I’ve ran along the banks of the Seine in Paris, through the black forest in Germany, in the gritty Streets of New York and over the bridges of old Shanghai, but the somewhat less glamorous sounding Southill just outside Biggleswade in Bedfordshire will always hold a special place in my heart. This would be the scene of the inaugural Southill Sponsored ‘Walk, Jog, Run’ 5k or 10k and the site of my first proper race win. The course cut through some classic English countryside and the funds raised helped the local community raise cash to install a defibrillator in the disused Southill phone box. A good cause and a great run.
I turned up at the course early having taken a lift from some of the runners from my mum’s first club, the North Herts Road Runners. The race started at 12 noon but I hadn’t long arrived back from Mexico so it still felt like the early morning for me. By the time we arrived it was raining heavily. Over 90 runners in all lined up to register and there was a nice atmosphere with mostly local runners and club runners from the surrounding area. Just before 12 we moved down to the country lane to take our instructions before setting off.
As the runners for the 5k and 10k races lined up at the start the organizers let us know about the route and how the proceeds would be used to buy a defibrillator to be installed in the town’s unused phone box. The event was organized by a local lady, Beckie Williams, who had recently lost her mother to a heart attack in the playing field adjacent to the kiosk. It was also supported by the Community Heartbeat Trust, BT and The British Coatings Federation.
The course would run partly through the privately owned Southill estate following a loop through the countryside to finish back at the phone-box. The whole route was well marked with big yellow and black arrows and flat for the most part over country lanes and farmland. I checked out the opposition. There definitely looked like there might be some stiff competition. We were a bit cold from the rain and veryone was happy to get going by the time we set off. The rain had eased off by now but it was still wet underfoot.
The first part of the race went quickly over tarmacked country roads and I had to push to keep up with the leading group. I held with the top three until 1.2 k where the 5k and 10k groups split. The two runners along-side continued along the road and I found myself leading the 10k runners. It was unfamiliar territory and I considered falling back to follow the runner behind. It would have made things a bit more comfortable, but I felt I was running with a good rhythm and didn’t want to break this up, so I pushed on.
We continued at a canter down a stony path into the country and then turned onto a field. My cross country shoes had been slippy on the road so I tried to pick up the pace over the rougher ground. At 3.5k when I turned again I looked back and could see I was building up a good lead. My first thought was that I could win the race. But, it was still only 3.5k and anything could go wrong. I had to concentrate, but with no runner in front to focus on, my mind was wandering. I’d never won a race before and never led a race for anything more than about a minute. The one time I had led a race it had been snatched away in the last 300 meters so I wasn’t so confident about holding this lead.
By the time I reached the road crossing at 4 and a bit k my mind was racing. I didn’t want to stop for the traffic and after I passed the volunteers I listened hard for the next runner to try and gauge how far he was behind. 10, 11, 12 seconds.. I still had a good lead but I wouldn’t say it was unassailable at, not at this point anyway.
From here to the half-way point the ground was a lot rougher and I slowed down considerably. There were a few twists and turns and I was sure I might get lost or get caught by another runner without me seeing them coming. I even thought I might slip and fall or an old injury might pop up. My head was all over the place.
Finally after 6k it was back onto tarmac in the town of Broom, at least for a bit, before cutting into more farmland and some muddy ground. I tried to regulate my pace at around 4:10 per k but it was hard. I could feel myself getting close to the end and I had to stay diciplined. It wasn’t easy.
7k, 8k, 9k and I was back on the road. It looked familiar. It was the same road we set out on. My legs were tired and my pace started to drop to around 4:30 per k. I just needed to hold on onto the finish. With 100 meters to go I picked up the pace, but the finish wasn’t marked so I ran right past the photographer and the phone box. I hadn’t really listened to the instructions at the start so I didn’t know where to go. Luckily I realised after 20 meters or so and was able to turn back before looking too daft.
It wasn’t how I imagined winning my first race but it was a great feeling anyhow. I finished in 41:15 and the second place was more than a minute behind, so it was quite a comfortable win in the end. Next time I’ll be better prepared psychologically for leading in a race.
In the end it was a fantastic workout and great to get back into the British countryside for a bit before moving on to my new home in Suzhou, China. I just moved out at the end of July and already have a couple of races under my belt, so it’s Adios England and ni hao China.
See you at the next race!