I really had no idea about how I was going to do this one. It was very much run it and see. I hadn’t run 10k for three weeks and last raced it at the very beginning of March. But I realised that line of thinking was rather negative, and while I didn’t want to talk myself out of a good run, I didn’t want to set unrealistic expectations either.
Would a couple of weeks’ worth of triathlons help or hinder my pace? I wasn’t going to let myself use them as an excuse, particularly as I’d given myself two days’ rest after Darlington. But equally, I wasn’t going to beat myself up if my legs still felt drained from the effort.
So, a sunny evening, not too warm with a bit of a breeze; a brand new course and a start line 10 minutes’ drive from my house. And just run how I feel.
I picked up my number 21 at registration and said hello to some familiar faces including a couple of Newcastle parkrunners. Then headed out, happy to congratulate Jeff on his latest cracking run. He gave me some useful tips about the course – a tough 2-3 km and then a nice downhill 4-5 and back round for the second lap.
As I went through a bit of a jog to warm up, I felt bouncy. My legs felt fresh. I felt good. Confident. Relaxed. A summer’s evening run on the coast. What could be nicer?
I line up in the pack near a tall guy that runs at Newcastle parkrun and is a wee bit faster than me. I also notice a tiny Heaton Harriers lady called Pam who I recognise as another runner about the same pace, but a bit better.
With a couple of ‘good lucks’, and ‘have a good runs’ we’re soon off, piling through the suburban streets, weaving our way past the parked cars, choosing pavement or road, finding space until the runners thin out.
My tactic formed in the minutes before take off is to go out at around 5k pace and see how long I can hold on. I always go off fast anyway, so I may as well try and make it count. The first kilometre is fast – under 5 minutes and I get the sense that maybe, just maybe, I could be on for something.
As the estate roads and curbs give way to a stonier pathway the air is punctuated by puffs of dust and pollen streams from the fields. I lose my nerve a little and have a short, uncomfortable conversation with myself in my head. “You’ve gone too fast. This is 10k, not 5. You’re breathing too shallow.”
The runners pass me in droves. Including the tall parkrunner.
I shake it off quickly, as I settle into my running rhythm, trampling it underfoot as the path leads steadily upwards between the fields. I don’t want to be a slave to the watch, but as we approach the 2k marker I clock 5:23. Slowing down, but still within reason. Push on I say to myself. It’s still possible.
Back onto a road between two hedgerows. Hawthorn blossom drifting like a lazy wedding day as I dig in uphill. Just keep moving forward. Pam draws level with my shoulder. I put on a wee spurt and take off for a few strides, but she comes back at me again and again. Each time I find another brief injection of speed and keep her behind me.
Out again onto narrow suburban pathways, dodging parked cars, wheelie bins and lamp posts. I draw level with a Heaton Harrier and find the space to pass. As the pathway widens, I recognise the landmarks and realise we’re heading back to the start and this bit is definitely downhill.
I stretch out my legs and begin to fly, putting space between myself and the overtaken runner. I feel strong here, running easy, relaxing my shoulders and picking up my feet. I cannot believe how fast this feels.
I cruise past the tall parkrunner and another group of runners. Why are they not keeping up with me? I am queen of the downhill and the adrenaline is rushing.
Back round towards the start. The wind catches my breath with a shock and I start to feel the jolt in my legs and chest from my downhill rush. Conscious of the chasing pack again now.
There’s a girl in a black Blaydon shirt on my shoulder. She’s tried to take me on the left, now weaved out to the right, but I’m pushing on, trying to keep her behind me.
Now it’s hurting and we’re only coming up to 5k. Jeff’s around here somewhere. Can’t let her past me while he’s watching. He shouts out, “Looking good, looking strong,” as I pass, but I am starting to struggle.
As I pass through the start line at the end of lap 1, I hear the marshall counting up the seconds – 25.12 as I pass. Well I’ve done my good 5k I think and I start to drift off the pace a little; ease up to give my murmuring breaths a break. The Blaydon girl sees her chance and scoots past on the pavement.
And then I think 25.12, sheesh, that’s not far off sub 50 pace. Could I? Can I? I push on again, knowing the hard part of the course is ahead of me, but I want to give this my best shot. And there’s still that downhill to come.
Now I’m running on my own. The group ahead too far to catch. The group behind not close enough or breathing hard enough to trouble me. My red and yellow shirt is drenched in sweat, but I must do my best to do it proud.
Behind me I sense the pack. Right now I must lead it.
I feel like I skip over the stony trail a little more quickly, although I certainly feel it more. But my legs are strong I tell myself as I struggle with a shortness of stride and breath. Be bold, be strong, I say to myself as I find it hard to stay focused, keep pushing with no one near enough to chase, knowing I’m the one they’re all chasing.
I pass the 6k marker and think 20 minutes. Can I keep this going for 20 minutes? Yes I can. There’s still a chance. But I cannot let up. I must push on.
Back onto the smoother road and a slight incline. Pam challenges me again. I manage to keep her behind me until we turn out onto the busy pavements, but she’s persistent and eventually one of her moves sticks and she’s gone.
But the narrow pathways give me others to do battle with. A girl in a blue top and a Heaton Harriers vest draws level and I push on. She gets past me and I stick close to her. Draws a little further forward, but close enough I could take her in a sprint.
I’m letting out little bleats of effort now as I fight to bring my breathing under control. Heading onto the downhill stretch and I luxuriate in every inch of my legs, gliding down to take the Heaton Harriers girl and pull ahead.
2k to go. I’m going to push this as hard as I can, not leave it until the last minute, not while I’m running like this.
Into the last kilometre and I’m fighting now to find another gear, worrying that I’ve overcooked it. As the path flattens, the chasing pack eat into my downhill lead and I fight the panic in my chest. I can see the school building at the finish, but it’s still so far, so far. How far? Less than half a kilometre? The Heaton Harriers girl goes past.
Almost at the last corner and I sense someone else breathing hard on my shoulder. It’s the tall parkrunner. He’s been behind me all this time. And this time his longer legs eat up the path faster than mine.
I’m ramping up, grinding through the gears, but it’s not fast enough. As I turn through the gate onto the finish straight, the point at which I’ve decided to throw away any thoughts of holding back, my right calf pings into a sharp cramp.
But I’m already hitting the ground as fast as I can and I cannot stop. My face cries out in pain and I shut my eyes as I sprint towards the line. I’ve got enough wits about me to stop my watch as I say ‘Please, please please…’ to the running gods and almost pile into the back of the tall parkrunner in the funnel.
When I open my eyes I see 51:40. It takes a few seconds to register. That’s a new PB. Okay so it’s not the sub 50 that I allowed myself to hope for half way round, but in truth that was always too ambitious for this run. But it’s closer. And I’ve just run harder and faster at this distance than I ever have before. Been tougher, fitter, stronger in my mind. And it feels good.
Stats and stuff:
When I catch up with the tall parkrunner after the race, I learn his name is Chris.