Running a 10k race

Posted on: 30 November 2022

I ran my first Half Marathon in February this year and loved it. For one reason or another, it’s taken me a while to book my next race, but last month I committed to running Brighton 10k.

I’ve always liked the 10k distance. It’s a good barometer of fitness and a good chance to push for a PB. At the same time, it doesn’t require months of training so is an accessible race for many. I inadvertently set a 10k PB in May of this year on the trails around Burgess Hill. I didn’t set off with the intention but felt good after a few km and pushed myself. I was really happy to finally run a sub-45 10k.

With some good, consistent training since then (save for a bout of Covid in June) and a string of improving Parkruns, I was confident on a nice flat course of running sub-44 minutes in a race. So when I saw Brighton Athletic Club were putting on their annual 10k race in November, I jumped at the chance.

Prep leading up to race day was good. A few long runs, a few tempo ones and a strong Fartlek session for some speed work. I was really excited in the week leading up to it. Not so long ago, I never thought I’d be one of those people that looks forward to pretty intense physical exercise, but here we are!

The night before I started getting some cold symptoms. My daughter had just gotten over a cold and I was pretty worried I might have caught it. I went to bed that night with some trepidation. And that, coupled with usual pre-race nerves, meant I had pretty awful sleep that night.

I woke up on the Sunday with a Garmin-reported body battery of 35. The optimal is 100. Fortunately, on the illness scale, I didn’t feel too much worse than the night before, and quickly went about my morning routine before the family woke up. Porridge, kit on, bag packed, double checked. And out the door! 8.05 train to Hove for a 9.30 start.

It drizzled the whole walk to the station, but I was happy to be out and on my way. I had my waterproof layer on, and could see signs of brightening up. My mood was buoyant. No issues changing at Brighton for Hove, and I as I started the pleasant mile and a half walk to the seafront from the station, I was feeling grateful and excited for the race.

It felt a bit odd turning up on my own. But there was a great hubbub on the seafront of runners and support and everyone seemed happy and raring to go. There was still a chill in the air and I knew at some point I’d have to strip my 3 layers down to 1 and start warming up.

At around 9:10, with 20 minutes to go, I stripped down, dropped my bag off and shovelled down half a banana and some water. I ran a short warmup along the seafront, before joining the growing crowd on the start line with 5 minutes to go. I wasn’t going to be late for this one like I was for the Half Marathon! Hoping for a fast start, I positioned myself quite near the front, just ahead of the 45-minute pacer.

My target was 4:21 splits. If I could maintain that I’d be on for a finishing time of 43:30. I was feeling optimistic. This also gave me a bit of leeway for a sub-44’ if I tailed off at the end. As the seconds ticked down to the start, the pack started shuffling forward. It was at this point I somehow lost track of the 45-minute pacers. It was a quick start, with the usual rush of adrenaline you get when the gun goes off.

I soon realised the 45-minute pacers had got out in front of me, and had a big group of runners swarmed around them. My aim was to always stay ahead of the pacers, that way I knew I was at least on the right side of 45 minutes. I had a bit of catching up to do, and as the first kilometre sign came into view, I was up with the pack and had clocked a first split of 4:17 - a bit quick!

My heart rate was high - mid 160s - but I felt strong and my running effortless. A perfect mental state to be in during a race. The 45-minute pacers had gone out a bit quick, and as they settled into their pace, I confidently emerged from the pack, eyeing up the next group of runners and trying to calculate what pace I wanted to settle into myself.

The second kilometre featured a 180-degree turn, coming back on ourselves and onto the Kingsway in Hove. The wind was behind me at this point and I kept true with the pace that had served me well for the first kilometre. I clocked another 4:17 kilometre as we ran past the second marker. Heart rate a little high (approaching 170), but still feeling good.

I decided at this point 4:17 was not a manageable pace to maintain for the entire race, so for kilometres 3 and 4 I backed off slightly, clocking 2 4:19s. It takes a lot of discipline to back off your pace when you’re feeling good, but even with the relatively short distance of 10k, it’s important to not empty your tank too early.

