Having taken part in it for the first time last year, I’m a big fan of the Cabbage Patch 10. The award-winning Cabbage Patch 10, this is: it won the Race of the Year (non-London Marathon edition) price in last year’s, er, prestigious Atters Goes Running Awards. So, to put it in a far less pretentious way, the Cabbage Patch 10 is one of my favourite races.
Because of that, I was quick to sign up for this year’s event – I did so months ago, not long after entries had opened. After all, this is an event that starts next to my office and runs past my house. It really is my local run, and one I didn’t want to miss out on.
That said, I didn’t actually know until quite recently that I’d actually be able to take part. In a classic case of ‘far worse problems to have’, I had to go to a work event in Shanghai, China last week (I’m not mentioning this just to show off, honest…), which involved flying on Sunday October 15 – the date of the 2017 Cabbage Patch 10.
In a classic case of good news/bad news, the company sorting the travel were unable to get us on the planned flight, a lunchtime British Airways departure that would have had me schlepping round Heathrow Terminal Five around the time I should have been pounding the streets of Twickenham, Kingston-upon-Thames and Richmond.
Instead, I ended up heading to Shanghai on a late evening Air France flight (with a quick stopover in Paris Charles de Galle). That meant I missed out on several hours of potential sightseeing time in Shanghai – but, brilliantly, meant I had plenty of time to take in the Cabbage Patch 10 before I’d have to leave for Heathrow.
So, at 10am last Sunday, I found myself in the huddle of runners massed on Church Street in Twickenham, waiting until being called onto the High Street for the 10am start. It was an utterly beautiful day for it, with weather than felt more like late summer than mid-October. If anything, it might have been a little too warm for the conditions – but complaining about the heat in October seems like an utterly, utterly churlish thing to do.
As with last year, the race was brilliantly organisers, wonderfully well marshalled and superbly run. As with last year, my local knowledge seemed to help, complete with the novelty of running literally past my front door at the halfway point. And, as with last year, I probably got suckered into going a little bit fast in the early part of the race, paying for that slightly in the second half.
My least favourite part of the Cabbage Patch 10 – in fact, the only part I don’t like, really – is the artificially steep rise from Richmond riverside up to cross Richmond Bridge. It involves a short, sharp climb that just utterly breaks your rhythm and really makes your legs ache. As with last year, I made it up, but it broke my stride and I dropped a chunk of time over the next mile or so trying to regain my pacing.
That slight pace dip contributed to me feeling ‘happy-but-a-little-frustrated’ at the finish of a race, for the second week in a row. The weekend before this year’s Cabbage Patch 10, I’d come within seconds of breaking my half-marathon PB on the Royal Parks Half. On the Patch I was eight seconds slower than I’d been the previous year – when I’d set my ten-mile PB.
Two weeks. Two races. Two PBs missed by a combined total of 11 seconds or so. Boo.
Still, it’s churlish to complain when the margins are that tight, and when the races are so fun and well organisers. And, heck, you can’t really complain about missing a PB by eight seconds when, for several weeks, I didn’t think I’d actually be able to take part.
Plus, it meant I slept extra-well on that overnight flight to Shanghai…
One of the fun things about taking part in races is the chance to run in places you might never otherwise visit. Just this year alone, I’ve raced around a agricultural research facility in Kent, along a river trail near the town of Ware (Ware? Where? etc), and up a ridiculously steep Cornish hill.
But sometimes, it’s quite fun to do a race somewhere you know pretty well. So this weekend I stuck close to home and competed in the Cabbage Patch 10, which started and finishes in Twickenham. It’s a race with a pretty storied history (it dates back to 1982, and previous winners include some bloke called Mo Farah…) – and I know pretty much every inch of the ten-mile course.
Every inch? Oh yes. Consider the following (a working knowledge of the geography of the London Borough of Richmond-upon-Thames will help you here, but the point should be clear enough if not):
The Cabbage Patch 10 is named after a pub called – surprise! – the Cabbage Patch. It’s the pub located right next door to my office in Twickenham.
The race starts in Twickenham town centre, and the first mile or so of the course is down a road that follows the course of the River Thames to Teddington Lock – the road I walk along to and from work every day.
