"I don't run to be better than other people. I run to be better than I used to be."
Unfortunately, I missed the mark slightly even by those standards, since the previous weekend I'd run marginally faster than that in training, but that's probably not the point either.
Meanwhile, here's my take on the 6.22 miles that I ran...
Mile 1As foretold in the Writings of Husband, the race started off too fast. Combined with the Wisdom of GrandadBear, which stated there would be a jumbled melee of bodies weaving round each other getting over the starting line. Both these things came to pass. And despite the Meanderthals on the starting line, I ran the first mile too fast. Not massively too fast, but not the easy start I'd intended*.
Mile 2Oh dear. A hill. Who put that there, and why? My home town has a certain hill-deficit, so all my training has been on the flat. This was perhaps An Error. The hill's not too vicious - about a third of a mile of steady ascent through the back streets of Rochdale, gaining a massive 70 feet. It's rather reminiscent of "Call the Midwife" with terraced houses opening straight onto the streets, grubby children running up and down, mothers in doorways with babes propped on hips. All friendly, with many waves, cheers and high fives at the lumbering, sweating bodies dragging themselves up the hill.
Round the corner and thunder down hill, only to find it then kicks back up again. Arse. The second mile finishes just as we begin to level off again. A disastrous time for that mile. My dreams of a sub-hour time are evaporating.
Mile 3A levelish, easyish patch here, and I'm in amongst a group of people all running a fairly steady pace. This seems OK. We get to the water station, and I cruise through, not having been needing any water when training, even in much higher temperatures. Then I have a last minute panic - what if today's the day I need water? So I grab a bottle from the last person in the water line and keep going. Only now I've got a bloody bottle to carry, which is rather annoying, since I don't want a drink, there are no bins, and I'm far too British to litter.
Soon we're on to the canal towpath, which has the advantage of being flat (hooray!) but the disadvantage of being muddy, narrow and slow. No real chance to overtake the bumblers in front and suddenly it turns out my third mile is completed in a poor time. I realise that the group who are running a fairly steady pace are going a bit slower than I want to run. Time to shape up and set my own pace.
Mile 4Some bewildering back and forth on a couple of roads, executing u-turns at each end. Clearly parts of the route put in to make up the exact distance, but irritating to run. Not helped by the muppets who've decided to ignore the cones, barriers and "Road Closed" signs, and not only drive along the roads we're running on, but do so while playing a constant string of obnoxious tones on their car horns. Sadly the race marshals are not armed and dangerous so aside for some brisk "tutting" not much happens. A good time for the fourth mile, and the comfort of knowing I'm on the homeward leg now. The water bottle is becoming increasingly annoying, though I've taken a few swigs, just to pretend to myself that it was worth grabbing.
Mile 5Back up and down the hilly bit now. The good news is that the third of a mile that I laboured up in mile 2 is all downhill now. The bad news is that the short sharp stretch I "thundered" down is now an up. But I'm damned if I'm going to let it beat me, so I lean in to it, grit my teeth and drive on. And I overtake people all the way up, don't drop my pace and feel better about that 0.1mile than about most of the rest of the race. For a moment I felt a surge of pride as I overtook a much younger, much slimmer, much fitter woman in running club gear... and then realised she was pausing to use her asthma inhaler. There's a limit to how smug anyone can feel at overtaking someone having an asthma attack.
Why are there no bins for this sodding bottle?
Mile 6 (and a little bit)We reconvene with the half marathon route and are confronted with a sign marking the 12 mile point. The very thought makes me want to whimper. But I've got three good miles under my belt, along with two poor ones, so if I can keep it up for the last mile, I might still break the hour mark. But it's hurting now. The heavy pounding of the hills has got me in the hips, so much so that I'm barely feeling the shin splints any more.
There's an idiot running almost alongside me, except he's not, he's sprinting for twenty paces, then walking for ten, then repeating. Which means he's passing me, dropping back, passing me, dropping back, and driving me bloody insane. And then the race marshal steps off the pavement and right in front of me. As if the half-wits in cars on closed roads weren't bad enough, now the marshals are out to get me too.
I glance down at my watch... 0.3 miles to go... and I might just make it. Then I realise that's the same distance as from the pub to home, and I usually put my foot down and go flat out when I'm running the final stretch from pub to home**. So I give one last push, extend my stride, relax my shoulders and just go for it. As close to a "sprint" as I can manage after 6 miles. Round the corner, over the bridge and into the finishing straight in front of the Town Hall. BigBear is sitting by the cenotaph, but he doesn't spot me, and I don't want to waste energy with a wave. I'm in a clear patch as I head for the finish line, so the announcer has a chance to check my number and call my name out with a "well done" as I cross the line. 59 minutes and 30 seconds.
And because no analysis is complete without a graph, here's the profile of the run, with a few comments of my own:
The AftermathI feel both relieved and disappointed. My breathing and heart-rate recover surprisingly quickly and I'm left with the feeling that I could have pushed myself harder, could have got a better time, could have, should have... Except my legs are wrecked. More wrecked than from any other run. It's the hills I think. Parts of me hurt that haven't hurt in training. I'm glad I did it. Glad I broke the hour barrier. But I wish I'd done better. Not to "beat" anyone else, but because I think there's better in me. So do you know what I've done?
I've signed up for a flat 10k in my home town in three weeks time. It was the only answer.
* For those wondering how I'm so confident about my times, distances and paces, I'm now the proud owner of BigBear's cast-off GPS running watch. It knows where I am and it knows what I'm doing. Which is kind of worrying.
** No, I don't train by running home from the pub, it just happens to be a landmark on the way back to the house from most of my routes. Honest.
Footnote: updated to remove some of the slightly fruitier language about people driving on the closed roads.