A couple of years ago this was my First. 10k. Ever. … and I loved it. You might think that there would not be a great queue of people to run round an airfield in freezing fog in December, but everyone else loves it too, and it is full weeks in advance. The marshalls are brilliant, it’s one of the last races of the year, so everyone is getting into that winding-down-for-Xmas mood, and oh did I mention the course is almost entirely flat? (Hello, airfield!). The memento in ’06 was famously bad (a metal keyring with the name of the race, printed on a bit of paper, stuck on the back) but I had finished in just over 52 minutes and, modest as that time may seem to the more fleet of foot, I had had no idea I could go that fast and was delighted.
I promptly spent most of the following year getting a hip problem sorted, and when I came back in ’07 I was five minutes slower.
So. This was, in fact, the race I had been training for all year. No, not the marathon, that was just because my previous PB had been set at Andy Reading two years ago, off the back of marathon training, so clearly if I wanted to beat it then that (more marathon training) was the way to go. All year I’ve been clawing my way back to fitness. I have done a marathon, I have “barrelled” (it feels fast even though when I see my shadow it clearly isn’t!) round the local track through clouds of smoke from the firework display next door, I have had weeks where all I did was run, I have stretched and strengthened and counted the miles on each pair of shoes. I felt like I was as fit as I was two years ago, but you never really know…
Come race day I was very nervous and jittery. This was good as it seems to be a reliable predictor of a better time. It’s a bit like going back into the office after a holiday – you dread it, but once you’re there you’re too busy catching up with the gossip to mind!
I knew Peter was coming out (bless him!) to support me and a couple of the VCAC gang (including Rod Paris who’d beaten me by a hair earlier this year) but I was surprised to see someone who looked exactly like Sharon as we came into the carpark.
A couple of rounds of the playing fields to warm up and then John told me I should get a shift on or I would miss the start (which I have done in at least one race!). At the back of the pack I chatted to Vince from work and Rod, and then we all did the traditional clamber through a hole in the hedge to get to the start itself.
Once off I noticed that Rod was doing more or less my planned pace, so I trotted gamely after him. The race loops round Little Chesterton at first and then back past the sports ground where a big clump of supporters stand to cheer you on your way. The previous few days had been FREEZING and so I had my armwarmers on, but I was getting HOT and peeled them off. John took them off me at the sport ground in a hand-over that many of this year’s Olympic relay teams could do well to copy!
The route then goes along quiet country lanes for a mildly undulating km or two before turning left into a big airfield. By this time Rod had pulled ahead of me. I had checked my watch at the first couple of km markers and I was on pace, but I was feeling quite heavy and didn’t have the energy to check after that.
I have a policy in races: if in doubt, find a pensioner and follow them (because if they don’t have their race strategy sorted out then heaven help us all). Enter Bob (I found out his name after the race), a 75 year old grandfather, whose pinky-red running shorts I followed round the entire airfield. Trust me, at this point in the race, you don’t want to focus on anything more than six feet away. Look up, and you’ll see the leading runners heading out of the airfield and home for their coffee and cakes!
In anticipation of big puddles at this point, I had duct-taped up my shoes. But pah, hardly any puddles! Luckily duct tape isn’t that heavy, but I could still feel it. However, I was still on pace by halfway. By the time we were out of the airfield, Bob was slowing a bit and I found myself overtaking first him, then a mysterious man in yellow who knew me and yelled encouragement (who could it be? Not an Ambler, he wasn’t in a club vest – but I was too tired to look back!), then Rod.
The final stretch, after you turn off the road back into the sports ground, is just right – long enough to overtake one or two people but just short enough that you can always find the energy for that final sprint. I heard Sharon bellowing encouragement and picked it up a bit – then heard someone telling me to get a shift on or they would catch me! Only later when John showed me a picture he’d taken (and I looked at the results) did I realise that my workmate Vince had darn near pipped me at the line, and in fact we were given the same finish time. Phew!
Looked down at the watch – 51:25 since I’d crossed the start line. A new PB, and I know I can go faster because I was feeling a bit rubbish that day.
Sharon’s Dad, who’s been running only six months, finished in 62 minutes – well done that man!
As a bonus, Peter let me have a go on his Brompton later on in the car park.
The race is a memorial for Andy Reading, the headmaster of a local school. (There are two children’s races as well). What a lovely, happy way of remembering him!