‘Love Running? Love the 30k’ was the message printed on the ribbon of the Stamford Striders St Valentines Day 30k race medal – some may say it’s a bold statement to make, but I have to say after my first experience of this event, I agree.
I am sure February 2020 will be remembered by most of the running community as a month of storms and strong winds, especially those in marathon training! The Stamford 30k itself is usually held on the Sunday closest to Valentine’s Day, however with Storm Dennis raging strongly, the event had to be postponed by one week. I did not originally have a place in the race (too slow to register before it sold out!), however the new date fell in my favour as a few spaces became available. I was really looking forward to my first race of 2020, especially with several friends from my running club also taking part, and even the warnings from a number of previous participants about the ‘hideously hilly’ course profile did not dampen my enthusiasm.
As race day arrived the wind still prevailed, and the forecast was for up to 40mph gusts – great! Rain also threatened, and on what was due to be a rather exposed rural route I began to think I could be in for a tough time! I travelled to the event with some friends from Run Club and we remained relatively relaxed though; we all were treating this event as part of our marathon training cycles, so not necessarily approaching it as an ‘all out’ race or chasing a particular time. The race start area, set at local school in Stamford, was a bustle of runners and it felt good to be back in that environment again. Our biggest debate was what to wear; it felt milder than of late, however the wind would be cooling, and if we got caught in heavy rain showers it would certainly add a chill factor.
After a busy week I welcomed the 11am race start - which meant for a little bit of extra time in bed! – and as we huddle by the start line, the sun suddenly decided to shine boldly through the clouds. I already knew I was going to be too warm! As usual, it is only really when I am stood in the start pen that I begin to contemplate seriously my strategy for the race ahead of me; I never like to overthink it too much! I chatted to my friends and commented that I thought I could run between 8:20-8:30 min/mile pace, which would be steadier than a long, slow run pace but not too ambitious considering the weather and the course - although this would depend on how strong that wind really was and if the hills completely destroyed me!
The Stamford 30k course is indeed very rural and to be honest a lot of the course blurs into one in my mind; countryside roads and open landscapes. The hills however cannot be forgotten as they are pretty much relentless, constantly up and down with very small sections of flat in between. The wind was apparent, particularly in the first couple of thirds where it was either whipping from the side, or for a few a few miles, coming head on. It doesn’t sound like I would be ‘loving the Stamford 30k’ at this point, but I was, and my body felt strong against both the challenges.
Another factor which boosted my enjoyment of the race was running the whole duration with my friend from Run Club. We had not specifically planned to run together, but just slipped into a natural pace alongside one another, and we chatted almost constantly as we ticked off each kilometre marker. My friend had taken part in the event a couple of times before and as we neared the final few kilometres assured me we had beaten the worst of the hills by now. However, as I turned a corner to see another long climb looming on the horizon, I pointed and laughed ‘what about that one then?!’ This sums up the Stamford 30k, there are so many climbs it is virtually impossible to recall or remember each and every one of them!
As we hit the final couple of kilometres I was pleased with the strength I still felt in my body; at no point had I wanted to stop, give up, walk or thought I would not make it to the end. Weaving through some residential streets as we headed back to the school to finish, I enjoyed the shared sense of power between my friend and I. A marshal on a bike was also following us into the finish and his enthusiastic support towards us both (which almost bordered on the comically scary!) caused me to beam a huge smile across my face. The marshals on the entire course were all actually incredible and must be applauded for standing out in those conditions!
The final few hundred metres of the Stamford 30k is around the school field; it is a tough little test at the end and the uneven surface demands some concentration on tiring legs. The actual finishing metres were directly into the strong headwind; ensuring no sprint finish could be mustered! I headed toward the finishing mat still side by side with my friend and the commentator urged us on, trying to encourage one of us to beat the other. We were so in sync now though that even any attempt at a surge to the finish meant we crossed the line at the exact same point.
Reviewing my watch, I could see we ran an average pace of 8:23 min/mile, which for that course and in the conditions we were met with, I was very pleased about. The Stamford 30k was indeed an excellent training run, and my performance has given me confidence that my current endurance is developing well. Running with my friend certainly increased my enjoyment levels too, and being able to meet other friends from Run Club afterwards and share race stories also added to the experience. My favourite comment was from one of our members who said she never would have felt as good running that course if it had not been for the confidence hill sessions at Run Club had given her, which was really good feedback to hear.
Stamford 30k means I have my first race of 2020 under my belt, a new medal hanging on my medal board and a pretty cool long-sleeved finisher top to add to my running gear collection. I have started the year positively and I now look ahead to a few more evens I have scheduled as part of my London Marathon preparations - I do indeed love running.
Alice's Adventures In Running Land
Read about my adventures in running land...