The Finchley 20

The Finchley 20 is the longest running 20 mile road race in the UK. Inaugurated in 1933, the race now takes place in Ruislip, Middlesex, is organised by the Hillingdon Athletics Club and consists of 4 5mile laps, usually in mid March. It is widely considered to be excellent preparation for those running the London Marathon a month later. The race itself is restricted to 700 runners; many of which are elite club runners, and the 4 hour time limit appears to imply a certain standard of runner that is not always found in some of the more commercial races. It was with some trepidation therefore that I lined up this Sunday to run what would be, by quite some distance, the longest race I had ever run!

 

The first lap went smoothly and as planned. I had set a target pace of 10 minute / mile, to ensure I completed in just under 4 hours. It was as I was passing the 5 mile marker around the 53 minute mark that a couple of faster runners came up behind me, ‘coming through’ being their call. I duely made way; only as they hurled passed did I realise that I had just been lapped and that the duo had just completed their 10th mile! Surely such a pace wasn’t sustainable?! These however were elite level runners who would be targeting a marathon time of sub 230, and a 20mile race at sub 2 hours! I continued undeterred, determined to run my own race, and at mile 8 stopped to relieve myself. It was only when I attempted to restart did I feel a slight twinge in my right knee. Beware the perils of stopping suddenly when you are in full flow. This niggle would continue to pester me for the rest of my race and eventually be telling towards the end.

Cheer point 1
Cheer point 1

Shortly after, I heard the cheering of a young girl as I panted up a slight incline. As I got closer, I realised to my surprise that this was my best friend who had come to support! I hadn’t realised she was coming and it made for a very welcome sight. I stopped briefly to grab a few sweets and mentally I was spurred on. I consumed my first gel and the second lap and third laps went without incident.

Final stats
Final stats

It was as I was approaching mile 15 that I began to struggle. Time wise I was on schedule – around 2hrs 50, but my body and right knee in particular were feeling the strain. It crossed my mind to tap out, but at times your mind doesn’t listen to what the body is saying, and the prospect of failure overshadows reason. The last lap went badly. My pace had slowed right down, to 15minute miles, it was raining heavily, and as I was going so slowly, I became very cold. Most people had finished by now and it seemed I was the only one left on the course. Some of the marshals had also left and motivation was low. Just after mile 18, I ground to a halt. My right leg was hurting with every step, and even walking was painful. I walked the last mile and a half and finished shattered and broken at 4 hours 16 minutes.

Untitled

In the end, I ended up 500th out of 502 finishers. Not exactly respectable, but given that 40 odd people pulled out, and the fact that I was only 16minutes of my target time, I wasn’t overly concerned. More worrying, was the possibility that I had injured my knee with only 5 weeks to go before the London Marathon. My advice to prospective runners of the Finchley 20: a great race – well marshalled, a flat course and excellent preparation. Just don’t get injured so shortly before the big day.
Courtesy of Rajiv Mehta (@Mehtaphysical)

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