Where do I even begin with this one? In terms of where my headspace was at, this would definitely rank as my worst race; it was a huge mental struggle from start to finish…but that’s just what running is sometimes and all you can do is pick yourself up afterwards, dust yourself off, and move onto the next one.
On the Monday before the race I told myself that I would have a good taper; lots of fuelling and plenty of rest. But actually March has been a pretty big month for me, it has been stressful and tiring and challenging and wonderful, and essentially everything that prevents me from just sitting still and looking after myself. So, unsurprisingly, I deluded myself that I was having a good taper, when realistically I was running every day and skipped lunch every day too – I know, idiot. I woke up on Good Friday, the morning of the race, and felt terrible…my body was heavy, I felt lethargic and I hadn’t really slept the night before. I had my usual pre-race porridge with a tea, and then had half a bagel with nut butter too for some extra fuel and packed three jelly babies to potentially have during the race and a bottle of water for the hour’s journey to race HQ.
I arrived at a muddy field in Hythe just as it started to rain and as the wind was picking up. My headspace was already pretty negative by this point, because, you know…I’m fed up of the rubbish weather. But I did a few Insta stories and interacted with some of you which raised my spirits. I then started to strategise. This was a last minute addition to my race schedule and done as a knee-jerk reaction to my last race being cancelled due to snow. Technically I didn’t need this race, nor had I been training for it, but last month I ran 10 miles in training at 7.20 min/miles so I knew I potentially had a fast race in me and told myself that my main goal was to keep below 8 min/miles throughout.
The weather started to get worse whilst we were all huddled at the start line – I had positioned myself quite close to the front because it was a busy race and I didn’t want to get stuck behind people. The first part of the race was a lap around the very muddy field – I wore my Roadhawks and was sliding all over the place, but soon we were out on the road and straight onto the seafront. I was fairly familiar with the route as it’s the same as last year’s Folkestone Half, just run in reverse and with a few miles taken off the distance. On a sunny day, this route is glorious. On a day like we had, it is soul destroying. The route is entirely exposed as you run along the coast – on the way out to the 5 mile turnaround we had an almighty headwind which made things very difficult and the rain became heavier and heavier; the route felt boring and hard work. By this point my internal dialogue was the most negative it has ever been whilst running – at 1.9 miles in I seriously questioned whether I had this race in me, and at 3 miles I saw someone retire and start walking back (he was in an Ironman top, no less) and thought about doing the same. But I decided to stick at it because I knew I had overtaken a few people by this point and despite feeling low, I thought I was probably still putting in a decent effort. At mile 5 there was a very slight incline and I honestly thought about walking, thankfully I decided against it as I know that if I had started walking that would be my race well and truly over (or at least, the race inside my head). Hitting the turnaround point gave me a boost, and as it was an out and back route it meant that I could start to encourage other runners as I crossed their path whilst on my way back – that actually made me feel significantly better. I like to encourage others, and it also helped to frame my own inner-competitive gremlin too. I had become so preoccupied by the thought that I wasn’t hitting a time that I deemed acceptable for myself, that I had forgotten about the fact that actually, even at my worst I am still a fairly speedy runner.
After what felt like the longest time, I made it to mile 9 which was probably my worst mile (and where my speed dropped to 8.13 min/miles – my slowest mile on the course) – I really hated the world during this mile, which wasn’t helped by the fact that one of those fast food vans was on the side of the road and all I could smell were burgers being cooked. Oh man, I felt sick. It took a lot of effort to hold myself together, but I did, and persevered through to the finish line.
I did my usual sprint finish, and came in at 1:18:59 with an average pace of 7.54 min/miles. As soon as I crossed the finish line I started beating myself up about it – I shouldn’t have, because it doesn’t really matter and actually that is a respectable time, plus my average pace was sub 8 min/miles, which I should’ve been satisfied with – but I soon realised that my biggest battle on the day was in my head, rather than my body and that actually if I had just set aside those intrusive thoughts, I would have performed better. I bumped into my ASICS FrontRunner teammate, Yiannis, at the finish too – he had a brilliant race which was really great to hear and made me feel happier.
So, lessons learnt for next time? Don’t feel the need to add a last-minute race into the schedule (you have nothing to prove), leave your inner-gremlin in the car (he won’t help you at all), fuel properly (because everyone needs food, duh), rest when you need to (because you don’t need to punish your body), and don’t take yourself too seriously (because nobody else is). Racing is usually a fun thing for me; I’m the person who will smile from start to finish and will cheer anyone and everyone on. So onto the next race, which is just two weeks away…