In a year in which I have tackled the most races yet and across the widest variety of distances, it seemed fitting that I would celebrate my 24th birthday by running a 10k - the added bonus of having a birthday fall on a Sunday when races are usually in abundance. My friend and I opted for the Women's Running Finsbury Park 10k, and series of events that neither of us had experienced before and a new location for us both to run in.
Getting up at 5.30am to travel down to London from Lincoln was probably the earliest I have been awake on my birthday in a long time! The journey however did not seem long at all and it felt like we were soon standing in the now familiar environment of a race village. The morning was fresh, but the sun was gradually beginning to rise above the London skyline, setting up to be almost perfect running conditions. It felt a little odd standing in the start area surrounded almost totally by women, all dressed in a rainbow of colourful running attire. Initially I wasn't sure if I felt empowered by it being a 'women only' race or not, but as the number of runners built and my friend and I saw the huge range of individuals and groups taking part, I realised how wonderful these events are in giving women, who may not always feel comfortable or confident running in other races, the chance to run.
As the start time neared my lack of nerves seemed odd. Normally shorter distances such as a 10k fill me with anxiety - it seems you only have a small amount of time to get everything right! I also was not really sure how my legs were going to feel after recent runs in which tightness, tiredness and a general lack of power had been the overriding feeling. My friend, who is in the latter weeks of a New York Marathon training plan, and I both seemed to have the same idea of heading out steady to begin with, roughly keeping with the 50min pacer, and then just seeing how we felt!
Within the first 30 seconds of starting the race I had already thrown out my vague plan. I felt restrained keeping with the pacer and the runners who surrounded her - so I struck out in front a bit, keeping with a small group of leading runners. Despite reading beforehand that the course was 'on flat terrain' it soon became apparent it was not! The first kilometer was set on a gradual incline, on a grassy surface, and then proceeded to be an undulating route of long steep hills that winded through Finsbury Park. The hills were tough and really made your legs heavy, with the consequential downhill spells seeming so sudden and short that you could not really use them to shake off the lactic acid building and recover fully! The course was two laps of the some route, and as I crossed what would be the finish line for the first time, I was pleased to have kept ahead of the 50 min pacer. Some runners were doing a 5k distance and as they finished their race it suddenly seemed there were not that many people in front of me. One runner in front of me was however my friend, I hadn't known she was that close behind me throughout the majority of the first lap, and when someone snuck in front of me towards the end of the first loop I was pleasantly surprised it was her!
On the second lap I now knew what to expect, which meant I was slightly more mentally prepared to attack the hills, plan for where they were and how many to account for. I also took in a few more of the sights, spotting the Wembley arch in the distance, an athletics track filled with excited young children, as well as numerous other runners and families out enjoying the park. Up until the 7km mark I had not really looked at my watch at all, however at this point I was pleased to glance down and see I was managing a good pace. Running on the heels of my friend was also really helping me maintain this pace and keep me motivated.
It was at around the 7km point that a spectator shouted out to us our position in the race. I was really happy to hear my friend was 11th and I was 12th; and from here on I resolved not to finish 13th, meaning I was not ready to let anyone take over me! The last 2km were tough, with a particularly nasty hill that literally felt like you were shuffling up it. Heading into the final straight, and with the finish line in site, my friend and I were now running side by side. Glancing over my shoulder I was safe in the knowledge no one would catch us, so it was literally a battle between the two of us for 11th and 12th position. I was giving all I had now, but urged on by my friend I managed to muster up that extra push just to edge in front and cross the line first.
I was so happy to finish in 11th place but even more so by my finish time of 48mins 54secs - my PB for the year and the first time I have been sub 49mins in 2015. I did not expect this at all coming off the back of a tough Great North Run and without any specific 10k training, so it was a total bonus, especially on such a challenging course. I was also so impressed by my friend's finish time of 48mins 57secs, just three seconds after me, despite the high mileage and hard running she is in the midst of during her marathon training plan. During my marathon training for London earlier in the year there was no way I could have ran a time like that, especially on this course!
Overall I loved the run, and it was certainly a great way to spend my birthday by sharing another wonderful race day with a friend and making it a memorable 24th celebration. The Women's Running 10k was a good event, a lovely setting, and an enjoyably challenging course - although probably slightly mis-advertised! It was a little odd however that even though we could not have crossed the finish line that long after the winners, we missed the winners presentation, along with the majority of other runners finishing after us! I would also like to say a special mention to the man who joined in with the race, took over me and my friend towards the end, finished just in front of us, and proudly come up to us claiming to be the first male finisher - sorry mate but it was a women's race.... and one I was proud to be part of!!
Visiting my sister at the weekend gave us a rare chance to run together. Living long distances away from each other for the past six years has meant that running opportunities have virtually been limited to the annual Christmas visit to our parents' house. However despite this lack of joint runs and the fact we lead different lives, with varying exercise routines etc. we slotted into a long 19k run together with relative ease, finding a natural pace which suited us both.
When I say we are sisters, I really mean we are identical twins. Following our run together I was therefore interested to read a little into any reseatch or articles I could find on running twin siblings. The most famous twins that I am aware of are Kevin and Jonathon Borlee, Belgium 400m specialists. The brothers train together under the same coach (their father), but have not always had the same results. I found this article by the BBC interesting, in which it suggests that whilst the physical profile of twins will always be very similar, it is psychological traits which determine overall success:
Whilst reading into twins and running I also discovered that Mo Farah is a twin - something I was not actually aware of! In this piece in the Telegraph I found it interesting to read that in their youth the Farah brothers were on par in terms of running. However, Mo's move to England whilst his brother remained in Somalia, led them to leading very different lifestyles, which in turn has led to very different outcomes:
My sister and I are both running the Great North Run in a couple of weeks, so it will be interesting to see how we fare in a race environment, and whether mental prowess will come out on top, or the differences in the lives we lead actually do influence our physical running - watch this space!
Alice's Adventures In Running Land
Read about my adventures in running land...