With 4 weeks to go until the Barcelona marathon, I had marked the Bramley 20 mile race as one of (if not the most) important training session before the big day. This was a real chance to see what kind of shape I was in and what kind of time I could potentially hope to run around the capital of Catalonia.
Before heading to Bramley I had to find out where it actually was – a few miles outside Basingstoke is the answer. An early start (early for a Sunday morning anyway) and a couple of trains later and I found myself wandering through the village streets towards the race HQ.
The race was based at the local primary school, and everything seemed to run like clockwork. They were selling bacon sandwiches and cake inside the school hall (I chose to wait until afterwards for one of those), there were plenty of portaloo’s and changing facilities on site, as well as a well laid out baggage drop system.
Before the start I bumped into a friendly face – Rob Arkell, the chap I’d met over New Year in Edinburgh. We had a quick chat about expectations for the day before he rushed away to find a starting spot near the front of the race. He ended up having an absolute stormer, finishing 9th overall and collecting the 3rd place prize in the team competition – unbelievable running.
My best mate Paul had also driven down from Leicester to take part. Unfortunately due to his nature of arriving everywhere with seconds to spare, I only managed to catch up with him briefly at the start and didn’t see him after the race. He still got another 20 miles in the bank and will hopefully go well in Barcelona.
As it was absolutely freezing, I hid in the hall and waited until the very last moment to strip off down to my short-shorts before dashing over to the start area. It was a bit of a squeeze in the starting pen with over 1300 runners taking part – there was a 10 mile race going on at the same time. The course was a ten mile lap, so they’d finish after one lap (the easy option) while the 20 milers would carry on for another circuit of the countryside.
The race was always going to be a long training run rather than a flat out effort. The plan was to run the first 6 miles at a very controlled pace, before speeding up to something close to the pace I hope to run on the day in Barcelona. I was determined not to get into a race with anyone, knowing I’ve got one more big week of training immediately following today’s event.
We were set on our way promptly, and after running through the village (which contained plenty of local support) we made our way out into the country lanes. You couldn’t real call the route hilly, there were a few undulations but nothing to write home about. There was a bit of wind, but again, nothing too troublesome.
I managed to negotiate the first 6 miles without incident. I kept a close eye on my GPS watch (which tells me how fast I’m running), and made sure to keep my pace under control. I can’t deny the fact that the task of upping the effort for the final 14 miles was preying on my mind, but at the same time I was excited to see what kind of shape the months of hard training had put me in.
As soon as I passed through the 6 mile marker (they had mile markers all along the route), I upped the tempo and tried to settle into a rhythm that I felt I could sustain for 14 miles and more. I had a heart rate monitor on and kept a close eye on this – I didn’t want it to go above a certain level which may indicate I was working too hard.
With about 2 miles to go on the first lap I made a couple of new friends – Brian and Dean. We seemed to fall into step with one another and had a nice chat – indicating to me that the pace wasn’t too high as I was able to hold a conversation. Before I knew it we were back at the school and 10 miles had passed. We were funnelled to the right hand side whilst those running the 10 miler were finishing on our left – I can happily say I wasn’t even slightly jealous!
Shortly after the start of the second lap Brian and I seemed to lose Dean and it was just the two of us. We were steadily making our way through the field which was a real confidence boost. Brian seemed to know absolutely everyone on the route (he was a member of Reading Roadrunners who were organising the event), so together we were getting plenty of support from the marshals and people manning the drinks stations, which was great.
I was constantly worrying whether the pace was too quick (it was by far the quickest I’ve ever ran over a longer distance such as this), but the miles kept ticking by and I was still feeling pretty awesome. With about 5 miles to go, I started to drift ahead of Brian and that was the last I saw of him on the day. However, he smashed his personal best by over 10 minutes – what a great performance. It was really great to have some company on the day and he’s a top chap.
From here it was just a case of keeping it steady and getting to the finish whilst trying to exert as little energy as possible – I kept telling myself it wasn’t a race, I just wanted to stick to a constant pace (which looking at the mile splits, I seemed to achieve). I continued to pass runner after runner, the advantage of a very steady start, before catching and falling into step with another runner – Luke.
We ran together for the final 3 or so miles whilst having a quick conversation about which races we were training for. He told me he wanted to get under 2 hours 15, so I encouraged him to push on as it seemed like he had some energy left in the tank. I thoroughly enjoyed the last couple of miles, making sure to thank all the marshals for putting on such a fantastic event (I even dished out a few high fives in the last mile or so!) and I just generally had a massive grin on my face after laying down a performance I was really happy with.
I crossed the line in 2.14.32, a new personal best (it was guaranteed with this being my first 20 mile race…), but I really wasn’t too concerned with the time, it was more about the pace in the last 14 miles. Over these 14 miles I’d averaged 6 minutes and 28 seconds a mile – equivalent to a marathon time of 2 hours and 49 minutes.
Now, this doesn’t mean I could hope to run 2:49 in Barcelona – running at that speed for 26.2 miles is a lot different to running at it for 14! However, I need to go away and make some decisions about how quickly I want to set off on the day. However, it has given me a massive confidence boost that the sub-3 hour dream may be that bit closer to coming true.
My time was good enough for 80th place in a field of 758 runners, but this doesn’t display the fact that I was running well within myself. I finished with a 1.24 half marathon and a 19 minute last 5 kilometres, still feeling like I had much more to give. My first lap was 1 hour and 10 minutes, whilst the second one was 1 hour and 5 minutes, showing the extent of my progress through the race. During the entire last 10 miles, I wasn’t passed by a single person, and I must have passed at least 70 runners – it’s definitely the most fun way to run a race!
If I do a spring marathon next year (who am I trying to kid), I’d definitely come back to Bramley – a fantastically organised race with a real local feel to it.
As mentioned above, I’m now into my last hard week of training before a 3 week ‘taper’ period, where the mileage and intensity is slowly reduced to enable me to reach the start line in Spain as fresh as possible. I’m never been so motivated for anything in my life – bring it on.