Over the past 3 or 4 years, I’ve enjoyed many trail races, running at pretty much every distance you can think of from short, fast cross country to ultra. But there is only one that I have gone back to every year; the Clawson 10K. There’s something about this little event that I just can’t keep away from; something that keeps pulling me back.
Located on the western edge of the Vale of Belvoir, the village of Long Clawson is much more widely known for its production of Stilton cheese than it is trail running, but it here on the village playing fields that this low-key, community-organised event begins. There’s a lovely village hall, providing toilets, bag storage and hot drinks, but that’s about it. The crowd of around 250 runners, plus a few walkers, assembles between two lines of red and white tape, before the organiser counts down to the start and the mass heads off through the gate onto the course.
This year I was aiming for a course PB, a big one, having missed out in 2016 due to very hot weather. The route is a tough one, with nearly 500ft of ascent and descent, and some quite technical sections, and I’ve never felt that I’ve run it particularly well, so, having warmed up with two easy laps of the playing field, I wanted to get it right this time. Heading out of the car park, the first quarter of a mile or so was on a flattish road, so I aimed to achieve a healthy balance between taking advantage of the smooth tarmac, and not setting off too fast, something I have a tendency to do when I am gunning for a PB. Happy with my pace, we started to climb, first on a fairly gentle track and then onto steeper grassy fields. Two of my clubmates were nearby, and I had to be really disciplined with myself to make sure I ran up at my pace and not theirs. I soon settled into my groove, and despite the grass being very uneven, I managed to maintain a pace I was really pleased with, and made it to the top without even thinking of walking. Perfect!
Heading onto slightly flatter terrain, the route became more technical, passing through a steeply wooded hillside on single-track paths. I had to really concentrate on my footing with these, for they were rocky in places too, and edged with stinging nettles. Passing the one section where it was steep enough for everyone to have to walk (a hands-on-thighs fell-running job), I caught sight of my watch and noted that I was exactly on target so far, and still feeling very good. I’d even managed to avoid the ‘jolly big badger hole’ (the sign for which makes me laugh every year!) Happy days.
Turning a corner, the glorious view across the Vale of Belvoir suddenly comes into sight; it’s the sort of view you want to sit and savour for a while. But no, I pushed on. The long downhill sections ahead were mostly on grass, but again difficult underfoot thanks to hard-dried tractor tyre marks. I built up as much speed as I could, but was frustrated to lose most of it at stiles. I’d forgotten how many stiles there were on this course(either that or I’d not really noticed them in previous years as I’d been further down the field and not had to queue to get over!) My pace was still OK though, and I was still on for a big PB.
Grabbing a quick slug of water at the aid station, I headed onto my least favourite part of the course; a stony track leading uphill for about 500 metres. In previous years, I’d found myself walking up this hill for some reason, but this time I took a different approach. Settling into a slow but sustainable rhythm from the start worked a treat and I was soon passing those who were using a run hard / walk-to-get-your-breath back method.
The last mile or so of the course has always messed with my head, as the route comes pretty close to the finishing field, but there is a dogleg to be tackled first, a dogleg that takes you away from the finish and partway back up the hill. This year, feeling much more comfortable as I reached that point, I decided to embrace the final challenge with a positive mindset, rather than dread what was coming. I broke the final mile down in my head, and ticked off each little section as I ran it well. Gradual uphill track? Done, and still on target. Technical path with tree roots and rocks down into stream valley? Done and still feeling good. Nasty little climb out of stream valley? Done, and a great chance to practice steep uphill skills. Final downhill across fields? Done, and pace picking up again. Turn towards finish field and steep steps up bank? No problem? Through gate and onto finish field? Sprint across grass cuttings, massive course PB achieved!
I crossed the finish line nearly 12 minutes faster than last year; target smashed! Most importantly, though, I was pleased with how I had run throughout; my pacing, and in particular where to put in a harder effort and where to back off, was pretty spot on, and the improvements I have made to my uphill and downhill running on technical ground shone through. But most of all, I felt stronger, showing that all of the increased strength and conditioning work I have been doing is finally starting to pay off.
Despite being very pleased with my run, I’m not finished with the Clawson 10K yet. No matter what I am training for next year, I’ll be back; I just love it.