Friday 28 December 2012

New Year Thoughts - Finding A Coach

Something many aspiring athletes think about at this time of year is; I need a more structured training plan next year and I need help to do that.  I want to get a coach.

Having a coach who has years of experience, study and practical understanding can really help you avoid the common pitfalls of training for sport; of which there are there are many and various.  And the comfort of knowing that someone else is looking after your training schedule and optimising it for your event calendar and keeping an eye on how you're doing can make life simpler/less stressful.  And when you get closer to an event and start worrying about things, they can really help you stop doom-mongering, stop worrying about things that aren't important and reflect on all of the great work you've done and forgotten about.

But how do you find a coach that's appropriate for you?
  1. Budget
  2. Frequency of interaction
  3. Training plan
  4. Chemistry
First of all, you need to work out what your budget is.  But that can be difficult if you have no idea what the going rates are for the levels of service you get.  So, we'll come back to that.

Secondly, do you want to work with your coach face-to-face on a frequent basis, or are you happy with an online coach who you speak to on the phone regularly, or do you not need a personal interaction at all?  If the former, you may well be best off working with a personal trainer (PT) at a local gym or with a coach at a local club for your sport.  PTs aren't cheap (central London prices at a top-end gym is around £50 per 1 hour session), but you do get 1:1 training time and if you need that kind of interaction, then you're going to have to fork out for it.

Online/remote coaching can have quite a high level of interaction.  There are many companies who have a range of coaching plans that include a weekly (or even more) call with your coach and training weekends through the year (which cost extra on top of your monthly fee).  A weekly call with your coach in the off season can feel like too much, but you don't have to take them every week if you don't want to - companies are happy to take your money and you miss out on part of the service ;o)  These sorts of coaching packages cost anything from £60 a month, for up to £300 a month depending on interaction, personalisation, response times to questions, extras like sports psychology support.

Thirdly, a training plan is quite key to most people's need for a coach.  You can purchase training plans, from many companies online, which are just a general written plan and not tailored in any way.  These can be quite economical (e.g. £30 or so for a 12 week programme) and effective if you just want to get a structured, consistent plan and you're good at self-motivation.  You'd be surprised how self-motivated you can be if you have a plan that's written out for you already.  Some people need or want a bit more personalisation or interaction than that and that's when you probably want to get a coach who will personalise a plan for you, that you feed back your achievements from each training session and they modify the plan as you go along; on a weekly or monthly basis, usually depending on how much you're paying.

Lastly, if you are going for a personal coach or trainer rather than an off-the-shelf training plan, you want to check out the chemistry.  Having been through 4 gym PTs and 2 triathlon coaches so far, I can vouch for the benefits of really getting on with a trainer/coach.  You need to have faith in their ability and understanding of you and the sport and they need to instil confidence in you.  You'll only find that out by spending some time working with them.

My first triathlon trainer/coach didn't give me the level of confidence in him that I needed for me to believe I'd achieve my basic goal for 2012 by working with him and that meant I had to change quite close to the wire for the tough part of the season.  I'm so glad I did change coach and I've ended up with one I have a lot of trust and faith in now.  He really helped stabilise my mental as well as physical preparedness for the Ironman Ultimate Challenge events this year and with his help I made it through 3/4 of them (OK it was outside of both our control that I didn't make it to the start line of the 4th one, but I have no doubt that I would have completed the 4th one, had I not smashed up my collar bone at the 3rd one).  And I didn't feel silly asking him about the terminology in the training sessions he gave me.

So, back to budget... you need to think about the frequency, type of interaction and training plan you want in order to inform your decision on budget.  You can see you can spend anything from £30 for a 12 week generic training plan to £300 per month for a highly personalised, all the extras, fairly unlimited phone/online interaction arrangement.

So, now that you know what to look for, how do you actually find a coach?  Ask around, see who's advertising in the press of your sport, ask other athletes at events.  Or look for a coaching company that's doing a training day or weekend near you, or one that does a course familiarisation day for a race/event you're doing and go along.  Yes, this will cost you money, but you'll get to meet some coaches and see if you get along with them.  This is pretty much how I found my current coach, though I didn't meet him on the familiarisation day I thought the other coaches from the company were switched on and easy to get along with so I took a punt.

