The Spring of 2016. It was announced that there would be a referendum to decide whether the UK would stay in the EU. Tim Peake became the first British astronaut to walk in space. England won their last Grand Slam in the 6 nations. Joe Spraggins ran a personal best at the Kingston 10km, when apparently mullets and luminous yellow were very much in fashion.
A lot has happened since then (let’s not mention the C word) – it’s been nearly 6 years. In fact, I hadn’t run a PB in any distance for nearly 3 years. Yes we’ve heard me moan about being injured this year. Change the record Spraggins. We’ve all got our tiny violins out. But the tide appears to be turning, and the world famous Dorney Lake 10km was fast approaching. All of the big names would be there, so naturally I had to make sure I got my entry in.
Race week arrived, and I had to make sure I was prepared and ready to go. 13 miles on Tuesday. 20 miles on Thursday. A classic ‘harder than I probably should have run’ parkrun the day before over the hills and mud of Denbies. I wasn’t leaving anything to chance – the definition of ‘inverse taper’.
It felt like ages since we’d both done a ‘proper race’, one that we’d actually trained for and decided to really give it some beans. The 5:30AM alarm felt like an old friend popping up again out of nowhere. I’m still convinced I’m one of the only people in the world that can thoroughly enjoy a bowl of porridge before 6 in the morning.
Now we’re a family of 3, there’s someone else to think of. So while all the other runners were completing their meticulous final preparations, we were traipsing around Dorney Common in the pitch black, throwing Stan a ball he couldn’t even see, in a vain attempt to knacker out the worlds most energetic dog.
Once he’d run around to his hearts content, it was a mere 5 minute drive to the shores of the lake. Pre-race routines were engaged. Pick up number and pin it on. Go to the toilet. Tie up shoes and give Stan his breakfast. Go to the toilet. Engage in witty banter with other runners. Go to the toilet. Run a chatty, 2 mile warm up. Go to the toilet. Shed off final layers and have one final wee in the bush because the toilet queue is too long.
As always, the hour before the race had flown by, and it was time to get cracking. Katie and I lined up together a row or so from the front and had a look around to see who else was running. Because there were 3 races starting at the same time (a 5km, 10km and half-marathon), it wouldn’t be immediately obvious who you were actually racing against. The only thing I was really concerned about was having someone to run with – a hard 10km on your own can be a right slog.
What’s the plan then? PB is 35:41, but I didn’t think I was going to be troubling that. The absolute fastest I should set out at is 35 minute pace – that’s an easy to remember 3:30 per kilometre – simple maths. We were let loose and three guys absolutely flew off into the distance (turns out they were doing the 5km – one guy ran 15:12). There were a few others around, mostly doing the half (you could tell by the colour of their race number), but one doing the 10km like me.
I tried to settle in after the mad dash off the line, but still went storming through the opening kilometre in 3:21 – too quick. I dropped off the heels of the leader and settled into my own pace. I was also accelerating away from 3rd quickly – looking like a nice, solo 9km then!
The course was two 5 kilometre laps around the rowing lake. Tactics;
Lap one – don’t do anything stupid.
Lap two – run yourself into a dribbling mess
I reached the top of the lake and made the turn to face the long, long straight road back to the other end. The boathouse seemed like an eternity away. I could still see the guy in first in the distance, and I just had to make sure to catch myself when my pace or cadence started to fall and drive onwards.
3km down, 4km down, and I’m approaching the end of the first lap. A nice chance to get a halfway split and work out just how much I’ve managed to mess things up in the early stages. There’s a small crowd gathered (17 humans, a couple of dogs and a few geese), and I try and use the support to recharge the batteries and go again.
Through the start/finish in 17:20. Too quick! That’s my fastest 5km time since 2016. The devil on my shoulder calls me an idiot and smugly reminds me this race lasts for 10 kilometres, not 5. Oh well – got to run with it now. I’m already steeling myself to try and prevent a spectacular explosion.
Heading out onto lap 2, I spot my competition behind coming the other way – Katie’s obviously on an absolute flyer. After giving her a massive shout of encouragement (immediately regretted, as it used up all my remaining breath, which took minutes to recover from), I made a mental note to start slipping small amounts of poison in her food to make sure she doesn’t get too much quicker.
We’re firmly into the never-ending lap two (readers of this blog will know the ‘never-ending’ part all too well), and I’m bleeding small amounts of time, but it’s no complete disaster. 3:30 kilometres have become 3:35s, but I’m still in the fight and a mere 10 minutes away from the finish. Standard mental tactics of promised beers and sofas are being offered up if we can just run a bit faster for a bit longer.
The lead guy is long gone but I’ve got 2nd locked up, so it’s just me versus the clock as I start to weave through a bit of traffic – those still making their way around the first lap. One particular mothers meeting of 6 ladies abreast is slightly infuriating, but I negotiate it safely and continue the charge for the line.
Having written off sub 35 as a pipe dream (despite running the first lap at that pace), you can imagine my slight surprise as I crossed the final bridge and made the turn for the line, when a quick check of the watch highlighted that in fact I’m right in the mix here.
Queue mass flailing of arms and legs, positively charging at the line like a bull that’s seen an approaching china shop – head down and eyes closed. A few more seconds of intense pain, and then I’m over the line and onto the floor, dry retching. After a few moments of composure, I raise enough energy to glance at the time shown on my watch – 35:00. Have a word.
I slowly get to my feet, and catch the announcer about to read out the podium times over the PA. ‘In 2nd place, in a time of 35 minutes and 0 seconds….’
‘FUDGE’ – I think that’s what I yelled, but it could have been a slightly similar, naughtier word.
Obviously I’m delighted to run a big personal best, but another second to dip into the 34’s would’ve been lovely… However, the race director then comes over to let me know that in fact my official chip time (the time from when I crossed the start line to the finish line) was 34:58! Ker-ching. I could’ve kissed him.
I knew it would be mere moments before Katie came barreling around the corner, so I positioned myself with 200m to go and prepared my foghorn voice to shout her home. After some gentle encouragement across the line, I rushed to give her a big hug and find out her time.
‘Sub 38!’ she said.
‘You mean sub 39 right?’ (Her previous best was 39:13).
‘No, sub 38!’
She’d decided to skip the ‘anything starting with a 38’ step and gone straight on down to 37:58. Insane. 6th overall and first woman by a country mile. What a bloody great day all round. We celebrated by fetching Stan out of the car and going for a family cool down run, before sinking a few beers in the evening.
So it looks like we’ve set ourselves up on a decent platform to spring into 2022. Just over 9 weeks until the Seville Marathon. Best get running.