It is 7.30am on Sunday morning. I am sat hiding in my car at Normanby Hall Country Park, trying to seek shelter from the harsh freshness of an Autumnal morning. My alarm had woken me at 5:45am and I have already driven nearly an hour alongside the rising sun to get here. I am sat swigging Lucozade Sport from a bottle and watching as the car park around me fills with equally mad people munching on bananas and pinning pieces of paper onto their chest. It is race day. However, this was a race I nearly did not run, that was until I reframed what a ‘race’ was in my head.
I entered the Hedgehog Half Marathon months ago after taking part in the parkrun also held at Normanby Hall. It was such a beautiful place that when I saw a big banner advertising the October event I was instantly sold. I also thought that following the Sydney Marathon in September I may be feeling a bit lost and it would be a good way to combat the post marathon blues. Things have been different post Sydney though, and I have actually been enjoying running, but not taking things too seriously. In the days leading up to the race I therefore found myself debating whether I really needed to 'race' a half marathon. Did I have the desire to push myself? Were my legs actually recovered yet in order to do myself justice? Was it worth running if I knew I was not going to be challenging a PB? With my mind flipping from one moment wanting to run, to the next thinking it was a stupid idea, two things happened. Firstly, a work colleague said they wanted to come support me, which touched me and made me think I ought to run; I told myself that I would probably be heading out for 10 miles on a Sunday anyway. However, my biggest realisation was why did I think I had to 'race' the half marathon? Could I not just enjoy a 13.1 mile run? Did it really matter what time I ran as long as I enjoyed the experience? Why not just relax and have some fun running in a new event? My focus shifted, and I was ready to tackle the ‘race’ in a different way.
When I bravely ventured out from my car in my vest and shorts, trying not to show how cold I really was, I did so with zero pressure or expectation - it felt good. A relatively small crowd of nearly 500 runners huddled at the start line outside Normanby Hall and I stood chatting to a lady equally as underdressed as myself. Us runners are definitely mad at times! The start gun pierced the air and stopped our conversation – time to run.
I had not really looked into the course too much; I never do and do not like obsessing over a hill at mile 5.2 or whatever! I knew we would be running some of the route the Tour de Yorkshire Cycle Race follows though, so my sporting knowledge told me it would be hilly. As I began running I did not look at my watch and simply ran to feel; I did not want to know or particularly care what my pace was. I really enjoyed the first 7 or so miles, I was just running totally free through quaint villages and open countryside, with pockets of small and enthusiastic supporters bringing a smile to my face. The route so far had meandered up and down a little as I had expected, and whilst I was pushing myself more than if I had gone out for a solo Sunday run, I felt happily in control.
My sense of freedom was put to the test between miles 7 to 10, when the route suddenly became a lot more challenging than I had anticipated. These three miles were virtually entirely uphill, with long drawn out climbs punctuated only by sharper little peaks. I knew I had slowed but I was doing so in order to manage the terrain, and when not chasing a time this did not really bother me. My mind did dance with the thoughts that maybe my legs were not up to this though; was I silly for even challenging myself, should I just slow right down? I would not have enjoyed that though, as strange as it sounds I like to feel a bit of pain! So I kept ticking the miles away - whilst praying for some downhill or even just flat road!
Hitting mile 10 we were rewarded with some kinder terrain and I found that the pace simultaneously returned in my legs. I started to push a little for the finish now, enjoying the feeling of determination in my body. As I edged nearer to the gates of Normanby Hall Country Park, and consequently the finish line, I caught up with a male runner who had been in my eyeline for the majority of the race. ‘What’s your finish goal?’ I asked him. ‘Sub 1:45’ he replied slightly strained. I glanced at my watch and enthusiastically responded, ‘You have got this, the finish is only metres away – come on!’ Where my enthusiasm came from I am not sure, but I found myself surging through the country park with my new friend at my side. As he started to drift back I urged him on with me, I was now more concerned he met his goal than anything else. We crossed the line in 1:43:20 – well under my new friends’ goal. He was so thankful to me and it was equally as nice to see someone else’s finish line experience of that unique mixture of tired/happy/relief/euphoria. For me, that time was not close to my PB, but I actually felt I had ran the course very well, and when I was informed I had finished as 5th female and won my age category, this justified my thinking.
Walking back to my car I was beaming at the gorgeous medal around my neck; a bronze/gold colour with a cute little hedgehog etched inside. As I passed I stopped to admire the rescue hedgehogs the event fundraises for (I am an absolute softie when it comes to animals!) and watched as runners came in toward the finish amongst falling autumn leaves - it was an almost cliché image. I had nearly stopped myself from this experience, but am very pleased I was able to enjoy this Sunday run.
Alice's Adventures In Running Land
Read about my adventures in running land...