A cold, misty, drizzly, Autumn Sunday morning – what better than to get up early for a race? A 10K race (a distance I’ve not run for a few months) with the chance to meet up with some online friends from Runner’s World. It was one of those complicated mornings – daughter staying in London for the weekend, husband already out cycling in Somerset, and son to be dropped off at grandparents. I hadn’t registered for the race, but the instructions said you could sign up on the day by 10.45, with the race starting at 11.
10 o’clock saw me throwing my son out of the car at my parents’ house (because we were already running a bit late), belatedly followed by me sneaking in to use their loo (race day morning – I don’t need to say any more). Then a quick read of the directions to the race HQ and I was off again. Although the race is called ‘Swindon 10K’ its actually in Wroughton – a few miles south of Swindon, at the edge of a disused airfield. I always feel anxious heading off to new places, and instructions like “don’t use a sat nav because our postcode will take you to the wrong side of the airfield” don’t help.
Driving through North Wiltshire following the directions all was going well until the HQ (a large ex-aircraft hangar) came into sight – just beyond a large queue of cars waiting to park. As I crawled forward I was trying not to clock watch as I knew time was tight. At a quarter to eleven, I was still queuing to park and desperately trying not to imagine being told I was too late to register. I was finally directed to a lumpy bit of grass to park on, grabbed my pre-filled form and cheque and sprinted inside the hangar. Fortunately I was still allowed to register, and holding onto my race number I shot back outside to find the loos.
Between queuing for a portaloo and walking to the start I’d managed to meet up with all of my online friends. We all agreed that far from being a small race like we’d expected, there were over 500 runners and it was busy. One friend, Yvonne, said she was hoping to beat 55 minutes, which was my target as well, so we lined up together. Before I’d left that morning I’d scrawled my last 10K PB time and pace onto my hand so I could keep an eye on it as I ran.
The man with the megaphone summoned us all to the start, explained how we had to complete a short turn round the car park, then two laps of a bigger loop (turning left at the end of loop 1, and right at the end of loop 2 to head for the finish line), then a sprint for the finish. These race instructions always sound complicated but I always have plenty of runners to follow so I don’t worry about it. The race wasn’t chip timed, so although we didn’t hear a starting whistle, air horn or even someone shouting “GO!” we just started shuffling forward when everyone else did, and started our Garmins as we crossed the line.
The first little loop was quite narrrow, and we found ourseves running slower than the pace on my hand. With some “excuse me!”s and some wriggling we found ourselves some space to run. Running the main loop for the first time it was discouraging to see a “3K” marker, swiftly followed by a “7K” marker, and knowing we had all this to run again. My friend was running strongly, and it was only at this point that she told me that although she wanted a sub 55 time, in her recent half marathons (4 in 4 weeks!) she’d been passing the 10K point at around 53 minutes. Our pace was around 8:30 minutes per mile (and faster) and I was starting to wonder if I could keep that pace up.
I took my mind off it by looking around me. Part of the route was a fairly busy road, with cars trying to overtake us whilst dodging vehicles coming the other way. Not quite the quiet country lanes we’d been promised. We turned off from this road after a kilometre or two and then we were on smaller lanes. Much more peaceful, but the misty drizzle meant it was hard to take in any views. I bet its isolated up there in the midst of Winter!
The 5K mark had a water station, and much like in the Devizes Half this was in a muddy farmyard, but the water was still very welcome. At this point I realised we were running at faster than my 5K PB pace, and I was starting to feel a stitch after glugging some cold water. I told Yvonne to push on ahead as I had to slow down a little.
I watched as she pulled ahead but tried to make sure I kept my pace up. At the end of the first loop we approached a large sign telling us to turn left for the second loop. This time around passing the “3K” marker I felt smug as the “7K” marker was the important one here. Off the busier road again and onto the narrow lane I could tell there was a very slight incline this time. My legs were feeling heavy and I was paying for my fast start.
A few runners passed me at this point which is always disheartening, but I also passed a some runners which made me feel better. The kilometres passed quickly and soon I reached the 9K mark, by the water station. “Time to turn it up!” I thought. Sadly, my legs were pretending they couldn’t hear me and carried on at the same pace. I could see the final turn in the course ahead leading onto the last hundred metres or so to the finish, and I did manage a short sprint finish. Well, it felt like a sprint finish to me – I expect it didn’t look like one (other than in a ‘bionic woman slo-mo” style). I was so greatful to cross the line I almost missed collecting my medal, which would have been a shame as its a great medal.
I caught up with Yvonne at the end. I’d been abale to see her all the way around but couldn’t catch her. She was pleased with a new PB, and I checked my watch to discover I also had my new PB – of 54:02. If I’d known I was so close to sub-54 I’d have persuaded my legs to find an extra 3 seconds!
I finally met up with the rest of my friends to find the two other PB hunters were happy as well, including my friend Mel who managed his first ever sub-60 10K. Whoo ho! He beat the 10K PB he’s had for a few years since we last ran a 10K together and he beat me on the final straight.
Often at races I’ve not even finished when they have the prize presentations. The once or twice I have been, not many people have hung around. Fair enough when you’re getting cold and wet at the end of a race. At the Swindon 10k they had a great way to ensure as many people as possible stayed for the prize giving. They had two vouchers for running shoes from a local running shop and they chose the winners by a draw of race numbers. If they pulled your number and you weren’t there, you missed out. It was exciting, but sadly neither I nor my friends won anything. However as they presented the age-related prizes, Mel realised that he only needs to stick to his current pace for another 9 years and he could win the over 70’s prize!
Flushed with success after another PB I belatedly drove back to my parents for a roast dinner. It was delicious and highly recommended as recovery fuel. After having to stay for the prize giving I was late getting there so didn’t have time for a shower before lunch. Bless my parents who said they didn’t mind, and just sat me nearest the open kitchen door 🙂