GLoucester 20 Mile Race 2010

No pics for this one - can't find anyone's shots on the net either.

The Gloucester 20 was a race I did because I felt I ought to - I would have been more enthusiastic about a half marathon, but with most of my weekends spoken for I had to grab a window of opportunity and get a marathon preparation race in on March 7th. So Gloucester it was! It was also the tenth anniversary of Run and Become, so out of rather obscure sentimentality I wore the shorts I'd bought exactly ten years earlier when I had been the first ever customer in that shop (where I now work). A 20 mile race is hard - you push yourself into that fatigued state normally reserved for the marathon itself - the bit where you feel the tank is empty but you have to keep going anyway. And at the end of it, the sense of achievement is nothing compared to what you'd have got for pushing through those extra six miles to complete the full distance. No, 20 milers are hard graft and little reward on the day - but as they are stepping stones to the marathon a lot of us will find ourselves chalking one up at some stage.

The Gloucester race was basic but good - the rather prosaic surroundings of a trading estate near Quedgeley may have seemed inauspicous, but once the race was underway we soon joined the 5-ish mile loop on quiet lanes through the countryside that is actually very picturesque and tranquil. The crowd was overwhelmingly club runners, though I also spotted a few triathletes doubtless planning to go long this summer. I wasn't really sure how to approach the race - I was still not back to the levels of fitness I enjoyed in 2009 and all my long runs had been slow - so I just went out at around 7.30 pace to see how things panned out. At first I was consistent enough, clocking anything from 7 minutes to 7.30 depending on the hills. The course was undulating, with two gradients in particular that actually slow you up a little (or a lot on the third lap!). As the race wore on, I got into a nice rhythm and began to get complacent, enjoying a good workout on a cold, crystal-clear day. I let myself dip under 7 minutes for a 6.52 mile at one stage, but I was to regret that later. At around 12 miles I was well on pace for a 2.30 finish, but after taking a gel at walking pace I found it hard to pick up again and the mile times began to weaken. 7.50, 8.14. 8.30 on the hill - I was starting to find it really hard work. I had to start digging deep and working hard on the positive thinking to keep myself cheerful - and with a little conscious effort I was able to stay happy and keep moving forwards. By the last 4 miles I was down to a very short stride, with stiffness setting in and a feeling of having very little energy - no "oomph". Mile times were drastic at well over 8 minutes and 2.30 was out of the window. I finally came home in 2.33 and in the end I was happy enough with that - if the race was a fact finding exercise, I'd certainly found out a few facts! 3.30 would be a realistic target for my April marathon - well short of the level I was at last year. Still, you can't always be going through a good phase - for every peak there's a trough. And I consoled myself with the thought that no matter what my level of fitness, I always be fit enough for the real goal - self-transcendence. Any runner at any level can achieve that - overcoming the limits your body presents you with on the day to do just that bit better than you thought you could. So, by my own standards I'd fallen short of my target for the race, but that was past and I was thinking about how to tackle the next big thing - the marathon on April 9th.

As a postscript, a little ankle niggle that hung around after the race proved so stubborn that I got Karen the physio to check it out and the marathon looked doubtful - we decided on a ten mile test run to see if there was any reaction, and sadly there was - nothing drastic but I decided to delay my marathon until later in the year - probably our August Self-Transcendence Marathon at Rockland State Park. As I was going to be in New York anyway in April, I went to the marathon I had been intending to run and took on one of the lead cyclist jobs - great fun. So, it looks like shorter races for a while until the foot is behaving, and more time cycling and triathloning.