The night before the Chester 10k I spent the whole evening grumping stompily about the house. What on earth was I thinking? Why on earth had I set myself up to do this? In November when we registered for the 10k my running was going well. Yes I was super slow but I was running three times a week and slowly getting faster and going further. Ian promised to run with me. There were months to go before the end of March. We had shared a bottle of wine and were sitting in bed with the details of the Chester 10k on the ipad. "Come on. I'll run with you," said Ian. Yes ok then, why not?
But when March arrived nothing had gone to plan. I had taken five weeks off training with first a sore knee and then a chest infection. I had tried to get back and been running again for four or five weeks but I was way behind in what I had intended to do. The furthest I had run since starting again was 7k. I really didn't think I could do 10k. I was just going to embarrass myself. Stomp, stomp. Grump. Grump again. Ian was sure I could do it and I eventually agreed that I probably could run and walk so yes, I would do it. I decided to regard it as training run, nothing special. Just a run. I would plan to walk if I needed to so that if I had to it would not be a failure, just part of the plan. It would be fine. Hmmm.
So on Sunday morning I left the house dressed exactly as usual for running, carrying nothing special, wearing my favourite leggings and my favourite jacket (and of course the secret weapon of my favourite running bra) and my trusty trainers.
Parking was easy in Chester and there were lots of runners milling about. I was reassured to see that there were all shapes and sizes and ages of runners. Yes there were plenty of long thin people whizzing around looking like athletes, but there were plenty of others. I couldn't see many other women as old as I am (65) but the runners were a real mixed bag.
I had admitted that I was planning to run the Chester 10k to a man in my Spanish conversation class who is a personal trainer. He was lovely. He didn't gasp in amazement or smile. He managed to behave as though it was entirely reasonable that a slightly overweight 65 year old with no running history whatsoever prior to C25K should be having a go at a 10k event. He gave me lots of great advice, the principal thrust of which was to decide the speed at which I wanted to run and to make quite sure that I kept to that and did not allow myself to go off too fast just because I was surrounded by lots of other people. This was Ian's advice as well from his half marathon experience. So we had agreed how fast we would run. It was just a matter of keeping to the plan. We positioned ourselves towards the back of the blue wave and off we went. Oddly, having been so stompy the previous evening, I felt quite calm and unbothered on the day of the race itself. Here I was, all I had to do was put one foot in front of the other and I would see how far I went.
It was surprisingly hard at the start not to go off too fast and as people went past surprisingly hard not to try to keep up with them. But I know that I am slow and I knew that if I was to have any chance at all of running the whole thing I would have to run at my usual slow pace of around 8 minutes or just over per kilometre. So off we went. The first couple of kilometres felt just as it feels when I run at home. You need to let the breathing settle and the legs get used to poddling along. You need to relax the shoulders and ignore as far as you can the fact that there are other people there. Just get in the groove. Just let it happen.
I had wondered about running 5k, walking 1 and then running the last 4k but as we got to the halfway mark I was clearly doing ok and there was no reason not to carry on. Ian and I had talked before the race about perhaps aiming to run 8k and then I could walk if I liked. "How are you feeling?" he asked. "Shall we go for 8?" "Yes, OK. Maybe I will go for 7 and then decide about 8."
So on we ran. People passed us. Very occasionally we passed other people. Here at the back people were starting to run and walk so running along at my slow pace I would pass people, they would pass me when they started running again and I would pass them again. I decided to model myself on the tortoise from the Aesop's fable. Slow and steady. Slow and steady.
7k came up. It was fine. If anything I felt better at 7k than I had at 3. "OK?" said Ian. "OK." We ran on. When we got to 8 I just kept on running. I'll just see how far I can go, I said to myself. Ian didn't ask. He just kept on running beside me, occasionally getting fractionally ahead because his natural running speed is much faster than mine, but pulling himself back to keep me company. 8.5k went by and we began a long slow uphill. Marshalls shouted encouragement. I knew we must be towards the back but I really didn't care. I wasn't going to stop now. 9k. I was in new territory. I had never run this far in my life. But all I had to do was keep on going. My legs were tiring a bit but my breathing was fine. More lovely marshalls. "Great running. You've got this." "Only 400 metres, two more corners. You are doing great. Go, go, go!"
And now we came round the last corner. There were loads of people still lining the route. People whooped and cheered. It was just the two of us running together. The noise was amazing. Ian grinned. "Just like the Olympics!" And then from nowhere came a rush of energy and delight as we speeded up to cross the finishing line.
I never ever thought I could do that. I was never sporty. I was the girl at school who sneaked off to sunbathe during cross country and who hated PE. And I am not a big group sort of person. I like my slow and solitary running. Now I was slow yesterday I know. It took me an hour and twenty five minutes which was round about where I thought I would be. To my amazement when the results came out there were about fifty people behind us in a field of nearly four thousand, so I was slow but I wasn't last. I was also right that there were very few other women in the 65-69 age category. In fact there were ten and I came ninth in my age group. But to me it is just amazing. I am still grinning like a Cheshire cat twenty four hours later. This time last year I never thought I could run for thirty minutes. I never thought I could run 5k, which still takes me about forty minutes, and I never in a million years thought I could run 10k.
We collected our goody bags and our medals. We walked back to the car park, grinning like loons.