Me: Doctor, doctor I think there’s something wrong with me…
Doctor: What seems to be the problem?
Me: I’ve got a high temperature, my face has come out in red splotches, my mouth’s dry, my legs ache, I’m really sweaty and I can’t stop smiling.
Doctor: Why, that sounds as though you’re enjoying running.
Me: No, couldn’t be. I’m not a runner, I hate it every time I go out, that can’t be right…can it?
Yesterday saw me take on my biggest run yet, the New Forest 10k, and perhaps the biggest thing I got out of it, other than the massive shiny medal of course, was the personal realisation that I can FINALLY say I enjoy running!
There, I said it, there’s no going back now!!
Last night I sat down and scribbled down lots of notes about the race in preparation for writing this blog post and as I look through them with fresh eyes today I realise that I have turned into that runner.
Let me explain…
You might remember that back in May this year I ran my first ever race, the 6K Woodland Woggle, and although I did it I wasn’t exactly enamoured by it. So, when I wrote that particular blog post I took the stance of writing it from the perspective of a novice runner making observations about racing and other runners. This time however, I noticed that my notes consisted largely of a lot of runner speak – times, splits, pace etc. – and was also incredibly results driven. Now, I don’t know about you lot, but I’m not particularly interested in reading about other people’s times and whether they’ve got a couple of new trophies on Strava. Don’t get me wrong, it’s great and everything but, and you can call me selfish and self absorbed if you like, I’m only really interested in what I’ve achieved and whether I’ve beaten myself. Which means the last thing I want to inflict on everyone else is the kind of stuff that starts me yawning.
I’ve literally just screwed those notes into a ball and lobbed them across the room…it’s time for a bit of free style writing. So, apologies if you were reading this hoping to be hit with a few stats, because that’s not going to happen, instead I’m going to let you in on a couple of the conversations I had with myself as I was running; the conversations that I think are the reason why I now enjoy running.
Setting the Scene
Before I inflict the inner workings of my mind onto you all, I feel I should tell you a bit about the location to help paint a better picture. The 10K race is actually one of a few different races included in the New Forest marathon event, which also includes the marathon, half marathon, 5k, woodland walk and junior race. It is set in the New Forest Showground in Brockenhurst and the views and landscape is everything you could wish for in a cross country running event. With a mixture of shady woodland, gravelly gorseland and a bit of road to mix things up a bit, the best feature for me was that is was FLAT!
Alongside the races, runs a bit of a mini festival with plenty for the whole family to enjoy, which was great as I had dragged my lot there for support. There was a stage for bands to perform on, loads of activities for the kids for example a climbing wall, Kanga Roo Shoes (basically boots with springs), an army assault course etc., stalls selling all kinds of running gear, food stalls ranging from healthy nibbles to the not so healthy but oh so needed post-race bacon butties and chunky chips, massage and physio tables for all those aching muscles, as well as a warm up stage with some crazy comperes to help get the party started! The atmosphere was fantastic, everyone was really smiley and just loving being there and having fun. OK so the fact it was a gorgeous sunny day may have also helped a teensy bit too 🙂 I certainly can’t imagine that it would have had quite the same vibe on a cold, grey, rainy day.
Right, scene set, let’s crack on with the race. I’m going to split it down into each separate kilometre, because it can be a bit of a psychological rollercoaster, in that one km can leave you filled with joy as you run the best you’ve ever run, whereas another km can be absolute hell and your legs feel as though they’ve dislocated from the rest of your body.
Welcome to my race mind…
I’m lined up at the starting line with my friend Amanda and we’re giggling nervously, both of us just wanting to get it over with. The klaxon goes and that’s it, we’re off…
Only we’re not.
Because there are loads of people in front of us and all we can do is walk. Bit of an anti climax really, but hey ho. And then suddenly just like a flock of sheep, everyone starts jogging en masse, and then ramping it up to a bit more of a trot and then finally we’re running. Although, hang on a sec, we haven’t actually passed the start line yet and I’m not sure I want to use up my running juice before it really counts. But I don’t have a choice, because if I don’t keep up with the pace of everyone around me I’m either going to fall and get trampled on, or lifted up mosh pit stylee and carried away on a sea of bobbing heads (hmmm maybe not such a bad idea after all!)