When you decide on a coach or trainer, don't be afraid to have a trial period to see if you get on.  Talk to them face-to-face or on the phone before signing up with them, if you can.  If you don't get on right away or after a few weeks, or even months, or you don't feel you believe in them in the right way, don't be afraid to change coach.  There is utterly nothing wrong with that.  You need to trust them to train and coach you well and you need to believe that they will do you good, support you and boost your confidence when it's needed.  The best thing I did during the 2012 season was change coach and it made a huge difference to my mental state, confidence, performance and ultimately my enjoyment of my sport.

Thursday 27 December 2012

Christmas dinner!

I did all the prep for Christmas dinner the day before so I could lounge about, open prezzies, snuggle, drink champagne and tea etc. on the day with maximum ease. A little final bit and bob with help from MrTOTKat (chief sprout chopper) and the total intervention on the day was about 30 minutes including carving the turkey when it was cooked and rested.

From top left ring: sliced red cabbage and onion, sautéed in duck fat and with a dollop of cranberry sauce and cider vinegar; smoked bacon lardons, searing in salted butter, ready for the chopped brussels; finely diced red onion, fresh thyme, fresh rosemary and turkey giblets, fried in duck fat and topped up with water to then reduce for gravy.

Not an excessive amount of implements in use, even if you do count the glass of champagne.

And, hello turkey crown!  Basted in duck fat and sprinkled with sea salt, thyme and rosemary.

Hidden celeriac and turnip gratins bubbling away under the turkey.

Aaaand the turkey is done!  Rest for 30 minutes and carve.

Finish off the sprouts with a few walnuts...

And serve!

After a starter of salmon mousse, wrapped in smoked salmon slices and served with cherry tomatoes dressed in olive oil, black pepper and sea salt.

 The main course; sprouts with bacon and walnuts, celeriac and turnip gratin, red cabbage with cranberry sauce, roast turkey, turkey gravy, and horseradish cream.

Main course demolished!

Um. I got a bit squiffy at this point and missed the tiramisu dessert.  And we didn't have the cheese board and nut crackers in the end.  The tiramisu looked a bit like this...

But that's egg nog from Boxing Day, so, er...


And then for supper there was a Heston delight - Hidden Clementine Christmas Pudding - with Abel and Cole custard.  We were doing pretty well until that point :o)  The whole 3 course dinner, including dessert, but without wine, was 33g carbs.  Heston's pudding, per portion, by itself, without custard, was 65g carbs!  But it was bloody lovely, so I don't care.  The whole day, including blow-out amounts of wine, scrambled eggs and smoked salmon parcels for brekkie, and a mince pie earlier in the day came to 175g carbs.  That's no more than a "normal" day earlier in the year (and we used to eat lower carb than most normal people anyway).

And 2 days later.  I have ketones back in my urine again, so I think that in the grand scheme of things, that was barely a "carb binge" (not to be had all the time, but we'll see in a few months about a VO2 or steady state gas analysis again and if there's a difference).

Monday 24 December 2012

Low carb recipe: nut crackers

I wanted to do a smoked salmon mousse type thing for a starter for Christmas dinner, but what to have for crunch instead of toast?  We could just have the mousse, wrapped in slices of salmon and leave it at that, but I really wanted some crunch in there.

There's a low-carb group on Facebook and on there, DJFoodie posts recipes every now and then.  And, lo and behold, DJFoodie to the rescue with a crunchy cracker recipe that uses parmesan cheese and nut flour.

I only have almond flour available, and all of the other ingredients already in the house, so I went with a pure almond flour version (if I'd had hazelnuts, I might have ground them in the blender and used them too, but I didn't have any).  I suspect the better crunch finish from the hazelnuts is due to the higher proportion of fat in those nuts.

Anyhoo... here's how they went:-

1. Preheat oven to 135C.
2. Combine ingredients in a mini-chopper or food processor, and mix until a ball of dough has formed or, until it's all smeared up the sides of the chopper bowl but well mixed.

3. Place the dough on a greased sheet of parchment paper or foil.

4. Place another sheet above it, and roll out the dough so that it forms a single thin sheet of dough.

5. Remove the top sheet. Where it's not rectangular, cut bits off the dough and stick bits on so it's roughly rectangular and smooth with a spatula or palette knife. It's pretty soft and squidgy, so you can just push any lumps or cracks together.

