Race number two in my little summer series was the Carl Rutt memorial 10k at Leicestershire’s Whitwick, and it was one of the two which I had not ran before (the other being John Frazer 10 miles). I had been warned that it was a hilly one, and driving past what boasted to be “the highest pub in Leicestershire” to get there made it a bit more real, as did all the signs marking the course that I passed as I descended to Hermitage Leisure Centre: the road wound its way down towards the start for a while, and all the course markings were pointing upward, to the direction from which I had come!
But I was in too good a mood to heed such warning:we had had a rare night out with Demi the night before, fitting in not only a film and a meal, but also a cheeky glass of wine when we got back (babysitters are such a great invention!) and I was about to do something I really enjoyed: run as fast as I could over a set course! What was there to complain about?
When I got to the leisure centre I had a chance to chat to other Harriers who had ran this particular race before, and they were able to put the hills I had driven over in context: “The start is in amongst the houses, and the course winds its way up out of there. It then joins the main road, which is a prolonged hill, then it dips for a bit, then there’s another hill, and then you turn left and there’s a steep hill. But then you hit the country lanes, and it’s undulating” is what they had to say, which turned out to be quite an accurate description really!
With that to look forward to, I joined some other runners warming up in the fields behind the leisure centre, and followed them onto the last bit of the course and along the path to the finish line. It is a bit of a strange finish, because the course leads you back along a path next to the leisure centre, and to make the distance it then carries on past it and round two fields before eventually turning back in and to the finish: I’m glad I went on this little reccie, as otherwise I might have struggled a bit pacing the last km – especially as a significant length (I’d say the last half kilometer maybe) is run on grass.
I continued my warm up on the way to the start line (which is a fair walk from the leisure centre), and I have to say I was a bit underwhelmed: We walked out on what essentially was the last mile of the course, and it was on relatively narrow paths with at least one footbridge over a stream: lovely for a Sunday stroll, but I wasn’t sure how it would be to run the last mile of a difficult 10k on. The starting area also felt a bit strange, as it was on the junction of two narrow roads with houses very close on either side: I was quite back in the pack, not even sure which way we would run out towards and I could feel myself get a bit grumpy and preparing mentally to dislike the course with its cramped start, long climbs and dodgy finish!
And then we were off: the crowding at the start (even in the middle of the field) proved no worse than in any other race I’ve ran (and better than a few I can think of), and before I knew it we were out on the main road with nothing to slow us down but the incline. Once again I hardly looked at my watch to pace myself over the whole race, but tried to run the opening sections a bit within myself, knowing that the hills weren’t going to end any time soon, and that I needed to keep something in the tank for the second half. Still, I was passing more runners than went past me, which worried me a bit as I couldn’t help thinking that perhaps they knew something I didn’t. Still, I didn’t want to slow down more than what felt natural, so I kept going.
I had done a speed interval guided workout on the NRC+ application two days before, which was co-coached by Andy Puddicombe, the co-founder and voice of Headspace (the mindfulness and meditation app). He seemed a strange choice to coach a speed workout, but he was very effective in helping you let your body go fast while your mind remains calm (I wish I could share links to specific NRC+ workouts here). Amongst his advice for bringing your mind into the moment when thoughts about how hard it all is flood it, was to count your steps, from one to ten and over again. I know Paula Radcliffe has said she counts during marathons, but somehow you have to hear it during a workout to actually try it. I started counting my steps on the first hill, and didn’t really stop until the finish! 🙂
And I have to say, despite the threats of grumpiness before the start, I really did love this race! Yes, it was hilly, but actually that was not such a bad thing. It was never going to be a PB course, so that almost liberated you from looking at paces / splits and feeling bad if you were slower than target or worried if you were a bit faster on a downhill. All runners around me were in the same boat, and when the road curved slightly at the 6 km mark and just after we had gone up and down a steepish hill, only to reveal another kilometer-long climb, the Poplar Running Club runner behind me (with whom we had been trading places for a while, Marie I think she was called) spoke for all of us by letting out an exasperated “oh not another f-ing hill! I swear, they must have grown more of them this year!”
I say that I had been trading places with her, and this is another thing I enjoyed immensely: while, generally speaking, I think I progressed forwards through the field over the course of the race, my impression is that there was a sizeable group of us doing so, each surging at different places to move ahead, but never completely losing the others. For example, I followed Conrad and Tina for a long while before I caught up with them (Conrad just after mid-way, Tina a bit later), but I could still hear Conrad’s characteristic breathing following close long into the race. Tina I ran with for a fair distance, trading places a few times, before she eventually pulled ahead.
That left me and two other runners (Marie from Poplar and a guy from Birstall I think) running between two groups (Tina’s ahead and Conrad’s behind) for quite some distance, neither approaching the one in front nor pulling away from the one behind. Eventually, and perhaps inspired by the guy who had spurred me on in the closing stages of Joy Cann, I started pulling ahead of my two companions with about a mile to go (I won’t lie: it wasn’t uphill strength that did it, rather downhill recklessness, running full pelt down a steep incline with arms trailing behind to reduce drag! 😀 ) and crawled towards Tina’s group. Thanks to my warm-up reccie I had a good feel of how far I was from the finish and was able to time my push and sprint reasonably well. I overtook a few runners from Tina’s group, but she was too strong and was doing the same all the way to the line. Provisional results show I finished 2” behind her by gun time, but 12” and 17” respectively ahead from the other two runners of the little mid-group trio.
It all sounds very competitive, and I suppose at some level it was. But I genuinely felt it was each one of us pushing the other to do better, and while this is something I come across time and again in county races, I think the difficulty of the course contributed to that – or at the very least made it more obvious: we had little time to battle with each other, the hills where the main adversary! And even that word is off mark, perhaps playmate would be better?
So what do I think about the Carl Rutt as an event to take part in? Was my pre-race threat of grumpiness justified? Absolutely not! The race was very well organised, from the ample and well-directed parking (why has this become an exception rather than the rule in LRRL and cross-country races, prey? Organisers don’t seem to realise how off-putting it is to read that car-sharing is compulsory due to their inability to secure adequate parking facilities for a race they are organising! I want my participation or not in a race to be determined by my own fitness and schedule, not by whether I think I will be able to find someone to share a lift with me in a couple of months’ time! #rantover), smooth collection of numbers (with handfuls of safety pins left on the tables in the sports hall for the more forgetful of us); the signage and marshalling were faultless and the water station at mid-way a very welcome sight (and thank you for giving out bottles to drink from, and not plastic cups to choke on!)
But what about the “cramped start, long climbs and dodgy finish“? Well, once you actually started, the start isn’t cramped at all, even if you are right in the middle of the field. The long climbs? Yep, they were there, as advertised. But they led us through some lovely countryside, and hills is what this race is very much about, anyway. As for the finish? Once you know how the course winds to a close, either from having ran it before or by doing a reccie during warm-up, it is quite nice, with the hills out of the way and away from traffic.
So overall a great race, full of character. Very well organised by Hermitage Harriers and respected by runners. Great finishers’ t-shirt too: distinctive but without huge garish stamps that take breathability away!
Finally many thanks are due to the Hermitage Harriers for putting on such a great race, and winning over even a grumpy-prone runner like me! It has certainly entered my list of “must do” races! All the volunteers were great, as were the many supporters along the route.
Thanks too to everyone who shared these 10 km with me on Sunday, and to those who very kindly shared their photos with their permission for me to use in my blog.
Next stop? Parkrun!