Sunday March 16th, 2014 – 4:24am
A few days earlier, things were looking up.
It was then Wednesday. Bright sunny weather had returned to the UK, I had the day off work, and the kids were disease-free, having seemingly been sick every weekend for the last year (or so the last couple of weeks felt). I completed my last interval sprint run before taking on today’s race, the Epilepsy Action Bradford 10K, and posted a glorious snapshot of the Calder and Hebble Navigation on Facebook, quoting confidently to my fellow runners ‘just tuning the motor!’. You’d be feeling pretty confident too if you were aiming to run sub-40 in a 10K and were sprinting confidently, in the knowledge you could pack a 3:32 km if desired. But I should have known, tribulations were afoot.
It began in the most trivial of circumstances. A haircut. A bleeding haircut. All I will say on that one is that the long wild hair I’ve carried for the last six years of my life has been taken away. I carried what felt like a drastic change into work and was showered with ‘compliments’ and banter. To be perfectly honest, it doesn’t actually look that bad. Let’s call it a ‘misunderstanding’ – in any event by now it has smoothed over. I miss my rock n’ roll look and felt it would be a part of me until it started falling out or just generally became unmanageable. Ah well, it will return in a few months, trust me on that one. But that was a drop in the ocean compared to what was to come again. That’s right. Sickness. As I’d predicted the weekend before, we had a case of vomiting in the night with one of the little ‘uns. She woke around 4:00am and it was seemingly every few minutes to begin with. I had to call into work to take time off as she wouldn’t leave my wife’s side at first. Then when she did perk up she dropped the most unholy nappy I’ve ever seen. That was very much clean-up in aisle 6. Nope, you’re definitely not going in now. Infection risk! One trip to the supermarket later (ensuring I’d sanitised first) and it was time to cleanse the place. We got so far and went to bed later on. I actually got to bed at a reasonable hour (much thanks to my wife’s hard work earlier in the day), and it seemed my preparations for the race were going well, if so delicately poised.
Cut to today. That’s when I woke up. That’s when the other twin woke up. Now she was vomiting. After half an hour of this I managed to get back to sleep, but was up again a few minutes later, and by the time she settled down, it was so close to wake up time at 5:30am. So I switched my alarm off and tried to get on with the task of preparing for today’s race. I showered. I dried off. I went downstairs and did the usual pre-race breakfast ritual – porridge with golden syrup (maple golden syrup this time!), a banana, and a cup of tea. I prepared my electrolyte drink and stuck in the freezer for a bit. Now then, to fill in the emergency contact details on the back of my race number. If only I could find a pen. If only I could have just forgotten about this until I actually arrived at the race. I wasted a good deal of time foraging unsuccessfully for a pen and in the end, and just got my stuff together and left. Remarkably, no more vomiting from either child in this time.
I arrived for the bus at the bottom of the road on time, and so I finally in a place to collect my own thoughts. This was actually going to be my first 10K race ever – I had entered the Bradford City Run at 10K distance in December 2012, my first ever competitive race, which was sadly ruined by a marshalling error which meant everyone did 8.8km instead. So this was to be my first proper 10K race, and additionally, my first race this year opting to run, voluntarily, for the MND Association. I’d received my first £10.00 donation from a kind fellow runner the night before, and so my new fundraising campaign was off to a good start, and right before race day too. Before long I’d arrived at Centenary Park, to the sight of hundreds of other runners and race marshals attempting to keep warm. ‘Attempting’ being the operative word, because the bright weather forecast had been replaced, for now, with overcast skies and windy weather. I decided, like many, that the best place to get ready would be in the City Hall. So I went inside, attached my race number to my vest, ate a granola bar to add on the carbs, and finished my drink. I got stretched, primed, opted for gloves, and went back outside. Brrr…if only I’d considered the merits of base layering!
Still, the sun was doing it’s best to come out, the city mayor announcing that it had ‘gone to Keighley by mistake’! I passed the time by taking a couple of selfies, a view from behind me at the start line, and brushing my now irritating fringe out of my left eye. The app was ready on my phone to record silently – race time seemingly being the only time I race purely on feel. 9:00am arrived, the bell chimed, and soon the horn sounded. Off we went.
It was a bit of a clumsy start from me, accidentally bumping into another runner and then kicking the backs of my legs not once, but twice as I tried to find rhythm. I reminded myself to calm down and not to get overawed about chasing the time. We passed through Little Germany, arriving at the first of two short, steep descents, into which I went all out to make the most of the extra speed afforded by these areas. As the course settled down into flatter territory, the wind was pushing against me more and more, little by little. It felt like the race was turning into a bit of a struggle, not necessarily to keep going, but more to maintain the pace. Still, I pushed on and by halfway I was satisfied that I was doing alright. I was settling down now and feeling comfortable at my own pace.
