Ten miles is a great distance for a race. It’s far enough to push you without getting into that “I’ve had enough and want to go to the pub now” stage that always seems to creep in during the last 5k of a half marathon. Unfortunately there are relatively few 10 milers out there – the only “big” UK one I know of is the Great South Run. Most others tend to be small club runs, with a high proportion of faster runners, and a lot of them are trail runs. In other words, the sort of run where there is a real danger of me coming last. Anyway, the lure of the seaside must have proved too much for me this time because I somehow got talked into entering this actual race and found myself standing on a clifftop in December, shivering in my vest as the howling wind encircled me and 401 other victims.
The course was pretty much as you’d expect – it started with some kind of approximation of Margate parkrun (to which I am planning to return in April to do properly), then took off down the coast as far as Westgate, mainly following the seafront promenades with the odd deviation on to roads (open, but brief and quiet) and pavements. It’s an out-and-back – which is fast becoming my favourite sort of race because I love saying hello to the other runners without having to be lapped by them! There were a few little inclines particularly at the beginning and one big hill on the approach to Margate. The hill profile, however, was small fry compared with the howling wind. It was in my favour on the way out, and this was reflected in my 5 and 10k times (35:17, 1:12:40). The way out felt so easy, I began to wonder if I could bank enough time to sneak back in close to my goal of 2 hours. The only problem was that because my right arm was feeling the full effect of the wind and had gone numb I struggled to get my gel out of my Flipbelt and had to wait until the turnaround.
Unfortunately, the wind at the turn point hit me like a slap in the face. Why is it that wind feels like a gentle breeze when it is with you feels like a proper hurricane when it is against you? My pace dropped immediately and I found both hands had gone numb and did my best to consume the gel without it smearing all over my face and blowing all the way to Bruges. The last few miles were going to be very hard work.
As I approached Thanet, I was met by Deano, the fastest of many the Kent Vegan Runners I’d met before the race, who had finished a long long time ago and was now having a cool down jog. He evidently felt sorry for me with my sad windbeaten face and decided to coax me towards the finish (after all, a dead vegan lying on the course is no good for publicity). The conversation went something like this:
Him: “What time are you aiming for?”
Me: “I’d quite like to finish today. Okay, quicker than the Great South Run, which was 2:08”
Him: What pace are you doing now?
Him: Eight minutes a mile?!
Me: No, a kilometre! I don’t run miles, they are too far.
Him: Okay, walk up this hill while I tell you how wonderful veganism is. What’s your pace now?
Towards the finish some more vegans arrived to escort me in so fortunately I was spared from doing any more maths or paying any further attention to my ever declining pace. The wind got worse and worse and by the time I saw the finish line in the distance I thought it was going to just blow me off the cliff before I could even get there. Valiantly, I plodded onwards, across a patch of slippery grass on which the finisher after me (yes, there were a few after me) would come a cropper. Someone put a “spectacular” race medal round my neck (that is what the race advert promised) and I was delighted to see that although the race had been much harder than the Great South Run, I had finished over three minutes quicker!
I am very grateful to Deano and the other vegans for encouraging me home (although this may have manifested itself at the time as “Bugger off I am going as fast as I can and want to die”). It is so nice the way members of Vegan Runners get behind near-strangers and give them some encouragement, especially when it’s freezing cold and they could be eating a nice avocado in a warm seaside pub.
Although I’m still a long way off my goal of sub 2 hours for 10 miles, I do feel this was a great improvement and if my ankle and the weather could just behave themselves simultaneously I might be in with a shot.
(photos to be added later when I renew my paid account!)