That first 1km was pretty tough; I’ve always found it hard to get going, as it’s a struggle to find your own pace. Admittedly it was impossible to go too fast due to the number of people, but there’s always a risk that you end up running to someone else’s pace and that is never a good idea. Even though we were supposedly split up into waves of faster/medium/slower runners it seemed not everyone had their listening ears on. That first km was basically a battle to find space; the speedy ones (who clearly hadn’t been listening) barged through with assertive elbows and a couldn’t care less attitude, then there were the charity runners in their tutus and slogan t-shirts who were ambling, four people wide forming an impenetrable wall and which resulted in me having to leap gazelle-like (well that’s how I imagined it at least…others might describe it as slightly more elephanty) through muddy puddles and brambles. It took a while to clear, and was incredibly frustrating until I realised that because I’d been concentrating so hard to not tread on the back of anyone’s Nikes, I’d completed the first km
It was at this point in the race that I started to worry about which course I was following. Each race had it’s own colour; the 10k was blue, which meant I had to follow the blue signs. But what if I accidentally missed a sign? What if I got confused and ended up following a yellow (half marathon) or even worse a red (marathon) sign? Would it mean I’d then have to do that race instead? The mind can play pretty nasty tricks and when my rationality kicked in I calmly told myself that it was impossible. The course was so well marked and so well marshalled that if I had strayed off course then I probably deserved the punishment of running the marathon!
After that I tried focusing on something else to take my mind off of, well, my mind. I was still running alongside Amanda at this point, but we’ve both come to learn that although we might utter the occasional words to each other, we generally run and breathe better when we keep our conversations to a minimum. Instead I tried a little exercise in mindfulness and shifted my focus onto observing what was around me; the beautiful blue sky, the sound of the gravel crunching beneath my feet and the swish of that New Forest pony’s tail.
Wait hang on a sec…
That’s not a pony.
That’s someone’s hair!
Woah, that’s the longest plait I think I’ve ever seen. Look at it swishing about. Jeez that would annoy me keep tapping my back like that, why has she grown it so long?
And before I knew it I’d reached the 2k mark and it was all thanks to that plait!
Roughly halfway through this km was a water stop and I’ve got a bit of an issue with these. Firstly, let me state that of course it is essential to stay well hydrated when you’re running and even more so when it’s a hot day and you’re sweating more than usual. However, what is wrong with carrying a bottle (you can get water bottles with handles that make it easy to hold whilst running, or for longer runs why not strap a Camelbak on?
I have two issues with water stops:
- Surely it is better to have the occasional sip throughout the run rather than downing a whole cup of water in one go, for it then to be sloshing around in your stomach?
- And this is the big reason; people are litter bugs. Rather than put the empty cup in one of the bins, or hand it to a marshal, most people end up throwing it on the ground instead. I’ve got three theories about why they do this – 1) because they’re just downright lazy, 2) because they’re worried about it impacting on their time (um hello you stopped to grab the water in the first place!) and 3) because they have illusions of grandeur and fancy themselves a bit of a pro in a bit of a ‘don’t you know who I am’ kind of way. Either way it’s littering the countryside, it’s making more work for the helpers and it’s a risk to wildlife. So just put your damn cups in the bin!
Um and yeah well that little rant was kind of what got me through this stretch. I love a good moan!
This kilometre was a struggle for me. I was hoping to have settled into a bit more of a rhythm by this point especially as runners were a lot more spread out and there was finally some space. However, this for me was one of the most challenging parts of the race, because it was at this point that my negativity started to creep in.
I’ve spoken about inner gremlins before, it’s the voice in your head that tells you you’re not good enough, or you can’t do it, and trying to ignore this voice is one of the hardest running hurdles to conquer. Having the distance marked out could in some ways be seen as beneficial, but inner gremlins thrive on this kind of stuff. Every time I saw a distance marker, particularly in the early stages, I couldn’t help but think about how much was left, rather than how much I’d already done. I also fell into the trap of comparing it to the 6k race I’d run, knowing how I’d felt at the end of that and realising that I hadn’t even done that amount and how on earth would I manage it. But then I looked around and saw an old man next to me, running as though he could keel over at any moment, with a chaperone riding behind him on a bike ready to scoop him up and whisk him away to safety should that be the case. And I remembered all those people running the half and full marathon. And then I gave my inner gremlin an almighty punch in the nuts and realised I simply needed to get over myself, stop whinging and just keep running!
Up until now I’d been running alongside my friend Amanda; we run at roughly the same pace and it’s always nice to have a bit of company, regardless of whether or not you’re talking to each other. Halfway through this stretch Amanda got cramp in her foot and had to sit out for a bit to take her trainer off. She insisted I carry on, which I wasn’t overly happy about as I wanted to make sure she was OK, but I also knew that had the trainer been on the other foot (pardon the pun) I would have wanted her to carry on. Losing my running buddy and being overtaken by two speedy men running the 5k that had started after our race, as well as not quite making it to the halfway mark, might have been enough to convince me to walk for a bit, but having battled my inner gremlin once I was determined not to let it creep back just yet. Oh and a big well done to Amanda because she finished that race, not long after me, having run some of it in just her socks – incredible!
