2020 has been a year which no one could have predicted in nearly every way possible. Therefore, on Sunday 8th March 2020 when I raced across the finish line at the Cambridge Half Marathon, despite threats of this strange ‘Coronavirus’ rumbling in the distance, I had no idea this would be my last race for six months. I had a full calendar of events planned for 2020, and slowly but surely, they fell victim to the pandemic. I had almost resolved that there would be no further racing in 2020, that was until the team at Curly’s Athletes gave us some hope – the Normanby 10k will be going ahead they announced, and with some encouragement from friends at my Run Club, I signed up.
I feel we have all reflected a lot on life during lockdown and one thing I realised was that I raced a lot – all it takes is for someone to mention a race to me and I am signing up! The positive of this was I had grown quite comfortable with racing and my pre-race routine, and never really felt any nerves – unless it was one of my big marathons! However, with a six month hiatus from races I could feel the nerves creep in again; even on Saturday evening I was anxiously getting all my gear together (with the extra addition of sanitiser and face mask!) fearful I had somehow forgotten something key. I was very much looking forward to the race day environment though, that shared sense of determination and achievement, and whilst I knew it would not be the same as races pre-Covid, I was confident the team at Curly’s Athletes would be doing all they could to make it safe but successful for runners.
Prior to Sunday morning I had watched the online race briefing so knew what to expect as I arrived at the race start, which is based at Normanby Hall Country Park. I was to stay in or next to my car until being called over to start, and could only leave to use the toilets. It made sense and worked perfectly fine. A relatively small field of 500 runners also meant queues etc. were minimal, and everyone observed the rules and social distancing guidelines impeccably. My nerves had calmed a little until they began to call over waves of runners to start; thirty at a time based on the predicted finish time you entered on registration. Predicting a finish time had been tough, I knew what my 10k PB was (42:42) and I knew what I wanted to run as a bare minimum (sub 45) – so I plumped for 43 mins as an educated guess! I was really pleased that both my friends from Run Club were in the same start wave as me; it was hard to spot them in a car park and this meant we could see each other and share a few pre-race words.
Our group of thirty were given a short briefing and then led down to the start line, where we lined up in socially distant queues, three runners wide. The start would then be staggered and rolling, with three runners set off in time intervals to minimise overtaking. It was well thought out and the system flowed very nicely and certainly meant there was now crowding at the start line.
As we waited to start my friend asked me how I felt; I admitted I was nervous, I knew I had been running a lot this year, but I did not feel speedy or quick. In particular these last couple of weeks, since the London Marathon had finally been cancelled, I had relaxed more with running and had also been enjoying life a little more, finally being able to spend some time with friends and family. In short, I did not feel confident I could run fast – I knew I could run 10k, but in what time? My friend then said something to me which helped immensely; it was said as a bit of a joke, but the words stuck – ‘you’ve been training for a marathon all year Alice – you can run well!’ It was true – I have been training a lot this year, just with not much to show for it! These few words gave me the mental boost I needed as my time to cross the start line arrived.
I had not ran the Normanby 10k before, but I have done the parkrun based at the site a few times, as a well as the Hedgehog Half Marathon which again starts and finished at the site. A quick scan of the route (I am never much of a route analyser!) therefore meant I knew I would recognise some parts. Essentially, the route started in the park before leaving to complete a large loop incorporating the local villages of Thealby and Burton Upon Stather. The final section then re-joined the park, including a half mile section on grass, to finish outside the main Hall. I liked the look of the course, and long straight stretches of road really help me find a running rhythm, but I already knew that the grassy finish would be a killer on the legs!
My first mile was fast, I felt quick, but the route was also kind with a slight downhill slope. We soon paid for this assistance though as the next two miles featured a couple of longer drawn out inclines – the term hills is far too strong – but the route steadily climbs upwards and it makes you work hard to maintain your speed. Despite having to push, as I passed halfway I felt good, I was not looking at my watch and just running to feel. I was also running pretty much on my own, with only runners ahead of me to chase – the social distancing worked well. It still felt like a race though as the sound of footsteps in the distance behind me, and the focus of keeping runners in sight in front of me, spurred me on. The only slight difference was probably the lack of spectators, who had been advised to stay away, especially in the finish areas.
Mile 4 to 5 I found I had to dig in a little more, but with two miles to go I drew on some of my marathon training mental strength and told my mind and legs to hold steady – my friend’s inadvertent pep talk helped me here. After passing the 5 mile point I could then feel myself wanting to kick for the finish as we re-entered Normanby Hall, however I first had to accomplish running the grassy half mile loop. As I hit the green surface at first I kept my stride well and thought for a split second I was going to be ok. This soon faded though as I had to work harder to push from the softer, slightly uneven surface and maintain my form and speed. It was a tough little test, but something which (afterwards!) felt good to have mastered.
Leaving the grass, I tried to rebuild the speed in my legs and push for the finish arch, which I could begin to see looming on the horizon. I was going well, and then suddenly the route turned for a another final 200m or so on grass leading to the finish line. Now this was tough! Sprinting on grass at the end of the 10k caused me to grit my teeth and required far too much concentration to even think about what time I was heading for! I made it though, and moving swiftly through the finish to make sure I did not cause a gathering, I was extremely pleased to read a time of 43:07 on my watch. I was happy for a number of reasons; firstly this was my second fastest 10k, and not too far from my PB, but I was also pleased that I had found the belief in myself to push for a good time, and that my legs did actually have some speed in them! With the grass and inclines, it is probably a tougher 10k course than where my PB was set too, which makes me believe I have another sub 43 minute time in me one day.
The beauty of the finish area at Normanby Hall meant the large open space allowed for runners to meet fellow friends who were running, whilst remaining distanced from others. Chatting to my Run Club friends after the race meant it didn’t feel like I had to just run and leave, and could enjoy that post run reflection and socialising. Curly's Athletes got the event spot on in my opinion; importantly it felt safe, and to be honest there are elements I think actually made the racing experience better too! Although I did of course miss getting a high five from a random stranger at the side of the road, and having a finish funnel area lined with more strangers screaming my name!
Normanby 10k worked really under the Covid restrictions, and I imagine the relatively small field and having a manageable, more rural route helped support this. Taking part in this event has given me confidence that the couple of other races I have entered across the remainder of the year, which are of a similar nature, may therefore also take place. It still feels a long time until thousands of runners can huddle in start pens and race through crowded city centre streets – but Normanby 10k felt like progress in many ways.
Alice's Adventures In Running Land
Read about my adventures in running land...