My first 8 mile race was always going to be a PB by default, but when I woke up on Sunday morning, I didn’t really expect to have the run I had.
It was the turn of my club, West End Runners, to host the final LRRL winter league race of 2015. The race stated and finished at Syston Rugby Club, which isn’t in Syston itself, but neighbouring Queniborough. It’s a serious setup, with several pitches, and padded posts! It’s not just a rugby club either, as there were some decent tennis courts, and a cricket pitch.
As a newbie, I expected to have to volunteer, so I was chuffed when I was told I could also run the race. I was looking forward to it, with the end of all my illness and injury woes in sight. I was returning to some kind of form. The last thing I expected, or needed, was to wake up on the morning of the race with that whooshy head cold feeling. I was gutted. I put my kit on, just in case I started to feel better, or if I was needed to run.
Both me and The Bloke were helping out with car parking duty. He wasn’t running, and would be seconded to “any other stuff” later on. I tried to find someone, to ask if we had a women’s team, because I was feeling awful. I was told that there would hopefully be enough runners, so I went out to the car park to perform my duties. I might as well make myself useful!
Saying that, I also made a coffee and walnut loaf cake, to raise some funds for the club, and to provide a tasty treat with a cuppa. I’m not really into baking, being more of a savoury person, but my effort looked okay. It was a pain to make, as I’d chosen to do it by hand, mostly because I couldn’t be bothered getting my food processor out. One thing I did learn was that adding all the wet ingredients to the creamed butter and sugar means a lot of hard work! It also looked liked a bowl of puke, at one stage! After taking ages to get it into an homogeneous mix, I can see why Mary Berry is so skinny! I pre-sliced it, and was impressed that the walnuts hadn’t sunk to the bottom, and were evenly distributed. Result! My joy turned to disappointment when I left my effort with the other cakes, and there was a full blown coffee and walnut sandwich cake, complete with filling, and served on a proper cake tray! I was gutted! I was glad nobody was about, and skulked off to deal with my wounded pride.
Amidst my toing and froing, I was asked by Lou to help Sam in opening her mate’s Mini, seeing as I had one. It wasn’t the same key fob as mine, but it was unresponsive. Even inserting the key into the lock didn’t work. How strange, we all thought. I can’t remember who asked, but it was suggested this wasn’t the right car. Looking about, we noticed another Mini around the corner. I walked up to it, to see it was unlocked. I locked and unlocked it. She’d only been trying to unlock the wrong car!
It was lovely and sunny, and even though it was still early, it was quite warm in the sun. There was a bit of a breeze, which was quite cold. I was placed on an exposed corner, and definitely felt the chill. I had my hood up, and was still freezing. This did not bode well. By the time I was moved to relieve Gary, who was running and needed to get registered and warmed up, I was relieved I wasn’t running. The head wooziness was still there, and it was far too cold, despite the glorious spring sunshine.
It never ceases to amaze me how quickly good manners are disappearing from society. A little nod, or wave from drivers isn’t too much to ask, but it felt nice to be acknowledged, or appreciated. Yet some just drove past without even a glance. There were even a few drivers who totally ignored marshals, and did their own thing! I directed one guy in a dark blue Astra into a space, only for him to then shoot off, and down to the other end of the car park, where me, and the occupants of the car that he should have parked next to, stood and stared into the distance as he struggled to manoeuvre in front of a rugby post into some imaginary space! As for the regular users of the facilities, well, some of them had a bit of attitude as well! It’s one Sunday a year!
It wasn’t long after the Astra incident, I heard a whistle, and a shout. Sam was waving at me, and I went over to be told that only three women were running, they couldn’t get a fourth for the team. I was going to have to run. With 20 minutes until the start, I had to register, collect my chip, avail myself of the facilities, and find The Bloke so he could look after my phone! I had no chance to warm up. It was a good job the start was sheltered. I couldn’t believe it. Everybody told me to take it steady, and not to worry about times or places, but this is me here. I had one chance of getting a club gold standard at this distance, and I wasn’t going to get my 6 mile standard, due to my dodgy immune system. Yes, there are plenty of other distances, but I had felt really confident going into this race. I needed to finish in under 1:03:45. That was sub 8 min/mile pace. Sigh…
We set off, with the usual chorus of beeps and bleeps as runners crossed the mat. I ignored everyone else, and kept it steady. I didn’t dare look at my watch. Sam had been next to me as we crossed the start mat, but she went off ahead, which I was glad of, as I didn’t want any pressure (no offence, chumshine). I struggled to breathe, and could hear myself huffing and puffing. There didn’t seem to be as much congestion as some races, and I was able to pass other runners.
I missed the first km bleep, but I glanced at my watch as I passed the first mile marker; 8:10. I was surprised. I knew that there was supposed to be a nasty hill at about 4 miles, so kept a lid on things. The course undulated, but even by my own standards, the hills were pleasant rather than challenging. Two miles, and I was still keeping things steady, I guessed that was a slightly quicker mile, looking at the time, probably just over 8 minutes. Amazingly, my breathing had eased up, and I no longer sounded like Darth Vader with a cold. I felt comfortable, but I feared I would tire later on.