When it nears Teddington Lock, and the footbridge I walk across every day, the race passes the old Teddington Studios site, where my office used to be based (it’s now a big pile of rubble, soon-to-be stupidly overpriced luxury flats).
After that, the race heads follows the course of the Thames down to Hampton Wick – home of a curry house I used to frequent on a depressingly regular basis in my portly pre-running days.
Shortly after Hampton Wick, the route crosses the Thames on Kingston Bridge, passing through Kingston-upon-Thames, the nearest big shopping area to my home.
It then follows the other side of the river back up to Ham, using roads and footpaths I run along most weeks. At half-distance the race hits Riverside Drive in Ham, a long road with a big, wide footpath which I run along at least a couple of times a week.
At one point in Ham, the Cabbage Patch 10 route literally goes past my bedroom window. Like, right past. Like, look across and think ‘I could still be in bed there’ close.
From there, the route passes Ham House and heads up to Richmond-upon-Thames on roads I run and walk along frequently.
It then crosses Richmond Bridge, before moving back onto the River Thames towpath on the Twickenham side of the river – a section of footpath I use if I do an evening run from my office.
Finally, the race heads back to Twickenham – finishing back to the town I work in.
See? I don’t think there’s an inch of the ten-mile route I haven’t run, walked or driven along multiple times. It’s just a shame that my house if at the halfway point. If they could shift the start five miles or so, it would be perfect (for me, if nobody else).
That can be both a good and bad thing. On the negative side, that whole thing about familiarity breeding contempt can be true – it’s hard to distract yourself from the pain of pushing out a quick ten-miler by admiring the scenery when you know the scenery so well.
But on the plus side, local knowledge does help. I knew the bits of the course that were rough and smooth, the bits of the course where there were likely to be puddles and mud, and the painful place where there were sharp turns or sudden steep inclines.
And it would seem that familiarity paid off. I set myself a target pace that matched my previous quickest ten-mile PB, and tried to discipline myself to sticking to it early on when I could have gone faster. There was a bit of a late-race wobble just after Richmond Bridge – the sharp slope from the river path to cross the bridge was a leg-aching jolt that really broke my stride – but I kept to it and was able to put in a strong sprint finish (using my local knowledge not to start my push on side street with a treacherously broken-up pavement).
The result? A new ten-mile PB – by full-on 30 seconds. Which was… great, but wholly unexpected. And encouraging, since a lot of that time came with a strong push in the final mile.
Was my quick time down to local knowledge, or just a fast, flat course and me rounding into ten-mile fitness at the start of my marathon build-up? Unknown.
But I’m convinced the local knowledge was a big help – not least because I knew exactly where in Twickenham town centre to go for a great post-run coffee and cake…
My hometown, Clevedon in North Somerset, is built on and around a big hill. I grew up living in a lovely house near the top of that hill.
My current home, the ultra-stylish* Richmond-upon-Thames suburb of Ham, is next to the River Thames. As long as you steer clear of nearby Richmond Park, Ham is basically flat.
I mention this because I took a trip back to Clevedon last weekend, and that meant the weekend’s long marathon training runs (ten miles Saturday, five Sunday) involved running up and down steep Clevedon hills. And running up and down hills hurts. It’s hard work.
Honestly, had I been forced to take on steep hills on a regular basis when I started my running kick two years ago, I don’t know I’d have stuck with it. Some genuine advice: if you’re starting out, find somewhere flat to run.
Running up a big hill saps the power from your legs amazingly quickly – and it can sap your willpower even faster. That happens when your lungs start to burn and your leg muscles begin to ache – and you look ahead to realise you haven’t even reached the steep bit yet.
And yet, that said… now I’ve been running for a few years, hills are a challenge. They’re an obstacle to be scaled, a proving ground of my stamina and willpower. I wouldn’t necessarily say I look forward to running up a steep hill, but… well… I look forward to the challenge of it. I think. Plus, apparently running up hills is good training.
It still hurts, of course. Running up a steep hill is going to hurt. And running up a steep hill is going to slow you down. But when I see a hill approaching, and run towards it excited by the challenge rather than daunted by the prospect – well, I’ll take that as a sign that I actually must quite like this running malarky…
*This may be an exaggeration