I very nearly didn't make it to parkrun this morning. I awoke at 8.20am from a deep sleep and with a vague recollection of having switched off the alarm. It was raining. And, yesterday I was at the hairdresser having one of those keratin treatments which means I mustn't get my hair wet or clip it or put it in a ponytail for 24 hours – oh deary, deary me, what to do! Such are the trials of being a laydee runner.
But this would be my 10th parkrun, and also the one that marked my first anniversary as a C25K graduate (4 August). Get a grip, get out there, I told myself. I wolfed down a Rice Krispies marshmallow square with some water, jumped into the waiting running gear, leapt into the car and drove all of the 900m to Sheen Gate car park, from where it is 2km to the parkrun start.
A gentle jog to Richmond Hill and I was there just in time for the briefing. It was a slightly depleted field, which is always a bonus because it makes the start less of a bottleneck, but there were plenty of familiar faces, including a good turnout from the running club I have recently joined. No Danzargo, but after his report of storming up hills yesterday I expected he would be having a well-deserved day off.
So, confession time: I've found the last few parkruns excruciatingly hard. I got a Richmond PB back in May but hadn't been able to equal it – in fact I'd consistently been getting slower by a few seconds each time, despite putting in so much effort I thought I was going to blow an O-ring, so to speak. It felt like my legs were both leaden and on fire, and I was gasping desperately for oxygen all the way round. I guess I was experiencing what they call a plateau.
I decided I would run well within my limits to start with, keeping my breathing nice and steady. I was wearing my temperamental GPS watch, which at least has a decent timer function.
As we galloped down Sawyer's Hill, the watch bleeped (correctly) at the first km mark – 5'12, good going. I was feeling strong. Second km (which is all downhill) was a frankly unbelievable 4'39!
Kilometre 3 takes you uphill across the grass, down again, through the woods by Sheen Gate and onto the final 2km – the Tamsin Trail of Torture. This is where everyone slows down. Things here are not what they seem. It looks flat, even downhill in places, but it is in fact a long, slow, relentless incline. It hurts. I stared fixedly at the crest of the hill ahead and crunched on, even managing to overtake a few people. I'd stopped looking at my watch.
The last km, as ever, was chuffing agony – uphill, downhill, uphill, downhill... please, someone make it stop! But just before Bishop's Pond, with about 400m to go, there was a marshall who yelled out: 'Come on! Well done! Not far now. You're on 23'30!'
Only 23'30? Really?! I put on one final push – there's another downhill section to lull you into a false sense of security before the finish funnel, which is at the end of yet another beastly, sharp incline. I was puffing like a dying fish as I crossed over to the other side...
My time? Officially 25'38, which is a whole minute and eight seconds faster than my last PB! I am really delighted. Plus someone tapped me on the shoulder and thanked me for being her unofficial pacer to her own new PB - very glad to oblige!
I was 15th woman overall, and second in my age group (VW45-49), with an age grading of 62.55%.
I am still not sure of the whys and wherefores of it suddenly happening this morning, and apart from the last km (which took 5'06), strangely it didn't feel THAT hard. But - I have been doing hill sprints, intervals, fartleks etc with the running club for the past five/six weeks so perhaps I am now reaping the rewards. Also it was much cooler than it's been recently, and I felt I'd slept really well, which I'm sure is a factor.
I graduated on 4 August 2013, covering around 4.6km/4.7km in 30 minutes. A year on and I have improved that massively (and have also popped out a few decent 10k times). Though I'm lucky enough to enjoy decent health and I'm not overweight, I'm not particularly sporty, nor am I even really the right shape for running, so this demonstrates what an average middle-aged woman can do with a little persistence.
Don't let the inevitable plateaus where you feel like you're not improving, or even going backwards, get you down. They happen. Just try and enjoy yourself, keep on doing three/four runs a week, mix them up a bit and stick with it – because it's SO worth it!
Thanks for indulging me and reading such a long post, and cool runnings, everyone!