At the weekend Chris Thompson ran a fantastic 27:27.36 for 10000m at Stanford, California. A time which ranks him 3rd on the UK all time list, behind Jon Brown and Eamonn Martin, though more than a minute off the world best of 26:17.53, held by Kenenisa Bekele, and only ranks as the 363rd fastest 10000m, at this current time (multiple times by athletes taken into account). Coming up this month are the County Championships. While these would appear to be two completely distinct items, I’ve used a spurious link for this week’s blog, to reminisce about my participation in the Surrey 10000m Championships.
The 10000m is a tough race, both mentally and physically, and feels completely different to running a road race over the same distance. You would think that it would be easier as you can pace yourself every 400m as you run round the oval track 25 times. The track has no undulations, though you do tend to notice the wind more, as it hits you at the same place every lap. The 10000m can be hell as you watch people drifting further away from you, particularly when you can see them a clear 200m ahead of you, and it can be heartbreaking when you get lapped, even worse if you’re lapped by the same person more than once. Having said that, when you’re running well and challenging for position it can be a fantastic feeling to drop off your opponents. I’ve seen some great 10000m races in my time and one can easily conjure up memories of any of Haile Gebrselassie’s races, particularly against Paul Tergat. But one that sits most prominently in my mind is the 10000m at Tooting Bec in 1992, where Paul Evans ran an, almost, solo effort to run a qualifying time for the Barcelona Olympics.
My first experience of this race came in 1990 when I decided to enter the Surrey 10000m Championships. They were held at Woking and I was fairly positive going into the race, I was just into my second year running and had come off an improving cross country season. I had no illusions about where I would finish, I was up against guys that were finishing in the top 15 in the Surrey League, whereas I’d just snuck into 78th position in the last race. I just wanted to see what I was capable of and I set myself the target time of 35 minutes. I don’t actually remember that much about the race but I was pretty much in no mans land for the bulk of it, not knowing how to pace myself, but I didn’t struggle as I finished in 7th position in 34:52.1. The race was won by Terry Booth in 32:14.3. Clearly I had a lot in reserve as I ran my next race just over two weeks later in 33:34.7.
I enjoyed racing, particularly as the distances got longer on the track, so I entered again in 1991. This time the race was held at Norbiton. It was a close race at the front, with my Belgrave team mate, Frank Ward, setting the pace, only to be outkicked over the last lap. Jerry Weightman won the race in 30:59.2, with Terry Booth coming second in 31:02.6 and Frank taking bronze with 31:04.9. I advanced a place to 6th, running 32:31.3, which was a pb and would remain so for two years.
Having missed the 1992 event, because I’d missed half the winter with injury, I next ran the event in 1993. It was held in Wimbledon Park, at the time I was living in Southfields so I was able to saunter down to the track nice and relaxed. I hadn’t originally intended entering, my coach, Arthur Bruce, was now directing my race choices, to some extent, and he had wanted me to get a good win under my belt. So we had focused on the Belgrave club 10000m championships, but for some reason the club had decided to switch the race to a date later in the year. Arthur suggested I enter this race and see if I could get dragged round for a good time. Again I had no particular hang-ups when I saw the other entrants, as I expected to feature around the same place as the previous two attempts, though I had been running well of late. Some of the entrants had a history; Barry Atwell – someone I didn’t know at the time but he’d been pretty useful over the years, Terry Booth – the 1990 winner and 1991 runner up, Jerry Weightman – the 1991 winner and 1992 runner up, Mike Boyle – former international Marathon runner, Dave Robinson, a new name to me at the time but, as I’ve found out since, there were also a few other runners with decent pedigree.
The race set off at a fairly sedate pace of around 80 seconds a lap. I’d let the big boys sort out the front positions and I was tucked in somewhere around mid field. After about 3 laps of this sedate pace Mike Boyle went to the front and set off on his bid for victory. Mike covered all but the last 3 or 4 laps in an average of 74 seconds. The pack went with him and stuck like glue. I’d missed the initial break but ran consistently for a couple of laps to latch onto the back of the leading pack. Gradually, as we continued at this pace for a number of laps, someone in front of me would drop off the pace and I’d move up one position in the lead group. With seven laps gone there was a sudden surge from Barry Atwell, who ran round the field and picked up the pace considerably. I thought it was a brave attempt and Barry must be a great runner to run that fast so early. The pack picked up the pace and tried to bridge the gap, only for Barry to drop out after a further 200m. Clearly, for whatever reason, he’d decided not to continue and wanted to see what he could get to 3000m in. The pace settled down again and soon the lead group was made up of the two Herne Hill Harriers, Mike Boyle and Dave Robinson, Hounslow athlete, Terry Booth, and me, still sitting at the back. I had no idea what the pace was, I didn’t wear a watch in those days and was concentrating on keeping up with the others, I felt good, I also felt I had a chance of a medal.
