This is another blog that will come under the heading of “Other stuff”. So, apologies for that in advance. However, as most of you reading will know, yesterday morning I ran my first ever 10,000 race in central London. I was able to take part in this race as the organisation I work for gets a few places every year. My place was confirmed about 3 months ago and it was then that training began in earnest. Or it would have, were I not suffering from an ankle I couldn’t really run on and a hamstring that felt perilously close to tearing. So, I guess what I mean by training is that I bought a proper pair of trainers- Adidas Supernovas from Runners Needs on Pentonville Road. They were white and silver and Jo couldn’t believe I’d gone for them. But I knew they were for me the second I put them on.
Gradually, though, the ankle problem subsided and although my hamstring rarely felt 100% right, I was able to get some training in. Which meant running. More accurately, running outdoors for the first time in 6 years. My first outdoor run took me 6.5k through Bellingham and Catford. My next run took me 9k through those areas and back home to Downham, via Grove Park. I woke up the night of that run, head and back throbbing. It felt like I was in Jacob’s Ladder. Because I felt I needed to manage my hamstring, with regular rubs from Jo, that was the furthest I ran in training up until this Wednesday when I managed to run 6 miles. Possibly a big run to take on in the week of the race, but one I needed to do for my own piece of mind.
In the fortnight leading up to this race, I abstained from alcohol and I also managed to get an earlyish night on Saturday. I also found out that my mate Jimmy aka, @BeeintheBush, had stepped in as a late replacement for a friend of his. So we arranged to try and meet before the race.
Up at 7am, I was eating a ravioli of chorizo and manchego cheese by 7.30. Shower, dress, wax in hair and Jo and I caught a taxi to Grove Park Station. Waterloo East, Southwark, Jubilee Line (and lots of people clutching identical Bupa “kit bags” to mine) and we arrived at Green Park at around 9.20. Any plans to try and relax for a bit and possibly meet Jimmy, or anyone else, went out of the window immediately with the PA announcer urging runners with red numbers to the start line. I had a red number, so once I’d dropped my bag, it seemed prudent to head straight to the start area. Of course, once I got there, had a wee, did a little warm up jog- not that much warming up was needed yesterday- and done some stretching, I still had about 25 minutes to kill. Twenty five minutes spent burning nervous energy.
In fairness, the time quickly passed, Mo Farah was introduced to an appreciative London crowd and then he, and the other elite runners, set off. We were about two minutes behind- as close as I would get to the great man all day. I had a playlist on my music player that I’d carefully chosen for the day but although the National’s Start A War seemed like the ideal choice to ease my body into an arduous task, it was totally drowned out by the Chemical Brothers’ Hey Boy Hey Girl over the PA system. So much so that it took me a while to work out that Blur’s Beetlebum was now playing over my headphones.
One of things that appealed to me, as a proud Londoner, about this race was that the route would take in some of London’s very best sights. It turned out, however, that I was at first so focussed on; a) not tripping over people in front of me and, b) just keeping going that I barely paid any attention to the various landmarks I ran past clutching a bottle of Lucozade Sport. However, I did spot my aunt and uncle standing on the corner of (I think) Whitehall as I went past them. They didn’t see me. We ran down Victoria Embankment, turning left just past Blackfriars 3k in and up towards St Paul’s Cathedral. The 4K mark came just before Bank and I remember thinking that I needed to slow down as I was ahead of where I should have been on my music playlist. By 5k, having run through Leadenhall Market thinking, “This is where the Great British Menu had their summer banquet last year” and been greeted by lots of drums, I think the heat was starting to take its toll.
Heading west onto Cannon St, I remember looking ahead and seeing runners heading right, uphill. Bollocks. Actually, no worries, they’re the runners 2k behind you, heading up Queen Victoria St. There was another intersection point as we came down White Lion Hill and back onto the Embankment. Some relief with a bit of riverside breeze from the Thames and another water station imminent.
As it happens, I was too far to the left to feel comfortable grabbing a bottle, so I kept going. But with just 3k remaining, I was starting to suffer and the gaps between the kilometre markers seemed to be getting ever longer. The gap between Blackfriars and Waterloo Bridges seemed huge- probably because, relatively speaking, it was. but by now, even the short distance between Waterloo and Hungerford Bridge felt like a huge canyon.
Just 2 k left, but progress felt like it had slowed to an agonised trot. But I wasn’t going to stop. No way, not with so many people watching and supporting. And not with the soundtrack from Rocky IV propping me up. Finally, up onto Bridge and then Great George St- the final kilometre and right onto Horse Guards Road, the end in sight. Again, my aunt in sight- this time she sees me first, “Go on Paul, keep going!” she exhorts me. I do my best to accelerate towards a marker- the finishing line? No, the 400m marker. I don’t have much left in the tank. And then…
And then, with Pulp’s Sunrise filling my ears, a voice cuts through on my right, “Hello Paul”. I turn to my right, it’s Jimmy! Jimmy had set off with a green number, so a few minutes behind me. But, a veteran of various Park Runs, he was running strong. I upped my pace as best as I could to stay with him on the home straight. I realised that I couldn’t and let him go on ahead just as we got to the line, which he crossed one second ahead of me. We’d done it! I’d done it! He turned to me to shake my hand and I turned, sweat drenched, to hug him. I think we did both in the end. And then, as we were guided towards the marshals who would remove our timer tags, sweat and hair wax swamped my eyes, blinding me temporarily.
We collected our bags, as well as finisher t-shirts and medals, and I went to get a free massage- my hamstring had tightened up again. I then went and met up with Jo and various members of my family; some of whom were at the finish line roaring me in, if only I had heard them, one of whom got a great photo illustrating the ease with which Jimmy crossed the line compared to my struggle. We then all recovened in the Phoenix pub for a very well earned, and welcome, pint or three.
My time of 52.10 (5k split 25.36) saw me the 2,532nd runner home. I’ll be looking for an improvement next year!