It’s not often you’ll find me standing in a clearing in the woods early on a Saturday, with a handful of other keen runners raring to take on a challenge. My ‘Mummy’ schedule doesn’t allow for it much these days. Nevertheless, I’d managed to schedule in some run time. And so it was, I stood on the start line of the Shoreham Woods Trail 10K, shivering slightly in the cool shade of the trees, my little support crew now behind me, and a heap of killer hills lying ahead.
I’d been waiting for this moment for a little over a month now – the date etched into my brain. I’d completed a little over four weeks of rigorous strength work, followed a proper training schedule and stuck to a strict healthy eating plan, and… ha ha! Just kidding, obvs.
There has been a distinct lack of sleep in my house recently: the 17-month-old is cutting teeth and the three-year-old has taken to wandering into our bedroom at 3:30am and asking loudly, “Is it morning yet?” before repeatedly demanding a bowl of cornflakes. Yawn. This means the healthy diet thing has had to take a bit of a back seat, as my exhausted body can only get through the day when fuelled with caffeine, chocolate digestives and cake (it’s a new carb-loading strategy I’m championing).
My strength work has been a touch hit-and-miss, too – taking place during games of Toy Story/Fireman Sam/tea parties for 257 soft toys, or when Charlie & Lola ‘babysit’.
And the running? Consistent it is not. However, if I can grab 15 minutes here or 25 minutes there, my running shoes are on and I am out.
Suffice to say, training-wise I knew I’d done what I could, but with all those steep inclines rolling out in front of me, I had the sinking feeling I should have done more. But it was too late – the starting gun went.
Now, as I knew my race preparation had been a little sketchy, plus the 10K was a tough one, I had enlisted a friend to run with me. We decided to run at the speed of chat, walk when we needed to (and boy, did we need to on some of the steepest sections!) and basically have a good time. And wow – what a race strategy! Our tactics removed any pressure to finish in a certain time and – despite the fact it was by far the hardest race I’ve run in terms of both terrain and profile – we had so much fun! Those kilometre markers kept slowly but surely creeping up on us and the views were so spectacular, they made up for some seriously tough slogs up some very steep hills. Several times, we rounded a corner only to have our breath taken away by the beautiful Kent countryside stretching ahead of us along the valley floor. The route followed woodland paths, grass fields and narrow, rutted tracks, which sometimes disappeared perilously over the edge of a hill. The uphills had my pace slowing and my heart pounding, but somehow, every time we reached the top, we regained our momentum and kept going.
And it made me realise something: I need to give myself a little more credit when it comes to my fitness level. So often I berate myself for not training more. But you know what? I’ve realised I’m perfectly fit enough, thank you very much (actually, it’s probably thanks to my two children, who have me lifting, playing, rescuing, chasing and fetching all day, every day. That’s my strength work and cross training, right there). I am determined to stop the negative self-talk: I AM fit and I CAN do these things.
A little past the 8K marker – and fuelled by a couple of Jelly Babies handed out by one of the consistently cheerful and encouraging marshals – we turned a corner and practically skipped down a gently rolling hill, humming the theme tune of Little House on the Prairie (I admit, we had probably lost the plot by then). It kind of summed up the mood we experienced throughout the whole race: fun, joyous and positive. After one final killer hill, I saw my gorgeous brood just before the finish line, clutching acorns, sticks and feathers: they had clearly had fun, too.
My finish time was nothing to write home about: 1:12:34 – but it really wasn’t about that. The experience of running through beautiful woodland was almost transcendental – I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face for the rest of the day.
That’s not to say it didn’t hurt – my core, glutes and calves are beyond sore – but it was just a bit bloody brilliant. So much so, I’ve already signed up for my next 10K in a month’s time. And yes, it’s another hilly trail event…
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