a final turn left back past the finish line, and then turning back into the farm and onto a grass barriered finishing funnel. I’d been worrying that I was going to miss 36 minutes, but seeing the inflatable finish gantry and the clock, I realised I was going to make it.
I was happy with the race overall. I hadn’t really approached it with anything near the form I wanted, but an official time of 35:54 to complete the Goose Slam was just what I wanted. It was a tough race – probably a combination of weak form and a tougher than expected course. Overall the Standalone 10K is a great event – a cheap, locally organised race with a big (1,000+ !) field, and a fast top end, it’s a great race to do for anyone based in Hertfordshire or Bedfordshire.