mountains and molehills

It was 6am on Sunday morning. Too early for a Sunday in any case, and definitely too early to be contemplating getting ready for a race. It was the morning of the Great North 10k. As I mentioned in my last post, I am not a morning person, and when the alarm went off and disturbed my weekend slumber I cursed under my breath as I rolled out of bed. Fortunately, a cup of tea and a bagel with honey later I felt much more human, and the pre-race jitters had kicked in. I started to feel the rush of excitement as I pinned my race number to my chest and attached timing chip to my laces.

Joining other runners on the Metro, we journeyed south of the Tyne to Gateshead Stadium, then jogged gently towards the sounds of the loudhailers and thudding speakers at the start line. My husband Andy headed off towards the orange wave near the front, and after a quick appointment with a Portaloo I missed joining the white wave behind the orange, so I wormed my way as far forward as I could into the greens.

Before I knew it we were off, piling through the gantry festooned with coloured balloons and downhill into the first kilometre. I whizzed past some slow starters by running along the pavement but my swift progress was soon curtailed by the turn of a corner and the sight of the first uphill section. This was to be my undoing. Not this hill in particular but the unexpected undulation of the entire course. I had heard fabled horror stories of ‘the hill’ at 9k, but the whole route was turning out to be full of ups and downs; even with the mercifully flat section along Gateshead Quayside, and the relief of freewheeling along the downhill bits, there were two or three fiendishly difficult sections which were starting to take their toll on my legs.

The day was warm, although nowhere near the heat of Manchester last month, but this time it wasn’t the weather that was causing me problems. By the time I reached 8k, I was actually starting to feel a little light-headed from the effort – perhaps my lazy week of rest beforehand had not served me too well after all! The Manchester course in comparison to Gateshead is mostly lovely flat, wide roads, with very little variation in incline, but now we were running along a footpath next to the river, dodging stinging nettles and what looked suspiciously like horse poo. And there it was – The Hill. The stories were all true. It was steep, it was far too long, and the 9k marker at the top may as well have been at the top of Everest at this point. I was determined to ‘run’ up it rather than walk as I was losing too much time already.

I was nearly crying when I reached the top, my legs were burning and I started the last kilometre at a snail’s pace as I tried to pick it up again. The last few hundred metres take you into Gateshead Stadium and on a lap of the athletics track, which was actually an amazing motivator. Entering the stadium and hearing the spectators cheering us all on from the stands was all I needed to muster the last of my strength and make a sprint finish to the line. I stopped my watch on the line and at that moment was devastated to see I had fallen short of my PB from Manchester by six seconds – 54:23.

Coming to my senses later I was really pleased with my time in the end. I realised that there is no such thing as just ‘doing a 10k’. Each race and each course is different and exciting and challenging in its own way. Mixing it up like this really tests your ability as a runner to adapt and survive – I have survived trial by heatwave, and now trial by hill. Up next, trial by half marathon. The training begins…..

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