Just a week after running a 12km trail race, I toed the starting line on a 10km road race. This seems slightly illogical, considering I’m supposed to run an iconic mountain marathon later this year and at this point should be doing long runs and lots of elevation. But if for a variety of reasons I can’t do that right now, there’s still a few lessons that can be learned at races like this.

Just like at the start of the 12k trail race the week before, people seemed to be very careful to leave a respectful distance to the “competitive” runners. 10 people, all of them capable of reaching the podium, were rightfully lined up with their feet on the starting line. Behind them was a 1-2 meter gap that the other 250 runners  were very reluctant to fill. I ended up lining up in that spot, even though I knew that I certainly wouldn’t be anywhere near a podium.

But at least initially, it was a relief to start so far up front – I could run my own rhythm. Since the first few hundred meters were on a minor downhill and my heart rate was still low, this translated to a pace that was quite ambitious for me: 3:45min/km. This didn’t last long, as we soon hit a very gradual uphill in a westerly direction, running through the outskirts of Berdorf. Still, my first Kilometer was covered at a blazing fast pace (for me) of around 4:05min/km. I’d lost some positions, but still hovered around the 20th position or so.

Just past the last buildings, we hit a left turn and headed south, towards the main road that would take us right back through Berdorf again. My watch beeped after 4:25min/km, which was a more realistic pace. We ran across the entire town. Quite a few inhabitants were out and about, cheering on the competitors. I was still moving quite efficiently, and a bit surprised that other competitors didn’t optimize their running route too much – whenever the course went around a bend, I made sure to hit the apex of the curve. I covered this third kilometer in 4:36, again pretty much what I expected. At around 3.5km, there was an aid station that I ignored because (just like the week before), I had my personal 0.5 liter soft flask reserve in my pocket.

We left Berdorf again, this time in a northerly direction toward some wooded areas. However, the road surface was still paved and devoid of shade. By this point, the ranking was pretty much established. I’d moved down another spot or two, to about 25th position. Once or twice, I traded positions with the same female runner I’d already met on my two previous races this year (each time, she placed ahead of me). Just before hitting the forest and a bit of shade, my watch beeped. 4:32min/km for the 4th kilometer.

The next kilometer was on an easy farmer’s track, unpaved but not really worthy of a “trailrunning” categorization. It still seems to have affected my pace a little. Kilometer 5 took 4:51min/km.

Not too far beyond, we turned in a south-eastern direction, past Hammhof. We were back on pavement, and I had dim memories of there being an aid station here when I last ran this race in 2013. This year, however, there wasn’t. I was happy to have brought along my own water reserve; even if it was starting to dwindle.

Kilometer 6 was mostly flat,  and allowed me to go back to a 4:37 pace; close to where I wanted to be.

Next up was the big descent of the day, about 35m of elevation loss on km7 and a further 18m on km8. I tried to profit, and attempted to lengthen my stride to make the most of the gravity assistance. Still, I was starting to feel slightly cooked. That description works in both senses of the word here, because not only was I feeling the race effort but it was also properly hot. The downhill km7 took me 4:05min/km, and then as descent mellowed out on km8 I was back down to 4:38min/km.

On this big and almost straight downhill you can easily see the runners ahead, and also that the race course will head to the right and go back up the hill towards Berdorf and the finish line.

The expected uphill appeared, and I tried to stick to a high but sustainable effort. I did not want to spend too much energy early on, since I knew that all of km9 and most of km10 would be uphill.

Somewhere along the way, I passed a competitor who might have done what I just described (spent too much of his energy early on), but otherwise there were no real shake-ups and I was happy to realize that so far I’d been able to keep a majority of runners behind me. A little ways up the hill the local fire department had set up a water shower, but the relief from the heat that 10 meters of water mist brought was very short-lived.

I covered km9 in 5:10min/km, the slowest pace yet but mostly in line with the effort I’d been spending throughout the race; which most importantly was sustainable and allowed me to maintain my position. Somewhere along the way, we passed the aid station which we’d already gone past earlier on. Situated at about 9km, it was close enough to the end that I didn’t bother to slow down for water; even though my reserve was depleted.

With no competitor visible in front of me, and none that I could feel breathing down my neck, I kept my momentum high towards the finish line but didn’t have to do an outright sprint. This was fortunate, because I was spent and working very much at my limit.

I crossed the finish line after 45:24 (chip time), then ran another 50m so 10km would tick over on my watch, allowing me to get a Strava-sanctioned 10km time. I’ve done quite a few races in Luxembourg that come up way short of their advertised distance, so having to do a few additional steps here was no big deal.

In the end, I was surprised to have finished fairly high up in the ranks of this race, at position 24 (20th male) out of 264 finishers.

What I wore

I might have found a 2018 baseline for what to wear at local races. Once again, I wore my Hoka One One Clifton 3 road running shoes, Ronhill Cargo tights (with a 0.5 liter Salomon soft flask in the large back pocket, as well as my Samsung S8 cell phone and car keys in the front pockets) and a Salomon Agile t-shirt.

Did I reach my goals?

My #1 goal was to set a new 10km PR, which I did quite easily. (47:26 chip time down to 45:24). It would have been nice to run faster than 45 minutes or 4:30min/km pace (goal #2), but the heat probably prevented that. Finally, the unattainable stretch goal at the back of my mind was to finish in less than 40 minutes; which is of course entirely unrealistic right now (but might still be possible in upcoming years, if I were to stick to a regular running routine and start doing speedwork).

I finished way higher in the results than I expected. #24 out of 264 puts me in the top 10%, which is the best I’ve done in any of my long distance running so far. Realistically speaking however, this race is not highly competitive. Elsewhere, I probably would have encountered far more competition. I do think, however, that I executed my race well, and also did my best to deal with the heat.

What I learned

Before the start of the race, I made a conscious decision to ignore my heart rate monitor. The idea was that I knew I could power through a 10k without holding back much, so the only good that knowing my heart rate would do would be to slow me down, consciously or unconsciously. In previous races, if I saw a number that was higher than about 172, my instinct was to rein myself in. But my little experiment in Berdorf proved to me that even at age 40, I can easily go 45 minutes with an average heart rate of 174; and that I can also still hit a maximum of 181 without crumbling into a heap. So I’ll try to implement that knowledge into my next important race; which will be the vertical kilometer in Chamonix where the goal is to climb 1000m of elevation in under one hour with the heart rate right at its limit the entire time.

Will I return next year?

If you’d asked me in 2013, when I last entered this race, I would have replied that I’d certainly be back in 2014. 5 years later, I’ve finally done it. I quite liked the race, but it’s a bit of a drive for me (>45min) and at the same time it’s a distance and terrain that doesn’t really align with my goals. There’s probably better places to run a really fast 10k, and there’s better races to train for my mountain running goals. But setting those two factors aside, Berdorfer Laf is a nice race in a pleasant environment; the race volunteers are really friendly and apart from maybe having the aid stations at different spots there isn’t anything I can fault the race organizers with. So will I be back? Maybe. But it might be another couple of years.

 

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