Funny how you can get out of the habit of racing.
It wasn’t a deliberate choice, but aside from parkruns, I haven’t taken part in an event since the Blackdown Beast in early 2015. I was starting to miss the excitement and community of racing. So 2017 will be a year for more races, and more first time races.
And what better way to start the new year but with a new 10K? At least, that’s how it seemed when I signed up for the Chard Flyer at the beginning of December. The closer we got to race day, though, the less of a good idea it seemed.
Racing on New Year’s Day means a choice: run sleep-deprived with a hangover or be a total party pooper. As it was my first 10K in more than two years, above all I wanted to enjoy it. So cue a booze-free Finnish New Year celebration and in bed by 10.30.
The weather was forecast to be wet and miserable, and it was living up to its promise as we gathered in Chard Cricket Club on New Year’s morning. Despite the rain, pretty soon the room was packed, although ‘what the hell are we doing here?’ seemed to be a common sentiment. I began to feel proper nervous.
I didn’t really have much of a goal for the race. I’d spent the last 6 months mainly run/walking with my 14-year old son, and doing a few longer runs on my own, but I felt far from race fit. I told myself this would be more about just enjoying the experience, taking it steady and hopefully finishing in under the hour.
It was still raining when we headed outside for our pre-race briefing. Hopefully it would be short – it was. Then a 10 minute walk to the start in Stringfellow park.
It’s been such a long time since I’ve done a 10K, I really had no idea what my pace would be. I tried to position myself not too far from the back. Nevertheless, it felt like half the field rocketed past me at the start. I had a moment of panic – would I be left plodding all on my lonesome as everyone else disappeared into the distance? I reminded myself that I wasn’t going for a time, and tried to relax, run with as little effort as possible, and find my own pace. And at least the rain had stopped.
The first part of the course was on cycle paths and seemed to be mostly downhill. As I focused on calming the nerves and keeping to a comfortable speed, I found myself steadily reeling in those who’d not long before been whizzing past me. Which in normal circumstances would have been a positive, but I immediately started to worry. Was race adrenaline making me run faster than I should? Could I keep up the pace?
And by the way, what the heck pace was I doing anyway? To avoid getting too hung up on speed, I’d decided to leave the Garmin at home and just use a stopwatch, figuring I could check my pace at each kilometre/mile marker. Only, there weren’t any markers. Not a single one. What to do? I’d just have to guess how far I’d gone, assuming I was running roughly 6 minute kilometres.
About 15 minutes into the race and I was feeling very comfortable. The pace felt good. My body felt good. Everything was working well. But we’d run what felt like a whole lot of downhill. And what goes down must come up…
I knew next to nothing about the Chard Flyer beforehand. But the one thing they do tell you is that there’s a bit of a long uphill between 4 and 5 kilometres. So when we suddenly took a sharp right up some slippy wooden steps and then hit an incline, I started wondering: was this the uphill? Surely this was too soon?
As we hit the top of this hill, there was another one. And another one. I felt mentally unprepared and the nerves went into overdrive. By the time we’d been running 30 minutes and were still on the uphills, I was struggling to hold on to my mojo and my rhythm. My body felt fine but my breathing was all over the place. Hyperventilating and hills is not a good look. This was where my lack of confidence and rusty race experience was really starting to show. I needed to calm down and quickly.
Time for some sneaky y’chi – I put my focus on a runner ahead of me and let them pull me along for a while. And as runners around me were stopping and walking, I slowed down to a walk a few times to get my breath back. As we finally hit the last of the hills, I wasn’t feeling too bad, but always at the back of my mind was the worry that I’d gone off too quickly, pushed it too early, and I’d run out of steam. At last we hit a long downhill – hallelujah!
The route then headed off-road to take us on a beautiful – and mercifully flatter – path around Chard reservoir. By this point, I figured I had at most another 20 minutes or so to go. And I finally started to feel more confident.
From the reservoir path, it was back out onto the back streets of Chard. As we crossed a main road, I suddenly recognised where we were – I’d driven up this route to get to the start. Surely it couldn’t be too long now?
A right turn onto a footpath that climbed steadily uphill. I could smell the finish. Only now, we seemed to have entered some weird time loop where we kept running up the same path, over and over and over again. Just at the point where I really began to think this was never going to end, at last we found ourselves in the finishing straight and heading for home. It was over.
I’d finished in a smidgen under 57 minutes. Not too shabby for a rusty old racer on a hilly course.
Would I do it again? Definitely. The Chard Chaser messed with my head, for sure. And not the easiest event to come back to after a long break from racing. But it’s well marshalled and friendly, with a pretty, varied course. Plus I got my first bit of race bling for 2017 – ta da!
For me, it was a massive confidence booster to get back into racing this year. Enough to get me signing up for the Taunton half in April. And to keep training with my son. Those run/walks are the bees knees, obvs. 🙂