4. Use a pizza cutter (or just a chopping knife) cut through the dough to form 48 little rectangles. If you want precision, measure it first and mark along the edges where to cut.

5. Place the parchment or foil on a thin baking tray.

6. Bake for roughly 45 minutes, but start checking at 30 minutes. It will probably crisp around the edges first. You want the cheese to melt in the mixture and then you want any moisture to burn off. The cracker will darken and firm up. When the sheet is the same even slightly darker color, across the enter sheet (the edges and the center are all the same color), remove the sheet from the oven.

7. Let the sheet cool completely, then pick up the crackers and break where you made the cuts.

8. Serve with dip, cheese, pate etc.

Now, I think the ones I made are too thick and they're more biscuits than crackers, but they are beautifully crispy.  DJFoodie cuts the mix into 48 servings, compared with my 24.  So, perhaps using 2x baking sheets and rolling it a lot thinner would be better.  And maybe gruyere rather than parmesan, so they're a bit less strongly flavoured.

Friday 21 December 2012

This isn't really about weight loss

I, and anyone who's read my posts, have lost the point of why I went low carb/high fat.

Before discovering low carb, high fat diets (LCHF), I already was eating as little processed food as is practical - almost none in fact.  I already wasn't eating any "low fat" products (oddly apart from 0% fat greek yogurt, which has changed now).  I was already only rarely eating rice (always brown), almost never pasta (and then if I did it was wholewheat), small portions of couscous (50g dry weight and whole grain), bread only once or twice times a week (a wholewheat bagel with poached eggs and/or bacon at the weekend).  I was, however, eating carb bars, drinks and gels in races and a bit in training to get used to them; once a week for about 16 weeks of 2012.  And I didn't like doing it.

This was my original point:-

I want to be able to get through an endurance event by using my natural energy stores in as high a proportion as I can, so I need to take on as little fuel during the event as possible.

Why?  Two reasons. One - I am criminally useless at taking on fuel on the bike leg of a longer distance triathlon (half ironman and up, I wouldn't bother on anything shorter).  I procrastinate about doing it, end up sitting up for ages while I procrastinate, slow down, and generally faff.  I never seem to find the right time, there's always a bend, a bump, a climb, a descent, an overtake... it just plain slows me down.  Two - taking on all that sugar makes me feel really bloody awful.  Sick as a dog, confused towards the end, sleepy, and just plain horrible all over.

To that end, I wanted to encourage my body to burn fat preferentially as a fuel.

It just so happens, that there are many diets and lots of publicity around the fact that eating a low carbohydrate diet tends to result in weight (body fat) loss.  Which will be handy to get me down to my racing weight, but it's not the primary goal.

It also just so happens that there are a number of people who think low carb living is the healthiest way to be for various reasons.

Somewhere along the way, everyone (including me) got caught up with the weight loss bit.  Yes, it'll be nice to drop a few pounds to easily hit racing weight, I really can't deny that.  But the main point is the preferential fuel piece.  And initial results from the steady state gas analysis and RMR gas analysis tests I had done, seem to indicate that that's going reasonably well.

Thursday 20 December 2012

Giving in to temptation

No, I've not been eating refined carbs.  Or even appreciable amounts of carbs, or processed food.  What I -have- been doing is over-indulging on wine.

You see, wine seemed to be something I'm relatively tolerant to on the scale of Things That Contain Carbs.  It's not all that carby anyway either.  And with one thing and another and the time of year (yes even I have noticed it's almost Christmas) and the fact that I'm a bit mopey about not feeling confident about getting out on my bike on the roads, I've wanted a bit of a pressure release valve that's not going to totally undermine my low carb work so far.

