The first ‘proper’ race I ever entered was the Wedding Day 7k. As the name suggests, it takes place on a seven kilometre course. Even at the time, it seemed a slightly odd distance. But, as time passes, I’ve come to realise that it’s just downright unusual.
Years back, in the days before easy access to precise measurement equipment, online race comparison websites and the like, races were all sorts of strange distances. It largely depended on what course organisers could carve out of whatever roads, trails or paths they could get access to.
But, in the increasingly homogenised and standardised modern world, events have become far more standard in distance. Generally speaking, the vast majority of events are run over a handful of particular race lengths – 5k, 10k, 10-mile, half-marathons and marathons.
On, balance, that’s common sense. Those distances give people a good idea of the effort required to train for and complete in any given event, and it also makes it possible to compare progress on different races in different places at different times.
But that theory doesn’t entirely hold. No two race courses are the same: just think of the variation possible in both elevation changes and surface, for example. My best 10k race time was set on the virtually flat, wide Tarmac of Castle Combe Race Circuit. I can’t really compare the time I set there to my times on the Richmond Park 10k, which takes place on a hilly, mixed surface course.
But, most importantly, races of unusual distances are fun. They offer variety, something a bit different. And, frankly, the races I’ve competed in over unusual distances have been some of the most fun. I don’t think that’s coincidence: it seems the races organisers who persist with non-standard event distance races are the most proud of their events, and their history. The Wedding Day 7k is a great example. Another was the Treggy 7, a seven-mile trek in Cornwall featuring a great big, whopping hill.
Here’s another: last weekend I competed in the Lidl Kingston Breakfast Run. It features three different distances, and none of them are standard: you can take your pick from 8.2, 16.2 and 20.1 miles.
The distance stems from the course: it’s effectively a loop of the River Thames towpath and nearby roads from Kingston-upon-Thames down to Hampton Court Palace and back. The 8.2-milers do one loop, the 16.2 runners do two (a slight shortcut on lap two accounts for the fact it’s not quite double), while the 20.1-mile runners add an extra mini-loop early on.
Interestingly, the course is virtually the same one I’ve done several other runs on – the Hampton Court Palace Half-Marathon, and the Kingston 10 Miles. Those races add in extra loops and twists to make up standard distances, so the Kingston Breakfast Run organisers could do the same, but they choose not to. Excellent.
Now, the distances aren’t entirely random: the run is frequently used as a training effort for people tackling spring marathons such as London, with plentiful pacers to help people round in particular times.
Since I’m not doing this year’s London Marathon (boooo!), I just did it for fun. For fun? Yup. And on very little training too. Fun. Little training. So I did the 8.2-mile distance, right? Nah… I was planning to, but when I went to sign up, it was only a few pounds more to double my mileage… so the 16.2-miler it was.
Well, it’s only a few miles more than a half-marathon, right? Well, yes, except I’d only run further than 10k a few times since I finished the Houston Marathon back in January. And it was only a week or so before last weekend I really comprehended that, at 16.2-miles, the Kingston Breakfast Run would be the third-longest race I’d ever do.
But, strangely, I didn’t feel all that much pressure. Because it’s not like I had anything to compare the race to. I didn’t have a 16.2-mile PB, and it’s not like I’m going to tackle many of them – unless I return to the Kingston Breakfast Run again (hint: I will). With the inability to compare my time to pretty much anything else, I found myself free to experiment a bit more.
As a result, I set out at something approaching my half-marathon PB pace, with the intention to see how long I could keep that pace up past 13.1 miles. It’s certainly not a tactic I’d use on a marathon, when I’d be determined to run at a pace I felt I could sustain. But on this event, I felt free.
So off I went at my half-marathon pace, and yes, I did predictably struggle in the final few miles when the pace, and my lack of training, began to tell. But I didn’t mind all that much, and I just concentrated on having fun.
If nothing else, doing a 16.2-mile race was a good challenge: it pushed me on from a half-marathon, but without the sheer pain and effort required to do a full marathon.
Which is why I love unusual race distances: they don’t just become another 10k, 10-miler or half-marathon. They’re challenges in their own right. They’re events you can do for the challenge and fun of doing them.
Oh, and in the case of the Kingston Breakfast Run, there was also an awesome goody bag, courtesy of Lidl. Among other things, it featured peanut butter, a bag of seeds, peppermint tea, and shower gel. What more could you want? (If the answer was muesli, then don’t worry: there was also muesli).
A mug. Yup, instead of a medal you get a mug.
