The phrase “winter warmer” for most people conjures up images of cosy log fires and hearty bowls of steaming hot, homemade soup but for me last Sunday it was all about taking on a challenging 10k course around the outskirts of Blackburn in anything but warm conditions.
This was my first attempt at the Blackburn Road Runners Winter Warmer 10k and so I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect other than the dreaded uphill test that is Buncer Lane. The race started at 11am and as I arrived at Witton Park at 10.15am the junior 2k race was just finishing. The facilities on offer were fantastic. Registration took place inside the Witton Park Arena building, within a minute of arrival I had collected my bib and timing chip and was chatting to other runners about what lay ahead and how long and steep Buncer Lane actually was.
Although there were over 600 runners, plus marshals, spectators, masseurs, the local mayor and a significant cake stall the indoor hall was spacious and allowed plenty of room to get yourself ready, drop off your bag and even do a few warm up sprints if you really wanted. Inside and out there were also plenty of toilets for those last minute pit stops, it has to be said though that some people still preferred a nearby bush, maybe they take the phrase “a call of nature” too literally. By gun time the sun had just managed to break through but it was far from warm and I was glad I’d opted for the long sleeve top and trusty runr snood.
The race started with a lap of the Witton Park athletics track which gave everyone a chance to fan out a little, listen to the band who were playing on the first bend and get warmed up properly before the real work started. Having completed the lap we exited the track out into the park itself and within 20 metres we were already running uphill. A word of recognition at this point should go out to the race organisers who had been out early and given the freezing conditions had gritted at various points on the course where it was sheltered and likely to be treacherous. The first hill led us out of the park and was a mere aperitif for the fun that lay ahead as we turned left onto the infamous Buncer Lane. I found a steady pace that I was comfortable with and kept my legs turning, some runners in front were already struggling and seemed like they were going backwards. I assume as a little tease part way up the lane the course took a left turn down a side street before a sharp incline, another side street and back onto Buncer Lane a little further up. At this point the gradient really went steep for what felt like an eternity but was probably more like 100 metres or so. We weren’t quite done with the climbing yet though as the road again rose up in front of us and so as I crested the next uphill section I asked a handily placed marshal if that was it for the climbing, he laughed and nodded to confirm I was out of my misery. Don’t get me wrong I like a test and I knew it was coming but I’d already done pretty much 3k of uphill running and my legs and lungs were starting to fall out with me.
The next part of the route was fast, straight and largely downhill through some lovely countryside, after enjoying myself along this section and letting the legs go there was a nasty sting as the course kicked up again around a sharp bend for a short burst near the 4 mile mark. I got the legs going and we then turned again and headed into the far end of Witton Park. The paths here were perfect to build up to a fast finish and even a short section over a field wasn’t too muddy as the overnight frost had kept the grass quite firm. I’d managed to keep the same group of runners in sight throughout most of the race and was determined to finish as close to the 45 minute pacer as possible. Having checked my watch he was just ahead of time but given the nature of the course it was impossible to keep an even pace throughout.
The closer the finish came the louder I could hear the race host/commentator calling out names as finishers came through. The Arena building finally came into view and I heard my wife and children calling my name as they stood waiting by the side of the track, we looped back round through the gate we had earlier passed through and ran a final lap of the athletics track in reverse to finish off.
The support from the crowd was fantastic, most of them were probably high on cake from the stall inside, but it gave all us runners that last boost as we took the final strides to the finish line.
The organisation at the finish was first class. The track had been divided in two to filter those running the last lap and those who had already come home. Finishers were able to catch their breath down the back straight and then collect the mightily impressive goody bag and medal. The bag, which was a quality fabric drawstring bag itself, included a banana, water, porridge bowl, SIS gel, trolley token and a commemorative mug, the medal too was a really nice bit of bling, all for a bargain entry fee of £15. Some of the larger races who charge an arm and a leg for entry fees could learn a thing or two here. An added bonus too is that nearly 3,000 photos have been shared via the race’s Facebook page, some of which I have included in this post, given the price for some race photo packages I think this is brilliant and I’ve loved scrolling through them and seeing the joy (and at times pain) on everyone’s faces as they went round. There was a also a club member I overtook early on who was running with a Go Pro so I am looking forward to seeing his footage. Before going home I also popped inside to bag myself a cake and it went down a treat that afternoon with my first brew in the new mug.
I didn’t actually check my time across the line until I reached my family as I was busy chatting to other runners about how much they had enjoyed the race. The 45 minute pacer slowed slightly as he came onto the track and I managed to pass him with around 300 metres to go so I knew I would be around that time, in fact I finished in 44 minutes 21 seconds, my fastest 10k race time ever. I was really chuffed with that given the nature of the course and the fact that I’d done a 15 mile training run on Friday night as well. A sub 45 minute 10k race had been an aim for 2018 and I have now achieved it twice already, I’m not far off a sub 44 minute time and realistically if I maintain my fitness and the race conditions fall into place I think I can reasonably hit that time before the end of the year.
Overall Sunday’s event left a fantastic impression on me, and from reading some Race Check reviews I wasn’t the only runner to have a great morning. Thanks once again to everyone at Blackburn Road Runners and their army of volunteers who worked tirelessly to make this event happen, when can I sign up for next year?