A week since my last blog? That’s a sign I’ve been busy and pretty happy about being busy. I’ve raced today, and I want to get to that bit, so here are the edited highlights.
- 2 interval sessions where I didn’t hit the pace I was looking for but was glad I did
- 1 swim session that I had to bully myself through
- 1 killer spin class
- 1 awesome PT session on the beach in the rain with a 12k kettlebell
- 2 days rest (the hardest part)
- 1 trip to Edinburgh in the sunshine to talk writing, running, biking, eat cake and hug my running buddy Al
- 1 day volunteering at parkrun
- 1 hot 10k race
Blimey, that’s pretty full on isn’t it?
Okay, so today was my greedy race. My last madcap 10k dash before I really do have to stop faffing around trying to go fast and settle into the ‘pace yourself, pace yourself’ rhythm of training for a half marathon.
I’d put it in my calendar on a bit of a whim after my PT challenged me to go sub 50 in a 10k by the end of June and I realised I didn’t have a race to do it in. And despite the fact that I’ve prepared and tapered for this one, I could feel myself beginning to talk myself out of it.
It wasn’t flat as I’d hoped, given the location. When I saw the route map I knew it would take in a hill in Roker Park. And the forecast today was scorchio. And, as I reminded myself at Blaydon, pushing too hard, wanting it too much can come at price. Missing by seconds and ending my favourite race in tears? Just daftness.
So, all bets are off. Just run what you’re given. An unknown course, an unknown field and a hot, hot day. I bumped into Mark and Davina as I got to the stadium and chatted to some parkrun regulars as I got set and decided on my strategy. With a large crowd of runners and a band playing, I started to feel I might just be up for this, even with the raising temperatures. So the plan was to go for a good 5k and see if I could hold on.
I was drenched through with sweat before I started and not very pleasant to stand next to. But I was glad I had my Fetch top on as it meant I finally got to meet Claire who I’ve been talking to on Fetch and twitter. Hello! Great to see you.
Bits of the race organisation were great, others could have done with some improvement – like starting around 10 mins late for no real reason. The poor girl trying to do a warm up on the stage that hardly anyone could see got a rather lack-lustre response.
It was chip timed, with the sensors being stuck on the back of the running number. I haven’t seen that before. It did mean we were just shuffled into the starting area with no sense of who would be speedy or slow though.
Eventually we were off and I employed my usual ducking and diving to find my way through the crowd, make some space and go. I had no idea of my pace at first, I just wanted to run and find some space.
Through the city centre there were patches of shade beside the buildings, but I had to keep my wits about me for kerbs and bollards and weaving runners. My chest felt tight and I kept having to clear my throat. But I’ve done that before in races and eventually it settles.
Peter came through and gave me a shout. For a moment I toyed with trying to keep him in my sights, but he was off, and I had a cramping left leg to deal with. Just settling in niggles, I told myself and then I began to feel a pull on my right shoulder.
I’m so glad that when I get these niggles they seem to be at the start of races, at the point at which it makes no sense to listen to them. I haven’t had the shoulder pain for a while though. I always associate that one with cold and wet conditions. Anyway, I’m writing them down because they were there, but they seemed to vanish before they took hold and I’d zoomed through the first km in 4:57. We’re on!
Just running, just feeling my way, just breathing, not thinking too much. Just keep picking my way forward, keeping my wits about me. At a switchback in the park, Peter calls to me again. I don’t see him, but I wave and keep up the pace.
Water, water everywhere. The lake in Mowbray park looks so inviting and further on I get a glimpse of fountains. I will take on water in this race, I’ve decided, it’s too hot not to. I’ve tried to make sure I’m well hydrated, drinking plenty of water as I usually do. But my race nervous bladder has been particularly twitchy this morning.
I’m not really taking in very much. Just running and being comfortable in my own skin. It’s hard, it’s hot, but I’m thinking, just run easy. My legs and breathing feel strong.
Out along by the marina, I’d hoped for some shade or a cooling breeze. But the white heat of the boats on the water reflects off the light coloured pavement and it’s relentless. I seem to recall there’s a water station somewhere around here and I start to watch out for it.
But as my brain forces those thoughts forward I become aware of another sensation that tells me I may already be risking dehydration. I had a rare headache on Friday evening in a localised spot over my left eye. Right now I can feel it throbbing again.
I reach out for one of the water sachets and rip into it, so eager for a gulp that I stumble through my breath and almost choke. I keep running and squeeze the cool liquid round my mouth, sipping it in little by little.
