After managing to finish my first 10k last year despite going up one of the steepest hills instead of around it and stopping to tie my shoelaces, I decided to try it this year.
I intended to carb-load the night before, that is filling yourself with carbohydrates (as the Mighty Mo Farrah recommends) to fuel you through. However as I was at a barbecue for dinner I couldn’t stomach it.
The weather forecast was great if you wanted to sunbathe, but not ideal for a race. Twenty-one degree heat was predicted, which feels double that when you’re wheezing your guts out.
I hadn’t trained more than once a week, although I have been cycling to work for a week or two. You need to exercise about five days a week to really push your stamina levels up according to my doctor dad and lately I have been getting to work faster and faster.
I was already feeling tired as I had not been able to get to sleep the night before, being hot and restless.
It seemed to take an age to register. We got some gimicky freebies in a goody bag – foot cream, sweat towel and so forth.
My boyfriend and I limbered up in the dust bowl of my local farm’s lane as an athletic, macho crowd gathered. I wondered whether I was crazy. What was I doing here? The only other females were honed toned and looked rather pleased with themselves already.
My friend couldn’t contain her excitement, paparazzi-style and I was grateful for her support.
The “ready, set go” of the race wasn’t quite the shock of the starting gun I was hoping for, but off we went, long lean bodies jostling for position, elbows flying. It was almost as risky as a mosh pit.
Pretty soon we fell into line and I felt charged with the energy and vitality of the competitors. The breaths behind spurred me into action, giving it all I got with my weak legs. They felt empty of all strength and drive, the result of a couple of hours sleep and an early start. The running devil in my head wondered whether I was going to have to walk it, but I didn’t pay any attention. The voice I wanted to give attention to was the angel saying “go on, you can do it, you’ll be fine, you’re doing well”. Later on in the race I verbalised that voice and found it gave me incredible comfort and support.
We wound round country lanes and up hills, in fact almost all the race was a hill. The sun beat down us and the air was frustratingly still and warm. I found myself sweating all over and gasping for air. I felt like I was drowning. My heartbeat wouldn’t slow down, it raced and raced faster than my feet did. I tried to regulate it and at first succeeded but as it got faster it got more difficult.
Thankfully there were stiles to give a welcome break as I waited for the queue to jump it. I felt like a ninja, Ipod blaring, vaulting them with ease. But once I was off the stile I became a car low on fuel again. Without the carbs my body was almost stalling, and on the hills my pace slowed to that of walking.
But I refused to let the running devil win. I wasn’t going to walk, otherwise I might stroll round the course and it would cease to be a race.
So on I went, gasping, wheezing, with sweat sticking my clothes to me. I was grateful when we ran in shade but a lot of the track was open to the harsh rays. It was a real test of motivation to keep going. Half way round the line of girls in front began walking and I knew then that I was too far back. I was so frustrated with my body, where was the power my legs needed? I could almost hear the thud of my heart over the music in my headphones, a dull cacophony of desperation. Surely it wasn’t going to be this body-breaking all the way around.
Two runners gave me motivation. One was embarrassingly near the start, by a strangely cheerful young man. Another was towards the halfway mark. As I began to give way to the running devil and seriously consider walking, just for a little bit, only for a bit, a lady encouraged me just at the right time. There she was, running but still smiling. I had seen her walking ahead for a while but my pace had been so slow that I hadn’t been able to overtake anyone! These words of advice were just what I needed and suddenly I found myself on the right track and not just physically. I had a new determination, a new power from within. I felt like Asterix after he had drunk the magic strength potion. Suddenly I had new belief in myself and the angel kicked the devil out for good.
I felt my legs charge up, my heart-rate slow and my body relax. Stamina had arrived.
The female motivational runner, who had said I would “overtake her at the next stile” in a rather patronising manner suddenly realised that sometimes if you motivate people it actually works. She tried in vain to catch up, keeping the pressure on for some time as I wound through woodland now almost alone. I could dimly see my competitors in front. I aimed for them, not taking my eyes off them. I would not be beaten. I would not.
We were through the woods and I had caught up to the dim figures. I began to run into the downhill slope, whereas they ran in a lop-sided careless fashion. This enabled me to overtake them on the hill, I was perfectly balanced this way, bending my knees more and taking the hill in my stride literally.
They were as irritated at being beaten as the last girl and again tailed me for some distance. Finally I saw the first man I had seen in the race for a while up ahead. I felt like I was improving – their had only been one man walking further back. I took advantage of the shade from the trees and my new slower heart beat to allow myself to go faster.
It took much longer this time but I closed in on my prey, a tall long-limbed man in a black shirt and shorts. The wrong colour for hot weather. He tried in desperation to quicken his pace but it was to no avail. I finally overtook him, but he overtook me and stayed just ahead for some time. Shortly after him was my first motivational speaker. He had run too fast at the start and was running in a manner which said let me finish this please. At this point the elevation went up and down with more twists and turns than a rollercoaster. He looked exhausted. As I passed him I returned the encouragement. He instantly brightened up and a smile returned to his face. I saw the life go back into him in a way which I felt when I was spurred to success.
But I was not going to let him win now. Not when I had returned the favour, that would be embarrassing. The first man I had passed, dressed in black, was just ahead as I went up the hill, telling myself to come on, growling out the strain. I must have looked completely crazy.
As we went over the last hurdle (or stile) and went through a funnel of trees before the finish I was tantalisingly close to my prey. One last push and I could beat him. He tried to quicken his pace but he was too exhausted. The tunnel vision kicked in and I gave it all I had, sprinting past him to the finish line.
In the end I was only a minute faster than last year! Completing it in an hour and six minutes. But it was such a sense of achievement to have done it in the high 20 degree heat and it was thrilling to finally beat the guy in front. I enjoyed my free burger and sports massage, just what I needed post-race!