Go the Distance

 Racing and being competitive really was not why I got into running – much more a desire to get healthy and lose some weight – but now I find the buzz of a race itself a real incentive to push hard and compete.


I realise I am never going to win any of the races I enter. Others in the race are either younger and fitter, my age and fitter or older and fitter, but that really is not the point. The races that I am doing are all about the inner competition between me and the clock. And that also raises another question. If I am always racing to end up losing, am I really enjoying the experience?


I had two races this week. Well, one race and one charity race so not quite the same thing. The good news is that the groin injury which I have been struggling with for the past few weeks is definitely easing. Resting up a bit and not running as much – as frustrating as that has undoubtedly been – has absolutely helped the healing process. While I still have some twinges I am perfectly comfortable running once again wth no ill effects afterwards.


Not only did I have two races, but they were also both on the same day. I should quantify this. The first race was a run of slightly more than two miles for charity along the runway at Aberdeen Airport. The Aberdeen Airport Runway Run took place at midnight last weekend and I ran it with my daughter. It was a great thing to do, an unusual event, very relaxed and an unique experience. Having gone down that runway hundreds of times over the past few years through work, it felt very odd running along it and looking over to see the planes and the terminal building.


The Strava map was more unusual than most


And the race was never about time, it was about enjoying the experience and sharing that with my daughter and others who did the event. But it did mean that I did not get to my bed until around 2am on Sunday morning, which was hardly the best preparation fot the other race, a local 10km run at Westhill just outside Aberdeen which started at 10am.


As it is quite a small event, with around four hundred runners, I had to drive over to pick up my number so had only had about five hours sleep before making my way over and on to the start line itself. What with having the injury and the run the night before – and I had also been briefed that it was a “challenging” course – I went into the race with few expectations of a time and the main intention was simply to just enjoy it.


Waiting at the start line


And then, of course, the race started and everything changed. Having set a new PB earlier in the year on a very flat course of 48.28, at a time when I felt in really good shape, I had conceded there was no way I was going to achieve that. I went out and tried to run based on “feel”, rather than constantly looking at my watch to see my elapsed time or my average mile pace (I always pace in miles, even when it is a 5km or 10km event, it is just the way my brain works).


As the start of the route was basically straight uphill before a flat section then more hills until we got to around 3km, this was just about getting into a rhythm and feeling comfortable. Well, as comfortable as you can be in the opening part of a race with a start as hilly as that was. At around 4km there was a steep descent and I took advantage of that to push on, but again just trying to regulate my breathing and stay within myself. I never looked at my watch once.


As I got to about halfway, I felt ok but not brilliant. This was not one of these runs where everything came naturally. And then I turned and saw what lay ahead of me. Between 5km and 6km there was a very steep incline and from there until the end of the race it was full of undulations. None as severe as that one, but I really felt that the effort required to get through that part of the course had a major impact on my pace. After that, it was a bit of a survival contest just to get to the end in reasonable shape.


The hill at halfway was awful…


The course did have further downhill sections as it wound its way through the houses around Westhill, and I got a bit mixed

up as I could not recall if the last marker I had seen was for 7km or 8km. It is at times like these that when people out supporting say, “not far to go”, it truly is not helping!


But luckily, the next marker I did see was for 9km and that was when I looked at my watch. To my astonishment, particularly how badly I felt at that point, I had a shot at a sub-50 minute time. Had you told me a few months ago that I would ever run sub-50 for a 10km I would never have believed you, but here I was on a tough, hill course on a warm day where I could achieve it for the second time in two months.


Well the competitive gene really kicked in at that point and I pushed on to get to the finish line, glancing at my watch all the way. Now in my head, as I approached the line, I was pushing hard but gliding my way to the finish, eating up the ground and maintaining perfect form. The picture tells a different story, a truer image of what was actually going on.


I was a vein-bulging, breathless, sweaty mess desperate for the line to come so I could stop and have a rest. I actually felt sorry for the volunteer who kindly handed me a bottle of water and the medal just after the finish line as I must have looked like I was ready to keel over. I certainly felt like it at that precise moment.


Like everything, I recovered fairly quickly, though not quick enough to realise that I should have gone and picked up my time from the timekeepers at the end, rather than spend the rest of the day checking out the website to see if the results had been posted. I had started my Fitbit before I crossed the start line and stopped it just after I finished and it was showing a sub-50 time but for me, the official chip tme is the one that counted.


Initially my time showed as 49 minutes 57 seconds, so I was doubly glad of that final bit of sinew stretching agony to cross the line (though as that time was slower than my Fitbit I was a bit confused). As it turned out, this was my gun time, my chip time got updated later that night as 49 minutes 43 seconds.


I cannot tell you how happy I am with that time. As I just turned 50 last week, to run sub-50 gives me really special satisfaction. I also liked the fact that I was in the “Super Veteran” category for the race. God, I really am getting old.

The race had the usual impact on me, bringing out the competitive streak as soon as I got going and pushing myself to do my best. Racing is not about winning for me, not about beating others. It is about winning the inner struggle when you are telling yourself to stop and it is about realising the challenge is between you and the distance.

The smile was about the bling and the time and not much else


But I also have to confess that I did not particularly enjoy it. I enjoyed the finish and have enjoyed, with a bit of time to reflect, the time I set, but during the race itself, that was really hard going. I felt I was pushing myself far more than I had intended, even though I was trying to run on feel. In order to keep it going, I had to just knuckle down and get through it. I never really took in much of the scenery, particularly in the early part of the race out in the countryside. And at the end, after a drink and getting the medal, all I really wanted to do was get back home and rest up.


Does that matter? Surely the whole point of racing is to find out your limits, see what you can achieve, drive on to greater goals. Maybe it is. And there is certainly something in me that wants to do that every time I get to a start line, but for pure enjoyment, there was no doubt that the Runway Run was a much more pleasurable experience.


The other thing about last weekend was that these will be my last races for a couple of months anyway. The next race on my calendar is the Aberdeen Half Marathon at the end of August, so while I will continue to run regularly over the coming weeks, at least I do not have to contemplate another race experience for a little while. Having raced every month since March – one marathon, two 10kms, a half marathon, two virtual running challenges and the 21 mile Brewdog Run, plus regular Parkruns – mentally I feel like I need a break. I am doing another virtual challenge through July, but I am also going on holiday so will not be racking up loads of miles (though I will, of course, be taking my running kit with me).


Overall, I am delighted with last week’s efforts, no doubt about it. Sub-50? I will take that every day of the week, but if I do that kind of time again, I really would like to enjoy the experience a bit more.



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