In December I travelled to Ireland for a 20km race and returned with a small PB. The race had been a struggle as I misjudged my fitness and paced it poorly. I resolved to rest over Christmas and then start 2019 hunting for some better performances. To that end, I competed in the Murray Lambden Open 20km in the Isle of Man and gained a more satisfying result.
My main focus for the first part of this year is the 50km race in Dudince, Slovakia in March, but I decided to use this 20km as an interim focus to give me a chance to work on my pace. Motivation has fluctuated, in part thanks to revelations that the events might not exist for much longer, but I at least managed a few good weeks. As such, my realistic goal for the 20km was to finally break 100 minutes.
Lining up, I knew that there were other people in the race with whom I could work to achieve that goal. However, I was pleased with my decision, as a large group pulled away at the start, to let them go and maintain my own pace. I was able to accurately clock 4 minutes per 800m, dead on the target pace. I knew that the group would break up and then I would be able to keep focus by picking them off over time. Several of them were Irish juniors racing 5 or 10km but they also included two Manx athletes and an Irish senior in the 20km.
Ahead of me, but at a fairly constant gap, was Manxman David Mapp who was walking very well with one of the Irish 10km walkers. I knew that, once his pacing companion completed his race, it would be difficult for Mapp to maintain the pace for the second half of his. Sure enough, the gap opened a little after 9km but, after completing 10km in exactly 50 minutes, I began to catch him again. I slowed a little, by a couple of seconds a lap, but Mapp was slowing slightly more. I caught him around 15km and after an attempt to increase the pace to keep with me, he faded behind.
Luckily for me, I was able to keep my focus as I could now see the other Manx athlete, Adam Cowin, struggling in the distance. He had started fast but was now paying the price and I caught him within a few more laps. When I looked around, he had stopped and was walking slowly but, to his credit, he kept trying to push himself to race walk and made it to the end. Nevertheless, I lapped him on my last lap.
The Irishman, Joe Mooney, whom I had walked with at the start of the Irish 20km, was never in my sight and he finished in 97 minutes. It would have been good to have been fit enough to race him but on the day I knew that was beyond me.
Another familiar face from the Irish 20km was Yuki, who had encouraged me as he overtook me in the closing stages. Unfortunately, he has had some difficulty with an old injury and was forced to retire shortly before halfway.
My last few kilometres were hard work as I was falling off my target by around 10 seconds per lap but I pushed the last lap, almost an 800m sprint finish, to recover some time and finish under 101 minutes. My time was 100:51. Frustrating, of course, but a more satisfying increment than the 22 seconds last time. Most importantly, it was excellent training for my 50km in just under 4 weeks.
Developing as an endurance athlete is a long process. As long as you are moving forwards, there is hope of achieving your goals. That is, if the governing bodies don’t decide to abolish you.