Recently I’ve really been enjoying running 5ks. I think this is down to a mixture of knowing that I can beast myself but that it’ll all be over in around 21 minutes, and also the fact that I’ve been collecting PB after PB over this distance. That’s always good for a positive mindset.
But I know Alan wants me to do longer distances (secretly I think he wants me to do a marathon but I’m avoiding having that conversation wherever possible), so back on the 22nd June I signed up for Muscular Dystrophy UK‘s Cambridge Town and Gown 10k, which – if I went ahead with it – would make it the third time in a row that I had done this race.
Anyone who reads my blog with any regularity will know that my last 10k was a bit of a bust. I had a pretty nasty cold and so it was a stop and start affair that made me wang on about how much I HATED the 10k distance for a good few weeks afterwards. But an awful lot of my recent interval training with Ely Runners has been around the 10k mark, and Pete and I went on a 5.4 mile training run a couple of weeks ago which went really well. This all meant that I was actually feeling ok about the Town and Gown. Don’t get me wrong – the pre-race nerves were still fully present, but for once I didn’t have that anxiety dream about forgetting my race number that I pretty much always get. Plus Pete is always adamant that pre-race nerves are a good thing, and since he’s a speedy blighter I feel obliged to trust him on that one. I think my biggest concern was the fact that I’d be running it on my own, which is funny when I think about how I had always considered myself a lone runner until this year. Now I always have someone like Andy or Rich to run with at Ely Runners, and the last couple of big races I’ve done I’ve run with Elaine at her pace. I can’t keep up with Pete over such a long distance, so I knew I’d have to dig deep to push myself through this one on my own.
After some pretty shocking weather on Saturday, we were lucky to wake up to a cold but dry and bright Sunday morning, with the car thermometer putting the outside temperature at a brisk 5 degrees (making me doubt my choice of shorts over leggings). Ian and I picked up Pete and his wife Rach and the four of us headed into Cambridge to make sure Pete was there to pick up his race number before the registration cut off of 9:30am ready for the start of the race at 10am. While Pete and Rach headed to Midsummer Common I got to hang out with my sister, her partner Simon and my nephew Danny and niece Eloise for 40 minutes or so. The bonus of having a sister who lives near to the start of so many of the big races in Cambridge (and the provision of a non-Portaloo pit stop!) cannot be underestimated.
At about 9:20 I jogged to the start and caught up with Pete and Rach and after jogging around a bit more I finally plucked up the courage to give Rach my nice, warm Sweaty Betty top, before heading to the start line to begin the race with Pete.
I had absolutely zero intention of staying with Pete for anything longer than about 60 seconds, but by some miracle I stayed with him until around the 2k mark. We had blasted out the first mile in something ridiculous like 6:20, and when he peeled away by about 10 metres as we turned off Queen’s Road onto Silver Street I decided not to try and keep up with him. I know my limits pretty well, and I think if I’d tried to carry on matching him completing the 10k would have been difficult. But thanks to him I had gotten off to a cracking start.
Waving to Andrew at around the 3k mark.
I had already checked where the water stations were on the route, so I hadn’t taken my water bottle with me on the first 5k. But when I saw that they were handing out cups rather than small bottles or pouches I made the decision to grab my running bottle (I got a telling off for that later) from where I’d tucked it out of sight on the route. The thing is, sometimes I can’t drink a cup of tea on the sofa without choking on it, so trying to gulp from a cup of water mid run was not going to end well.
The second part of the 10k took us away from the city and out along the river, which is a lot quieter in terms of support but it’s flat and fast. The main issue is that it doubles back on itself, so the super fast runners come past you on their last 2k or so while you’re still fighting at the 6-7k mark. However, it was at this point that I saw Liz Fraser, a previous winner of the race, and I worked out that she could only have been a couple of minutes ahead of me. Naturally I assumed this meant that she was just having a bad race as opposed to my having a good one.
Unfortunately I started to get a stitch just before 8k, but luckily I got a handle on it fairly quickly, forcing my breathing to become more regular as it had become a bit erratic as I started to get tired. The final kilometre and a half was nothing short of agonising, but I kept trying to tell myself that it was only 4 more times around the track, just three more times around the track, chipping away the metres in my mind and telling myself “you got this, you got this.” When Alan appeared near the end and said to me “Come on, sprint finish! Kick! KICK”! I gave those last couple of hundred metres EVERYTHING I had. I can’t even begin to explain how agonising it was to find out that the big flags I had seen didn’t actually mark the finish line and that I actually had another 20+ metres to stagger to the end. After tweeting the organisers about this they explained it was a mix up with Sussex Sports Photography – the flags were theirs but as a runner in the final throes of a 10k you assume that any flags in the final few metres are the finish line. After having a great chat with Annie from MDUK on the phone earlier (how awesome that she took the time to do that?) she told me they’d make sure that any flags by any of their supporters wouldn’t be put in that position again.
When I crossed the (real) finish line and saw Pete looking at me slightly agog I knew I had achieved a decent time. I never in a million years imagined that a time like that was something I could do though. I didn’t dare believe it until I saw my speedy text with my official time. For the number crunchers amongst you, here’s a breakdown of the previous three Town and Gowns. The route changed for the better in 2014 – clearly cow dodging in 2013 was seriously slowing people down! – and that was also the year I ran it with Elaine who was storming her first ever 10k:
|Year||No. Runners||Winning Male||Winning Female||My Time||Time Behind||My Overall Position||No. Female Runners||My Gender Position||Gender Position %||Pace Per Mile|
So as you can see my improvement over the last couple of years has been a bit nuts, and this is in no small part thanks to Alan. But back to that rollocking he gave me. His words after I finished were “Well done, but if I ever see you running with a water bottle again…..” My reasons for doing so fell on deaf ears but this is something we need to work towards together. This is only the 2nd 10k I’ve run since he started coaching me, and I planned to run without it until I saw the water station. I need to build towards this, and I am someone who sweats a lot so I need to be able to take on some fluid on longer races. He said we’d chat about it when we next train, but since that’s going to be at Wandlebury – and we all know what happened last time I was there – perhaps we’d be better off leaving that chat until next week.
Regarding the actual race itself, I think it’s an utterly brilliant 10k and would recommend it to everyone. It’s without doubt my favourite 10k in my racing calendar (sorry NYE 10k – those exposed fens are just evil). It’s a serious PB course especially when the conditions are as perfect as they were yesterday – everyone I know who ran it got a PB – and the support in the city is brilliant. It’s really scenic too, and almost completely flat (although the little incline at about 8.5k is a sod). I would say they could do with more toilets as they don’t seemed to have increased the number despite having around 500 more participants this year, and the medals were a real step down from previous years (I personally don’t mind too much when it’s a brilliant race for charity, but I think it’s worth mentioning). And as for that Cool Dawn Recovery drink that came in the goodie bag – revolting doesn’t cover it.
If you enjoyed reading this blog, please send a pound or two to the brilliant charity who turned Cambridge orange for a day. You can do so here.