On Tuesday night I lined up alongside 2099 other women to ‘run’ through 5km of the country estate of Houghton Hall in aid of Cancer Research. I know it’s now Thursday, but I’m not kidding when I say that it’s taken me that long to recover (and, actually, my backside still aches).
The aches and pains, the fact that I was pretty much convinced I was going to die before the finish line and the abundance of cow pats that covered the course were all worth it. The atmosphere was amazing – more than 2000 women all kicking cancer’s arse – I would strongly recommend that anyone take part if given the chance. The friend I roped in at the last minute is already gagging for the next race, so there must be something in it.
But if you should feel inspired, here are some top tips for how to approach the race. Needless to say, I didn’t necessarily go about it the same way. Which may explain why it hurt so very much.
1) Before signing up for a race, pick your venue carefully. The closest may not be the best.
The stately home may have looked wonderful, but the terrain was very much cross country and comes with additional cow pat issues. As someone who took Latin at GCSE as it got me out of PE and who flinches at mud, to find myself not bothered by the situation was a surprise however.
And by ‘train’, reading an article on what you should do and thinking about it is NOT sufficient. Starting to train but then ignoring your trainers for 3 months is also not clever. And two last-minute power walks won’t cut it either. And I wonder why I ache!
3) Prepare other things in advance too.
I sort of did well here. I had the t-shirt. I found my running leggings. I bought proper socks. I took time over the inspiration sign for my back.
(The poem is the one I wrote on the card on my mum’s funeral flowers. It always makes me well up.)
I didn’t eat properly all day. Not unless uncooked cake mix is recommended pre-race food, as I spent a large part of the afternoon baking so Boo would have pre-birthday cakes to take into school for the last day of term the next day.
At least one cake down due to my love of cake batter. Oops.
I also underestimated how long it would take to get to the venue. Leaving at rush hour wasn’t clever. Forgetting about the roadworks en route didn’t help either. It meant that my friend and I mostly panicked our way there.
4) Rally the troops.
Nothing makes the run easier than having familiar faces pop up along the route.
Unfortunately none of our supporters could be bothered to join us. I thought it best to leave Noodles at home (cow pats and toddlers NOT being a great combination), Husband was in London and at the very last minute Boo decided she’d rather play on her DS. My friend’s husband fell asleep in the sofa just before we left.
Still, this proved to be a good thing later on, as you will find out.
5) Wee before you leave home.
Because a) queues and b) portaloos.
Although, still possibly better than having to climb a fence and risk scaring the wildlife with a sneaky wee in the woods mid run. Which I did see one middle-aged woman do.
6) Lose your inhibitions. (Although maybe not as much as the weeing-in-the-bushes woman.)
Be prepared to whoop, holler and cheer in the company of Adam Newstead, because a) 2000 woman aren’t to be messed with and b) CANCER, WE’RE COMING TO GET YOU!
Also be prepared to cry in public as testimonials are read out. I was especially proud as a friend took to the stage to share her cancer story. In fact, one of my favourite moments was catching up with her once I’d finished and giving her a big hug. She’s amazing.
7) Warm-up properly and stretch.
Shin splits are nobody’s friend.
Unfortunately, because my friend needed a wee, we missed out on most of the organised warm-up. Thanks, buddy.
8) There’s nothing wrong with a bit of optimism.
Which is how come we decided to start the race amongst the joggers. Whether we finished it with them remained to be seen.
9) Pace yourself.
At 7 o’clock the klaxon sounded and amidst a sea of pink we were off! I bounded over pat and divot like a gazelle.
‘If you want to go ahead that’s fine,’ my friend said. So off I went. I felt amazing, completing my first kilometre in just over 6 minutes.
And then my lungs decided I’d better walk. The second kilometre felt significantly less amazing. Kilometre three was mostly walking and at 31:45 minutes it was a happy sight to see the sign to say I’d reached 4km.
10) Let the tunes carry you.
I decided that if I could sing then I could
run propel myself forward. Especially if singing about running, hence a lot of Bruno Mars with Runaway Baby and Natalie:
Watch out ‒ she’s quick
Look out for a pretty little thing named
Natalie ‒ if you see her tell her I’m coming
She better run.