We turned at halfway, or just after 5km, and headed back for the city. For the last couple of kilometres, I’d been virtually tractor beamed to the back of a fellow runner in an orange shirt. Not unlike Britain’s first ever gold medal Paralympian Kelly Gallagher, who partially sighted skis down slopes only being able to make out the orange bib of her guide, Charlotte Evans. My main challenge now was the sun, which had truly arrived and thus making a mockery of my decision not to wear shades. The only water point on the course was pretty much wasted on me, seemingly more interested in keeping going than trying to make sure I washed down the drink. In the end I nearly choked on it and got rid, not really taking on too much fluid in the process. But I was still on the coattails of this orange-shirted guy, and it was until roughly 8km he finally started to get away as it seemed my pace was ever-so-slightly diminishing in. Past 9km. This was it now, the nitty gritty. I tried to up the pace – it didn’t feel like I was bang on top form right now but I was still giving it my best.
I was soon to realise the benefit of running in the city centre is that there’s likely to be a large clock tower to tell you roughly where you are if you’re chasing a time, and so it proved here. Roughly 500-600 meters from the end, the clock was reading ‘9:35am’. At this point, I began to relax. I was about to do it! I was about to go sub-40! I kept going, the city crowds cheering everyone on, and I headed back for Centenary Park. It didn’t require a sprint finish. The clock was only on 37: something and I crossed the line with a smile and a clenched fist. A few seconds later, I clenched both of them, knowing I’d just obliterated my goal. And my perfect Jantastic score, haha! I remembered to go and switch off my app and it seemed almost instantly, my chip time was confirmed at 37:15. I’d done it. I’d gone and properly run a sub-40:00 minute 10K, and yet again it seemed, I’d properly smashed it.
I would say initially I wasn’t as enthused about this one – not that I recognised its achievement any less. Maybe it was because I was to be brought back to reality as one of my poorly children had been sick again, and was still asleep upstairs. I got my stuff together and went, now dressed in the t-shirt handed out at the end. The bus journey was only twenty-five minutes, after waiting for an additional fifteen, and before long I was home, the child in question now a bit more awake and pleased to see me, the other with another unholy nappy to deal with.
Still, the overall result was entirely pleasing, and more so when the official results were published online. 36th place, out of 1,466 runners. Cripes. I was 35th in the Liversedge Half Marathon, but this was a bigger field, and a quicker pace. I’d consider this to be possibly my best result yet, even better than the result at Liversedge (which was no less impressive given the weather). It’s a sign of how far I’ve come and how much training I’ve put in to get to this point. And quite thrillingly, as well, I actually looked good for the race photos. Despite my hair. I tried to bear in mind there might be photographers and if I spied them, to try not to look as though I was in agony, or going through the ringer. I wanted to come out of this looking if not professional, then like a seasoned amateur – race photos I’d be proud to display here, and on social media, and indeed in my home. So here they are. Thank you Flaming Photography, these have turned out great!
And I must say, a big cheer for Epilepsy Action on what I’ve discovered to be a fantastically organised event. Although it’s not the most scenic route, it did indeed deliver on its ‘PB potential’ and while such races can be dismissed easily as ‘suitable for beginners’, it’s no less of a challenge for those looking to better themselves or to be competitive. I chose to do this because I realised I was more likely to go sub-40:00 minutes here than in Blackpool, on the sand, and I was smart enough to realise this early in my training program and to cash in on entering the race while I had some financial good fortune go my way. The marshals and attendants at the race were all forthcoming and helpful, and it’s a fantastic event overall that really brings Bradford together. Will I enter next year? Who knows. With my own plans to step up to marathon now further solidified owing to my performance here, it depends if it conflicts with any potential training. Barring that, I’d be willing to give this another crack, if only to try and chip away at my PB. It’s great knowing there’s quality local races close to home, as proven at Liversedge, and now proven to me here. My result now means I can go to Blackpool and really enjoy the occasion, with this monkey now off my back.
But more importantly, despite what I considered a bit of a torrid and disruptive build-up to the race, the encouragement of family, friends, work colleagues and fellow runners all reminded me that when it came to race day, I would smash my targets and when push came to shove, I pulled it out of the bag and delivered a performance I can be truly proud of. Cheers you good, good people!