And when he was down, he was down.
And when he was only half way up, he was thinking “oh good grief, how big is this hill?”
This year, as part of the 2014 5×50 challenge, I had decided to enter my very first running race. And last Sunday was the day of the race; a sunny but windy day. I had decided to forego the half marathon option, as well as the 10k race, and concentrate on running the 5 kilometres I needed for the 5×50 challenge. When the start lists were published online on Sunday morning it soon became apparent that most people had made the step up to the 10k distance, leaving a relatively small field competing the 5k race. This could either be a good thing or not, I really wasn’t sure.
The whole event, organised by Relish Running Races, was really well set up and, after parking my car in the designated runner’s car park, I was soon registered and in possession of my first-ever running number. You could easily tell that I was a first-timer by the ridiculous amount of time it took me to pin my race number onto my shirt in a position that I was happy with: it was too low, too high, too crooked. What an amateur.
The race, as I mentioned in my last post, was held at Killerton. This is a National Trust property on the edge of Exeter and is home to one of my local parkruns. As an occasional Killerton parkrunner this surely meant that I was conditioned for a 5k course around the estate. Right? Wrong.
After a reasonably flat circuit around the fields below the house we headed towards the start of the normal parkrun route. On a Saturday morning, the nice parkrun organisers allow you to walk up the hill, starting their route from the top. Not so for this route; this one had us running uphill, climbing up and over a shoulder of the big hill that sits ominously behind the main house. The next section was downhill and then pretty flat, allowing the legs a chance to recover. And this was only 2 kilometres into the race.
The start was staggered, with the 5k runners going off last. With a shorter distance, we were obviously going faster than the other runners (some of them at least: the finishing times for the first runners back from the 10k race were very impressive) and we began to intermingle with the 10k runners at this point, just in time for the hill. The big hill. An extinct volcano no less. Huffing and puffing like the big bad wolf, I managed to keep going as we ran up a field, over a stile and then up an ever steeper hill to crest a ridge. This photo from the Relish Running Races facebook page nicely encapsulates everything you need to know about that hill (it’s not me in the photo, in case you’re wondering).
We were allowed a bit of recovery time as we angled much more gently upwards along the ridge and then we headed into the trees and up the really big hill. This one defeated me and I had to adopt a strange power-walk, hands pushing off of my thighs as I headed uphill as fast as I could.
Just before the 4 kilometre mark, the 5k runners darted off to the left and immediately headed steeply downhill. And then immediately back uphill again. Thanks guys. Working our way through the trees we eventually emerged out in open countryside above the house itself. I had just managed to overtake the only other runner in the vicinity and was in front of him as we approached a sign that helpfully, optimistically, pointed downwards at about a 45 degree angle. Taking a deep breath I hung a left and did, indeed, find a path angling straight down the hill at quite an alarming angle. The good news was that this was the home straight and it was all gloriously downhill. So much so that, even if you hadn’t planned to, it was pretty hard to avoid a sprint finish. With my fellow runner keeping me on my toes I sped downhill, arms windmilling and legs doing their best to keep up with the rest of me, flying through the finish gate accompanied by a lovely round of applause from the spectators. Yes, it was only the 5k race, but it all added up to make me feel like a real runner in a real race.
As we had all intermingled, I hadn’t been able to keep track of the 5k runners among the larger group of 10k runners. This meant that, by the time I crossed the finish line, I had no idea where I had come, although I was happy that I was in the front pack somewhere. On one hand it didn’t really matter, but it was also my first race and I wanted to try my hardest. Although I didn’t necessarily enjoy the hills at the time, I had enjoyed the challenge of the race and it was actually a very interesting course with varying terrain offering moments where you could put in a spurt of pace and overtake a few people or, just as likely, find yourself slowing, dropping back and being passed by others; it kept it interesting.
After collecting my chocolate bar and medal, I milled around for a while, ate some of the free jelly beans, drank a lot of water, bought a coffee and then stood and clapped home the other runners as the longer races finished. It was a lovely day to be outside.
And, just to finish the tale off, come Monday, when the results were posted on the website, I was very surprised to find that I had finished second in the 5k race. Which was nice.