The Ronhill Surrey Classic 10k at Horton was my last race of 2013. It seems quite unbelievable that in the first of the year, the Tadworth 10 at Epsom Downs on 6th January, I was two stone heavier and miserably struggling to run more than two minutes in one go.
It feels fabulous to be stand at the start line of a race, not just planning to run the whole thing, but to try and run a time. My target today would be to better my Nonsuch park 10k last month. A sub 1:05 would be amazing but I just needed to be quicker than 1:07:04.
I’ve had another rotten cold all week, a never ending stream of them it seems enough to consider going back to bed once I’d gone through the morning ablutions. But instead I decided to cycle over to the start. At least that way the fresh air would perk me up a bit and I could test my legs to see how they were feeling.
Predictably they felt rubbish initially, a sign of under use this week. The cool air worked its wonders and once at Horton I felt at least able to start the race. I left my heart rate monitor at home after frightening the bejesus out of myself last time. I would run to rate of perceived exertion (AKA how I felt) and take the first lap fairly easy.
The route is two laps around the houses of north west Epsom. A gradual uphill to start, followed by a good couple of miles of net descent before a long climb back to the start and the second lap. This would be a vomit inducing, leg wobbling killer on the run up to the finish line second time around.
I started gently, taking a position at the back and opting to stay on the pavement rather than the road. One of the Epsom Allsorts asked if I was intending to beat last months time. I returned her question with a non-committal answer, not wanting to put pressure on myself and unsure as yet how my already bambi like legs would hold out.
We completed the first few hundred metres at a nice, steady pace. Once at the corner of Horton Lane and Christchurch Road the route turns left and down into the dip before West Hill. Now was the time to pick up the pace (although early in the race) to make the best of the downhill stints.
Focussing on form down the hill, I finally felt strength radiate out from the core of my legs. The ‘ready brek’ glow filling me with energy from inside out. I felt my breathing pick up and concentrated on occasionally catching it to ensure I hadn’t pushed it too hard too quickly.
A natural ear worm burst into my brain. Ironically titled ‘With you in my head’.
A recent addition to my home made ‘spin list’, I’ve been listening to it regularly in the last week. It’s a bouncy tune and I enjoyed the distraction while I tried to work out the frankly bizarre, nonsensical lyrics.
In the meantime I was steadily passing people. Not many, but regularly. All the while trying not to think about the time and just stay relaxed. As I rounded the corner to pass the finish line I exulted in not being lapped (the first time in a few years this had not occurred) and also not to panic at the time on the clock (31:xx) knowing it was a slightly longer second lap and so would take a little more time to complete.
So, a sub 1:05 was on if I was brave enough? I tried to con myself into thinking I wasn’t going to go for it while making plans to accelerate off the top junction of Christ Church road again and just. Hold. On!
By the time I got to the corner I had managed to recapture my breathe and was starting to feel really good. Good enough certainly to detour over to Tess marshalling on Chertsey Lane and high five her. (Much to her surprise and mine too if I’m honest). Such jubilance in a race outside the London Marathon will never do.
It lasted all of six minutes. The slight incline of West Hill Avenue evaporating any excess cheer that may have been lurking and replacing it with the weight of a thousand negative thoughts. Or so it seemed.
Maybe I’d just overcooked the first lap.
I dwelled on that thought for a second but then figured I had less than 20 minutes to hold on. Less time than Peter punishes me for on a Thursday morning and I manage to survive that week in, week out so quit whining and get on with it.
Manor Green Road could have been named ‘Bloody long road that goes on forever’ but finally the co-op floated into sight behind the pretty but unyielding terracing. The co-op heralded the end, or at least the left turn into Lower Court Road and the final bit of flat ground.
A quick glance at the five mile marker showed that I had roughly 12 minutes to get back to the finish line to achieve my target. I’d been averaging between 10 and 10.45 minute mile pace so if I could just hang on I would do it. My mantra became ‘don’t panic’, although I did opt for a voice less Corporal Jones and more Indiana Jones.
I was aware of everything around me. The weight of my club shirt hanging with sweat off my shoulders, the ragged breathing of a runner behind me. I could even feel the weight of my wedding ring as I swung my arm as a counterweight to my increasingly dense legs.
The ragged breathing actually belonged to a friend of mine, Judy, who passed me not long afterwards. I had enough energy to tell her to be strong and that we had done this route so many times before in times gone passed when we ran together as club mates.
As she accelerated ahead, legs and breath steaming, I thought of her dearly missed husband who had also been my running companion in so many events over the years. David was generous enough to share his enthusiasm and energy through encouragement on so many occasions and I miss him. I thought about a particularly tough race on Epsom Downs when he had returned to run the final few hundred metres with me, encouraging me with a quiet determination the whole way. And somehow, despite the wedding ring and the t-shirt now both made of lead to join my legs, he gave me the strength to be brave and keep going.
A little further along I saw Alan and Lynda, already finished and heading back along the route to cheer. I didn’t have enough left to share with them so selfishly gasped ‘Don’t talk to me’. Thankfully they got the message and I turned the last corner onto the last hill curving a long lazy slow right hand bend to the finish line.
The clock said 1:03:14. I barely believed it but there it was in black and white or rather dayglo yellow on black.
Incontrovertible. Irrefutable. Absolute.
Later I text Peter with the result. His reply brought tears to my eyes. ‘Congratulations! It’s a wonderful thing that you are doing :-)’.