04 July 2009

Sunny Afternoon

The Compton Canter is billed as a 10K Fun Run on some pieces of paper advertising it, a 10K race on others: but despite the highly impressive organisation (Compton Harriers are amazingly adept at putting on races: any club that can manage to stage a 40 miler deserves immense respect), when the 9K sign is accompanied by another saying "300 yards to go" it's not just the mixture of SI and Imperial units that is open to criticism. (If I misread it and it did say "metres", my apologies.) Strange, as most of the people involved seemed to be scientists (with Harwell just up the road, and the Institute for Animal Health being a major part of the village - with its own anual run, incidentally, round the boundary of its site).

The race is part of the annual village fete, which no doubt dicates a start time of 2pm - exactly the wrong time to be starting to run in July, but Thame last week was good preparation. The course climbs out of the village along the track that the Downland Challenge uses to descend to the finish of the first loop, and after following a bit of the Ridgeway drops down along the track that 40 mile candidates use to start their second loop (and which I ran a couple of months ago in the course of my Marathon preparation). Two water stations (how Thame Runners were criticised for laying on only one last weekend!), although in fairness to Thame there is a difference between their 1000 strong field and the 50 who ran this afternoon at Compton. Yes, all that hard work and meticulous organisation, the water stations well away from human habitation or metalled roads, and the myriad marshalls, was all to enable fifty of us to have a race. And I had worried about registering before the 200 limit was reached (particularly after seeing a guy with a number over 200 when I parked the car: but they started with 200, it turned out).

The first water station was at 3K, where the marshal announced to us all that we were nearly at the top. Round a bend and out of the wood where his water station was set up, it became apparent just how misleading that statement was. OK, we only had perhaps 400 metres climbing to do, but in that distance we would approximately double the elevation gain from the start. Several runners who'd passed me - for some reason they seemed reluctant to take up front-row positions at the start, leaving me to line up next to the eventual winner - could be seen walking up the hill. I put my head down and attacked it, hitting 174 bpm just after the summit, and passing one runner into the bargain.

After that summit, we followed a familar part of the Ridgeway. I heard someone coming past: it was a guy I hadn't previously overtaken. "What age group are you?" I demanded. "40", he said, so I told him he could go. Later another appeared along side me, and n response to the same question revealed that he too was MV50. "I've got to race you", I said apologetically, and stepped up my pace. He suggested that there must surely be another MV50 ahead of us, and I told him I thought there might be but I was not sure. As it happened there was, but not the competitor I had in mind.

We took a rough path downhill alongside some racehorse gallops, though a field of oats (following an official path, but they are still pretty scratchy) where I closed right up to the 40+ guy again before finding I couldn't quite maintain the pace and letting him go again. I'd heard someone behind me after the 6.5K water station and wanted to get well clear of them, which I must have managed to do, but there was no way I was going to get ahead of the youngster in front. As we reached the outskirts of the village another competitor drew level, but I wasn't going to let him through, and when I lengthened my stride to put in a fast last mile or so he fell away. And of course the last mile or so was rather less anyway - as little as half a mile, I suppose.

I failed to win one of the prizes on offer, being about a minute and a half adrift of the first MV50 who actually looked much, much younger - not a grey hair on his head! Mr Garmin told me 44:07, not a bad 10K time especially on multi-terrain (but nearly all tracks, some gravel, some grass, some deeply rutted) - but of course it was nearly half a mile short: still, I'm not at all unhappy with the time. The official time will be a little longer (I can't remember what it was) because I did pause to take water.

There were prizes for the first three men, first three women, first 40, 50 and 60 in each sex (and I think a special for the first 70+ man when they discovered there was one), and also for the first male and female Compton residents. That is something I have seen at other localised events, and it's a nice touch. However, when all the runners in the village are out on the course marshalling or officiating at the start and finish, the competition is slightly distorted - the first (and only) local man was about 40th, and the first local woman was last. From what I heard her saying she hadn't been running long, and I hope this modest incentive will help her to even greater achievements! The unfortunate 50+ rival who had thought he'd passed me was kind enough at the finish to compliment me on my competitiveness, though I fear I spoilt his race a bit, and it's not as if there was much at stake - even if I hadn't been wrong about the guys ahead of us, a bottle of red wine isn't really worth fighting about.

The organisers issued a plea for those of us who had turned out to bring some others along next year. It's a mystery why there should have been so few, although Reading Roadrunners were quite well represented and there also seemed to be a few White Horse Harriers and Newbury AC people. Well, maybe someone will read this and feel inclined to turn up next year. At just £5, including on-the-day penalty, with the fete thrown in for free (some nice classic cars, and a good secondhand book stall where I managed to spend the single pound coin in my pocket, on Roy Jenkins's biography of Churchill - worth a quid of anyone's money), and a very scenic if slightly demanding course, it makes a great summer afternoon out.

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