The Leeds Xmas 10k Challenge
With so many races to choose from these days it’s nice when the organisers make life easier and give their runs a meaningful name. It’s fairly obvious that the Leeds 10k is a 10k race in Leeds. The same goes for the London Marathon, it’s a marathon in London. The Great North Run is much more vague with no clues as to where or what you are entering in the title. The organisers of the Leeds Christmas 10k Challenge have named their race perfectly. It’s in Leeds, its 10k, and it takes place around Christmas. It does exactly what it says on the tin. There is one ambiguity though, the “Challenge”.
Having taken part in the Leeds Christmas 10k Challenge for the last two years it is now clear in my mind what the challenge is. It isn’t an obstacle course. There are tougher runs out there – not that the Christmas 10k isn’t a tough hilly run. But nothing (to my knowledge) has such a wide range of running surfaces to contend with. The route covers running track, open grassy fields, tarmac, bridleways, and muddy root-strewn paths. The only thing missing is a river crossing and I think everything would be covered. So for me the ‘Challenge’ come race day is whether to wear road or trail shoes.
There was a new route for this year’s Christmas 10k. Gone were the dreaded steps of Scrooge Hill, but the rest of the route was similar to the previous years. Starting with a lap and a half of the running track at South Leeds Stadium, you then cross the training fields towards Middleton Railway’s Park Halt Station and a short sharp climb before entering Middleton Woods and running the length of the disused Tramway. Another short steep section from the Tramway to the Rose Garden and the long descent on the Wagon Way, before doing the whole thing again and finishing back at the stadium.
I had been keeping an eye on the weather in the build up to the race to try and gauge whether trail shoes would be needed. There had been some rain during the week but not much, so I went for a pair of road shoes that I didn’t mind getting a bit mucky, hoping that I would want them more on the fast down hills rather than needing extra grip from trail shoes on the off road sections.
Having collected my number from the Phoenix Bar at South Leeds Stadium I made my way track-side to soak up the pre-race atmosphere. Lots of the gathering runners were in ‘festive’ running wear and one or two had gone the whole hog on the fancy dress front. Any number of Santa and Elves were joined by a tree, a Christmas cracker and an oven ready turkey. Suddenly my choice of footwear didn’t seem like the biggest challenge of the day.
Eventually we got under way. As it was a new course this year I hadn’t bothered to check my previous times, happy instead to test my fitness. Last month’s Holly Hustle had highlighted just how off the pace I had become, but I’d put in some decent runs in the meantime and wanted to complete the Christmas 10k in under 50 minutes.
The start was a bit ‘stop start’ as the throng of runners was funnelled over the timing mat, but I soon found room to run the long way around the outside of the running track, whilst everyone else tried to run the racing line around the inside of the bends. Out of the stadium and onto the grass my road shoes were far from ideal so far but then we hit the platform and the tarmac and they came into their own. I was through 1km in around 4:30, perfect pace, but with two long climbs to come. I felt good but could I hold on to the pace for nine more kilometres?
I’m not sure how many times I’ve run on the Tramway. It feels like it goes on forever, slowly taking you up higher and higher through the ancient woodland that once connected Huddersfield and Nottingham. It’s a knobbly bridleway these days but it was mostly dry without any muddy puddles to ford so my trainers were still doing well. Last year the route left the Tramway with a sharp left halfway up, but the new route took us right to the summit before a scramble up a muddy bank towards the Rose Garden.
I’d been trailing a friend from parkrun who is much faster than me but the runner in front of me stopped to walk up the final section of the climb and I had no option but to walk too. My friend and unwitting pacer, who was further ahead, pressed on and a gap opened up. Once we were back running we got onto a 100% new section of the route, a slight downhill weaving between trees, then a short climb before popping out at the Middleton Park Visitor Centre and the long downhill on the Wagon Way. My pace was still good, despite the enforced walk, but I knew that the second time up the Tramway would be a struggle. I was right.
I passed the water station at 5k and onto the climb back into the woods. The elevation was starting to take a toll. I knew I was slowing down but also knew that I had it in me to get to the top of the Tramway again. The pack had thinned so there was no excuse for slowing other than fatigue. I hit the short muddy section to the Rose Garden, and, for the first time, regretted my shoe choice. The runnable slope had been churned up on the first pass by the 500+ runners on the first lap.
My road shoes slipped under my tired legs, I took a much wider line to find solid ground, and I ran up the hill which I had been forced to run up on the previous route, but I was spent. The determination to run the final hill had taken so much out of me that I was struggling for breath. I couldn’t gulp the air in fast enough on the descent back to the train station and the stadium, and the dream of a sub 50 finish was looking like it would remain just that.
But, as I crossed the finish line at the home of Hunslet Hawks I stopped my watch and was astounded at my finish time. I was light years behind the winner but I had managed my sub 50 dream with a time of 48:45. I later discovered that my PB on the previous route was 50:03 so a course and race PB and a well-deserved mince pie!
The Leeds Christmas 10k Challenge had once again lived up to its perfect name. The new route, two long laps rather than three short ones, was good. Personally I’d like to see the steps brought back but I really liked the section between the Rose Garden and the Wagon Way, so on balance I think the change is a good one. My racing is now over for another year and I’m happy that once again the Leeds 10k Challenge has rounded off another great year of running.