They say the key to a good race day is good race day preparation. Eat well, train conservatively and stay focused on the run.
I must admit, my preparation was lacking in all three areas. In the weeks leading up to the Mencap Heaton Park 10K run, I was deep in the panic of end-of-year university assignments – one of 4,000 words and one of 3,500 words, neither of which I had any clue how to handle. I was eating more junk than I should have done, had not been out running for two weeks and was constantly distracted in ever-increasingly creative procrastination (I do now have a pristine front garden and an expanded Lego collection!)
In the midst of all this, I knew the run was around the corner and that it was for a brilliant cause – raising funds in order to help those with learning difficulties. Being a scholar in inclusive education, it was a cause I was keen to get behind as much as possible. I spread the word to friends, family, colleagues and running buddies that I was fund-raising for the 10K run and they all rallied round. Despite the lack of physical training, I was as prepared as I could be.
I woke up on race day with a hot ball of tension in my stomach. I did not feel ready at all for the run and was seriously doubting my ability to get through it, despite the fact that 3 weeks early I had managed to run 21K (which is a half marathon). I put together my race day outfit – a Captain America compression top, skin-tight running leggings and shorts – and headed out to the tram on an overcast morning. My hopes were my outfit would compliment the weather and keep me comfortable on the run. It I could hit a good stride, the tension would dissipate.
When I arrived to Heaton Park, I picked up my race pack, which included my race number – 135 which was very apt for the location – and a wonderfully and vividly pink #TeamMencap t-shirt. I popped this on over my compression, attached my number to the shirt and headed out in search of water. It had now started to heat up.
As I wandered around the race village, the nervousness I was feeling melted away. 300 people – a sea of pink. A crowd of generous and motivated fund-raisers all together for a brilliant cause. I began to spot a few familiar faces in the throng. There was a colleague from the school at which I work. We took this as an opportunity to bond – I am still fairly new to the school and am trying to get to know everybody better. There were many selfies taken in our matching t-shirts.
After the warm up, lead by representatives from Pure Gym (at which I am a member), we were at the start line, Anticipation was building.
And then we were off! We were all completing two laps around Heaton Park, taking in some of the finest sights this beautiful and historic park. The start/finish line was at Heaton Hall (which is where some scene’s from David Tennant’s Casanova were filmed). We went around the golf course, boating lake and saw plenty of horses. A better route could not have been asked for.
I, however, did not have chance to take in many of these sights as I had my own sight set on finishing in 55 minutes. I raced away and tried to keep a pace that was moderate yet challenging. On the first lap, I got talking to a lovely Canadian man who was aiming for the same finish time as myself. We had an engrossing and enlightening chat as we ran around Heaton Park.
However, the sun had now come out in force and after 20 minutes, I was marinated in myself (I know, gross. Sorry!) and my water was warm and providing no hydration at all. At the end of the first lap was a hill.
No, sorry. A HIIIIIILLLLLLLLLL.
It broke me. After 26 minutes of running, I took a walking rest. No shame in this at all but the walking rests, in the heat and the hills, came thicker and faster. My new friend raced on and I was starting to struggle.
Then I came back to the HIIIIIILLLLLLLLLL. If I was broken after the first climb, I was utterly finished halfway up the second climb. My colleague caught up with me just before the finish, encouraging me to keep going, keep running. I could not. My back was gone, I had two major stitches and I was as dry as burnt toast.
I eventually got to the top of the hill. I picked my pace back up on the final straight to the finish line. All the runners that had finished were lined up and cheering the finishers as they crossed the line. It was such a relief and such a boost to hear their shouts as I finished.
It was a long, hard, hot run. It was for a great cause. It was worth it.
In the end, my fund-raising efforts garnered £182. I am grateful to every single person for sponsoring.
My finish time was 56:33. 1 second slower than my best 10K time.
Oh, I will be back next year Heaton Park, and I will beat your HIIIIIILLLLLLLLLL.
Many thanks to all of those at Mencap for a wonderful event and in particular Lucy for all her encouragement.