Last week was very bad in the "just how much have I had to drink?" stakes.  I'm too embarrassed to confess to the number of units, but let's just say it's a bit more than the recommended maximum for women.  This week has been better, but my liver/kidneys etc. haven't really recovered from last week.  So, I'm retaining water like nobody's business (hello extra 1.5kg in water weight in 24 hours!), I'm slower in the mornings than I have been for weeks, I'm getting to bed later, getting up later, getting lower quality sleep (still sleeping right through the night though, which is a novelty still despite having 6 weeks of it so far) and eating food when I don't really need it - which is vanishingly rare on my new nutrition regime; it simply doesn't happen when I've not had a drink.  I just may well be not as tolerant to wine as I'd thought.
So, in an attempt to work out whether it's causing one problem or another, I decided to see about looking at the effects of wine on my insulin responses in the cheapest way possible.  Using a blood glucose monitor (£15 from Boots), assuming that all things being equal, and assuming that if I hadn't had an appreciable intake of carbohydrate from food and my blood glucose level drops measurably after drinking wine then it means I've had an appreciable increase in insulin swimming about because of the wine.  It's going to need a lot of trial and error and data points to get a picture of what's happening.

So far I have some morning, fasted glucose levels and a few data points from after fasted exercise, a lowish carb meal, 1 glass of wine and 2 glasses of wine.  I've also just found better information on the insulin response and glucose levels due to food intake (for non-diabetic and non-pre-diabetic people) and it looks like the peak in blood glucose happens 30 minutes after a meal starts and things should be dropping down appreciably 60-90 minutes after you're done eating and back to fasted levels 2 hours after the meal(1).  Definitely more data required for a proper analysis of any kind, but so far it seems that:-
  •  my blood glucose does drop after 1 glass of wine and stays there after the 2nd
  •  my morning fasted glucose level is variable by ±0.5 mmol/L around 4.4 mmol/L
  •  I need to test glucose before, 30 minutes after meal start and then 120 minutes afterwards
It'd be good to do this for different meal contents to see if there are differences, do the same for wine in isolation, then when I have a baseline look at adding in experimental things in isolation to see what foods I may be able to easily tolerate in terms of keeping away from spiking insulin levels.  Also of interest is insulin response to things that have fake sugar in, e.g. Diet Coke.

[1 - Blood Sugar 101]

Thursday 13 December 2012

It really is that simple

It's been 5 weeks since I wrote this post about being more coated in fat that I was happy with and despite the fact that it showed I was a bit miserable about my body image at the time, I'm glad I wrote it.  It prompted a helpful, knowledgeable, medically trained pro triathlete to point me at a book by Gary Taubes - "Why We Get Fat and what to do about it".

I devoured the book, my brain being challenged in the first couple of chapters as Taubes grinds against all that we've been taught all of our lives about food and nutrition.  He writes convincingly, refers to reams of studies and papers and honestly admits there are holes in the understanding so  I decided immediately that I wanted to try out the theory of what he was describing and then read a load more books and articles.

The basic premise is that (in most people except those with type 1 diabetes and a few other metabolic nasties) carbohydrates, and increasingly the more refined and further from foods that pretty much cave men would have had access to, provoke insulin responses that result in the laying down of fat in the body.  It's worse for some than others, some people seem to be carbohydrate tolerant all their lives and some deteriorate over time and exposure to high levels of carbohydrate. For many who are not carbohydrate tolerant, the fix is to significantly reduce carbohydrate intake, and pretty much eliminate the most refined types; sugar, white flour and other processed grains.  The trap that many fall into when reducing carbohydrate intake is that they try to eat low fat foods too and Taubes (and Phinney and Volek, and Noakes and others) explain that fat isn't as evil as we've been led to believe, and eating fat neither makes you fat, nor increases the "bad" cholesterol (small particle size LDL) and in fact eating high proportions of fat can increase the "good" cholesterol (HDL) and possibly change the type of LDL cholesterol from smaller to larger (medium and large LDL particles seem to be associated with no elevated risk of heart disease) circulating in the blood.  It can also assist in correcting excess body fat.  Additionally, the reason humans need lots of fruit and vegetables to get hold of vitamins and minerals is because the high carbohydrate in the diet creates the extra requirement for higher amounts of them all in the diet to be able to metabolise and use them.  If you reduce the carbohydrate dramatically, you can get almost all of the nutrients you need from animal products (meat and fat) apart from vitamin C which is special. (It is possible, if difficult, to achieve the same effect with a vegetarian diet.)

