Legs on Fire – Regents Park 10k and Windsor River Trail Half

I meant to write a separate blog post for each one of the above races I did this May, but I could not find the time. All in all, I think it is better this way as I now have a greater perspective to look back on the whole month which turned out to be one of the best months’ I have had so far as far as racing is concerned.

Regents Park 10k

Having renewed my confidence at the Richmond Half  Marathon in March, I embarked on my next challenge aka a 10k run in Regents Park. This 10k in May was actually part of a series of 10k races over the course of spring and early summer – I would have happily considered signing up for all the runs as a bundle, but the train tickets to London would have made it a hellishly expensive adventure.

Despite the fact that the race is in central London, it has a surprising ‘small community’-like charm to it. I was not able to get to the run I had originally signed up to do in April, so I wrote to the race director to see if he would allow me to do the next run in the series instead, without having to pay extra. I set my expectations for a positive answer very low however the response came quickly with a resounding ‘yes’! This turned out to be a blessing in disguise because the weather was much much better on the second occasion.

I treated the 10 minute trot from Marylebone train station to the Sports HUB in the park as my warm up. The place was quickly filling up with other runners having a last minute drink in the cafe, fidgeting with their race numbers and diligently doing their warm up strides on the grass. The weather was sunny but perfectly ‘chilled’ with a hint of breeze so everything looked quite promising for a good start.

After a brief race intro, our group quickly left the HUB behind to do 3 identical laps around the park. The course was almost completely flat and had plenty of nice views, especially over the neighbouring London Zoo, we also had great support from the marshals and some cheers from walkers-by. Right from the start I was determined to go for a new PB – I was really hungry for one after a year of mediocre performances and wallowing in self-doubt which originated from having issues with my hip.

I boldly settled for a challenging pace, which I would normally use for a 5k run, just to see how that goes, for a change – this approach is completely uncharacteristic of me as I usually like to ‘play it safe’ in races, at least initially. I felt challenged throughout the run but I felt it was not beyond my capabilities to keep up that pace. I would say that two things helped massively on this run: DJ Peter Canellis’ tempo run mix called ‘Cinco de Miler’ with some really good progressive house and trance beats in my ears. This guy really knows his stuff as he is a DJ who also runs! Not only the tunes lifted me up and carried me through the run but also a lady who I glued myself to in the second half when my legs started to feel heavier. She seemed annoyingly relaxed with her arms barely moving by her bird-like body, whilst I was clearly labouring to keep up with her.

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Still smiling – probably I was caught on camera in the first lap LOL

I crossed the finish line in just over 46 minutes  which is my best ever 10k time! This equals to approx. 65% of age graded time – anything above 60% is pretty decent. Getting the PB I came for, I finished feeling fantastic and elated and rewarded myself with a cappuchino on my way back to Marylebone. The atmosphere was very good, too – even though this was a race in the capital, it still had an element of friendliness to it which normally characterises smaller rural races. I was beaming on my walk back to the train station and a guy who was still wearing his race number stopped me to chat about how we both did – it is a nice surprise to bump into friendly people in central London!

So what did I learn from this experience? I define my limitations, they don’t define me. Racing is a mindset more than a physical challenge. Fear and playing it safe are the only hindrances that can hold me back.

Needless to say, it felt like ‘walking on air’ in the next couple of weeks leading up to my next race, the Windsor River Trail Half.

Windsor River Trail Half Marathon

This race did not start very  for me. Firstly, I thought my race number had got lost in the post (I even alerted the organisers, F£ Events, in a panic), only to find out a few hours later that my darling Hubby had it but he had accidentally forgotten to give it to me. Secondly, on the race day morning my satnav told me I had successfully reached my destination when the Race HQ was still nowhere in sight. Fortunately, after a couple of attempts, I managed to find the race car park by googling a different post code from the one we had been given in the race info pack. Phew. The Windsor Boys School served as the race car park for a £5 charge,  however it was well worth the investment as it was conveniently close to the race HQ, and this way I did not have to deal with even more stress about trying to find a good parking spot.

The race village was set up in Alexandra Gardens at the foot of Windsor Castle, by the River promenade. I arrived just early enough to get to one of the portaloos without having to queue longer than 15 minutes. I was actually shocked to see only a handful of these toilets given the organisers expected thousands of runners for the event. The less fortunate (who arrived later than me) ended up forming a queue all along the length of the park, I am not even sure if all of them managed to make it to the start line on time!