Particularly appropriate as:
My singing may also have propelled several of my other competitors forward in order to escape me. Sorry about that, ladies.
But I also had a little boogie with one of the marshals as she said she needed some tunes.
11) Set yourself a goal.
Last year I completed the course in 55 minutes. It has been scorchingly hot and Boo, who wanted to race too, decided she very much didn’t want to any more, so for most of the course I carried her on my back.
Completion of last year’s race.
So I was determined to beat last year’s time. Given my lack of training I thought 45 minutes would be a decent target, so had that in mind on my way round.
But sometimes you need something more immediate to get you through too. I’d pick people out and set my mind on overtaking them. Bonus self-satisfaction points if they were younger/skinnier than me. And then I got over-taken by my nemesis:
A dog?! No way was that bitch going to finish ahead of me. So the dog – named Dill, so possibly not a bitch – and its owner unknowingly played a game of leapfrog for the 3rd kilometre of the course before I managed to pull ahead. (I can only assume that Dill needed to stop for a poo.)
Did I hit my target? Well…
12) Push for the finish.
The last kilometre was hard work, but my goal was in sight.
My body really wasn’t my friend though. I was hot, tired and aching. I didn’t have anything left to give. But you can’t walk through the finish line, can you? Besides, the sooner I got there the sooner I could stop!
I must have just had my phone on as I pushed on and the resulting pictures seemed to reflect my physical and mental state.
Everything was rather swirly.
But the end was there. It was RIGHT. THERE! I pushed forward, overtook someone I went to school with (Ha!) and crossed the line!!!
According to the official time I’d finished in 41:24 minutes, on my phone’s stopwatch (allowing for the time it took to get to the start line, but not allowing for the shakiness of my hands as I crossed the line) I’d done it in 41:06. Either way I’d done it!
13) Utilise that feeling of good will.
Lots of smiles and congratulations and hugging. I met up with my friend who hadn’t finished too far behind me at 45 minutes. When the announcement came that three women – Julie, Dani and Bliss – needed a lift back into town as they had a flat tyre we nominated ourselves as good samaritans.
See, it was fate that our lack of supporters meant there was room for them in my car. We all chatted away about our experience.
‘Oh, I suppose I should check that you’re not actually mad-axe murderers,’ Julie asked.
‘Well, now you mention it, I was about to take you to a cabin in the woods.’
We chatted and laughed the whole way home. It turned out that they originally came from near Husband’s home town in Hertfordshire. And that they live in the village where we’ve just taken on a new property at work. I’d given out directions to the village so many times the day before I could get there in my sleep.
Which is how come, the following day, a woman showed up at the office with a bottle of wine, box of chocolates and thank you card.
‘Oh, who are those for?’ I asked, thinking they were for selling a house.
‘For you,’ she said, ‘for the lift yesterday.’
I have such a bad memory for faces. But in my defence she had been wearing a bright pink wig the night before. Nevertheless, it made my day and the buzz from the race continued. It definitely offset the ache in my legs.
14) Impress everyone with your medal.
Boo was still up when I got home. I flashed my medal at her.
‘Oooh, it’s silver this year,’ she cooed.
‘Yes. I came second.’
‘Did you?! Wow!’
It seems you can fool some of the people some of the time.
Or, if you’re me, stay up til 1:30am catching up on all the things you should have done that evening, such as sorting out thank you presents for teachers and icing about a million cakes. Still, despite the gradual nagging from my legs (‘what did you do to us?!?!’) I was still buzzing. Hitting the mattress was utter bliss though.
Now, from the epic length of this post you’d better pray I never run a marathon. I mean, in the world of running 5k is nothing. But on an evening estimated to have raised £95,000 for cancer research it’s very much NOT nothing. Well done on finishing this post. You probably feel much like I did on completing the run. And not through my evocative writing style so much as the effort you’ve invested in getting to the end. If you’re feeling happy and generous can I ask that you drop a couple of quid/dollars/yen/whatever in your preferred charity box so that this post (which has taken longer to write than the race took to run) can do just a touch more good in the world. Thank you. Xx