Ordinarily, my race preparations would mean giving some thought to the event in the days beforehand. It would mean thinking about my goals, my kit and my nutrition. It would mean turning up raring to go and ready to smash it.
But not this time.
Although I had this race in my sights for ages (after all, Steve is the organiser!), in the days leading up to the event the harsh realities of life conspired to derail my plans. Running was put on hold and that was ok – sometimes other things are more important – and as race day dawned both my mental and physical preparation left much to be desired as I was fighting off a cold and generally lacked focus. Still, running is a great way to settle the mind and process all the thoughts tumbling around in it, so I went ahead in the knowledge that while I wouldn’t be chasing down a new PB, I had done more than enough training to see me round in a respectable time. Besides, I remained keen to run after missing out last year.
Race day began with a walk over to Bell’s Sports Centre to collect my race number and T-shirt. As Race Director, Steve was already there so this gave me a chance to catch up with him. The T-shirts this year were long-sleeved, which seems to have been a popular decision as we find ourselves on the cusp of the changing seasons. By choosing to collect my number early, I had plenty of time to go home, get changed and relax for a while before heading to the start line.
Once home, it was time to choose my kit (nothing like being organised…and this was nothing like being organised!). Conditions looked good and the forecast was similar to the day before when I had found it a little warm at times during parkrun, so I opted for my favourite running skirt, an Under Armour vest, my pink argyle calf sleeves and my trusty Ultra Boosts. I also had to deal with the minor inconvenience of a cat who fancied curling up for a nap on top of my warmer post-race top!
Around 10:30am I walked back over to the North Inch ready to start at 11. It was quite crowded, but I managed to find my dad and my sister who were both running as well. We chatted for a bit and then as if on cue everyone began to move towards the start to line up. We found ourselves a little too far back for my liking so knowing that my dad, who is faster than me over 10k, would blaze a trail through the crowd, I decided to follow closely behind him for the first couple of hundred metres until we were off the grass and onto the path. By this point, I hoped to be settling into a better position and more comfortable pace. My plan worked well and by the time I was running along by the river, I wasn’t having to jostle quite so much for position and was able to run in a reasonably straight line rather than constantly dodging round people.
Being local meant that I had the advantage of knowing the course really well: along by the river, a left turn and short loop around a new stretch of road then turn into part of an industrial estate, through some houses then back onto the riverside path to retrace my steps to the finish. Knowing that I couldn’t push too hard thanks to the pesky cold, I planned to run “comfortably hard” and adjust my pace when I needed to. I guessed that I could probably average around 8:30 per mile at best and probably finish around 53-54 minutes.
The first mile ended up being a little quick at 8:14 as I worked to get past the crowds, but after that I ran much more steadily. The next few miles ticked by in 8:27, 8:29 and another 8:29. Nice and even. I was running on familiar paths and my mind was still not entirely focused on the task in hand, so my recollections of the race are not as vivid as usual. One thing that does stand out in my mind is a woman from a nearby running club passing by and calling out that she loved my calf sleeves (she later found me in the finish area to ask where they were from!). I also remember running alongside some guys from another running club for a good chunk of the race.
The toughest part was on the return to the Inch for the finish. I had noted a strongish wind on the way out and now I was running straight into it. My pace was slowing, but I felt like my effort level was much higher. Mile 5 was completed in 8:32 followed by my slowest mile of the race in 8:38. All the way back along by the river I could see the finish line off to the right but had to run around the path and back onto the grass to get there. I got my head down and just kept going.
Turning off onto the grass for the final stretch, I found the underfoot conditions quite tough. The grass was longish and difficult to run through, but I was nearly there and dug in. It being a local race, there were people I knew lining the finish (including my dad who had been ahead of me as predicted) and I could hear people calling my name and giving me encouragement. The finish gantry came into sight and the race clock, which was still reading 52:5X. I had made it – and slightly faster than anticipated as my chip time was confirmed as 52:36. Not bad given the circumstances.
Crossing the finish line I was handed my medal, a bottle of water and a small bag of fudge. Not too bad a haul and I can confirm that the fudge was delicious!
I found dad and we compared notes on the race whilst waiting for my sister to finish, then my mum arrived (she was dad’s “race crew” for this one and had his warm top!). After a quick chat, they were off and I waited to see the prizegiving and get a couple of post-race photos before heading home (leaving Steve and the rest of the team to finish clearing up).
The race overall was very successful and seemed to run smoothly. I must confess I didn’t enjoy it as much as usual, but on this occasion that’s more a reflection of my state of mind than the quality of the race as I had nothing to complain about with regard to organisation, registration or route. It was well marshalled and both the medal and T-shirt were good quality. I quite simply didn’t have my “race head” on and wasn’t at my best.
In the right conditions, this could potentially be a PB course, so if you have the opportunity to sign up next year, I’d say go for it! Perhaps I’ll see you there…