Derby 10 mile review

Having missed John Fraser 10 in September, I was left with the curiosity of what 10 miles felt like to race (I’m familiar with 6 and 13 miles, but hadn’t tried racing the in-between distance), so when I saw a club member express an interest in the Derby 10 on Facebook, I had a look and promptly signed myself up!

Where instead of consolidating the good, even pacing demonstrated in Leicester half, I was chased around a two hundred-year-old castle by a thirty-odd-year-old ghost!

On paper it sounded like a great race: a bit over 30’ drive from home, a flat scenic route, stadium start and finish (ok, outside a stadium, but better than waiting in a cold field somewhere!), t-shirt and even a medal, which was unusual for the distance, but always welcome.

It also fell quite nicely in the “quiet period” between Leicester half in late October and the start of my next training plan in January (yep, marathoning again!..)

The race started and ended at Derby’s Pride Park Stadium (although for 2019 the event will move to the adjacent Derby Arena), which provided a dry, warm place for runners and their families & friends to congregate before and after the race, proper (i.e. not portaloo) toilets, some food stalls, Derby Runner’s stall, a medal engraver and even post-race massage! There was ample onsite parking as well, a choice between a free parking (which however would remain closed till after the race) and another which required a £2 donation in support of the event’s main charity Annabel’s Angels.

Demi and Philip had come to watch, and the facilities were brilliant for a busy mummy chasing after a 21-month old while also supporting her husband before the race, trying to spot him on the finish lap (the start and finish of the race each include a lap round the stadium, which is great for spectators and – at the start – allows the field to sort itself out somewhat before moving on the more narrow paths) and trying to keep herself and said toddler entertained in the interim! Apart from the shelter of the stadium, there is a great choice of cafés and eateries surrounding it, as well as traffic-free areas where a toddler can run (which ours did a lot, especially during my warm-up drill). There was also a brass band practising in a tent before the race, which I can only assume kept the spectators company while we were running. While the race is moving next year, this is only by a couple hundred yards, so I expect no change to the available facilities around it.

An interesting fact which was announced to us at the start line was that there were more female runners registered to take part than male! Well done ladies, not sure when that was last the case! 

Derby 10 is also quite a “serious” event (and by this I mean well thought out and organised, rather than self-important and unfriendly, which it’s definitely not!), so all runners were placed in one of four waves depending on their expected finish time, with a 45” gap between each wave starting. This made perfect sense, especially on this course which narrowed gradually after leaving the start area and presented such a risk of bottlenecks.

There was just one drawback…

Wave 1 was made up of the self-declared fastest 459 runners of the field. With my anticipated finish time of 1 hour 15 minutes I was comfortably one of their number and was allocated race number 171 (from memory, I think that wave 1 was for runners with an expected finish of under 1 h 25′, but I may wrong). I left it reasonably late to take my place in my pen (not wanting to seem over-keen, but not wanting to tarry and make the organisers’ life any harder than it had to be either) and mingled with the other runners already there. Once we had all taken our place and mixed as tends to happen pre-race, I found myself in the second line, just behind the elites who were being presented to the crowd!

You can guess what happened next, can’t you? The gun went off, I crossed the start line within a second, and scores of faster runners rushed past me! I had expected this to happen, and had primed myself to take it easy, stick to my own pace and let whoever was faster get past in the lap around the stadium and then just get on with it.

Demi had waved me off within 100m of the start, when I was probably in the first twenty or so runners of the field. As we were coming to complete the lap I was significantly further back, despite me getting carried away and running faster than I had wanted to. I’m not sure why, but I minded that they would see me to have “lost” so many places, even if I my goal (to the extent I had one) was to be in the top third of the 1,530-strong field, not the top 20!

We ran next to river Derwent, through a park and back out to the river: I was still running faster than I wanted to (by 15” – 21” per km or 24” – 34” per mile), and there were still runners getting past me. I kept telling myself to chill, treat this like a half marathon and settle into a more sustainable pace. Then as the flow of runners dropped to a trickle another thought struck me: “that must be it, most of my wave must have gone through and now it’s the leaders of wave two catching me up, despite their 45” handicap!” I think I even tried to glance at some runners’ bibs to see if their race number was above or below number 459 so I could judge which wave they started in! Of course there was no chance of spotting the number pinned at the front of a runner as they run past you.

