A Return to Hytteplanmila for a 10k Season Ender

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.

Training

My marathon debut this summer was followed by a rough return to running, and 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.

Runner finishing Skiløpet 5k 2018
Despite a podium finish, I was not happy with the time I posted in my most recent 5k race

All the details of how I structured my training are in the weekly Training Logs, but 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. This gave me hope of finishing the season on a high note and had me thinking 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.

Pre-race

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.

Race

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)

The halfway mark is fast approaching 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.

Me in a white singlet with a red diagonal stripe near the front of a sizeable group of runners around 8k mark

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.

Post-race

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.

Norway’s Fastest 10k Race: An Attempt at Sub-40

Hytteplanmila is one of the most popular 10k races in Norway, and many runners plan on ending their running season with new PRs in this race. The 2017 edition took place on October 21st, ad comprised more than 2,000 runners. I ran the race, aiming to set a new PR, and this is my report.

As soon as I started running this year, I set my sights on a sub-40 10k, which would be a substantial improvement on my current 10k PR from 2013. That one stood at 46:15. As my training progressed, running a decent half marathon took precedence, but this goal was always in the back of my mind. This race is sort of an unofficial season ender for my local running group. They’ve been the largest team (most runners) for a few years running, and they arrange a bus for the trip, and that’s how I ended up running this particular 10k. As it turns out, it’s a very popular race, and loads of people go here to finish off the season, in what is branded as the fastest 10k in Norway.

Like I mentioned, I went up there on a bus together with loads of other people from my local running group. As an aside, it’s pretty cool to be in the company of other runners and talk about running for more than two minutes without people signing out of the conversation. Will do again! We got stuck in traffic on the way up there because of an accident, and this resulted in the start being postponed by 30 minutes. I was kind of annoyed because the worst part of a race to me is the waiting before it begins. Anyways, I got changed when we got there, hit the roads for some easy kilometres to warm up, and finished getting ready with a couple of strides to get my HR up.

The field was absolutely packed at the start, and there are a lot of fast runners. I was confident of going below 40, and possibly even 39, so I placed myself around 10 meters ahead of the 40-minute pacer. This was the first time I ever heard an actual gun go off in a race, and it spooked me a bit! Anyways, we were off and I was absolutely jammed shut in the middle of the field. I knew that there were many quick runners here, though, and that I would gain nothing from trying to pass people at this point, so I just went with the flow. At around 500 meters or so, the field loosened up a bit, and I just tried to find my rhythm. As my first KM split popped up, though, I realised that I had been taken by the occasion (again!), because it went by in a way-too-fast 3:35. Oh well, it’s a downhill KM, so let’s just assume I can take that. I needed my splits to average at around 3:55 to finish under 39 minutes.

I really didn’t want to blow up though, so I made a conscious effort to slow down at this point. It went OK, and I saw quite a few people pass me during the second and mostly flat KM. It went by in 3:44. Still a little fast, but I took that buffer and ran with it into the inclines of the third kilometre, where I slowed down further. I knew that if I went too hard here, I would blow up, so when I saw that the third split was 4:04, that was alright. Another 500 meters of slight climbing at around the same pace, and I was ready to turn up the engine a bit. At this point, it was obvious that a lot of people had overextended themselves because I couldn’t keep count of how many I passed here. The fourth kilometre went by in 3:55, right on pace, and I knew that the easiest stretch of the race was coming up the next two kilometres.

I tried to find a nice and steady pace, but I kept having to pass people during this stretch. Sometimes I would try to settle behind a back only to discover that the person was going a bit too slow, so I had to accelerate again. I think this stop-and-go act here probably made this stretch cost a bit more than it should have. Still, my splits for kilometres five and six were 3:40 and 3:48, so more or less according to plan.

When laying out my race plan, I knew that if I passed 6km before 23:15, sub-39 was on. Checking my watch while I passed the marker, and seeing it was just below 23 minutes, made me happy. And likely a bit complacent, too. The hardest and least inspiring part of the race was coming up, and knowing that my stretch goal was probably in the bag already, I just kinda shored it up at this point. I searched for someone going at around 3:50 pace to try and hold on to, but every back I found ended up going a bit too slow, and those that passed me seemed to go way too fast. So I sorta drifted around these three kilometres, feeling a bit uncomfortable, but at the same time knowing that I probably had a tiny bit more to give. Anyways, my splits for kilometres 7-9 were 3:54, 3:58 and 3:52.

The final kilometre was a hoot. Markers every 100 meters, and I accelerated slightly and felt pretty good. But, I knew that the final 200 meters consisted of a pretty steep hill, and didn’t want to blow up there. So, for some reason I let my pace slip at around 500 meters, thinking I’d rest myself into the hill. Why!? Thankfully, one of the other runners in my club passed me at around 300 meters before the goal line, and that gave me a kick up the backside, and I sped up and passed him again. Unfortunately, I kinda overreached during the first half of the final climb. He passed me again midways through the climb, but I held on to his back and passed the finish line right after him for a final split of 3:47, and official finish time of 38:31.

In other words, a nice 7 minute and 44 second improvement of my PR, and well below my initial goal of sub-40. I’ll take it! I could probably have shaved a couple of more seconds from my time with a bit more racing experience and optimal pacing. But at the end of the day, this was pretty damned close to what I was capable of on the day, and I gotta be happy with that.

Taking a few days off now to let every niggle that’s been bothering me heal, before starting an 18-week base building phase ahead of next season. I’ve more or less set my goals for 2018, and when it comes to the 10k, my aim is to go sub-37. That means taking another minute and a half off of my PR. Doable? I don’t know, but I’ll give it a shot!

This race report was originally published over at r/artc, a great running community that has been invaluable to me as I’ve tried to progress as a runner.