Monday, September 25, 2006


Being as I am still a relative newbie to running I haven't actually done that many races. So far I have run in one 10k (about a million years ago in that glorious prehistory before my sprogs were born), one 5mile Up The Long Mynd Hideous Nightmare, and the marathon. And, er, that's it...

In an attempt to see if I can run at all faster then I think I can, and hearing from a friend about the Ashtead 10k, I thought I'd have a go at that. Ashtead Common is near enough home I could just hop in the car just after 9.30, run round the common and be back in time for lunch. As is my wont I hadn't exactly communicated these plans very well to my husband, so he had arranged to go on a picnic with some friends, which thanks to me had to be put back an hour.

This was the first Ashtead 10k, organised brilliantly by the Ashtead Runners Group. It was lively fun, and people were incredibly friendly. I hate going to things on my own, but I found plenty of people to chat to before the race.

Being me, I had rather foolishly drunk too much red wine the night before the race. I know, I know, I only have myself to blame, but in my defence it was my sister in law's birthday and it would have been churlish to spend the WHOLE evening on water....

So it was, that I found myself parking up at Ashtead Station on Sunday morning, feeling rather the worse for wear and wondering just why I had said I would do this. I would probably have wimped out had it not been that the very nice and helpful organizer had kindly said he would give away three of my books as raffle prizes (he also very kindly turned up to my launch party, so it seemed a bit churlish having promised the books not to turn up!)

Although I know Ashtead, I don't know the bit around the station very well, so along with several other runners we managed to wander around aimlessly for about ten minutes before eventually finding the scout hut where we were to register.

In my anxiety not to be late, I was of course, far too early. It had started off cool and threatening rain, but my 10.30 the sun was blazing down so I wandered back to the car (discovering that it was actually two minutes from the scout hut) to dump my fleece, before heading for the start of the race. Nerves getting the better of me, I had to do at least two loo stops before I got there...

The race started promptly at eleven and I stayed resolutely at the back of the pack (I know my place!!!) and started off fairly slowly. Pretty much everyone overtook me at the start, but hey, I'm used to that.

We did one circuit round a field before heading off into the common. The sun was incredibly hot and I was relieved when we finally hit a bit of shade as my head was pounding rather. Although the marshall stations were plentiful (and the marshalls themselves wonderfully enthusiastic and encouraging) there were no mile markers, so I didn't have a clue how far I was. I was managing to keep a small group ahead of me in my sights though, which was helpful as, after my miserable experience on the Long Mynd (when I pretty much lost sight of everyone else in the race) I know how tough it is to keep motivated when it's just you and the track...

Thanks to rain the night before, the path was fairly muddy in places, and the course was fairly up and down. As I live halfway up a hill I rarely race on the flat, but I have to admit there were moments when the hills defeated me and I did have the odd walk just to get to the top.

It is amazing how much you get slowed down by those moments when you walk though - after one such moment the group that were ahead of me seemed to vanish completely, and for a long time I could only see one other woman ahead of me. Eventually to my utter amazement I found I not only caught her up, but I overtook her. I was sort of getting into my stride now. After the early bit of the race when I was puffing and panting away and wondering what the hell I was doing here, I had settled into a rhythm and was even upping the pace a bit. I was much helped by the sight of the front runner heading back. Yay! That must mean the halfway point wasn't too far away.

Actually of course, being as he was so fast and I was so slow, the halfway point was probably nearly a mile away, but seeing him and the rest of the pack running back did spur me on. The track at this point became very narrow and I found myself breathing in to let other runners past, or pulling in so they could get by. But the more I saw, the nearer to the midway point I was getting, so I didn't mind too much.

As the midway point hove into view a bunch of runners came back towards me and I saw the friend who had suggested the race to me. Huzzah. I wasn't too far behind her and she is a much faster runner then me.

I grabbed a drink and a jelly baby, checked the time (37 mins - not too bad for me. Mind you that was the time the winner did the whole thing in...) and set off again.

Somehow I lost my rhythm for the next bit, and I seemed to slow right down again. Particularly at the hills which I found myself walking up. I lost sight of everyone barring one lone runner ahead of me, who was walking more then me, but who for some reason I couldn't seem to catch up. Eventually, coming to a downward slope, I overtook him at the bottom when he was having a walking break. We exchanged grimfaced cheering each other up comments and I was on my way again. I had passed several people still on their way out, which cheered me no end. At least I wasn't going to be last.

After about twenty minutes I felt I must be nearly two miles from the end, so asked a marshall. He reckoned I still had 3-4k to go. That didn't seem so bad, I thought, though by now my muscles were screaming, my water bottle was nearly empty and my headache was loud enough to wake the dead.

I caught up with a couple of other runners and we geed ourselves on together. The next time I asked a marshall the distance he said 3k and the next time he said 2. But by this time I was getting a bit muddled and I thought he meant 2 miles, which really threw me and made me slow down again (memo to self, do not let little things throw you off...) However, once I realised it was only 2k I got a second wind and started running stronger and faster then I had done in the whole race.

The next marshall we saw told us we would hear the finish line soon and I was off and away . One of the women I was running with was going at a fair pace and I was a bit behind her, having overtaken her companion. Yay! This was more like it. This is why (despite hangovers and headaches and aching muscles) I run... I'm never going to be at the front, but hey, the buzz of taking part, and knowing you're on the home straight. It's fantastic....

What is slightly less fantastic is suddenly realising that the field you are crossing isn't the field you thought it was and the finish line is remaining as elusive as ever. I had another wobble and slowed right down again. Clearly my psychology on these occasions needs some work...

I did eventually stagger through to the field where we had started, but boy did the finish line look a long way away. The woman I had previously overtaken passed me again, but I could see a bunch of runners not too far ahead, including my friend. That spurred me on, so whilst I didn't do a sprint finish, I was still running as I thankfully crossed the line.

My time was 72:33 - pretty slow by proper runner's standards, but it will do for me. I was elated, exhausted, hungry and thirsty. But I felt great. My legs might not ever be the same again, but I have a feeling I'll be back again next year.... If only to see how much better I can do without a hangover...

With grateful thanks to Rob McCaffrey for organizing such a brilliant race and for all those wonderful marshals who were so enthusiastic!

Rob edits an online running magazine called Trionium. If you're interested, visit:


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