Blackburn Road Runners Winter Warmer 10k – Race Review

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?

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Blackburn Road Runners – Winter Warmer 10k Preview

As I mentioned before in a previous blog one of my main aims for the year is to run more local races. Having really enjoyed the buzz of the East Lancashire Hospice 10k a couple of weeks ago, I signed up the following day for the Winter Warmer 10k organised by the Blackburn Road Runners club.

This will be another new race for me and I’m really looking forward to Sunday for a number of reasons.

Firstly the race starts and ends on the running track in Witton Park, I haven’t run on an actual proper track since I was at school, that’s over 20 years ago! Secondly the race is sold out apart from a handful of places the club have saved for on the day entries. I am starting to get to know some of the local running “faces” and despite not being affiliated to any club it is good to feel part of this community, hopefully one or two people I know will be there too to catch up with. The next reason for my pre-race excitement is the challenge the race will present. I have run numerous 10k races on various routes but I have never experienced anything like the infamous Buncer Lane. Blackburn Road Runners handily shared with me a shot of the route profile just so I know what I’m in for, yes it’s that bit below that looks like it’s vertical!!! The course is also on various terrain which again excites me.

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Finally I am excited about the finish, if the weather holds then there should be a decent crowd to cheer us home around the track, then there is the promise of cake stalls (say no more!) and last but not least the goody bag looks immense. Nice bag itself, fancy bling, porridge bowl and a commemorative mug, what more can you ask for?!

My only other decisions are around kit. At this time of year I like to wear long sleeve tops with shorts but I tend to train at night when it is colder anyway. I wore a short sleeve top for my last race and it was rather parky hanging around at the start but once I got going I was glad I didn’t have long sleeves on as it prevented a bit of overheating, I’ll take a check on Sunday morning and see what feels best.

Sunday will also see the retirement from competitive action of my first proper pair of running trainers. My faithful Nike Pegasus 33s have seen plenty of action in the last 12 months including my first marathon but I can’t ignore the fact that the sole has pretty much worn through at the front of them and they need to go to the great trainer retirement home in the sky (or at least be stashed in the loft just in case!). Not to worry I managed to bag myself another pair, albeit in different colours, in the January sales so I just need to start wearing them in.

Given the route profile I doubt a PB attempt is realistic on Sunday but all being well I’ll push as hard as I can and see what my legs have got, I’ll post a review early next week to let you know how I get on and if the beast that is Buncer Lane, the cake and goody bag live up to my expectations!

Pendle Running Festival 10k – Race Preview

As part of my marathon training I wanted to build in a few races to set myself small targets along the road to York and keep up with running in actual events with other runners rather than just training by myself as I do week in, week out.

This Saturday then it’s the Pendle Running Festival 10k for me. The race makes up one quarter of the festival which also features a half marathon, trail race and orienteering event all based out of the village of Barley at the foot of Pendle Hill. It is a relatively small local event which I chose because it is on my doorstep and it can challenge me.

Pendle Hill is an iconic local landmark and many people will have heard of it in relation to the Pendle Witch Trials of 1612, I also see it every morning when I open my bedroom curtains and it dominates the horizon in East Lancashire. I love the photo below I took a couple of weeks ago with the hill rising out of the surrounding landscape.

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Sunset over Pendle Hill

So as not to deter runners the race organisers describe the course as, “challenging yet scenic”. While the 10k is a road race and doesn’t take us up the hill itself, the route has over 800ft of ascent!!! Now I am a self-proclaimed lover of hills but I may have taken things one step too far this time. I’ll let you know if I agree with the organiser’s description or if I use some less flattering adjectives in next week’s review.

In all seriousness though I am looking forward to running. My marathon plan has on the whole started well and I’m banking some good miles but this shorter race with its testing course will give me the opportunity to push my limits and see what my legs can give me when called upon. The early forecast indicates a cool and overcast morning so hopefully it will come down to a test of man v course, rather than man v course v steaming hot weather.

If the weather does pick up though then I can always refresh and refuel myself post race with a new found favourite, gin and tonic cake, with a G&T on the side! I found the recipe on a friend’s blog, thanks Sophie, and I can highly endorse it, as can my wife and her friend, and my mother-in-law, who all sampled the cake and gave it a resounding thumbs up. The recipe is very simple to follow and the cake was super moist and really tasty.

Fingers crossed then that I survive Saturday, that I enjoy rather than endure the race and that the hills don’t get the better of me. One of the aforementioned Pendle Witches, Elizabeth Southerns, had a son, Christopher Holgate, and Holgate happens to be my wife’s maiden name, maybe I can ask to borrow her broomstick to fly up the climbs!