Feeling good around the 3rd kilometre marker

By the end of kilometre 4, and as we approached the Palace Pier, the crowds were louder and the support greater. There was a bit of a shimmy onto Madeira Drive and it was at this point I started to see the elite runners coming back in the other direction. Sometimes, this can be demoralising, but today it spurred me on. My 5th kilometre was a fast one: 4:16. My heart rate was pushing mid-170 now. I was attempting some quick mental maths on finishing times if I could maintain this pace. I was beginning to dream of sub-43’.

I wasn’t overly familiar with the course and couldn’t remember where the turn back to Hove occurred. Luckily, it seemed to come along quick, just before Duke’s Mound. I instantly regretted my haste in reaching that checkpoint, as my fellow runners and I were greeted by a gust of wind as we rounded the cone to come back on ourselves.

I knew it was a little windy today, but hadn’t bargained on quite the level of resistance I was immediately faced with. The reason for the fast first 5k became clearer at this point! I took on some fluids out of a cup - not an easy procedure running at the speed we were. With a combination of the hairpin, the wind and the hydration, I clocked my slowest split for the 6th kilometre of 4:20.

The 7th kilometre was a struggle. It was the most uphill part of the race (albeit marginally), and I felt annoyed with myself that I hadn’t accounted for the wind in the second half. I was slowly overtaking other runners, but could feel the drag of the wind and my form becoming more lethargic. I don’t remember a lot else about this kilometre, other than receiving a slow pace alert from my watch; I’d dipped under 4:30/km pace.

According to my GPS data, my pace took a big drop just past the pier, towards the end of the 6th kilometre. I don’t really remember this, so it could’ve been a GPS anomaly, but as I hit the 7th kilometre marker, my watch informed me of my slowest split yet: 4:28. This was the kick I needed to knuckle down and find my target pace again.

I didn’t really notice my average pace at this point, so I didn’t know if sub-23 was still on. But I was head-down and determined. Somehow during the 8th kilometre I miscalculated in my head and thought the next marker was 9. When I saw 8 I was a bit disheartened. But it was around here I overtook a gentleman who quickly caught up with me again. We were matching pace and overtaking people together. He was friendly and encouraging and focussed my effort at a time when I needed it.

It’s funny, running, I felt during the race that he was spurring me on and getting the best out of me. But after finding the man on Strava afterwards and exchanging a few words, from his perspective it was the opposite. I think we just found each other at the right part of the race and brought out the best in one another. It was a real blessing.

Running with my partner around 8.5k in. He's looking fresher than me!

The 9th kilometre was a strong one; 4:13, my fastest split yet. My confidence was starting to build again.

As we passed the 9km marker, my new friend spoke more words of encouragement: the wind was about to be in our backs. Indeed, a few paces later, we made a sharp left turn, followed by another, and we were back on the promenade making our final ~800m dash to the finish line.

This stretch was tougher than I was expecting. I was in 4:00/km territory now, and praying I had enough in the tank to maintain this to the finish. As the finish line came into view, I returned some brief words of encouragement to my partner: “Big final push now”. To my surprise, he told me to run on, and this was all the motivation I needed. With 250m to go I started my charge.

According to Strava, I crossed the finish line at a 3:20/km pace, which is pretty staggering. I was sprinting. There are few more powerful feelings than having it in you to sprint the finish of a race. I finished just as the clock ticked over 43 minutes, so I was reasonably sure that my chip time would be under 43 minutes. I was thrilled to see my Garmin reporting 42:52, and this was backed up shortly after by the official race text.

Me on the final stretch, sprinting for the finish line.

I was shot, but buzzing with endorphins and pride at smashing my 10k PB by almost 2 minutes. Not many free things in life beat that runners high.

I sought out my partner and we shared a quick embrace and word of congratulations, and swiftly went our separate ways. It was only looking at the photos and finishing times the day after did I see he’d finished mere strides behind me.

A huge thank you to the race organisers of the Brighton 10k. I thoroughly enjoyed myself and look forward to attempting to beat my time next year!