Monday, September 10, 2012

Compare and contrast, U.S. vs U.K. road race (Witney 10)

I am getting tired of running by myself all the time, as it is much harder to maintain a good pace by myself than when I am running with someone else. When I saw that there was a 10-mile race nearby on Sunday, I decided to jump in and run it for my long run. Happily, there was a bus that took me to within a half-mile of the race, and it only cost £12 (about $20) to enter.

Things that were the same as road racing in the U.S.:
- I registered, paid, and picked up my bib number
- people warmed up and lined up, the gun went off, and we raced
- the miles were clearly marked, with volunteers at intersections, water stops, and some spectators
- I got a tech T-shirt
- They eventually ran out of smalls and mediums
- prizes were awarded for top finishers in various categories

A sign I saw as I was barreling down a hill midway though the race
(I did not take this picture, but the sign was just like this one.)

Things that were different from road racing in the U.S.:

- T-shirts were for finishers, not entrants: you got one just after finishing the race, next to the water table

- There were no free post-race refreshments! The PTA was selling baked goods, and you had to pay for them. I paid £1.50 ($2.50) for a large homemade granola bar, because I had just run 15 miles and I needed to eat something. I asked another runner about this, and she said she has almost never been to a race that gave out free food afterwards. Note to self: BYOPRP (bring your own post-race picnic).

- The people running were called Men and Ladies

- Women's age categories were Senior Ladies, V35, V45, and V55; men's were Senior Men, V40, V50, V60. Notice how they are not the same. I don't know if that is peculiar to this race, or true in general.

- There was no parking lot ("car park") near the school, so they directed people to use a car park literally about a mile away. We had to walk past the bus stop, through a field, over a river and past a new development of a former blanket factory made into apartments (Witney was once the Blanket Capital of the World), to get to the car park. When the parking is that far away in the U.S., they have a shuttle (or pick a different race HQ that does have parking).

Pretty much everyone in the race was a club runner, wearing either a white singlet with a horizontal yellow and blue stripe, or a yellow singlet with a horizontal navy stripe, etc. for the local running clubs. I took home the first page of the results, and in the top 50 there are only four people who didn't put down a UKA club affiliation -- though some put down a team for which they are the only person, as I did: New Balance Boston. This race doubled as the Oxford 10-mile championship, so at the end of the awards, the top teams received medals.

As for the race itself, it was extremely hilly. There was a warning to this effect on the web site, so I was anticipating a tough, hilly course, but it exceeded my expectations in this regard. I also looked at the course elevation profile, and noticed that it was basically uphill until mile 4 and then downhill thereafter. "Uphill until mile 4" was accurate, but it was not downhill thereafter. It was full of steep little  hills all the way to the end.

Here you can see the very hilly elevation profile from my awesome GPS watch, and my associated fast-beating heart rate, over 180 most of the time:

The other thing about the race that is similar to races in the U.S. is that despite finishing second female (excuse me, "lady"), my prize was less than my entry fee. I paid £12 to enter and I won a £10 gift certificate to the Oxford running store. Now admittedly, I was fortunate to win anything, and if I had entered by mail it would have cost me only £10, so I would have broken even, and also I got a T-shirt, which is worth at least £2. But still, I was a bit surprised by the smallness of the gift certificate.

I believe that in any race, if you place in the top three, then the value of your prize should at least equal your entry fee. I believe that if you win the race, your prize absolutely must at least equal your entry fee.  However, like many races in the U.S., the Witney 10 did not satisfy my rule.

Oh yeah, the actual race. I had some desire to win the race, so I went out right behind the first woman (Sophie) with another woman (Nikki) right behind me. As we started to climb a steep hill, I realized that I was running too hard for a 10-mile race, so I slowed down and Sophie ran away. She would finish 4 minutes ahead of me, so that was the right choice.

Nikki ran on my shoulder until a little before 3 miles, and then fell behind so I couldn't hear her anymore. I glanced back at 5 miles and she was nowhere to be seen. However, around 7-8 miles a spectator said, "Well done ladies, second and third ladies overall," and I was displeased to see that she had caught up to within about 20 meters! Maybe that was because I had been averaging about 6:45 pace. I ran hard down the next hill and looked back at 9 miles and she was far behind, and 30 seconds back at the finish. In the end, it didn't matter for the prizes because she was in the V35 category, but I still prefer to place second rather than third.

The last part of the race was running around a large grass field. It was torturous. The hills throughout the course were also rather tortuous. And the lack of food afterwards was highly torturous. However, I met some nice people after the race, two of whom offered to give me a ride back to Oxford (which I happily accepted), and I found out about a running club in the area, so I can run with them instead of running alone. I am happy to have had this experience of a local road race in England.

News article

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