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220 Triathlon magazine’s Matt Baird reports on his second Runbristol Ashton Court 10k, where he finds that like in so many things in life, you get out what you put in.
It’s at the 5km marker of the Ashton Court 10k when the inconvenient truth finally catches up with me. Well, two inconvenient truths, actually. My lungs feel smaller than Jimmy Carr’s tax bill, I’m wheezing like Darth Vader on the turbo trainer and I’m ambling (power-walking would be too generous) up a hill that’s very fortunate to be called a hill. The truths? My days of winging it have gone. And having children is bad for your 10k splits.
Whether it’s laziness or my love of the finer things (minced beef, ale and sitting down) in life, the arguable strong point of my athletic ‘career’ to date has been perfecting the art of doing just enough to get to the finish line.
But with my twenties a hazy memory, chronic tendonitis in both knees being treated by painful/painfully expensive acupuncture and, since March, bottle feeding replacing bike riding, my base fitness has shrunk quicker than Phillip Schofield’s fanbase, and my race times have increased faster than my waistline (I’ve gained six minutes at 10km level, 10 minutes at sprint-distance triathlons).
A no brainer
As one of my 2011 season highlights (it didn’t involve 6am dips in the Thames and cycling 40km in 10°C wearing nothing but a leotard with a padded bottom, after all) and given the proximity to my house, Runbristol’s second ever Ashton Court 10k was a no-brainer for 2012. Race morning has witnessed the sun’s return to Bristol for the first time since 2008, and Ashton Court looks resplendent in autumnal hues.
While the course remains the same, for 2012 the competitors are asked to run the two 5km loops clockwise, changing the dynamic as we’re now asked to run the wooded off-road tracks uphill and the concrete paths downhill (which presumably made things easier, as 2011’s winning time was 39:25mins compared to 35:50mins in 2012).
Having arrived late, and with seemingly 667 out of the 669 entrants ahead of race buddy/rival Spencer Mizen and myself at the start, the first 2km is slow going, with the off-road climb getting steeper as we enter the woods and slowly approach the summit. Spencer is already a fleet-footed speck on the horizon by the 4km marker and, as one of the finest views of Bristol is witnessed from the top of the estate, I’m already 4mins behind my 2011 time and am clocking seven-minute kilometres.
The concrete path descent that finishes the first lap gives me a brief respite from what feels like 4.5km of climbing and, after a quick wave to my watching family and the second of my energy gels, it’s back to tackling the consistent climb to the Ashton Count summit.
But before I can reach the really punishing stony ascents, after a race season full of near-misses, at 5km I’m finally breaking my Number One race rule: do not walk. My energy has been sapped and, in a new low, I start to blame fatherhood for my chronic lack of preparation.
As I seriously start to contemplate walking all the way to the summit, a girl passes me with ‘I’m running for Mum’ and a Cancer Research UK logo adorning her t-shirt. My indulgent self-pity is swiftly put into perspective and I snap back to focusing on the event and closing the deficit on last year’s time.
Head down, I attack the hill and vow that no-one else will overtake me until the finish line (no great feat given that few people are behind me anyway). I also remember to start enjoying the race; it’s sunny, I’m running through arguably Bristol’s most beautiful scenery and my wee boy is waiting at the finishing tape for me.
Rocks, tree stumps and slimy leaves are now navigated with ease and, with Snap’s Rhythm is a Dancer still reassuringly blasting from Heart FM’s summit radio station, I reach the sun-drenched clearing with more in the tank. The final 1km descent is spent running as fast as possible without falling head-over-heels, which brings further childlike glee (and probably provides entertainment to spectators).
After a final finishing straight duel where I’m passed right on the line (making me possibly the day’s only competitor to shout ‘git’ as I cross the line), I save a small bit of face by clocking 57:07 and 311th out of 669 (compared to 2011’s 99th out of 767).
Two weeks later and I’m already itching to return to Ashton Court (and the scene of my other 2012 failures) in 2013 to right my wrongs from this year. But, having eschewed another lunchtime gym session for a curry and the Christmas eating season fast approaching, I know there’s plenty of work to be done before those minutes can be shaved off again.
Matt Baird is the Section/Online Editor for 220 Triathlon, the UK’s best-selling triathlon magazine.