Mile 3 seemed to have a few nice downhill stretches, which suited me. I recovered well, and was slightly quicker again. There was a challenging climb heading towards South Croxton. I was in a bunny-hopping group with three Hinckley runners, and someone I couldn’t remember. One of the Hinckley girls said she’d heard there was a nasty hill, and hoped this was it. A chap, also from Hinckley, said that that it was still to come. I could hear us all thinking, “damn!” The hill was in the village itself. From the bottom, it looked horrendous. The other runners started to slow down. I wasn’t having this! “Come on, get those arms moving!” I shouted. Despite my own hatred, and fatigue, I tried not to let it get the better of me. Looking at Strava after the race, I definitely did slow down considerably, but much to my surprise, I was going past people, and not the other way round, as has been the case in the past. I was 8th quickest women, apparently. Okay, only 18 recorded their run on Strava, but I’ll take it! I heard my name, and there was a WER posse (along with a rogue Beaumont runner, Mel) right at the top! I tried to acknowledge them, but I was tired!
What goes up, must come down. This was a blessed relief. My km times started to drop well below the times needed for gold, but the mile markers suggested I was about 30 seconds too slow. Annoyingly, I had the Spandau Ballet song stuck in my head. I don’t even like Spandau Ballet! I still tried to keep things steady, and not chase the time. Another silver gilt whilst feeling under the weather is still good, I told myself.
Yet again, especially in the last half, I was amazed at how impatient some motorists can be. Rather than using the spaces between runners, and slowing down, I could see ahead of me how some would charge down the road, then have to swerve in pretty late for vehicles coming the other way, usually far too close to the runners themselves. Why? It’s not like they gained anything by accelerating hard; they just ended up almost having to stop, even stopping, rather than crawling behind the runners until there was enough space to get past. It’s also pretty dangerous, too. Grr.
The support along the course was brilliant, not just from my own clubmates. Thanks go out to the lovely Beaumont ladies, and those I know from Huncote. It was very much appreciated, and did gee me up.
The mile markers didn’t match up as I ran back into Queniborough. I nearly cried when I saw the 7 mile marker, as I could’ve sworn it wasn’t that big a place! There were more people about, and runners who’d finished were heading out to find their friends, and family who were still running. Everyone I passed kept saying, “not far now”, but it felt like it. I’d been gaining on, and had caught up with, a Poplar runner, but my lack of fitness and stamina saw her stretch back ahead again.
I reached the entrance to the rugby club, where The Bloke, and an assortment of Westies, cheered me on. I looked at my watch, hoping the finish mats were closer than the start line had been. 1:03:00 ish. I have no idea how far I ran, I put everything I had left into trying to do it in under 45 seconds! I may or may not have been shouting at myself, I really don’t know. I definitely was in my head, and anyone who knows me well will know that I often forget to engage brain before opening mouth! I saw the mat, crossed it and stopped my watch.
I broke down. I’m ashamed to say, I was overcome. It must’ve been the fatigue, the illness, and the fact that Leicester City’s survival the day before had played havoc with my nerves, that just tipped me over the edge. My friend Mick came over, thinking something was wrong, closely followed by Sam, and Rebecca from Wigston Phoenix. I must’ve looked a right soft sap, blubbering away, especially when they realised I’d actually had a good run, not a disaster! I apologise again. I’ll try and keep a lid on it, in future.
I was the last lady back for the team, which wasn’t a shock, but 54th out of 183 women running. I was the 25th old bird (out of 105), and 8th out of 35 women in my age group. Overall, I finished 296th out of 482 runners. More encouragingly, and I appreciate that there was more climb on the way out than on the way back, I had another race with a negative split. I know Robin Hood Half is a few months away, but it gives me some confidence going forwards, especially with the new course, and the mahoosive hill. I’ve always been afraid of keeping it steady, and not having enough left at the end. I’ve tended to go quick from the start, and hope to maintain it. It’s a confidence thing, but I need to trust in myself more.
Heading back into the clubhouse to hand in my chip, and most importantly, fetch my hoodie, I had a quick glance at the cake table. I couldn’t see mine, so assumed it wasn’t good enough to make it, as there was loads of cake left. I was feeling a bit nauseous, and stuck to water. I went back down to the entrance to see The Bloke, I thought I ought to let him know how I’d got on, and saw even more rudeness! This time, it was parents of kids using the tennis courts, who refused to use the car park at the entrance, but insisted on driving to the their precious offspring, despite the fact runners were still finishing the race, and the roadway was blocked with runners patiently waiting to leave in their own vehicles. You would have thought that for one Sunday it wouldn’t have hurt to make poor little Johnny walk a bit further, rather than look like a selfish, impatient idiot, but clearly, some people do like to put their own sense of self-importance over the safety of other people, and the convenience of others. It beggars belief.
Once finished with his marshalling duties, The Bloke very kindly bought me a cuppa. I could’ve had cake, but I was still feeling sickly. He said it was a pity he’d bought the last piece of my cake. He’d treated himself about 20 minutes into the race, and was lucky! He said it was really nice, which blew me over. Thankfully, I held it together this time. All in all, it was a bit of a successful day.
I’d like to thank everyone at the club for organising the race, and to everyone who marshalled, helped, and cheered us all on. Well done to everyone who ran, there were some amazing results from the team. It’s a great course, and I would love to have a crack at it fully fit, if I’m needed next year!