Nothing says that race season in Norway is open for business again after its winter slumber with quite as much fervour as ten thousand runners lining up in the streets of Oslo to run Sentrumsløpet on a Saturday in April. Sentrumsløpet 2018 edition took place on April 21st, in beautiful if a bit windy spring weather, with clear skies and around 15 degrees Celsius. I toed the starting line aiming to beat my current 10k PR, which was set at Hytteplanmila back in October and stood at 38:31.
Since running the 10k back in October, all my focus has been on my marathon debut, which I will be making in June. This means that I have been building mileage primarily through slow and moderate running. In fact, I had not done any running at faster than half marathon pace over the past six months before this race.
I was confident that my aerobic fitness was much stronger than it was when I set my old PR, but I wondered if the lack of training at 10k specific pace would result in me having a hard time running at the required pace. As a result, I set a relatively moderate goal for this race, hoping to run in under 38 flat, as opposed to having a go at my season goal of going under 37. There would be better opportunities to realise that goal later in the year, with some 10k specific training in my legs. And besides, the course profile with almost 100 meters (330 feet) of climbing is not conducive to the fastest of times. Or that’s the impression that remained from when I ran this race in 46:15 five years ago.
Working in Oslo, I was lucky to have easy access to private parking, changing rooms and showers in my office space. My wife and I drove into the city at around two hours before the start of the race, and she went and did some shopping while I changed into my racing gear.
As my office is right next to the park where the middle section of the race goes through, I went out for a pre-warmup run and did some easy recon of the course. Because my training had suffered a bit account of illness in the previous weeks, there was no room to reduce the training load to prepare for this race. My legs had felt heavy and my body a bit unresponsive the day before the race, but this little run offered positive encouragement. I felt pretty good and ready to go. But first, back to the office for the customary pre-race toilet visits, before jogging off to the starting line.
As mentioned, Sentrumsløpet is not the kindest 10k you can run in terms of race profile. With a fair bit of climbing, the first third of the race can ruin you if you don’t show the course the respect it demands. My race plan, therefore, was to go out at a relatively comfortable pace hoping to pass the first half in about 19 minutes. If there was something extra in the tank on the day, I would turn it up in the second half.
1k (3:59 – 3:59)
The gun goes off, and we’re off! Well, those at the very front anyways. Being in group two, behind the elites, I had to wait ten to fifteen seconds before I got to the starting line, and could start running. The first few hundred meters contain the hardest climb of the course, up through the Royal Palace Garden. Thankfully, I was no the only one looking to run with the breaks on here, and I could just go with the flow without having to worry too much about passing people.
2k (3:46 – 7:45)
I realise that the people in front of me weren’t actually taking it easy during that first climb, because they are not upping the pace at all now that we have reached flatter terrain. It’s very crowded at this point, and I worry that I am spending too much energy trying to pass people. I have to run off the road and do lots of short sprints to weave in ahead of people whenever I see an opening. But when the split pops up on my watch, I see that it’s right where I want it to be.
3k (3:47 – 11:32)
A lot of people around me are dry heaving and barely breathing already. But, thankfully, the field has opened up a bit, and I am running comfortably right at the target pace despite having to pass a bunch of people.
4k (3:49 – 15:21)
The course now goes into the park where I ran earlier in the day, and on to a narrow gravel path. It is very crowded, and once more I find myself constricted by the relatively slow pace of the people in front of me. Once more I try to take advantage of every open pocket I see in front of me, carefully trying to not clip anyone. Halfway through the part of the course inside the park, the field opens up again and for the rest of the race, I don’t have to worry about being obstructed.
5k (3:30 – 18:51)
Finally, some respite from the climbing! With a net drop of 27 meters (90 feet), you should be able to turn up the pace here. My legs respond kindly as we start descending, and feel comfortable increasing the pace. I still try to hold back a little, because I have bad memories of what comes right at the start of the next kilometre. The official standings show that I pass the halfway mark as number 360 overall.
6k (3:43 – 22:34)
I have bad memories of the 400-meter climb at this point. It is the final proper climb of the race, and when I ran this race five years back I completely blew up at this point. Determined not to make the same mistake, I slow down immediately as the hill starts. People are passing me, and I let them. Once over the top, I up the pace again, and surprisingly find that I am still feeling strong. Race on!
7k (3:27 – 26:01)
Another stretch of downhill running, and I am focusing on keeping my foot on the pedal. At this point in the race, I don’t want to be feeling comfortable, and I have to be mentally present through every stride to not let my effort level drop during the descent. It is easy to fall into a bit of lull when running downhill because your pace will still be fast. But I feel like I am pushing it, and I am passing people, which are both good signs.
8k (3:32 – 29:32)
We enter the Town Hall area of the city, and it is absolutely packed with people. My wife is probably standing here somewhere to spectate, but I am about to go into the cave and have to focus all my energy on keeping up the intensity, so I quickly give up trying to look for her. I let the great atmosphere inspire me, and latch on to a back that I see is passing people. Passing the 8k marker, I attempt to do some calculations to figure out what my finish time can be if I manage to keep it up. All I can deduce in my current state is that as long as I run faster the two final splits faster than four minutes, I’ll come in under 38. Challenge accepted!
9k (3:38 – 33:10)
“Here comes the wind!” is the first thing that strikes me as I enter the harbour area. I have been passing people, but now find myself with a bit of a gap up to the closest back. But that guy is big, and I can only imagine tucking in behind him will shield me a bit from the current headwind, so I up the pace to get up him. A few hundred meters later, we turn back in between buildings again, and I pass him as I start to prepare for the home stretch.
10k + 0.07k (3:32 + 0:14 – 36:57)
It is getting dark, but I am not dead yet. To my surprise, I am still passing people, and every time my body threatens to slow down I remind myself that I’ve worked just hard as this in training, and I need to nail that final kilometre. The final 400 meters of the race consists of a small climb, followed by a descent into the finish line.
As I start the final climb, I hear people behind me starting their final kick. I don’t want to be passed, so I try to respond. My pace increases slightly, but my legs run out of juice before I reach the top of the climb, and I slow again. Looking at my watch, I see that sub 37 could be within reach, but my legs are gone and I can’t muzzle up anything resembling a final kick. I am now paying for my lack of speedwork, and fear that sub 37 is out of the window as a result. As I stumble across the finish line, I stop my watch at 36:38. That’ll be 37:01 on the chip, I think to myself as I wobble in the general direction of where I hope to find some water and perhaps an energy drink.
Meeting up with my wife, I am absolutely delighted to hear that my chip time is actually below 37 minutes, at 36:57. Improving my PR with more than a minute and a half in six months, without doing any 10k paced running? More and slower running obviously works for me.
I throw on a dry layer on top of my racing singlet and jog the three-kilometre stretch back to my office as a cool down. Reflecting on my performance, I conclude that all in all I have every reason to be pleased with how I ran. The first half went more or less exactly as planned, and I was able to turn it up during the second half, and had a negative split of about a minute. In the end, I finished 258 overall, which means that I passed more than 100 people during the second half of the race.
Given this race, I think sub 36 in the 10k before the end of the year is within reach. A period with speedwork, coupled with a more optimal lead up to the race and a faster course profile should let me shave a minute off my time. Well, if everything goes according to plan, that is! But for now, I am very pleased to enjoy being a 36:57 runner in a race that I finished in 46:15 five years ago. Training makes all the difference.
You can find all the detailed data from my race, including elevation, splits and heart rate by looking at the Strava activity.