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10 miles: under 70 minutes

Beat the Train ©

My 10-mile PB has been a thing of great concern to me in recent years. Firstly, I don’t race a lot of 10-mile routes so capturing an official time is not a frequent event. Secondly, any 10-mile runs in training tend to be easy pace, day after a long run type sessions. Despite not yet dipping under 70 mins for 10 miles, I have cued myself up several times to try and break 90mins for the half-marathon. Madness!

The story of my 10-mile PB is made even more bizarre by the fact that it was set twice, on what is probably the hilliest 10-mile race in Ireland. The Stook 10 (Gowran, Co. Kilkenny) is an annual event and very much worth doing. It features one ~2-mile section of what is probably the steepest road race climb around. When you finish the climb, with your jelly legs, you get to sprint down the ‘flying mile’ on the other side. Doing your best to stay strong while you tear up your quads and drop the same elevation you have just climbed. Somehow, this seems to work for me with respect to setting PBs!

The Stook 10 – a real challenge for a 10-mile run
the Stook 10, 135m climb over 2 miles followed by a veritable cliff at the other side for the ‘flying mile’

So, having signed up to a relatively flat 10-mile race organised by a local running group (The Saturday Road Runners) in aid of Down Syndrome Ireland, I had little expectation of breaking 70 this weekend. I had a twitchy back from being under the bar in the gym. My legs were tired from keeping my mileage up after Dublin. I was still carrying doubt from the marathon too. There was one hope though; the belief I carried from my speed-work sessions leading up to Dublin. I had been running my tempos sub-6:40 pace with no real struggle, up to 6 miles. Twenty seconds a mile is a big cushion. Big enough such that my mathematical ability exited my body on the start line. I had somehow convinced myself that I had to run 6:52 pace to get my goal. I had lost all grasp of logic and numbers!

Settling into the run from the start, the doubts were playing havoc with me. A slight downhill for the first 4 miles but I couldn’t get myself to dip under 7-min pace. At the turn (it was a straight out and back route) we had to start a gradual climb all the way back. I gave myself a serious talking to and decided to start targetting runners ahead of me. By the time I completed miles 7 & 8 I had picked off quite a few targets and my legs felt fresh enough to keep pushing. I couldn’t keep the acceleration going for mile 9 though – despite encouragement from a running buddy – I needed to hold steady before the last mile.

under 70 mins won’t happen – it damn well will

Mile 10 was a learning experience. The race is called ‘Beat the Train‘: it is run alongside a narrow-gauge railway line on the picturesque Waterford Greenway. As you may have guessed, a train follows the runners with the aim being to get across the finish line before the train does. It’s brilliant – like nothing else I have ever run.

With shouts from my running buddy booming in my ear, we had one mile to do the unthinkable; one mile to break 70. A glance at the watch indicated 6:59 avg pace. Everyone who runs knows that this means I’m off-pace as the watch always runs longer than the route. I’m sure that my entire analysis took about 5 seconds but it felt like an excessive amount of time.

Shout at yourself. It’s not something I would generally advocate as you may acquire unwanted attention. However, in the last mile of a race with tired legs, half your brain telling you you’ve already lost, and a god-damn train starting to chase you – shout at yourself. I did; gained a little more ground over the next minute, catching another person, getting closer to the 70-min pacer. I shouted again and passed the only person remaining with the 70-min pacer. Now on his shoulder, holding his finishing pace, there was a chance. One last shout; one last push… no train! I beat it. Glance at the watch, sub-70 (1:09:49). Oh god yes!

Beat the train – first time ever under 70 mins for 10 miles
there were a few drops in the second 5 miles but the last mile push made it happen

what just happened?

Now this is starting to get interesting. It’s just 3 weeks since Dublin. I took no time off for the first post-marathon period ever and kept my mileage reasonably high each week. I didn’t train for this 10-mile race, it was only marathon fitness that carried me. My mind was full of doubts, I had almost talked myself out of racing it seriously. I’ve just started my weight sessions in the gym and feeling perhaps a little tender for it. So, what has changed? Where the hell did I just grab a PB of nearly 3 mins for my first 10-mile race under 70 mins? This is going to take a while to work out.

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