Dave was the next one to drop off the pace, but every time I tried to go round him he fought me off. As this kept us in the lead pack I didn’t put up too much of a fight, afterall it didn’t matter what position I occupied at this point. A few laps later Dave drifted a bit more and I put in a spurt to go round and keep up with Mike and Terry. Now I was really confident I had a medal in the bag. With about 5 laps to go, I’m afraid I can’t remember the exact lap, Terry unexpectedly pulled up. There was a lot of shouting from the crowd and that made Terry carry on (I spoke to Terry after and he thought he’d pulled his hamstring). So now it was just Mike and myself. I was comfortable sitting behind him but approaching 3 or 4 laps to go (again I can’t remember the exact lap, I always thought it was 3 to go but a report I’ve read states 4) I sensed Mike was either tiring or wanting me to take over, there was a slight slowing down and I found myself level with Mike entering the lap. I looked across at Mike and thought I could see defeat etched in his features, so I went for it. It wasn’t an explosion but I managed to up the pace to 71 sec per lap, Mike couldn’t match me and I pulled away lap by lap. As I crossed the line a big smile came over my face, this was my first proper championship victory and I’d beaten some of the best runners in the county to get it. It was only later that I found out the time 30:33.7, almost 2 minutes off my pb. Mike finished in 30:42.1, with Dave coming in 3rd in 31:00.7. Terry hung in there and finished in 31:10.9. Not bad times for a county championships. In fact 7th place finished in 32:28.7, a time that could win some future championships.
Following the race I had many cut and thrust battles with Dave Robinson, mostly he came out on top. Mike Boyle was always that much better than me, and still is. Now, of course, we’re team mates and enjoy racing together in team events. I have video footage of the event, taken by Ray O’ Donaghue. I used to watch it before a major championship, to get me in the right frame of mind, sadly I no longer have a video and am looking to get it converted to DVD.
I didn’t enter again until 1996, choosing to concentrate on shorter distances. The 1996 Championship was held in Walton. I’d never been to the track so left early to ensure no panics. Unfortunately, for me, they cancelled the train I was due to catch so I had to wait on Wimbledon station for 30 minutes until the next one. It was a hot and sunny day, the temperature was rising all the time and the race was due off early afternoon.
It wasn’t a good turnout for the race and my main rivals were Pete Groves, silver medallist the previous year, and John Towse. I was a different athlete to the surprise winner from three years ago, I’d produced some fast times over 1500m, 3000m and 5000m and was in reasonable shape this year, though I’d only ran 32:22 at the Inter Counties, a few weeks earlier, and I didn’t have any knowledge of John Towse, so, though I was confident of winning, it wasn’t a foregone conclusion.
Because of the heat I’d walked from the station to the track and did some light stretching whilst the other competitors ran around warming up. We set off and I immediately settled into third place, letting Pete and John take on the pacemaking. Water tables were out and every few laps we took on water. I noticed that Pete and John were drinking theirs from the plastic cups, whereas I didn’t really need a drink but didn’t want to take on the pace either, so I just poured mine down my chin. At half way, I decided to make my move, I made the move over towards the water table prompting Pete and John to do the same, but whilst they took a cup I switched back inside and injected some pace. I made a good gap over the next lap and just maintained pace and by the end of the race I was 32 seconds in front, as Pete and John settled for battling out for 2nd, John got the better of Pete running 32:25.1 to 32:31.9. My time was 31:53.9.
I won again on my next attempt, in 1999. By now the champs had moved to September and were being held at Tooting Bec. I’d not been having a great year, failing to get under 15 minutes for 5k, but I was in reasonable shape and knew I had a chance to win again, depending on who turned up. The main opposition in this race came from my mate and Belgrave colleague, Paul Coughlan. I was confident I could out kick anyone in the race so set off at a sedate pace, but Paul was having none of it. His attitude was that if he was going to lose he might as well go down fighting. So Paul picked up the pace and I just went with him until I felt the time was right to make a break. I ran 31:43.2 and Paul was second in 32:29.3 with Rob Jacobs taking bronze in 33:29.4. It was nice to be cheered on by my old rival, Mike Boyle, particularly as there wasn’t a lot of love lost between Herne Hill and Belgrave. But that just shows the respect that racers have for their rivals.
In 2001 I decided to dispense with my three yearly outings at the Surrey 10000m Champs and entered again. I’d had another non-descript year but felt I had a chance for a 4th title. Again the field was small as people started to avoid county champs. My main rival this year was Karl Corpes. I knew Karl well from years of racing him, he was a tough runner who could have some great races in cross country but he wasn’t anywhere near as good on the track. I pretty much knew I’d won this one from the off so didn’t hang around. As I entered the last lap I’d lapped everyone but Karl so put in a bit of a spurt and sprinted down the last 100m to finish about 10 metres ahead of Karl’s 24th lap. A bit mean, I know, but not often you get a chance to lap the entire field in a championship event. My time was my slowest in the event at 32:34.7, with Karl 2nd in 33:56.8 and Rob Jacobs again taking the bronze in 34:02.1.
2002 was to be my last attempt to win the championship. Having dispensed with the three yearly entry, I guess I got greedy for my 5th title, but it was not to be as Jason Simpson entered the race and won in a time around 30:33.0. This year the Belgrave championships were incorporated into the race and I only came third in that as Mike Trees finished second to Jason in 31:52.3, with Charles Herrington finishing 3rd in 31:55.2. However, as Mike and Charles didn’t qualify for Surrey I took the silver medal as I’d finished 4th in 32:29.1.
I lost interest in the track after this so failed to enter again, when I could, then I moved to Edinburgh in 2005 and now live in Cheshire so I’m unlikely to enter again, but never say never.