RunThrough are a smallish, friendly company that organise running events in parks, mainly in London. They also have a lively Facebook group, a newsletter and a free interval session on Mondays in Clapham (which I keep meaning to go to, but haven’t yet). The events have a similar vibe to parkruns, in that they’re full of fast runners but very friendly and encouraging to beginners and long-term snails such as myself. The difference, of course, is that they’re not free, but in return for your money you all the perks such as medal (and their medals are excellent), a tasty flapjack, chip timing, an inflatable finish line, a water station, a 10k option (and sometimes a half marathon option). I took part in a bunch of their Chase the Sun (/Moon) events on Wednesday nights (as a shift worker, I am always grateful when companies realise that weekends are not the only days on which events can take place), but in the summer when I injured my leg I decided to skip the Olympic Park Chase the Sun and transfer my place to a Saturday race. (Another reason why RunThrough are great – I don’t know any other race where you can defer for free). I chose Battersea Park because it is one of my favourite parks. I always assumed it was just a bog standard park but when I first discovered it (hunting for Diglett in Pokemon Go) it’s got a few notable attractive features – fountains, a pagoda thingy, a path that runs alongside the Thames and a Ben and Jerry’s stall. If only it had a hill, it would be a runner’s paradise.
Eighteen months ago, before I injured my leg, 10k was an easy distance for me and the thought of walking parts of a 10k run never crossed my mind. My PB was (and still is 1:11:55). Post injury I was very annoyed to find that I was having to walk bits of 10k races, and that even when I ran the whole thing, I was still slowing down to a sub-plodding kind of level (the sort of running when you’re actually just moving at walking pace but moving your arms in a running sort of way in an attempt to convince yourself that you are still running) and coming in at around 1:20. This week was probably the first 10k of 2017 that I actually felt ready for. I set myself a target to run the 10k in 1:15. To make life less complicated, my target is “Garmin time”, ie. the time that my Garmin says I’ve done 10k. Most races come out a little longer than the official distance because of distance dodging other people, running in the middle of the path to avoid camber, taking wrong turns, etc etc. Just to keep things interesting I promised myself that if I achieved that target I would book my place in the Barcelona Half Marathon. (I pulled out of last year’s with two weeks to go. Gutted doesn’t begin to describe how I felt.)
For my 5k runs recently I have been using my friend Rosie’s tried and tested method of “just start as fast as you can and try to hang on” which goes against everything people say about running, but works for her and seems to work for me too. I had a feeling it wouldn’t work in a 10k, though, so I reverted to pacing myself and tried to keep to a speed of between 7 and 7.5 mins per km. I was quite pleased to find that this felt quite slow as first, when a few months ago it would have been too fast for me to keep up. My first 5km took 36:21, which was well within the target.
The second half was harder – I’ve not done a lot of long runs lately, and have only run 10k without walking or taking a break twice all year. My kilometres were creeping over the 7.5 minute mark, and I was conscious that my average pace was going down towards the point that would take me over my target time. I will say at this point that the worst thing about RunThrough runs are the laps! Battersea Park has four of them. This means that you are constantly passing a jumble of kilometre markers which make your head explode as you try to work out how 4km can possibly be 100 metres past 6km or whatever. You pass the same landmarks again and again and they get a little bit less interesting every time. Worst of all, if you are a snail, you pass the FINISH LINE at the exact time that most of the average paced runners are finishing but you still have another lap to go. You see them all taking selfies with their medals and munching their bananas and you have to run away from them knowing it will be fifteen minutes before you get back there! It is torture.
For the last lap it was just me and some other snails and suddenly everyone in Battersea had woken up and decided to go to the park and get in my way so I was glad to reach the finish. My official time was 1:15:42, which I was very pleased with – three minutes quicker than my previous best time this year! But was I going to Barcelona? I checked my Garmin time…
By the skin of my teeth, I’d done it. I felt like a contestant on a game show who’d just won the star prize, not a podgy forty-something who’d just come sixth from last in a race round a park in South London.
I hope they have some good deals on flights on Black Friday…