The Incredible Shrinking Woman

Days 418 to 452 – The Race Is On 7 May 2009

I ran my first ever group race last night at the Cancer Research Race For Life in Battersea Park.  It was an amazing experience with a really great atmosphere.  For those of you who don’t know, it’s a sponsored 5K event, for women only and you can run or jog or walk.  A brilliant idea.

More through luck than judgement I ended up three rows from the front when they sounded the horn at the starting line.  Despite being well aware of the need to pace myself, and to resist the temptation to go too fast too soon, I shot off like a rocket and positively flew past the 1K marker.  Well, I was excited, can you blame me?  I was also experiencing something that marathon-running friends have warned me about … if you start at the front then it’s very disconcerting to watch faster people coming from just behind and overtaking you, so you tend to try and keep up with them.  Clearly I’m not a bad runner, but I’m no Paula Radcliffe, so it was slightly foolish to be keeping pace with very svelte, very speedy and clearly very experienced runners.

I learnt my lesson the hard way as I approached 4K.  I couldn’t keep up my crazy pace … I was running at 5.20/km or 8.54/mile as opposed to my usual 6.12/km or 10/mile.  That’s quite a difference!  I slowed down miserably to a brisk walk, and contemplated my rash stupidity.  A swift thump in the back and a ‘come on mate, we’re nearly there!’ from a lovely blonde lady was all the impetus I needed and I dashed for the finish.  I romped home in a very respectable 27 mins and 33 seconds which, for the pace geeks among you, is 5.30/km or 9.01/mile.  Hurrah.

What I ought to tell you is that I couldn’t have managed another metre at that pace.  Seriously.  There’s a fine line between enthusiasm and lunacy and I crossed it 🙂

I came to several conclusions last night.  It strengthened my resolve to take on the big challenge of a marathon, and reminded me of the enormity of the task that lies ahead in order to achieve that.  I’m looking at four months (at least) of pretty hardcore training, which scares and excites me in equal measure.  I’m a long way from 26 miles.  I also resolved never to go running again without my trusty iPod.  Clearly we weren’t going to get cheering marathon crowds along the route last night (especially as we were facing stiff competition from the Chelsea vs. Barcelona match), but I needed something more than sporadic polite applause and the cheery grins of race marshalls to spur me on.  Also, without music in my ears, I became very conscious of my own breathing and the collective grunting and panting going on around me.  All rather unpleasant, frankly!  Most of all, I realised how wonderful it is to cross a finish line, feel a real sense of achievement, and be handed a shiny medal to cap it all off.  I don’t think I’m a glory hunter (you’d have to be unhinged to run 26 miles purely to get some attention) but it was very satisfying and made me feel on top of the world.

I could’ve done without the mile and a half walk home, mind you!

I’ve also, incidentally, entered the ballot for the 2010 London Marathon in case I don’t succeed with New York (I find out in mid-May, whenever they define that to be).  I was thoroughly inspired by watching friends of mine this year, although having seen them limping around on the Monday, maybe I’m not so sure!  Perhaps I should’ve taken up something a little more genteel.  Anyone for croquet?