South Park 20 Mile Race

South Park 20 Mile Race – Paul McLean

I only entered the race at the very last minute. My intention was to enter Locke parkʼs 20 mile race the week before, but when I looked at the entrants list and saw Matty Hynesʼ name down aor as my predictatext calls him Marty Haynes!) I was slightly put off. Now I appreciate heʼs on a different level to me completely but the idea of training hard for months and then still getting lapped aprobably a couple of times at least!) made me think I would look elsewhere. Hence the South Park 20 mile, and as it happens this was a stroke of luck anyway with the Locke park race being cancelled because of the snow.

Iʼd ran a 2I50 marathon at Manchester last year which had got me good for age for London this year. When I trained last year for Manchester I remember really struggling with any distance upward of 15 miles, but having been through that once surprisingly since starting training for London the distance has come quite easily to me. This has really helped as itʼs meant my legs have recovered quite quickly enabling me to still do a lot of the club sessions and also do some quick stuff on my own. I knew Iʼd been running well in training, in fact I felt like this was the best Iʼve ever been running so was feeling confident but also knew that I had only done parts of my long runs at marathon pace and not the whole run.

My target for London has been to beat my PB but also I have had an urge to dip under 2I45 as apparently thatʼll get me an elite entry for next year meaning the mrs is going to have to let me do it again!

Anyway I digress, so onto race day in Darlington. The course is roughly the route for the park run for those that have done it before. A mainly flat mile with one decent downhill and one fairly steep uphill. The day didnʼt start the best for me. It was a planned 9 o clock start but with the clocks going forwards that was effectively 8 o clock and with the drive over to Darlington and time to have something to eat prior to setting off my intention was to set my alarm for six o clock. Stupidly, I didnʼt realise my Garmin would automatically readjust so got up at 6 o clock ate my breakfast and realised it was the equivalent of 5I30 in the morning. Great no wonder I felt so tired! Anyway after a light snooze on the couch I set off for Darlington. Now I always get race day nerves which can make toilet trips plentiful but today I was worse than ever so after a few visits to the W.C and still feeling like there

was more to come I had to take my place on the starting line regardless. I managed to have a nice chat with Jack Hustwitt pre-race and talk to him about his plans. I felt like I was talking to a changed man as he talked about setting off at a sensible pace and sticking to seven minute miles if he could. I thought Iʼll believe that when I see it!

The race consists of 20 laps of a mile each, very similar to Locke Park. However, I have to say I much preferred the course at South Park. Itʼs a beautiful park, very picturesque and quite Victorian/Edwardian in its appearance with a big bandstand and really idyllic. Despite being round a park and there still being some tight corners it did not feel as twisty as Locke park so you were not losing too much momentum each time you turned.

My plan for the race was to run 3I50 a km aabout 6I10 a mile) and try and keep it up. Like I said Iʼd achieved this throughout my long runs but never for the entirety. I had not tapered for this race, Iʼd taken Saturday off, so if I could run at this pace here I knew Iʼd be in good shape for doing something similar if not quicker at London. However, as per usual my plan around nutrition and appropriate drinks were very ad hoc. I put down a snickers Iʼd grabbed as Iʼd left the house on the drinks table and a half drunk bottle of water.

It was a glorious day for running, warm but not overly hot and very still so I realised Iʼd lost two of my best excuses for not running well already. There was only a feigned injury left or alternatively Iʼd just have to try and run well. On setting off I found myself quickly near the front. One lad, who I had been warned about being quick, from roundhay runners slowly moved ahead but I resisted the temptation to run with him, instead I settled into my own rhythm.

I was regularly clocking 3I45 a km for the first four kmʼs but felt like I was working hard and was unsure whether I could maintain this pace throughout. I soon realised that my Garmin was way out of sync; after two laps of the track approximately 3.2 km my watch had still not beeped for 3km. Obviously running round the park meant my watch was losing a lot of my distance, this also meant my 3I45 a km was probably closer to 3I30, hence why I was getting so tired. I instinctively tried to ease back a bit and decided I would use the mile markers instead of my Garmin. I was in about fifth place but then realised that this wasnʼt wholly accurate as some of the runners

were running relays rather than as individuals. I got overtaken by Colin Taylor who I recognised a lot from the NYSD cross countries but I knew he runs at a similar pace to myself so I thought if I could stick with him Iʼd probably be on to a good time.

