I’m slowly gearing up for my first ever half marathon in a little over a month’s time. Today was my first attempt at a 10K+ run. Not entirely as my training plan planned it, but there you go. In order to make things more interesting, and hopefully less daunting, I signed up for a 10EM (English Mile, or 16.1km) run which was being held in the nearby village of Voorschoten. The run promised a pleasant course, much of it along the Vliet.
I’ve only done one run this length before, and that was two years ago, at the huge Dam tot Damloop. This was a much smaller affair, and therefore boasted a much smaller spread of ability. Which is another way of saying, when I looked at last year’s results, it was pretty clear to me that I was unlikely to come in anything other than last place. I have to admit, I did have a few qualms about that aspect. When you see that last year’s worst time is a good 20-30 minutes faster than the best you can hope for, you do have second thoughts. Still, since they hadn’t posted a time limit, I figured I should go out there, run my own run, and give it what I could.
Saturday dawned extremely hot and muggy. Fortunately Sunday was rather cooler, with occasional spatterings of rain. I hopped on a train, or two, down to Voorschoten, found the sports school where you had to register and picked up start number and chip. Already laid out on the tables were the t-shirts which were given out to all who completed the event.
With a little time to kill I wandered down to the start line, where I watched the final few finishers of the 5K. A couple of them were very quickly propped up by the waiting paramedics, as they were wambly-looking and weaving all over the place. The final young lad came in to an announcement by the chappie with the mike and everyone gave him a huge cheer. Obviously, I clapped for him as hard as I could, and wondered if everyone would still be waiting by the time I came in.
A few more minutes wait, and all the 10K and 10EM racers began to line up together. The two courses were the same for about the first 6km, at which point the 10K-ers turned and headed for home, and the 10EM-ers slogged out an extra loop before finally returning towards Voorschoten. There were lots of groups of runners from local clubs, all looking very serious. I heard one group discussing their pace – what they were talking about as an easy pace would have had me flat on the ground within the first km!
The final 10 seconds countdown, and we were off. Or at least, we started shuffling towards the start line. Being a small pack, we were crossing in no time, and off through the village, heading towards the Vliet. It didn’t take long until I was at the back of the pack, but I tried not to let it bother me and stuck to my plan – steady slow run for a KM, walk 1 minutes. Repeat ad nauseam.
By the time the second kilometre was done with I was already in the last 4, two cyclists bringing up the rear. In my running sections I inched ahead of my 3 companions, during my walking sections they nudged past me again.
3 kilometres in and we saw the first 10K runner racing back in the opposite direction. I couldn’t suppress my admiration at his form and speed (he was quite good looking too, come to think of it). The two cyclists giggled, and pointed out reassuringly that he only had 10K to run. As if I could have looked like that even if I were only doing 10K.
Plod, plod, plod, plod, plod.
We reached the 5K point. ‘See, we’re already halfway there’, one of my companions called out. Alas, as I suspected my 3 companions were all doing the 10K. No surprise really, not many people as slow as us would take on the longest distance. I must be crazy. By this point the rest of the pack were a fair distance ahead.
We crossed a big bridge over the Vliet, and started running back along the other side. By this point there was a steady stream of people coming back towards us. Plenty of supporters along the way, cheering us on. Passing an aid station, we reached the second bridge. The point at which my follows left me. They took a left turn and crossed over the bridge, I took a right, and headed off, accompanied by my own personal cycle escort, and headed off away from the river for the extra section.
Some confusion along this stretch. Some enthusiastic volunteer had already cleared away the direction and distance markers. Fortunately my cyclist knew the route well, and guided me. He also phoned back to HQ and complained on my behalf.
Plod, plod, plod, plod, plod.
Turned again, met up with a little spur of the canal, and plodded back to the main Vliet. A right turn and I was official on the return stretch. Back past the bridge. The volunteers at the aid station were packing up, but still kept some water and a wet sponge ready for me. Back to the first bridge – hit the 11km mark – just a ‘short’ 5K to go now. I can do that. Done it before, any number of times. Whatever else goes wrong, I’ve already run further today than in the last 2 years. Nice and steady. Keep on going.
Another volunteer checking that I was the last and packing up after me. I’ll see you at the finish he promised. I want to see you coming in nice and strong, giving it all you’ve got. I will, I promised.
Over the bridge, an extra walking section to tackle the uphill. Running again as it levelled off. Back along the canal, caught up the time car with its clock on top, waiting for me. I passed. It followed.
Plod, plod, plod, plod, plod.
Finally made the turn off away from the canal. Crossed a brutal humpback bridge. Tried to keep running over it, had to walk the last few steps. Down the other side, and back to the main road. Picked up another volunteer on his bike. My escort is growing! Met a few runners on their way back home – all of them encouraging me – just a little way to go.
Turned back in towards the village. Another aid station – how patient all those volunteers were, and then shortly after a couple offering bottles of water. They gave me one, and when I was done drinking my cyclist escort kindly carried it for me, offering it when needed.
Another member of the escort joins – a paramedic on a motor bike. Slowly I wind my way through the streets, until I can hear the sound of the band. Try not to get too emotional at the fact that I’ve nearly done what I half thought was impossible. Try not to speed up, don’t want to push my asthma over the edge when I’ve come so far.
The final turn, I can see the band up ahead, giving it all they’ve got for me. Police men on the left, waving and clapping, crowds on the right, cheering me on. I can’t believe there are so many people there still waiting for me. A familiar face on my right, the volunteer from earlier. Come on, he says, I knew you’d make it. Told you I’d be waiting. Come on, come on, a little bit faster, and he runs alongside me. I speed up, I speed up some more, breathing is tough, but I’m not quitting now, going to finish in style you know. Big grin on my face, I hear them announce my name as I cross the finish line.
Come to a halt, to find someone rushing up towards me, and thrusting a package at me. I can’t believe it, probably the only running prize I’ll ever receive – a gift for coming in last! At the same time someone’s snipping the timing chip from my shoe. I return, thank my faithful cycle escort, who hands over the remains of the water bottle. Completely forgot about that, very grateful for it now. Chat with another girl, who’d also run the 16K. Very slowly walk (hobble) back to the sports school where I left my bag.
A quick shower (scalding) and I hobbled back to the train station, ready for the next part of my day – an evensong in Bilthoven.
Yes, that is ridiculously slow – the second slowest runner was 30(!) minutes faster. I would have liked a few less walking breaks (they didn’t coincide with the aid stations, so that added extra walking time and running and drinking is beyond me). I admit, I would have loved to beat my 16km time from 2 years ago, but so be it. The most important thing about the run was to prove to myself that I could cover the distance, and I achieved that.