Now that’s what you call an enjoyable Bank Holiday weekend. Forget sitting in traffic jams or traipsing around the shops, for me this was all about lacing up and having a crack at some fast runs (well, ‘fast’ by own standards – there are plenty out there who are much quicker than me!).
It started with a hastily arranged bit of parkrun tourism. A late change in plans meant little one was going to be away for the weekend with her aunt, freeing me up for a Saturday morning dash.
Since Silverstone, I’ve kept in touch with my pacing pal Mary and so we met at Brueton parkrun in Solihull. Knowing how closely we were matched over 10k – and how quick she can run 5k – I was hopeful of chipping away at my personal best.
Conditions were good, but Brueton is quite narrow and can snarl up over the first mile. Mary had started closer to the front than me and was initially out of sight, so I concentrated on finding some space and a decent rhythm. At one point I got squeezed off the path and onto grass, only to hit a bump and tweak my ankle. Flashbacks to 2017!
After a momentary panic and a lot of teeth clenching, I realised it wasn’t that bad, pressed on and upped the pace. By the second mile I’d almost caught Mary and was probably 20-or so yards behind. But she’d clearly saved something for the final stretch and with about 400 metres to go, started to pull away.
All credit to her; she was the second placed female finisher and is clearly a very talented runner. That makes it 1-1 now – we need to schedule a deciding round very soon!
While I might have been a few seconds slower to the line, it was still good enough for a new PB. I’m down to 21:25 – a 12 second improvement. Back in November, Buzzer legend Hollywood Dave challenged me to go sub-20 within a year. And while getting into the 19s might be a stretch too far (although never say never!), I do think there’s hope of ducking under 21 minutes if I stick at it.
Times aside, what I loved about this parkrun was the social aspect. Not only was I making new friends, I met up with an old one too – a former work colleague who is a Brueton regular. I bumped into her at the finish and we’ll be arranging a proper catch up very soon. With everything that’s been happening in my life over recent months, these positive experiences are precisely what I need.
Fast forward to Monday. In amongst thunderstorms, torrential downpours and flash floods (fortunately not too close to home), I had my Christmas present to look forward to – an entry into the Vitality London 10,000.
My brother was running too (it really is a family affair these days!), which meant some welcome company for the journey. Travelling same day may be cheaper than forking out for a hotel, but a 4am alarm call to drive to the station is less appealing.
After a train ride from Bicester North, we arrived a good hour before the 10am start. Everything was centred around Green Park, with the run beginning on the Mall and finishing outside Buckingham Palace. Despite there being an estimated 17,000 runners, the bag drop was slick and even the toilet queues weren’t that bad. My only issue was the absurdly high pollen count that left me sneezing and coughing for most of the morning, but you can’t blame a Royal park for having grass now can you…
The race start goes in waves, based on your estimated finish time, and mine was the second one. As I entered the pen, it was great to reminisce about the last time I stood on the Mall in running gear with the Union Jack flags lining the street – post-race in 2015 after the London Marathon.
And as if that wasn’t inspiring enough, the announcement of the elite starting line-up took things up to 11 – Mo Farah, David Weir, Jo Pavey, Callum Hawkins to name but a few. You want more? Well, Sebastian Coe and Jessica Ennis are your official race starters.
As our wave headed off I couldn’t resist a look across and, as promised, there was Jess with that trademark beaming smile. I waved like a nutter, she waved back, I gave a little squeal inside… my running life is now complete!
That just left the small matter of a 10k run to complete in 25 degree heat off the back of a tiring parkrun PB. I wasn’t time chasing, but you have to give it your all on a day like this.
The course was super busy, not helped by a lot of naughty folk signing up for a wave that clearly didn’t match their running ability. Having since reviewed my stats on the event website, I overtook more than 3,200 runners in the first 5k. I know there’s nothing organisers can do about it, but surely it’s as miserable for the runners being overtaken as it is for the rest of us almost tripping over them? Do everyone a favour and be true to yourself when you register, rather than fibbing just so you can stand at the front…
Anyway, rant over. I got through the halfway point in 22:30, so was hopeful for a solid time. However, by the fifth mile I was getting very hot, very tired and drifting off pace. Thank goodness for a decent crowd. They were standing at Trafalgar Square and the cheers and shouts were actually for runners towards the back of the field who were just starting (the course has a number of switchbacks). No matter, I drew strength and motivation from the noise and it put a definite spring in my step.
One mile to go and much of it mirrored the closing stages of the marathon, around the Houses of Parliament, past Downing Street, St James’s Park and around to the Palace. Happy memories came flooding back and suddenly tired legs meant nothing.
I had been following a runner from Winchester running club on and off throughout the second 5k. She was quick, but I stuck with her and it turned out she was chasing her PB. We ran the closing stages together and as she started to slow I shouted across and urged her to keep the pace up.
She did – and got her PB – and I managed a better-than-expected 45:36 thanks to one heck of a sprint finish. And while I didn’t realise it at the time, that’s actually my second fastest 10k ever. Add to the mix a really nicely designed medal and a decent technical top, and all in all I’d rate the London 10k very highly indeed.
This coming Sunday, it’s time to do it all again at the Great Midlands Run in Sutton Coldfield. I certainly seem to be cramming in the events at the moment, but to me it’s a case of making hay while the sun shines. I just want to maximise the opportunity of being able to run competitively without any injury concerns which, let’s face it, has been quite a long time coming. Here’s hoping it continues.
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