So, for 5 weeks now, I've been eating a low carbohydrate, high fat diet.  And the biggest, easiest change to notice is that I don't get hungry.  Someone asked the other day "what do you eat for bulk in your meals, so you feel full?".  If you're eating low carbohydrate, hunger and "fullness" don't work or feel the same as they do on a "normal", Western, high carbohydrate diet.  When I eat a meal now, I feel full mentally and on the inside when I've had enough to eat.  I don't feel physically full, or that my stomach is reaching/has reached capacity in the way I used to feel at the end of a meal.  It feels odd and different initially and was quite disturbing for me the first time as it was a pretty hard and strong signal "STOP EATING. NOW! OR ELSE!".  Conversely, I don't get mad, desperate need or desire to eat.  I don't get cravings and when I'm preparing food I don't feel the need to graze because I can't wait until the meal itself.  I don't miss any foods I'm no longer eating, though I can appreciate that they were once delicious and desirable.  They're just not desirable any more.

On an average daily intake of over 2,000kcals, the kcals value of which has not changed from before I changed to a low carbohydrate diet, I've now lost 4kg in 5 weeks.  And I've been drinking more wine than for the months before that (probably a bit too much, if I'm honest).

Intake from 8th November to 12th December

It really is that simple.  Keeping my amount of carbohydrate taken in below 50g a day (I've averaged 34.8g a day over 5 weeks) and eating as I feel otherwise (I'm logging food intake for interest and to keep an eye on the carb count), as Taubes, Volek and Phinney said, my weight is being "corrected" and it should reach an equilibrium point at some point and then stay there.  I have no idea what that weight might be and seeing as I'm the lightest I've been in my adult life, in fact since I hit puberty.

If you have struggled with your weight, find yourself getting a little heavier as you get older, are pre-diabetic, suffer from excess fat around your middle, have symptoms of metabolic syndrome, or are simply interested in the subject, I can recommend these books:-

I'm looking forward to exploring more and different recipes and meals in a couple of books that have caught my eye, but so far it's been delicious and exciting and I feel great.

Tuesday 11 December 2012

Fat burner

So, I went for a couple of tests to take a look at fuel burning, how it works for me right now and any other information that comes with all of that.  At Cadence Performance, I had an RMR test and steady state analysis.

First up was the RMR test.   This measures the amount and types of gases I breathe in and out for a 15 minute period of sitting quietly.  For this, I was strapped into the gas mask and left to sit alone for 15 minutes without distractions while the data gathering appliance clicked, whirred and wheezed rhythmically at me.

Attractive attire, no?
There are guesstimate formulae you can use to work out an approximation of your RMR, based on weight, height, age etc. and using those formulae (and my weight of 62.6kg on that day) the prediction came out at 1400kcals.  What Peter (the sports scientist doing the testing) also said was that at rest, most people show a reasonably clear bias towards either carbohydrate burning as a fuel or fat burning.  And the results would soon show that both the estimated RMR and prediction of a strong bias were both wrong.

Remember, this test measures the actual air going in and the waste gases coming out after my body after there's been processing going on in there.  It is the best measurement you're going to get of what kind and quantity of chemical reactions are going on when you breathe.

RMR results...
MODE - Seated
PROTOCOL - Fasted/15 minutes

You may be at a LOWER RISK of gaining weight in the future than someone with a
lower RMR.  You may experience less than expected difficulty in reaching and/ or maintaining a healthy weight.
Respiratory Quotient (fat vs carbs) results...
RQ - 0.85 
EXPECTED RANGE (0.80 – 0.90)
Your RQ score is within the EXPECTED RANGE, you appear to burn Fat and Carbohydrate for energy in the expected manner while at rest. To maintain a healthy weight follow a meal plan LOW in total fat and HIGH in complex Carbs.

Your body prefers to burn CARBOHYDRATES for energy while you are at rest. You should consider a LOWER FAT diet to reduce potential weight/fat gain. If you want to maintain or lose weight it is ESPECIALLY important for you to follow a meal plan LOW IN TOTAL FAT and HIGH IN COMPLEX CARBOHYDRATES. No more than 20% of your total calories should be from fat. Higher fasting RQ’s have been linked to a tendency towards overweight regardless of an Average, Faster or Slower Resting Metabolic Rate status. Some studies suggest that people who are ‘CARBOHYDRATE BURNERS’ tend to conserve fat and over time gain weight faster than ‘ FAT BURNERS’. In one weight loss study people were more likely to lose weight if they had a lower RQ score.

