The Finchley 20 is one of those special races in Britain, it’s a true runners event steeped in history that spans 80 years. Being a bit of a running geek myself, I’ve always had a soft spot for long-established races and will always try and turn out to support them. It’s sad to have missed out on classic races such as the Morpeth to Newcastle (13+ miler) and London to Brighton (52 miler), which both suffered from lack of support on road closures and the usual health and safety malarkey that organisers now have to put up with.
I first competed in this race two years ago and was very proud to win it, but I’m also a realist and my 1hr 47:49 looked pretty pathetic against the performances in its heyday. The course consists of 4 slightly undulating laps of 5 miles. I had heard that Phil Wicks was entered for this race, so I knew that a second win was going to be mightily difficult. Phil’s results speak for themselves and his pb’s are certainly more impressive than mine, the question was, would he be running eyeballs out, or using it as a training run? As I was prepared to run this race as fast as I could and not having to fret about a Spring marathon looming, I decided to go out hard in front and see how Wicks would respond. In doing this, I felt that I could put up a strong challenge against Phil, there’s no way I could let him dictate the pace in the early stages and expect to win. The conditions were okay, it was cold, drizzly and a bit windy, but compared to the standard of weather we’ve had so far this year, it was absolutely glorious!!!
I decided to only check my watch on every lap (5 miles) and see how well I could run off feel, I wasn’t going to concern myself looking at splits every mile. According to the race report in Athletics Weekly, I ran the first mile in 4:57 and after the first lap, 25:36 was called out, so it was a little fast, but necessary. I had in mind to run around 1hr 44 and roughly had to run around 26 minutes each lap, so I was looking good for that.
Phil Wicks was right behind me, but as I wasn’t expected to win, I didn’t really feel any pressure and just carried on at my best pace. 10 miles was about 51:38 which I was happy with, but I knew the real challenge would come on the last lap, or earlier if I slowed down. The 3rd lap was similar to the 2nd, I had Wicks on my shoulder, but I was feeling confident in front. 15 miles was called out at 1hr 17:51, so the pace had slowed ever so slightly, but I was still going strong, even stealing a few yards on Wicks as he had a drink passed to him at the start of the last lap.
The last lap is the one that can make or break you, as I discovered when I ran it much slower in 2011. This time I was much stronger, both physically and mentally. Wicks soon closed down the small gap I had and he was on my shoulder for the next two miles. Then he made his break; I knew it was going to happen at some point, so I was ready for it. It was a really fast surge, but I wasn’t sure if he could keep that up for 3 miles, I put everything in to going after him and forced myself back in front. The pace settled slightly and we were neck and neck for the next mile. I then tried to stretch Phil on a downhill section before the last mile, but again, he soon closed the gap. With about half a mile to go, Wicks surged in front again. I managed to keep with him and as we came up the final climb before the finish, I made my move and sprinted ahead, Phil responded and I could hear him just behind me, I then put in another kick in the last 100m downhill and managed to win by just 4 seconds.
I was clocked at 1hr 44:09, which is over 3:40 quicker than my 2011 winning time, so I was thrilled with that and ran the race exactly to plan. I rate it as a better performance than my Bramley 20 last year, even though it was 50 seconds slower, I had Phil Wicks breathing down my neck the whole way, the course is also more undulating and the weather wasn’t brilliant. It was also the fastest winning time since 1989, so now I don’t have to feel sheepish about winning with a sub-par performance. Still, just a sobering thought, I’d have been hitting the 19th mile marker when Bill Adcocks would have crossed the line with his course record of 1hr 39:01, what a legend!