The 10K is probably my favourite racing distance: less eyeballs-out frantic than a 5K, and still done and dusted in the time it takes my other half to queue up for a coffee and a second breakfast. But those 6-and-a-bit miles can bite you if you don’t treat them with respect.
My training’s been pretty lazy since I was allowed to start back running a year ago. After months of surgeries, and the restricted movement and disrupted sleep that went with them, it took body and mind a long while to recover and feel somewhat back to normal. And if I ran much over 30 minutes, the visual disturbances that appeared were a little disconcerting. Or maybe I’m just bone idle. Whatever the reason, I was happy to run easy and just concentrate on technique. The weekly mileage rarely hit double figures, and my racing mojo had definitely taken a holiday.
When the weird fluorescent visual effects finally stopped a couple of months ago, I began to wind up the distance again. It felt like the right time to step back into racing, so in late March I booked myself a place on the Easter Bunny 10K.
The Bunny’s a race that’s been on my bucket list for a few years. Starting opposite the Fleet Air Arm museum in Yeovilton, it winds through the local countryside on a fast, flat course. Roadworks along the main road at the start and finish this year meant that everyone was trying out a new route, which would take us through the villages of Bridgehampton and West Camel in a big loop/little loop two laps.
My plan was pretty simple: run easy, see how long it took, and use the result as a baseline to build on. No pressure.
Leading up to race day on Easter Monday, I got in a couple of slow and steady 5 milers but was feeling far from race fit. Then Easter Saturday, two days before race day, I ran my local parkrun. It felt unexpectedly good, and suddenly a little voice in my head started whispering ‘Hmmm, sub-55? Maybe?’ I ignored it and told myself I was sticking to my plan.
After several weeks of unseasonably chilly temperatures, the weather for the Easter weekend had suddenly flipped to tropical. Monday arrived with the promise of record-breaking temperatures. Great for barbecues, not so hot for a 10K.
Your first race after a long break is often a bit of a head mess. I was still officially ‘taking it easy’, so I skipped any kind of warm up and chatted with friends instead, trying to calm the nerves. As we lined up for the start, I felt scattered – not in the racing groove at all. I usually try to breathe through my nose for the first few hundred metres of a race – it helps me to relax and avoid going off too fast. This time, I felt myself following the pace of those around me. Instead of slowing down and letting the other runners go, the ego kicked in (sub 55!) and I kept my speed up, ditching the nasal breathing almost immediately.
Despite the faster start, I felt OK for the first few kilometres. I was on the edge of my comfort zone but not uncomfortable. At 5K, things started to get tougher. This was as far as I’d raced for more than 18 months, and confidence began to wobble.
We neared the end of the first lap, picking our way around a cluster of potholes before joining the A303 for a short stretch. I was looking forward to reaching 7 km, and the start of the smaller, second loop. I could feel myself tiring: breathing was getting more ragged, tension was creeping in, and the finish still seemed far away. I tried to relax and just focus on the next kilometre.
We left the water station behind for the second time and were into the last couple of kilometres, approaching the A303 again. My mind was on how happy I’d feel to see the 9K marker, and not really paying attention. Suddenly I hit an uneven bit of road, went flying and landed hard on gravel.
As I clambered to my feet, two runners stopped to check I was OK, and one kindly ran with me while I recovered. I was shaken up, hands and knees were a bit of a mess, but otherwise unhurt.
Back to the A303 and finally we were into the last kilometre. Distance seemed to pass oh so slowly. I felt as though I was running on the spot, but just gritted my teeth and hung on grimly. At last, the welcome sight of the finish line came into view. I staggered across in a fraction under 53 minutes.
When I got home, I discovered I’d clattered myself harder than I realised. My ankle was bruised and swollen, and that post-race shower was a bit of a swear-fest.
Now the cuts and bruises are beginning to fade, what did I learn from the Bunny?
That the first race back after a break is tricky. That it’s never a great idea to hold two competing goals in your head at the same time – be honest about what you’re aiming for and stick to it. That when you’re tired is definitely the time you need to pay more attention to what you’re doing. And that the 10K deserves respect. Well, I knew that already, but I guess it was time for a reminder.
I also take away big positives, though: despite the first-race-back nerves, the heat, and the unexpected gravel diving, I still ran my fastest 10K for seven years. Yep, I made it hard for myself, and it won’t break any records, but it’s a massive confidence boost. What held me back – fitness, pacing, staying upright – are all things I can work on. Suddenly, my secret ambition to get back under 50 minutes doesn’t feel quite so far-fetched.
Next up the Glastonbury 10K. And a chance to do it the same. But better 🙂