After getting rid of my track top in the baggage area and forcing down a banana, I headed to the far end of the park to do a gentle warm up. Some people already started flocking to the start line which was on the other side of the river. We all started in waves to avoid congestion which was a great idea – the memories of the Up Tow, Down Flow Half Marathon were still quite vivid in my memory from last year whereby we got congested only after a few hundred metres from the start line. 

I applied the same approach at the start as at the Regents Park race – start fast and see how far I can get. I was going for a time between 1:45 – 1:49 with the aim to beat my all-time half marathon record which I set in 2012 in Reading. I was over my time target at half distance, but as I expected, my legs grew heavier after about 14k and running became more laborous in the final third of the course – this, coupled with the increasing heat and no shade after 16km meant I was literally fighting a battle to stay on pace. The hardest bits were the muddy and slippery bits in the first half and then alongside the Jubilee River in the second half with no cheering spectators, no cover and no clouds whatsoever. At this point, my mantra in my head was ‘Own it’ – own the race, own the pace, own it to the finish line.

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Legs in the air – finally, a running picture where I appear to be running and not walking!

I did not expect it to be easy and I was ready for the fight! I found it helpful to temporarily attach myself to runners who seemed to be chasing the same pace as I was. I suffered a slightly humiliating moment when a lady, who I was chasing in the first half but who disappeared in the bushes for a number two suddenly emerged from nowehere at 18km to dash past me and then completely left me behind LOL. This was probably worse than when I got outsprinted by a runner pushing a heavy buggy at the Wycombe Half Marathon finish line 2 years ago!

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‘Owning’ the final stretch alongside Jubilee River was my battleground – the guy on my right in the black top fought heroically alongside me until I made him eat my dust

Again, I was listening to my best ‘running buddy’ Peter Canellis’ music tracks, this time ‘Electric City’ and later on ‘Cinco de Miler’ kept my spirits up. I consumed 2 x Power Bar gels at 10k and 16k knowing that going at this fast pace would mean depleting my energy reserves quicker than during a more leisurely long run.

Part of the route especially the first 10k and the final few kms covered part of the Up Tow, Down Flow Half Marathon route, so naturally, when I encountered that last bridge by the Windsor Leisure Centre, I was burning in anticipation to see the finish line (which was just after the bridge in the aforementioned race), only to discover that there was not only no sign of the finish line there but we had about 1km to go (!) still, with hardly anything left in my tank at that point (!) My aim to beat my previous record was at risk which wound me up so much that I firmly believe that the very thing that carried me across that finish line was pure grumpiness (!).

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Grumpy finish! Which quickly turned into happiness when I realised I beat my former PB by more than a minute 🙂

I ended up finishing as the 163th out of 827 runners, this equals to being the 28th lady and being 35th in my category position (I suspect that means age graded result, which is 60.5%)

I very happily collapsed onto the grass to recover and refresh myself with some water whilst it was sinking in that a ‘mind over matter’ strategy had worked  for me this time, too!

Quite disappointingly, there was nothing substantial in the ‘goody bag’ we received at the end and I had no cash with me, so I made my way back to the car park after stretching to stuff my face with some sadly melted dried figs I had left in the car earlier as a recovery treat. I don’t remember wearing a race medal prouder than that morning and I did not want to take it off!

On my way back home, I took some time to reflect on the race(s):

I have now come to believe that the greatest source of my hindrances since last summer were mental, rather than physical. I let my hip issue take too much control over how I value myself as a runner. My ‘expectations’ hover what I can or cannot do ruled over reality over the past year or so. If there was a serious problem with my hip, I probably would not be able to run at all or it would have become progressively worse by now.

Finally, I feel I have got my racing mojo back and I am no longer afraid of going outside my comfort zone and what I might find there. I have finally left behind the ideas I had created in my head about what I can or cannot do.

I have started to feel excited again about becoming a better runner. Bart Yasso once said that 

“The only way to advance in our sport is to go to the uncomfortable zone. Embrace the pain, and you will be rewarded at the finish line.”

Haruki Murakami, running author said that

“Exerting yourself to the fullest within your individual limits: that’s the essence of running”.

The reward of running is what you get back and what you discover about yourself when you give it your all!

I feel liberated and ready to enter a fresh new chapter in my running. I know I will get where I want to be and I am looking forward to continuing on this journey.

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