Last year, after running a marathon, I decided to drop down to 10km and 5km distances to try and improve my times. My 5km time was easy to tackle since I was running most Saturday mornings at my local timed ParkRun. The 10km project took a little longer to knock off the todo list.
I was attracted to the Great Newham run because it ended in The Olympic Stadium. I wanted to run on the track before a football club moved in and the venue stopped being an athletics stadium and became something else – and believe me, in a few years time this will be ‘The West Ham Stadium’. On the day there was a lot more hammer logos and claret and blue than I’d have liked, but not so much that you couldn’t turn a blind eye to it.
The course started under the ArcelorMittal Orbit tower and wound its way around the Olympic Park, passing the old Media Centre and the Aquatic Centre before hitting the stadium itself.
I arrived around the time I’d planned to after a smooth tube journey, but my wave pen was already heaving with runners. I forget what time I’d predicted on my application form, but suspect my wave contained all the 45-55 minute runners. I was behind thousands of them with a vague target time of 48 minutes in my head. When the race finally kicked off (the usual 20 or 30 minutes late) I spent the first 2km cutting through the field and dancing on and off the verge. Early parts of the course were very narrow for that volume of runners.
Before the wave was released the PA announcer had been sternly warning the throngs to NOT shoot for a PB in the hot conditions and NOT sprint finish in the stadium. It was sensible advice and lots of runners probably heeded it. When I felt the sun on the back of my neck during the warm-up I started re-calculating my pace and split times, but when I passed ver the start line the clouds had closed in and I fell into my natural rhythm and pace.
The surface underfoot was good quality tarmac road, instead of 1 water stop the organisers put on 3 and an extra water sprinkler was added too. Once I’d got clear of most of the crowds I kept on pushing at my usual pace and aiming for a PB. I decided that if I blew up, or the heat got the better of me, I’d just slow and limp into the stadium – I’d at least be able to soak it up and appreciate the privilege of being able to complete a circuit of the track.
But I never really felt like I was struggling, I just managed to maintain the pace I’d kicked off with. I wasn’t checking my GPS watch much if at all – just noting my time at each kilometre marker and feeling good about the time. I did wonder, upon hitting the 7km marker, if I had it in me to up the pace in the final three, but decided not to – I wanted the energy to kill the final lap!
Approaching the stadium was a big lift, the course took in the subterranean concourse where the theme from Chariots Of Fire with added snippets of famous athletics commentary was pipped into the PA system. I was looking forward to running a corner and seeing the interior of the area unfold, so it was a little surprise when we turned in the opposite direction and went outside for a lap of the practice track before properly entering the stadium. The lap went too quickly – perhaps I should have slowed and drunk it in as was advised – but after slogging through 9.5km you want to expend as much energy as possible in getting the best time possible. I pegged it. I was caught from behind by a fellow athlete as he overtook, but that just felt like part of the experience (and I battled back to beat him to the line).
My finial time was 47.33 – much quicker than my fastest previous 10km (which was probably north of 50mins) and just a little faster than the second half of the North London Half Marathon last year (which I’d roughly calculated at 48.47). It’s the runner’s disease tat you always think you could have gone a bit quicker, and I rued starting at the back of the wave and having to contend with the crowded early stages. But, given the hot conditions, I was pleased with my time.
I won’t make the mistake of starting at the back of the wave again – and will probably be wildly optimistic with my target times in future so I end up in a quicker wave.
If you’re reading this with a view to doing the race in 2017, I couldn’t recommend it more. It’s a well organised event and the course is a pretty fast one – a few inclines tot deal with but nothing remotely approaching what you might call a ‘hill’. And I don’t think you’ll get a better finish than the stadium provides.
My splits (taken from my Garmin wristwatch):
1km – 5:06
2km – 4:50 – 9:56
3km – 4:39 – 14:35
4km – 4:50 – 19:25
5km – 4:49 – 24:14
6km – 4:51 – 29:05
7km – 4:47 – 33:52
8km – 4:49 – 38:41
9km – 6:03 – 44:44
10km – 3:59 – 48:43
I suspect those last two times are skewed by losing the GPS signal!