LOWER RANGE: ‘FAT BURNER’ (0.70 – 0.80)

Your body prefers to burn FATS for energy while you are at rest. You should consider a LOWER CARBOHYDRATE diet to reduce potential weight or fat gain. You may increase the amount of fat you eat to approximately 30% of total calories, if desired. However, for health reasons you should limit the amount of saturated fat you eat.

So.  The test shows that A. my basic metabolic rate is almost 200kcals per day higher than estmated - i.e. "faster" and B. I am neither way strongly biased with fuels burnt at rest.  What is fairly amusing to me to read is that everyone, regardless of results, is advised to limit fat intake; even fat burners!  And the mid-range RQ scorers are still advised to eat a diet high in carbohydrates.

On to the steady state analysis.  This involved sitting on my bike on a turbo trainer to warm up a bit, then ramp through progressively higher resistances and measure outputs of gases, power and heart rate.

Pushing 180W I couldn't maintain 90rpm cadence, until I was pushed to thrash it.

At this stage you can get some headline results, like the fact that even at a reasonably thrashy effort level at the end, I didn't go anaerobic (my % fuel from fat was still around 25%) and my highest lung intake was over 3L/min of oxygen, giving a VO2 at the time of 48.5 (so my VO2max would be a bit higher than that, but no idea what without testing for that with a different test protocol than today's test).  And that's pretty much it for the day.  Cup of tea in the Cadence Cafe, staring at the cakes and feeling weird that they weren't desirable (despite the fact that they were beautiful and well-made from good ingredients), and back home again to wait a few days for the results.

The results are nice - raw data from the tests and some bits of analysis.  So I've created some graphs from the test so you can more easily see what's going on.

First up is the graph showing O2 in vs CO2 out and the two graphs chasing each other in parallel, not crossing at any point in the test - showing that I didn't hit my anaerobic threshold.

Also of interest to me was the volumes of gases circulating...

I particularly like the kcals burnt vs. heart rate, showing that when I spiked cadence at one point, my heart rate didn't spike with it, but my kcals burned did.

Now for the really interesting bit, and the part that I was really here for.  The splits in fuels burned... (again ignore the spike at the end as that's when the mask came off).  There's a marked change in gradient at 11.5ish minutes into the test and then the last 3 minutes or so are roughly stable.

Looking at the individual graphs of % of each fuel vs. heart rate and I have a really nice picture of what's going on at the moment.  See especially the last 3 minutes of the test, where my heart rate climbs dramatically as I push the highest wattage I can for a minute or so and the split between fat and carbohydrate burning doesn't really change.  It stays stable at around 75% carbohydrate and 25% fat. (again there's an erroneous spike at the end of the test when the gas mask was removed).

And the fat% vs, heart rate graph shows it slightly differently but clearly there's some sort of threshold crossed at the 11.5ish minutes mark when fat % drops dramatically before slowing and then stabilising at 25% to the end of the test and the mask being taken off.

I think that's jolly good information.  It shows that I may well have an engine designed for endurance sports - which is rather handy - and that it might have a decent capacity in there.  VO2max testing will give more of an answer on that one, but for now I have a good answer to the "am I fat burning yet?" question.  And the answer is an emphatic "yes".

Re-test in a few months to see what/if there are changes and I'll be interested to see what they are, or not.

Monday 10 December 2012

Twickenham 10K

Lapchallenge brought me another unexpected race late in the year - run by a fellow Thames Turbo club member - a lovely 10km loop around Twickenham.  Mostly along the river and with a couple of obstacles; some steps, a couple of bridges with bike barriers at each end and a kissing gate that really slowed the flow of runners for a while (I just hopped over the railings).  The start and finish are at the White Swan pretty much on the river banks and there are loos right there, which is handy, and the pub were laying on a barbecue for after the race; even nicer!

Having run the Thames Turbo half marathon a couple of weekends ago, and run it pretty hard only to have a relatively slow time as a result, I wasn't particularly positive going in to this 10K race.  I've not been having the quickest 5km runs either and the level of effort I've had to put in to get a time that's more than 2 minutes slower than my 5K PB is just demoralising.