I never usually run this kind of distance with water. Even on other hot races, I’ve taken a gulp or two then ditched the bottle. But I hold onto the pack and gradually drink most of it. I tell myself it’s okay to slow down a bit to take on the water I so obviously need. And although I haven’t looked at my pace for a good kilometre or two, I decide then and there to let it go. It’s not quite 5k yet and I don’t care.
I haven’t blown up, run out of steam or baulked at the challenge. I could keep pushing, hard and weary, make it hurt. But it’s just not going to happen here on this day. Just ease back and enjoy it a little. Don’t burn yourself out for this one. Learn to race another day.
Just as I’ve thought this, Claire comes past me, looking cool and strong, running in the flow. And the fact I don’t try to keep up with her, reassures me I’ve done the right thing.
Now I start to take in a little more. Now I see the sea and the other runners and the welcome shade of the approaching park. There’ll be a hill here I know, but now it holds no threat. I encourage another runner on, little steps, little steps and overtake some who are walking. I know I’ll run every step of this race. Maybe not as fast as I’m able, but I’ll run it now I’ve let the pressure off.
And now it’s coming back to me, the lightness and ease and enjoyment of the run. I feel strong again. I pat another runner on the shoulder as I pass to spur them on. And by the top of the hill, by the time I see Jeff, spectating with his camera, I’m enjoying a good patch.
Winding around back through the city, this route still has its twists and turns. Sunderland and South Shields were my patch for a year as a reporter, more than 10 years ago, and lots of memories come flooding back. I’ve walked many of these paths looking for stories.
Today the tale is one of heat. And people running and stopping and trying to get going again. My pace may have slowed, but I am relentless now. I know I can keep on going.
As we finally turn back towards the stadium there’s a last gasp rise and a girl in a red club shirt lets out a wry remark about it. I spot a sign that says 800m to go and power on up the slope, overtaking her as we come back down towards the start line and archway of balloons. I’ve kicked into my usual ‘death or glory’sprint finish. But it’s not the end.
The route curves round the back of the stadium. There are still hundreds of metres to go and my legs just want to stop after I’ve pounded them into something stupid. “Come on,” she shouts, “It’s just around here. You can do it.” I stutter into another run. And then speed up a bit more and a bit more. “Come with me!” I yell as I start to pull away.
Another twist, another turn, I still cannot see the end and my legs are really stuttering. But bless her, she grabs me by the elbow as I try and put another spurt of speed on and we cross the finish line together. Thank you Emma. What a diamond!
The clock says 56:23, so definitely no PB for me today. As I pick up my goody bag in the stadium I compare notes with other runners, faster runners than me who have likewise had a slow race. It’s my slowest this year and almost exactly the same as my first ever 10k race which was on a pretty hot and breezy day back in 2009. And I really don’t mind at all.
I ran what I was given. I decided to ease off before I was forced to. I didn’t make myself battle time demons or stress or pressure. I didn’t collapse at the finish line of false hope like one poor unfortunate runner. I just ran and sort of enjoyed it, despite the heat.
On the way home from Edinburgh on Friday, I started reading ‘Born to Run’. I’d finished it by Saturday. Now I’m not about to ditch my shoes and transform myself into a barefoot runner, but I am intruiged and curious about some of the ideas, particularly the arguments about how we evolved to run.
What I didn’t expect was to hear so much about the simple enjoyment of the run. Through the story of Emil Zapotek (who I confess I hadn’t heard of) to other runners who seem to make no sense from the traditional scientific point of view, that came through very strongly for me.
Al reminded me of it too, on Friday, talking about his recent 10k for the Stroke Association and meeting people who ran it who had been told a year ago, they’d most likely never walk. Humbling stuff. And stuff that’s well worth remembering in the midst of all our challenges and goal setting.
As I logged the details today, I noticed that was my 49th race. That’s quite some going from the girl that struggled to do a mile without stopping. Three years in and I am still incredibly grateful for this unexpected gift.
Why do we run? We run because we can. And because we love it.
Stats and stuff:
10k 56:23 chip time
1) – 0.62m – 4:57(7:58/m) – 63cal
2) – 0.62m – 5:07(8:13/m) – 65cal
3) – 0.62m – 5:11(8:21/m) – 65cal
4) – 0.62m – 5:05(8:10/m) – 65cal
5) – 0.62m – 5:42(9:11/m) – 66cal
6) – 0.62m – 5:49(9:22/m) – 64cal
7) – 0.62m – 6:13(9:59/m) – 65cal
8) – 0.62m – 6:02(9:43/m) – 66cal
9) – 0.62m – 6:10(9:56/m) – 65cal
10) – 0.62m – 5:53(9:28/m) – 65cal
11) – 0.04m – 15(6:50/m) – 3cal