It’s a wonderful feeling when you are on the start line of a race knowing all your training has gone as well as you can realistically hope, you’re in great nick and you feel confident that you can hit your targets – if you don’t ruin it by doing something stupid.
This was nothing like that, not even close. This was fear, worry and trepidation. My training had been thin on the ground to begin with, but four weeks before the Gloucester Half – just as I began to feel like I was getting somewhere – I pulled my left calf. The couple of weeks before I had felt like I was beginning to see some improvements, not giant leaps in performance but green shoots non the less. The week before Christmas I had managed both a lovely trail run and a less lovely interval session. Once back at my parent’s house, I decide to round out the week with a run along the canal with my dad. All is great with the world as we chat in the morning winter sun as the early kilometres tick by. Then I notice a tightening in my calf, I hope that it will ease but before long it’s gone from ‘a bit tight’ to being stabbed in the leg by an invisible stabby thing. With a jolt, I pull up and try to stretch it out; but that doesn’t appear to help. I tell my dad to carry on, as I turn and begin to trudge back the way we came. After a couple of minutes of walking I try to run again in the hope that running at my own pace might ease it – it doesn’t so I revert to walking again. With running off the cards I try to keep myself ticking over on the bike until race day. As the days count down towards race day, I feel the anxiety and trepidation build up. To add the calf worries, the death cold which had been passed around my family finally made its way to me on the Friday before the race. As the cold takes hold, a cough develops, and lakes of snot begin to be produced.
After a restless night, I follow the usual race morning routine; bowl of porridge, poo, get dressed. For a change I manage to get to race HQ with plenty of time to spare. After sampling the local portaloos I take a couple of cold tablets. I don’t normally like doing that, but I really didn’t think running with snot stalactites forming in my beard was a look I want to go for. Once the tablets have begun to take effect I warm up and make my way to the start line. After a final pep talk from my loving wife – this consisted of mainly “Don’t be a dick. If your calf hurts, stop!” – I join the pack near the back. I’m not sure if there was a race brief, but after a while of waiting near the start line, we start walking forwards then, crossing the start line I begin to run.
I spend the early part of the race mentally checking I am ok and not running too fast. While I felt I needed to do this to ensure that I didn’t anger my calf, it did mean that I couldn’t get out of my own head and enjoy the course. The early parts of the course take us through housing estates and industrial estates before we are out into the countryside. At this point I am still firmly stuck in my head – worrying about my calf and my pace. By the time I get about 7km in I settle down and become a bit more confident with the condition of my left calf. As I become more confident my pace begins to increase, but I still try to hold back. Although my calf feels ok, I still haven’t trained properly so go too hard now and I’ll detonate long before the finish. I try to hold this effort for the remainder of the first of two loops.
At the end of the lap I am running comfortably, and more importantly no longer obsessing about how my calf is feeling. Mentally I feel more relaxed and that means I begin to take in my surroundings a little more. The route is a lollipop with two laps of the loop. Being a Devon boy, I would call the route flat – with the only noticeable climbs the motorway flyovers. The route is really nice, with no really hard turns but I can only imagine how bleak it could be in more wintery conditions with no real shelter from the conditions. Given the conditions this year, I genuinely think if you turn up in good shape you can get a good time on this course.
By the time I reach the half way on the second loop I am running with another guy. We run well together, but before too long I begin to worry about making the end, so I back off a little. My companion appears to do the same. With only a few kilometres left I try to keep the effort (not necessarily the pace) at about threshold and just try to grit it out as the lack of training begins to bite. Somewhere along here I lose my companion. Before long the route retraces back to the start and it’s the final dig to the finish.
I cross the finish line unimaginably relieved that the only source of soreness is from my peach-like feet rather than my calf. Before starting I would honestly have taken finishing with a PW (Personal worst). Not only did I manage to finish inside that, but also managed to run each 5km quicker than the previous one (again quicker, never quick) – which I have never managed before. More importantly I haven’t ruined my entire season by being a ‘dick’.