— James Attwood (@Atters_J) March 26, 2017
As noted in the past, I’m a big fan of events that hand out non-medal-based finisher rewards. It’s a nice point of difference that makes them stand out. A bit like having a race that takes place over an unusual difference.
As you may have noticed from my previous post, taking part in the Ware 10-mile race this weekend was an excuse for me and a few friends to spend a whole seeking making Ware/where gags. Even we were had to admit the joke was Ware-ing thin (sorry…) by the end of the weekend.
So it was probably a fitting revenge for my continued overuse of the ‘joke’ that I spent much of the first half of the Ware race trying to work out Ware (really sorry…) exactly on the course I was. And the moral of the story: always play close attention to both the course map and route description.
The weekend trip to Hertfordshire started with my third attempt at the Panshanger parkrun, which I completed in a thoroughly decent 12th place in 20m 26s. That was seven seconds slower than my first – and fastest – effort at the course, but I was still pretty happy.
The rest of the day was spent touring Hertfordshire, making Ware gags (‘Ware are we going tomorrow?’, repeated ad infinitum), and eating, er, savoury waffles and Mexican street food. Ideal pre-race dining, clearly: I’m sure I’ve read in a ten-mile training guide that waffles and Mexican are perfect for the day before a run. Really. Honestly.
Okay, I made that last bit up.
I’m moving on now. Moving on? To where? Yes, exactly, to Ware.
Sorry. I really will stop this soon. I promise.
The Ware 10 Festival featured both a 10k and ten-mile race. I knew bits of the route that pass through The Meads between Ware and Hertford, and I tried to get a gauge of the rest of the route by studying the map on the website, and even watching the helpful video the organisers stuck on YouTube.
Having looked at the map, I read the accompanying description of the route. It describes the run leaving the start (on the cricket ground next to the GlaxoSmithKline site in Ware), and doing a loop to Hartham Common and back along the towpath. I missed this bit near the finish: ‘This is then repeated before returning back to the GSK cricket ground’.
In other words, this race was a two-lapper.
Having missed that crucial information, I set off from the GSK cricket ground on a murky, muggy day, and hit the first challenge: two big steep hills in the first two miles. They were at least followed by decent downhill sections, but they still burned up the legs.
Before long, I was passing some of the tail of the 10k race, and found myself heading through Hartham Common and onto the towpath heading from Hertford to Ware. Since I’d somehow though the course I’d seen was a singular ten-mile loop, I was on my way back to Ware far sooner than expected. And then I saw a board that read ‘eight miles’.
I suddenly began to panic: had I missed a turn for the ten-mile race? Had I missed the point where I split from the 10k route? Was I somehow on the wrong course? For a good three-quarters of a mile or so, I was in a bit of a panic – until I finally spotted a marker board that read ‘four miles’.
Okay, calm down – I was on the right route. Which left me confused about exactly Ware, I mean, where (really sorry…) I was going.
It was only when I got back to the edges of the GSK site at Ware that I began to realise exactly where I was going: for a second lap around the course I’d just done.
Which was, in itself, not a problem. It was a lovely pleasant route, and two-lap races are quite useful in that you know better where you can push and attack on the second loop. But I also knew it meant tackling those two long uphill stretches again – and after I’d topped the second one I’d somehow convinced myself the rest of the race would be relatively flat.
I was quite a bit slower up the hills the second time around. That could be because, knowing how much they would hurt with tired legs, I was a bit Ware-y of them.
Sorry. Really sorry.
The hills definitely sapped the power, and I was quite a bit slower in the second half of the race than the first. That meant I dropped off the time I’d hoped to achieve, and given my 1h 09m 41s was enough for 18th place out of 244 runners I can’t exactly complain.
Still, it did prove a valuable lesson: when you’re doing a run, it’s important to know exactly Ware you’re going.
Before the race, on our way to Ware, me and my friends agreed that we’d thoroughly worn out the Ware gags, and decided on a moratorium of them at the end of race day. Which, I promise you, I will now heed. So the Ware gags will finish with this post. And not return.
But I would happily return to the Ware 10 Festival. It was one of those really enjoyable club runs, which a bunch of largely friendly runners, and enthusiastic and helpful marshals and organisers. Oh, and a very purple finishers’ T-Shirt, plus a fabulous range of home-cooked cakes to choose from at the finish.
It’s definitely somewhere I’d go back to. Especially if I knew exactly Ware I was going in the race.
Sorry. That was the last one. Honest.