Sunday morning of the race and I still wasn't feeling all that confident in my speed, having been putting in silly slow 5K times with large effort for the last couple of months.  We got up and had bacon and scrambled eggs with coffee and cream for breakfast then ambled into Twickenham to park and walk down to registration/start/finish at the White Swan by the river.  It was pretty quiet and a good time to arrive for Mr TOTKat to be shown his marshalling spot and get a lovely hi-vis tabard to wear.  A great big red inflatable start/finish hoop clearly marked where things were at, which was nice.  What was a pleasant surprise was the 463 registered runners - about double what I was expecting.

Start/Finish hoop and timing tent
I was ready for a slippery mudfest for some of the course, having been warned of that, and had on my £24 New Balance MT101s which are fabulously light, grippy and surprisingly good on concrete too.  And we were off on the dot of 10am.  After a few seconds I made it through the start hoop; I'd started a bit down the field with my pessimistic 1 hour or more predicted time.  And we trotted down through a park, past Mr TOTKat's turn point *wave* and the tide of runners went out.  I let it.  Early on in a race, many people go out too hard, don't pace well and you'll reel them in again later.  Kitted out in my new club strip, I got a "GO TURBO!" from a couple of ladies by the path; which was nice :o)

Go Turbo!
Having felt pretty perky in the morning, I also didn't really experience the usual "Oh, I could stop now. There's no reason to push so hard, is there?" feelings in an appreciable way.  As Noakes says, they usually kick in about 2/3rds the way into a race regardless of length, but today they didn't.  I did, however, get a nasty stitch at about 32 minutes in and had to slow and walk through it for a minute before it was gone sufficiently to pick up to run again.  In that minute about 8-10 people passed me (one helpfully checking I was OK "yep, just a stitch thanks!"), and I thought how annoyed I would be if I were them passing someone walking only to be overtaken by that person in a couple of minutes.  Sorry!  I had a bad stitch, I'm not one of those annoying people who run/walk shorter distances in races*.

Race organisation beavering away
 So I overtook most of them again, maybe even all I didn't really notice.  Having noticed 6km bleep on my Garmin, I was waiting for the 7km marker but it never came and the course headed into the town centre for a bit so there wasn't a convenient spot for the markers any more.
Pretty, riverside route.

The 8km marker turned up way before expected (and my Garmin said it was at 7.34km).  There were a fair few people without GPS watches who thought they were flying when they saw that; oops!  I was pretty pleased that my pacing had been wonderfully even through the run to that point and thought I'd try a little extra speed soonish to get that last km knocked out faster.

Nice even pace (km 7 was stitch time)
And, lookit!  With a nicely evenly paced preceding 9km (apart from 7th km where I had to walk out the stitch), I threw in a final km that was 20s+ quicker.  Very nice!  But my happiness turned to huge disappointment as I approached the finish hoop (feeling like now was a good time to be able to stop running so hard) and I saw the timer saying 1:05:xx (or so I thought).  How could I have put in a 65 minute 10km!?  Not fair at all, seeing how well I'd paced!  And then I looked down at my heart rate monitor to stop it and saw it saying 00:54:xx and I looked up at the timer again to realise it was showing the time and was awfully formatted - it was, in fact, 10:54:xx 6 minutes to 11am :o)  Muuuuch better!

Nice cadence :o)
Spot the stile and stitch
Spot the stile and stitch

All in all a lovely race and I'm pleased with how it went.  Nice, even pacing, worked through the stitch, ran straight through the mud and puddles (rather than mincing around the sides of them), shoes were perfectly grippy on all of the surfaces, and I put in a cracking effort at the end.  Job done.

More pace/speed improvements to come as I work on stuff over the coming few months and I've got every confidence in putting in a sub 50 minute 10km at some point in the not too distant future.

* - If run/walk is your strategy for distances less than a (standalone) marathon, I mean you.  Yes, you.  You're ANNOYING!  If you can't run the whole distance, don't race; or... man up in the race and force yourself.  Train more/better and finish a race in an honourable way!  (Any courses with appreciably evil hills are exempt from this - walk all you need to!)