Breaking the 20-Minute Barrier

I can hardly believe I’m typing these words, but at the Waterbeach Running Festival on the 11th May, I finally ran a sub-20 minute 5k, something I have been trying to do for some time.

I can’t say I had any expectation of doing it on the day. I’ve run the Waterbeach Running Festival twice before, and been lucky enough to come first both times (in the 10k in 2016, and the 5k in 2018 – my memory is so awful I thought I’d competed in 2017!). It’s a small, local event, and an undeniably fast, flat course, and last year I ran the 5k in 20:46. A really great time, but a significant chunk away from the elusive 19:59.

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Waterbeach Running Festival 2018

I remember telling my running buddy Pete that I thought I might be on PB form after I recently paced someone to a 20:52 5k and felt like I still had a decent amount left in the tank. But after a league race 5k on the Thursday night, neither Pete nor I had turned up on the Saturday morning in Waterbeach with particularly fresh legs.

This year was the fourth time the Waterbeach Running Festival had been held. With a 100m toddle (under 5s), a 2k (4+), a 5k (11+) and a 10k (15+) it’s a proper family event, with lots of food stalls and a really lovely vibe. And it’s growing in size every year, as people start to cotton on to what a fast, flat course it is. To give you an idea. here are the women’s winning 5k times since it started:

Year Total no. Runners Winning Time Winner
2016 43 24:24 Sarah Consonni
2017 76 21:20 Yvonne Scarrott
2018 86 20:46 Lauren Thomas
2019 91 19:36 Vicki Moignard

The 2019 winning time is a serious increase on 2016. As for the men’s race, this has been won every year by Tony Bacon, with a course PB of 17:14 set in 2017. Tony has become something of a poster boy for the event as others are encouraged to come along to try and steal his crown. He was still 17 seconds ahead of his nearest competitor this year, but this is a huge improvement on 2016 when he was 3 minutes ahead of second place.

As we all gathered on the start line (as Pete had just finished the 100m toddle with his daughter Ellie and her mum Rachel was gearing up to push her in the running buggy for the 5k – rather her than me!), I looked at the other faces on the startline and had this weird feeling that I wouldn’t even podium this year. There were some fierce looking female athletes with their game faces on, and I decided to just do what I could on the day. Because after all, that’s all we can ever hope for, right?

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My Beloved Running Family

Everyone set off at a blistering pace, and I manage to start my Garmin only to realise that it was set for an indoor cycling session after the spin class I had done the day before. After about 10 seconds of faffing about I thought it was in the right mode and before I knew it I had run the 1st mile in 6:22 (I didn’t know this at the time as I rarely look at my watch when running).

Throughout this first mile, Olivia Baker from Cambridge & Coleridge AC was about 10 metres ahead of me but slowly pulling away. I could also hear keys jangling behind me, and before long Vicki Moignard from Cambridge Tri Club (who came second to me in 2018) was overtaking on my left. I managed to gasp out the words “you can get her!” before I gritted my teeth and did everything I could to just hold on.

And somehow, I did just that. But boy oh boy it was not easy. At about 3.5k in to the race I had to convince myself to keep going as everything in my body from my lungs to my legs were screaming at me to stop, that I couldn’t possibly keep going at this pace. But somehow I did, and I know that it was because of Vicki (now in 1st place) and Olivia ahead of me that I managed it. You can see for a long way in this race, and I know that if I had been in 1st place I would have become complacent and slacked off. But instead, I had these two incredible athletes to chase, and I owe them so much for getting me across the line in the time I did.

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Finish line pain

When I did finally cross the line, driving hard through the last hundred-odd metres to the cheers of a frankly brilliant finish line crowd, I had to stop and bend over double, sucking as much air in to my lungs as humanly possible and trying not to ruin the moment by throwing up. I then glanced at my watch and saw 19:37 and my first though was “wow, I STILL managed to screw up starting my watch properly”. As it turns out, it was spot on. After those 10 seconds I lost at the start trying to get it in to the right mode, I officially finished in 19:48.

I’m not going to lie – there were tears. A LOT of them. But they were deliriously happy ones. I’m not sure I ever really believed I could get a time like that. I then found out that Peter had also achieved a PB (18:59) and Rachel had almost achieved a buggy 5k PB, missing it by 1 second (which she would have smashed if Ellie hadn’t needed emergency Pom-Bears mid-race)! It was just a brilliant day for my favourite running family.

Receiving a trophy for crossing the line as 3rd woman, it was without doubt the proudest moment of my running career. I couldn’t thank Vicki and Olivia enough, and it’s entirely possible that they thought the run had boggled this wide-eyed, pink-haired creature’s mind. Maybe it had. All I know is that for the last week I’ve found myself remembering the moment of reading my official race time and grinning at myself in shock and delight. My age grading from the day was more than 75%. Madness.

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Tony and I – one of us had been crying. Obvious much?!

I genuinely have no idea if I’ll manage a sub 20 again. But there was a time when I thought sub-22 was an impossible goal. All I know for sure is, next time I’m at one of the Kevin Henry League races, I’ll be keeping an eye out for Vicki and Olivia, the best pacers I could have hoped for.

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