When I got to the 5k marker I had a moment of ‘Yesss, halfway!’, but then it all got a bit weird because I didn’t see another marker until 8k. Imagine how I felt when the 6k sign just didn’t appear. This must be the longest kilometre ever. Jeez how am I going to do this? What’s going on!?!? I am reliably informed that the signs were there and turns out it was a bit of a blessing in disguise that I missed them really, because before I knew it I was at that golden 8k mark.
Something strange happened during this kilometre because I really can’t remember it at all. I either completely blocked it out as a fight or flight coping mechanism or, and this is probably most likely, I was so delirious by this point due to using up all of my physical and mental energy on running, that I was completely incapable of any other brain functions.
I loved this section of the run, as it was through a particularly shady part of woodland, which offered a welcome respite from the heat, and it was during this section that I did a good bit of earwigging. Most people were running on their own by this point, having separated out from others they may have started with, but I encountered one man who seemed to be mentoring a young female runner and he was continually speaking and egging her on. Hats off to him because he was chatting the whole time he was running, barely pausing for breath and he still didn’t sound puffed out. Anyway, listening to him chat, (it wasn’t even particularly interesting and had it been at any other time it probably would have irritated the hell out of me – I’m easily irked), gave me another distraction and helped get me through to the final 2k.
Seeing the 8k sign was the best feeling of the entire race; it meant I only had 2k left and I knew I could do that, I mean what’s 2k, it’s nothing right? Funny how things change, if I flashback to April when I first started running, the prospect of running for 2k without stopping would have filled me with dread, yet here I am 6 months on and I consider 2k an absolute breeze!
The 8-9k stretch also saw kids handing out jellybabies, something which still makes me shudder when I consider the germs involved (see my post ‘10 Things I Learned From My First Race…‘ Oh and I also had a near sweaty miss with a half marathon runner who came galloping past me with his long locks dripping with sweat, swinging from side to side and coming within a mm’s breadth of my own perspiration – I am so not into sharing fluid with strangers!
Eek, we’re on to the last stretch; it’s the home run!
By far the toughest bit was the very last stretch, coming round the corner onto the final straight before the finish line. My legs felt like jelly, I could hear the cheers of the crowd and started to panic about collapsing, looking silly or even having to give in and walk over the line. Now was the time I had to suck it in, give it everything I’d got and just focus on the fact that each and every stride was getting me closer to the line. I don’t like a lot of fuss, so running in front of a load of people was never going to be my favourite thing. And whereas some people are spurred on by cheering, it makes me want to curl up and hide. Like a horse wearing blinkers I kept my sights on the finish line, glimpsing briefly as my family cheered me on, which admittedly did make me smile, and before I knew it…
I’D DONE IT!
Wow, I’d actually run 10k! So, so incredibly proud of myself and yes OK, OK it’s not the longest distance in the world, it’s not a half or a full marathon, but for someone who in April hadn’t even run down the road to buy a pint of milk I felt like it was a pretty major achievement. I walked with shaky legs to pick up my medal (a nice bit of bling for my collection), my running ‘goodie’ bag, a bottle of water and a…banana!
Are you kidding me? I run 10 kilometres and all I get is a bottle of water and a poxy banana?
Note to event organiser: Next time make it chocolate and wine please!
The best bit for me was not the fact that I did it, although that did feel pretty good, but rather the look on my kids faces as they ran to meet me. My son’s face was literally bursting with pride at the fact his mum had finished a race and my daughter was like a magpie with the medal, asking whether it was real silver and whether she could wear it, which of course I let her.
And it dawned on me then how great it is for kids to see their parents embarking on a challenge, particularly a physical challenge, that they manage to conquer. Proving to them that you really can do anything if you set your mind to it.
Would I do it again?
Well yep that right there is the big question? After the 6k I was adamant I didn’t want to do a 10k, insisting I needed to get a few more 5k races under my belt. But it’s funny how persuadable I am after a few gentle nudges and a couple of glasses of wine! I can honestly say, hand on heart that I really enjoyed running this race and would do another 10k in a heartbeat. Maybe 10k is my distance, who knows…but one thing is for sure I am definitely NOT going to sign up to anything longer!
Oh, glass of wine you say? Yeah don’t mind if I do 😉