Ask any runner about their race-morning preparation, and I can pretty much guarantee you will hear tales of well-timed nutrition, proper hydration, a pre-packed kit bag, race number to hand, and travel plans to the start line known off by heart.
Dear God, I was so underprepared for my first race back.
For a start, I didn’t even have a race number yet.
Second, I was so focused on making sure the little ones were properly fed and dressed appropriately for the cold September morning (ever tried to wrestle a two-year-old into a hoodie when he insists on wearing only a T-shirt? It’s quite hard), I forgot to drink any water until after we’d left the house.
Third, my husband asked me the postcode of where we were going, so we could program the Sat Nav, and I didn’t bloody know. Hell, I wasn’t even wearing a sports bra yet, on the off-chance the baby might need a feed before the starting gun went off.
But despite the chaos and complete lack of a pre-race plan, the Sunday morning traffic was kind to us and we arrived with half an hour to spare. And everything kind of fell into place – the event was organised by my workplace, so a couple of wonderful colleagues soon got me a race number, a bottle of water and a pre-run pep-talk. Plus, the baby was so interested in everything going on around her that she was not in the least bit interested in milk, giving me time for a speedy superhero-style costume change round the back of the baggage tent.
It was during this costume change that I looked up and really took in the course for the first time.
I am such an idiot. Because despite the fact I have lived in south London for a long time; despite the fact, even, that I used to live just a few miles up the road from the venue and that I did all my marathon training around the area, I had forgotten the lie of the land.
It just hadn’t occurred to me the route would be hilly.
It was. Now, I’m not talking super-steep ‘Snowdon’ hilly’; more long, slow, energy-zapping hilly. Two inclines per lap. Three laps.
I had a secret aim for this race – I would have loved a sub-60-minute finish. One lap down, however, and it became perfectly clear this was not going to happen, as with heavy heart I watched the 60-minute pacer pull further and further away from me.
I really could not have chosen a better, friendlier, more inclusive event to ease me back into the world of races. The south-London park setting made it feel wonderfully familiar, all the race marshals were so supportive and the atmosphere was great, as I chatted to other runners en route.
And those hills? Well, they didn’t stop me running. I ran all the way… all the way to the finish line and my little boy’s arms (he promptly stole my medal). And I actually felt pretty strong the whole way round, finishing in 1:03:27. In short? I loved it.
I’d be lying if I said those three minutes and 27 seconds aren’t bothering me. And I can’t blame the hills entirely. My strength work, which would have helped massively with endurance, has been pretty non-existent (unless you can count pushing a toddler in a buggy while simultaneously carrying a six-month-old in a sling as strength work).
I know my weaknesses. I am going to work on them. My next goal is a sub-60 10K.
Because that’s the nature of running: it’s addictive.