After running Hytteplanmila last year, I was so pleased with the overall experience that I immediately signed up for the 2018 edition as soon as registration opened. A year has come and gone, and I closed off the 2018 race season by running Hytteplanmila 10k on October 20th.
To recap last year’s introduction, this race brands itself as the fastest 10k road race in Norway, and they normally have the results to back up that claim. Popularity has been on the rise since the first inception of the race back in 2005, and interest surged to another level when the race announced that the Ingebrigtsen brothers Henrik, Filip and Jakob would be making their 10k road debut here this year. Close to 3,000 people started the 10k this year, which was a new record.
My marathon debut this summer was followed by a rough return to running. Subsequent race results this fall have not been at the level I had hoped. Despite running a couple of 5k races, I was not able to reach my goal of going below 17:30. With my best performance being a 17:50, this forced me to reevaluate how I had been training following the marathon. I still had a half marathon to come, and then this 10k to close out the season just a couple of weeks later.
The half marathon a few weeks back marked a return to positive race experiences. Even if I didn’t manage to go below 80 minutes as I had hoped, I felt good and knew I had raced well. I felt hopeful of finishing the season on a high note and thought that breaking 36 minutes in the 10k was possible. Doing it would require perfect conditions, and would be a significant improvement from my current 10k PR from earlier this year, which stood at 36:57. I got further encouragement by nailing my final hard workout before the race, which doubles as a 10k predictor session.
Weather forecasts were looking good as early as a week out, and for once the meteorologists were absolutely spot on. As I arrived by bus, a trip organised by my local running group, the fog departed and the sun shone through a light layer of clouds. Temperatures were in the high single-digit Celsius (around 45 Fahrenheit) with no wind to speak of. A perfect day for running fast.
The ever-growing crowd of runners displayed an expectant buzz as the start time approached, and many were talking about how the Ingebrigtsens would surely be taking down Sondre Nordstad Moen’s old course record from 2009. Jakob, the youngest, and perhaps the favourite, had pulled out after catching a cold. It would be up to the two elder brothers to better 28:50 and make yet another record part of the family’s long list of running merits.
Buoyed by the great weather and atmosphere, I was just aching to get out there and see what I was capable of. With about half an hour to go, I went out with a couple of other guys to warm up. A few kilometres and some strides later, I dropped my sweats and lined up towards the front of the big crowd of people ready to run. I was right where I belonged. I, too, was ready to run.
Boom went the gun! And… nothing much happened. In such a crowded field, it actually takes a while before you get going. So I tippy-toed ahead at a slow trot for about 15 seconds before I finally cleared the starting line. Everyone around me sped up, so I did the same, and we were finally off.
1k (3:24 – 3:24)
Once we start running, the entire field is simply too congested to try and advance. You are pretty much resigned to spending the first kilometre running at the pace dictated by your part of the pack, and I decided not to fight it. I was probably further back than I wanted to be, but I also knew that most runners get swept away by the occasion and start off at headless chicken-pace. Especially in this race where the first 1000 metres are downhill. To my delight, the first split was exactly what I was aiming for.
2k (3:31 – 6:55)
At this point, the course flattens, and it is time to try and settle into a rhythm. I have to spend a bit of energy passing people now, as the field is going a bit too slow for my liking once we get started on the flat section. But I am feeling fine, and keeping up the pace without straining too much.
3k (3:42 – 10:37)
The third and fourth kilometres are the hardest of the race, on paper, because you have to pay back the downhill part of the start. I am still feeling relaxed, and when we start climbing I make sure to up my cadence, try to stay relaxed and not go too hard. The split plan for going below 36 minutes I made before the race involved going a fair bit slower than average at this part of the race, so the pace decrease doesn’t worry me.
4k (3:41 – 14:18)
A significant amount of runners around me are already struggling. Thankfully, the field has stretched out a bit at this point, and the road is wide enough that advancing is no problem. The road winds in both directions through this stretch, so I try to be smart and run the tangents. Carefully and deliberately, I’m veering from one side of the road to the other without losing rhythm.
5k (3:30 – 17:48)
I am fast approaching the halfway mark and the pace of the pack increases as we leave the uphills behind and set out on the final significant descent of the race. I am still feeling alright, but find myself wondering if I am feeling a bit too tired muscularly considering that we’re not even halfway through the race. Did I not slow down enough on the uphills? Passing the halfway mark, I quietly celebrate a new 5k PR.
6k (3:34 – 21:22)
Slightly worried, I settle into a pack as we embark on the ominous “quiet before the storm” stretch of the race. This part ends with a 90-degree right turn that marks the start of the grind in earnest. Lost in thoughts about the hardship to come, I suddenly notice that there is a gap opening up between the two guys directly in front of me and the pack ahead. I can’t afford to get left behind in here, so I immediately move up to the pack ahead.
7k (3:38 – 25:00)
Crunch time! With a small, but steady incline, the next three kilometres will make or break my race. I struggled here last year, and the vivid memory of that experience has been replaying in my mind the last ten minutes or so. I settle into a rhythm and get ready to dig deep. To my surprise, I am feeling good.
8k (3:40 – 28:40)
One guy in a white long sleeve in front of me looks comfortable, and I latch on to him. The field has stretched out enough that we can maintain a steady pace while passing people. I switch my mind off and just let the guy in front of me guide the way. The hurt is coming, but I am ready to handle it.
9k (3:33 – 32:13)
If any thoughts crossed my mind here, they simply didn’t register. All I can tell you is what you can glean from looking at the split time, and that is that the guy in front of me apparently increased the pace, and I hung on.
10k (3:25 – 35:38)
Right now, every single interval session I have done over the past couple of years has been in preparation for these one thousand metres. I am relishing in getting reacquainted with that old familiar feeling of going to the well because I know that I am capable of pushing through it. There is juice left in my legs still, and I know that now is the time to burn through it. I up the pace, pass the guy who has been guiding me, and then a couple more runners. The pain is constant at this point, but I keep pushing.
Heading into the final two hundred meters, a full-on hill, I tell myself that, unlike last year, nobody will pass me on the hill. I give a final push! And then I start to fade, with half the hill yet to run. The low fall sun helps me by showing me the shadow of a runner approaching, and I remember my oath from a hundred meters back and give a second final push! I reach the finish line before anyone can pass me. I stop my watch before nearly falling over, and I have to support myself on the back of another exhausted runner who has hunched over. My finishing time doesn’t even concern me at this point, because I know I’ve run as good a race as I am capable of.
After catching my breath, I immediately stroll over to the starting area to pick up my sweats, throw them on, and go for a cool down run. Exhaustion and excitement overwhelm me, both on account of having just run perhaps my best race ever. My watch is showing 35:39, and later I find out that my official time is another second faster, but I am just utterly delighted knowing beyond all uncertainty that I have broken 36 minutes for the 10k.
Back in the gymnasium where runners meet up before and after the race, the crowd is growing once more. Most of the returning runners look happy, and why wouldn’t they be? They are runners who just got to run a race on a perfect fall day. Henrik Ingebrigtsen beat his brother Filip in a sprint finish, won the race and broke the course record, which is the talk of the crowd at the moment.
Having had some time to digest the experience and look at all the data from my race, I am now convinced that this was, indeed, the best race I have ever run. In a race with a significantly harder back half, I practically ran even splits, equaling my month old 5k PR twice. This is right at the very edge of what I am capable of at the moment, at it feels fantastic that everything finally lined up and I was able to close out the season with a new PR that really shows what I am good for.
Check out the Strava activity for all the details from the race.