Race or pace

Gallery Cafe, Bethnal Green
The Gallery Cafe, Bethnal Green

This weekend I’ve experienced the two polar-opposite elements of marathon training. On the one hand, Saturday saw me enjoying a sports massage and physio session followed by an afternoon in the spa with the girls to help ‘loosen my muscles’. On the other, Sunday involved a 20 mile race requiring a 5am start.

On Friday I made the last-minute decision to book a physio appointment to make sure I was in the best possible condition for Sunday’s race. Luckily, they were able to fit me in before breakfast on Saturday morning and I enjoyed a more hands-on massage session than I’d had before.

I was reassured by the session (if not mildly embarrassed by my general nakedness around what was a very handsome male physio!) and despite some sore points around my hips and knees, I was pleased that the physio didn’t think I was in too bad shape. I also got an extra 15 minutes at the end as the physio had no one booked in right after me, when I enjoyed a bonus neck, shoulder and head massage, which left me totally relaxed.

falafelsaladThe afternoon saw me scheduled in for a trip to The Gallery Cafe, a vegetarian favourite in Bethnal Green, for a delicious lunch of falafel salad and a vegan banana flapjack, with the girls.

This was followed by a visit to the spa nearby.

We were booked in for 3 hours, but as it always the time flew by as we moved between Turkish baths and steam rooms, glugging plenty of water to stay hydrated and catching up on gossip.

By stark contrast to what was possibly the most relaxing day ever, Sunday was the Clapham Chasers Thames Riverside 20.

The race started at 8am in Putney on a route which meandered to Richmond along the river and back again. The early start to the race combined with the late start to the tubes on a Sunday saw me up at 5 to get showered ready to leave for a bus just before 6.

I arrived at the race start in good time to collect my number, drop-off my bag and have a quick pre-race stretch.

I positioned myself with the 9 minute-mile pacer and sat comfortably in the front of the group for the first 7 miles, at this point a struggle with a gel (I couldn’t get it out of my back pocket and I’m not great at taking them while running) and a toilet trip at mile 9 saw me drop back a little.

Thames Riverside 20
Thames Riverside 20

Actually dropping back was quite nice as it gave me a bit more space and took the ‘race’ pressure off a little. I kept hearing my friend Clay’s voice telling me not to worry, to take the run at my own pace, to stop and stretch if I needed and, most importantly, to ‘just enjoy it kiddo’.

I had decided that I just wanted to finish the run with this focus on enjoying it and trying to keep my mind in a positive place. My Strava was playing up and skipped the first 5 miles of the race, which actually helped take any time pressure off. It was actually incredibly refreshing not to be aiming for a particular time and with the knowledge that any time would actually be a PB for the distance!

I felt good at the turnaround in Richmond and enjoyed sharing smiles and nods with runners coming the other way. I even got a high-five from a guy from Serpentine running club.

At about 14 miles I started to flag and let my pace drop again.

I tag-teamed with another runner going at a similar pace, taking it in turns to take the lead, and we had a bit of a chat to help spur each other on.

At around 17 miles I stopped to stretch and had to do the same at miles 18 and 19 as my hip and knee were really hurting.

One of the event 9:30 pacers who had reached me by mile 18 really helped to keep me going for the last two miles when, I have to admit, my own mental grit was leaving a lot to be desired and I was nearing tears. Thanks to her I managed to choke them back and get my head back together.

Boats in Richmond
Boats in Richmond

I finished how I most wanted to finish – running and smiling – and celebrated with a rather squashed peanut butter and apple sandwich from my backpack!

The event was really well organised and the marshals and pacers were amazing. Despite a few moments of self-doubt when the going got tough, I was really pleased that I took part.

It also made me realise my priority for the marathon: just to finish running and smiling! I really don’t care about my final time or splits; if I have to stop and stretch, or even walk a few steps to take on a gel or drink some water, as long as I enjoy it and finish that’s all that matters to me.

So a successful weekend all round. More of the same next week.

Happy running!

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