After clinching a PB the previous week in Clydebank, I’d felt a huge pressure had been lifted from my shoulders. Since I started training with Bellahouston Road Runners I certainly felt that my running had improved – I’d completed a fecking marathon for god’s sake. But, at the back of my mind I sought assurances that I was improving and the best indicator of that would be to beat my 2015 performances in the Polaroid Series.
After taking 43 seconds off my time at Helensburgh followed by 69 seconds off at Clydebank I had the satisfaction of knowing I had definitely improved. With the pressure off I was looking forward to race 3 of the Series – Dumbarton. Last year I had used this race to pace my friend Davy to a sub 53 minute PB so I knew that I’d be comfortable in surpassing that. However, this year I’d be the one being paced. I had company at Dumbarton in the shape of my boss Martin, a comfortable 42 minute 10k runner. After a few discussions about the race, he agreed to stick with me and that we would aim to achieve my big 10k goal for 2016 – a sub 45 minute effort. I was only 26 seconds shy of this in Clydebank 7 days prior so thought it was definitely worth having a go. However, I wasn’t putting myself under huge pressure to do it. Martin and I agreed that if either of us was to struggle then the other would kick on and run their own race.
We arrived in Dumbarton with just enough time to stretch and to drop some friends off at the pool. I fiddled with the virtual pacer and clocked in a 4 min 3o secs kilometre. We made our way to the start line and found a little pocket of space where we hoped we could start from and avoid getting boxed in early doors.
As with the previous two races, we were set on our way by Lachie Stewart, the 1970 Commonwealth Games gold medalist at 10,000m. We successfully managed to get away at a decent pace and aimed to stick to that pace. After being out for a few minutes I thought that my Garmin had been fairly quiet – generally it wouldn’t be slow in telling me that I’d either gone off too quickly and to hurry up and move my arse. But tonight, nothing. No matter, I carried on at a pace that felt good but hard.
Eventually, my watch beeped but only to alert me to the 1km marker that we were passing. 4 mins 36 secs – ok, not ideal but we weren’t hugely off target so no panic. I then realised that I hadn’t switched my pacer on at all after farting about setting up my desired pace. Shite. Maybe it wouldn’t be a bad thing to run by effort rather than by what a watch was telling me – this was the rational argument I was making to myself whilst inwardly panicking as I’d never raced without using the pacer function.
This blog I’ll spare the km by km rundown as quite simply it was a fairly consistent effort throughout. As each km was getting ticked off, the watch indicated that we were a few seconds either side of the desired 4 mins 30 secs pace. I was working hard and Martin was pulling me along quite nicely. I was passed by Bella coach Kevin, who was running a progressive 10k effort with each kilometre being faster than the previous – a really impressive sight on Strava after the race. A few words of encouragement and a nice compliment for my Clydebank blog – his arse just a blur in the distance before I had the chance to thank him for his kind words.
At this point I’ll skip to 7k. Martin was still running strongly and I was starting to struggle badly. Checking the watch I knew the chance to beat my week old PB was still a very realistic prospect but a negative mindset was starting to creep. “Aye very good, 45 minutes, kidding yourself on.” I was willing myself just to get to 8k then I knew I’d have less than 10 minutes of pain to go. It was at this point Martin’s leadership qualities began to shine through, “C’mon ya big bastard, move yer arse! You’ve got this!”
I was done, ready to drop the pace and be happy that I held out at a strong pace for three quarters of the race. My pacer was having none of it though. His nagging words of encouragement ringing in my ears. To be fair, it was because he knew sub 45 was still a genuine possibility – but only if I didn’t throw the towel in. At this point, my own stubbornness was beginning to kick in. Would I be happy with a new PB? Yes, I’d be delighted. Would I be kicking myself if I were to miss out on a sub 45 finish by only a few seconds? Aye, I’d be a bit miffed at that. I dug deep and willed my legs not to give up on me. They’d been turning over well all throughout the race, I hoped they’d see me through for the last two k.
With just less than 2k to go I shouted for Martin to kick on but give him his due, he stuck with me. He even dipped his pace slightly for me to catch up so he could pull me along the penultimate km. More words of encouragement – “You’ve got it if you want it, how much do you want it?” I decided that I’d lose any modicum of self respect I had if I answered this question honestly. Basically, I didn’t want to say the words “Oh yes, I want it. I want it so badly” whilst panting next to another grown man. The nagging continued, “I know you want to punch me just now but you’ll thank me later.” “Martin, if I had any feeling in my legs I’d boot you in the balls right now.”
Into the last km, and a sub 45 minute finish was in the balance. I was hurting but knew that in less than five minutes time I would be done. “C’mon, let’s pick it!”, Martin urged. I tried. I couldn’t. Another shout of encouragement – “Get those legs open!” I resisted the urge to reply with “I bet you say that to all the girls.” Mainly because I couldn’t speak for breathing so hard. Although, I knew what he was meaning. I was desperately trying to length my stride but it just wasn’t happening. Thankfully, I did manage to pick up the pace ever so slightly as the finish line came into sight.
I heard a shout from my pal Del, who had probably finished in something ridiculous like 13 minutes. I managed to give him the least convincing thumbs up ever.
A quick check of the watch, I was into the 44th minute. This was like Man Utd in the Neu Camp in 1999 all over again. If we were going to pull it out the bag, it had to be now. Martin picked up his pace and I managed to raise mine. Give it everything, if there’s nothing left in the tank at the end and I fell short then I could have no regrets. There was no strong sprint finish like there had been in Helensburgh and Clydebank. This was a case of getting myself over that finish line no matter what state I looked. And looking back on the race day pics – I didn’t look particularly heroic.
I’ll make a confession here. As I closed in on that finishing line, some sort of involuntary noise left my mouth. I’d like to think it was a roar. I really hope it was a roar. But I’m pretty sure that it was pretty similar to the noise my dad makes when he tries to get out of the armchair he’s been wedged into for the last five hours whilst watching At The Races.
It was over, we’d crossed the line and managed to stop my watch as I finished. And there it was, 44 minutes 53 seconds. It was the slimmest of margins but I didn’t care in the slightest. It was sub 45. My main aim for 2016 achieved in the first half of the year. I was absolutely delighted. I was also feeling pretty dehydrated and wanted to throw up.
Another great race in the Polaroid Series was completed and we shared congratulations with friends, team-mates and fellow club runners. King of the blogs, Mark had picked up another PB. His account of Dumbarton 10k can be found here
On the way back to Glasgow, Martin and I talked about the next goal. Naturally, it has to be sub 44, which is fine. And although he’s quite keen for me to give it a shot ASAP and not rest on my laurels, I’m quite happy to dine out on this for a wee while longer. He should understand this – he’s a Celtic fan. They’ve dined out on Lisbon for nearly 50 years – I don’t plan on leaving it that long!