This weekend I journeyed to Herefordshire to visit my family, take lots of naps, and snuggle with our chocolate labrador puppy, Shadow. Nonetheless in order to make this justifiable from a training perspective, I entered a 10k, to get me back into the routine of racing and help predict a marathon finishing time.
I’d subbed it for my planned 7.5 mile pace run, meaning I did my weekly long run of 13 miles on the Wednesday after work. I’d tried to do a mini-taper from the Wednesday to Sunday- essentially not running, doing a bit of walking here and there, and lots of yoga. So let’s get to race day:
The Course: a straight out-and-back in Herefordshire. Picturesque, and flat- the stuff PB dreams are made of. Only problem? It was a straight line, which made it tough from a mental perspective!
The Goal: As always, I gave myself 3 separate goals:
- Plan A: PB at under 49 minutes
- Plan B: Match old PB
- Plan C: Use it as a training run, and stretch out the legs
I’m a creature of habit: I woke up at 6.30am, had a strong cup of coffee (for obvious reasons), and then tucked into an extra-large bowl of porridge, topped with banana and raspberries, and with a tablespoon of cashew butter stirred in. I wasn’t feeling great, but much more rested than I had been in the past few days (I’d actually questioned if I should even do the race, as the 13 miles had left me feeling really beaten up).
My parents came along for the ride, and brought the puppy along for support. As always, I ate a packet of Sesame Snaps about half an hour before kickoff, and tried to warm up. But as I was doing leg swings to open my tight, tight hip flexors, I smacked my ankle hard into a brick wall. Ouch. I genuinely panicked it might have fractured, but thankfully that was just my pre-race nerves talking.
The race was very low key (so low key, that I did wonder slightly what I paid for), and there were only around 250 runners. So I went to the front of the pack, with the other club runners, feeling very conspicuous in my London City Athletics jersey, as if I had a big sign on my forehead saying I don’t belong here. But anyway, I set off, way too fast, at a 7 minute-mile pace. When I eventually settled into my Mile 1 pace, I realised just how awful I felt; untapered, hungry, underfuelled, breathless and weak. This was going to be a tough one.
And the course, flat? My arse! It was undulating at the very least, and I really suffered for it. I paced with another female runner for a few minutes whilst I caught my breath, and then carried on ahead. The course seemed horrific, given that I was expecting flat, and so the mental battle began. I got to the final and steepest hill right before the halfway point, and duly gave up. No runners were close behind me, and so I had a moment of breathless, exasperated, human weakness. Just a moment. And thankfully, it didn’t last for long, as one of the front pack of runners came hurtling towards me on his way back, and shouted encouragement at me. As a result of that and, let’s be honest, embarrassment at being seen, I kept going.
Having reached the halfway point and grabbed some water, I headed back the way I’d come, passing plenty of other runners who were still on the long slog uphill. But instead of keeping their heads down and focusing on the task at hand, they shouted support at me. Almost every runner I passed whooped and cheered for me, and several shouted that I was currently first female.
Shit! First female?!
I realised that this race was going to be tough, as there were still some hills to conquer. So I decided to abandon the goal of a PB, and just try to maintain my lead and finish first female. Because, let’s be honest, how often does that happen to an amateur runner like me?! That second half was still pretty horrific though. I stopped on several occasions, and in Mile 5, I noticed the female runner I’d passed was closing in on me. After that, I only stopped once more (when a bend in the road afforded me some cover!) and dug deep. And…
Matching my PB!!
I have to say I’ll never forget the look on my Dad’s face as I appeared around the last bend – he was pointing and shouting excitedly to my Mum “She’s here! She’s here! She’s first!” My Dad was a runner back in the day, so to have him see that moment was really something special. It was only a small local race, but lots of people congratulated me, I got a hug from my Mum, and I caught up with the second female at the end. I finished with a time of 49.18, my previous personal best from before my injury took me out of play. I have to say, given the state I was in at the start of the race, I’m over the moon. And yes, it was a small field of runners, but I refuse to indulge in negative self-talk. A win is a win, and it gave me a boost I desperately needed!
I’d prepped some Nuun and a banana in advance, and told my Mum to force feed me both. And then we headed home; one of the glorious things about staying with your family is that they doubled as my crew, and took me straight home at the end- no logistics required! I chilled in front of the warm aga with my dog for a while (which did wonders for my muscles) and eventually did some minimal stretching. Then it was time for food (poached eggs on toast), a hot bath, and a nap. Yoga followed in the evening.
What I learnt this time:
- Flat does not mean flat in Herefordshire.
- Be really careful of going out too fast.
- (Not) being tapered and well-rested really makes a difference.
- It’s a mind game more than anything.
- It’s ok to walk.
What’s your biggest learning from a tough race?
And how do you keep yourself in the game mentally when it gets tough?
Lots of love,