A few months ago, I persuaded M's cousin to enter the Cheltenham 10k on the proviso that we came down and ran it with him. He's done a couple of half marathons before but is not what you'd call a regular runner, so the event required some dedicated training on his part. I'm not sure exactly how much dedicated training actually went on, because whenever I texted him to see how he was doing it always seemed to be the morning after a big night out, but he was nevertheless ready by the time this morning rolled in.
We drove down to Cheltenham to stay with them all last night and enjoyed a delicious meal of roast chicken and lemon potatoes with salad, rather too much gin, champagne (birthday celebration) and red wine, followed by red velvet cake and strawberries. It was a late night (I am a total wuss about staying up these days and nodded off in the car on the way home today) followed by a very comfortable sleep in a bunk bed (which Petal clearly felt was hers....).
I woke up at 6.30 to the sound of rain pouring down outside, and dozed until 7.30 when we got up for toast and jam and tea. Race numbers had been sent out a month ago, and while I'd assiduously packed them, I had neglected to put in any safety pins. A trawl round M's cousin's home (including his wife's sewing box) revealed nary a safety pin in sight, which was deeply ironic because we have an ever-growing pot of them at home. In the end we improvised with badges borrowed from M's cousin's boys and his own music-related collection.....
We arrived at the race venue, Cheltenham race course, with 45 mins to spare and discovered a huge crowd of lycra-clad people wearing trainers milling about. There were three race distances: half, 10k and 5k, and loud music was booming across the park, ostensibly as the back drop for a race warm up, but to be honest it looked to me more like an excuse for two scantily clad young ladies to bop about busting some moves on the back of a trailer. If I tried to do a pre-race warm up that quickly and energetically I'd rupture something :o)
I left the boys admiring the bopping and went in search of a loo. I have become very used to rows of grubby looking portaloos lined up in a field with scraps of loo paper hanging out of a box glued to the wall if you're lucky, moisture that you mostly don't want to think about the origin of on the floor, and a ubiquitous blue chemical sludge running down the inside of the loo bowl. Not so at Cheltenham race course- these had to be the grandest pre-race bogs I've ever been in. They even had sinks to wash your hands in instead of your own water bottle and dryers in place of the back of your race shirt :o). I lingered as long as I possibly could.
I've never been to Cheltenham race course before, it's beautiful, located on flat ground with hills in the distance...
I managed to tear myself away from the loos and find the boys. Eschewing the bouncing babes, we went off for a more middle-aged-appropriate warm up in the car park, then peeled off the layers, checked our badges were still holding our numbers in place and headed down to the start where there was time for a quick selfie before the race director started calling people into the start area.
M has been recovering from a hip injury and I am still nursing a big toe nail which periodically fills up with blood and turns purple, only to mysteriously empty overnight and return to its normal colour (today it was padded with a normal plaster covered with an extra-thick blister plaster in an attempt to protect it) so we weren't sure what our race approaches would be. M's cousin was keen to get in under 55 minutes. I thought I would probably just see how I went and adjust my pace according to how I was feeling. M, keen to push on a bit more, headed off to the front while his cousin and I waited somewhere in the middle.
It took us ages to get running once we'd crossed the start line. There were lots of people all trying to get through narrow gates and paths at the same time, and there were also numerous stiles, kissing gates and five barred gates to get over/ through all the way round the course. Plus it was largely off road so the ground was uneven with some areas of long grass to navigate through. I realised this was not going to be a fast one and also that I was feeling pretty tired, possibly as a result off last night's alcoholic excesses, maybe a bit of marathon-hangover too, so I decided I would take it easy and use the race as a training run. M's cousin had shot off ahead and of course M had rocketed away like a gazelle and was no-where to be seen.
I ran the first 4.5 miles at a bordering on slow pace with feet that felt like they'd grown lead shoes. It wasn't a competitive field so even at that pace I was overtaking people. We turned off the grass and onto a lane and suddenly things got a whole lot easier. My pace increased from 6 mins/ km to 4.30 mins/ km and I instantly felt more comfortable. It was a relief. It made me realise how accustomed I have become to running on roads this year and made me wonder whether I wouldn't be better off focusing on road courses from now on and abandoning trails. Yesterday's parkrun was also on trails and I didn't enjoy that much either. I was flying along now overtaking lots of people which is always a good feeling, especially in the second half of a race. Coming round a corner at 5.5 miles I saw M's cousin ahead. I knew from my watch he wasn't going to make the 55 minute time he'd hoped for, but it really wasn't the right race for a PB so I hoped he would still be pleased with his time.
My appearance seemed to re-energise him on and he picked up the pace while I fell back a bit. We came round the corner and ahead was a steep hill, which perked me up. I caught up and overtook him there. Round a corner, down a hill and he was back with me. Round another corner and up another steep hill and I was pulling ahead again. We crossed a bridge and swung left into the final straight and he was next to me again. Right, I thought, we'll finish this race together, so I picked up the pace again (always seem to have something left in the tank for a final sprint to the line no matter how dead on my feet I have been feeling just before) and we roared down the hill to cross the line together. Huge fun :o)
M meanwhile had had a great race, and was informed on crossing the line that he was first lady home. Eh? It turned out we'd mixed our numbers up and he'd been running as me! Luckily, they'd spotted that he wasn't female and the mix up got sorted :o). It would have messed up our Run Britain rankings something rotten.
When we got back to their house in Cheltenham to have lunch I found ten scarlet tiger moths in the garden. TEN. I see one every couple of years here if I'm lucky. Oh yes, they said when I pointed them out, we get hundreds of those.
After a delicious lunch of homemade soup, bread and cheese and a mug of tea, we packed our things and headed home. It had been a lovely morning's racing, made all the more special for having done it together. A top weekend and another medal to add to the collection.
Hope you are all well?