I slowly ticked the miles off and was running strongly and maintaining my pace. My 10k time was around 36 minutes, only 30 seconds slower than my PB. My ten mile time was low 59 minutes and I still felt good. Quicker than I should have gone but giving me lots of time to play with in the second half of the race. On about lap 11 disaster struck. I could feel my stomach churn and knew that I was too far out to finish without needing that toilet again. I held off for another lap trying to decide what to do as the toilet block was at least a 200/300 m detour off the route and that Iʼd lose a load of time. The thought went through my head of am I a good enough runner to justify doing a Paula Radcliffe and selling it to the disgusted onlookers as a top athlete in total commitment to bag a PB. Then sanity prevailed and I thought ‘No, better find somewhere private, quickʼ so resembling one of those Olympic walkers I pelted headlong for the biggest bush I could find with the most dense foliage, did my business and was quickly on my way.

As I left the scene of the crime one of the runners Iʼd recently lapped shouted “donʼt worry mate mud binds!” At least it was a man I thought it couldʼve been worse! Quickly followed by the thought “last time I have a mojoes mixed meat kebab two days before a race!”

On a plus note I now felt a hundred times better and set off trying to get back into my rhythm. I was unsure whether anyone had got passed me in the time Iʼd lost but by now Colin Taylor was well out of sight.

On approximately lap 13 I decided I should start having some fluids and also picked up my snickers. I thought if I ran with it for a lap or two it would melt sufficiently that Iʼd be able to eat it more easily. That didnʼt work! I took a huge bite and tried to chew but my mouth was so dry it just sat in my mouth impeding my breathing. I knew it would eventually melt but what I didnʼt realise was how uncomfortable it is inhaling really small half chewed peanuts, resulting in me running round sounding like a chain smoker trying to cough up a lungful of peanut shards!

Note to self ‘Must try a different nutrition option for London!ʼ

By lap 16/17 I was really tired, my pace had dropped to about 6I20 a mile and I was working hard to maintain it. Iʼd started doing my calculations of if I drop to a seven minute mile what time will I get? knowing that I could probably do better than that but, if all else failed. I also started lifting up my shirt a sure fire sign that Iʼm starting to get too hot and starting to tire. The hill that finishes the lap had started to seem longer and longer even though it was a doddle early on in the race. My whole aim was to just hang on in there. When I got to lap 19 I was over the moon, I knew I had one last decent lap in me and I managed to finish strongly.

Iʼd worked really hard, Karen newton the photographer offered me a bottle of water saying I looked a bit pale. I tried to pass that off as my ginger skin but knew it was because I was shattered! Id stopped my watch on 2I03I30 which I was really happy with. It was about 7 minutes quicker than my previous 20 mile race and Iʼd tapered for that one. I thought my actual time would be 2I04 something due to my comfort break but to my pleasant surprise when I spoke to the marshalls they told me I was 2I03I58 which meant I had spent 28 seconds in total nipping to the loo a a new world record!) they also informed me that I had finished in fourth place only forty seconds or so behind third and just five minutes off winning. So i was really happy with the outcome and feel like Iʼm in as good a shape as Iʼve ever been heading to London.

I stayed around to cheer Jack in whoʼd ran a fantastic race himself. Heʼd stuck to his seven minute miles perfectly and had managed it throughout. He looks in great shape to get a decent time at his next attempt at the marathon.

In terms of the race I would thoroughly recommend it for anyone doing London. Itʼs probably a bit too late for Manchester but if they were to bring it forward a week it would be ideal a although it may clash with Locke park). Personally I much preferred this race to Locke park as it was a more interesting course, however unlike Locke park you donʼt get a break down of your mile splits but for me that didnʼt make much difference. All the marshalls were very supportive and it was a well organised and enjoyable event. I headed home with a real spring in my step, looking forward to London, knowing Iʼve trained hard for it and hopefully in a good enough shape to beat my PB and who knows maybe surprise myself further.

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