I am not sure why I got so preoccupied by this idea of being overtaken by runners in subsequent waves (in marathons I’ve both overtaken runners in the wave ahead and been overtaken by others from waves behind and not given it a second thought), but it really affected my race. I don’t know if it made me run faster or slower overall, but the first half certainly was fast, which resulted in a noticeable positive split of 9” / km or 14” per mile. It also made the race less enjoyable, as I had to contend both with maintaining an uncomfortable pace and slipping down the field despite it!

It was only in the second half of the race that I overtook anyone, and I don’t think it was more than a handful in total. And that didn’t stem the flow of people passing me, either. There was one person in particular who I could hear approaching me from a distance in the latter stages of the race (it must have only been two or three miles to go): I kept my line and pace and determined that if he was going to gain the place (which he obviously was), he’d at least have to work for it: we ran close for a while, he catching me on the up of the small inclines of the course, me edging ahead a little after them, until he pulled up along side: he was one of those tall, athletic types, wearing a compression top and sporting a shaved head: the image that comes to mind when you think “runner” (or at least “male runner”). We ran alongside each other for a bit longer, exchanged a few words commenting on our pace (we agreed we were both pushing a bit harder than we had planned to, which made me feel a bit better) till he slowly began to pull ahead. 

I kept him in sight till the end though, and somehow the thought that I was contending with someone quite athletic made me feel a bit better: equally stupid as worrying about waves, because I’ve been running long enough to know that you can’t judge a runner by how they look!  Obviously my head was not in the right place that day!

I was still puzzled by my preoccupation about which wave people around me had started in, but before long the stadium came into view, and my pace became a tiny bit brisker for the loop around it before the line (I had kept hardly anything in reserve for the end): I spotted Demi and Philip cheering with one lap to go, gave them a wave and was overtaken for the last time on the curve leading to the back straight: that flipped my competitive switch from “Preoccupation” to “Fun”, I tracked him as well as I could on the back straight and broke into a sprint coming out of the curve and into the final straight: I think that final dash was the only part of the actual race that I truly enjoyed! 

For the record, my finish time was 1 h 13′ 05” (chip) and I came in position 172 of 1,242: 6 of the runners ahead of me were from latter waves, which means that I was ahead of 293 runners of wave 1. 

I also finished (by gun time) one second behind the guy who looked like a proper runner, and two seconds ahead of the guy I regained the position from, who looked more like me (and who is also Greek, as the results later revealed). Although on chip time, the runner proper and I were tied at 1h 13′ 05”, while the Greek runner finished 10” ahead of us! Goes to show…

I collected my medal, met up with Demi and Philip and we went back into the stadium for the t-shirt, goody bag, a massage and sausage roll! By then I had forgotten all about my absurd preoccupation about waves and was happy for having done better that expected. Then all of a sudden and as I was laying myself on the massage bed, letting my muscles relax and my mind empty, an ancient image bubbled up to my consciousness:

I am 11 years old, in my last year of primary school and our class (year 6), together with year 5 are marching up and down the road in front of our school in a suburb of Athens. We are practising our parade for the celebrations of the start of the 2nd World War (yes, in Greece we still have school parades, and we celebrate wars starting rather than ending: probably because most wars we have got involved in start in drunken glory and end up with us killing each other, and even Greeks know there’s nothing to celebrate about a civil war…).

Years six and five parade together, in two columns, boys in the column ahead and girls in the one behind (yep!) Both columns are sorted by height, and as I was short for my age (still am, but no longer to do with age!) I am placed in the penultimate line of our column, surrounded by boys in year 5, and way behind my own friends and peers.

I remember minding that quite a bit at the time. As did my granddad (who had fought in the war), when I told him.

But I’m obviously much older, wiser and over it now.

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