I would never have run the Cancer Research Manchester Winter Run if it had not been for an old school friend, Clare, insisting that I do it with her. Clare was travelling all the way from Hull to Manchester to take part. She said the medal was “the best she had ever seen” and with the race being all for charity, I coughed up the pricey £35 entrance fee for this great cause.
My last (and first) 10k had been in Leeds back in November which had not really gone to plan. Still high on the wave of my first marathon that April, I thought that with very little training I would whizz round the Leeds course effortlessly, which really was not the case. Despite achieving a finish time of 54:55, I had spent a lot of time stopping during the race, cheering on other runners, and posing for photos. It was a tough race, and I was determined to be serious about my next 10k. With no daft photos (hmmm).
So, in the run up, I made a conscious effort to avoid Cadbury’s crème eggs, mini eggs and alcohol, and had a boring Saturday night drinking tea and eating pasta. I also had a sports massage the previous Wednesday and had tapered off a little. I was taking it all so very seriously.
So, yesterday when I woke up with a sore throat, which then also became a cold this morning, I was not best pleased, but consoled myself with the knowledge that it was early days and had it been a full blown cold I may have had to pull out of the race altogether. After much internet research, and even waking up my other half (sorry), I felt confident enough that I could safely take lemsip before the race which did help me feel, well, less sick.
Getting into Manchester, I hopped on the tram and it was not long before I saw other runners. I got chatting to a couple; the lady wore a tutu and the guy was such a fan of the Winter Run series, he had done them all. Due to arthritis in his legs, he is not supposed to run the races, so he power walks through them all, which I thought was quite an achievement.
Departing from the tram, I walked up the stairs with some other runners and there was a lady on her own with her headphones in. Now I know all about nerves, so I tapped her on the arm and got chatting away. It was her first ever 10k and she was nervous as hell but we talked about her training and it was great to visibly see her relax a little.
Meeting up with my lovely friend Clare, and after promising not to push her over like I had done when we met for the first time in nursery, aged 3, we had a hot drink and chatted. I have to admit, my nerves were so bad, I could not concentrate fully on what was being said. We had a photo taken (that's me on the right).
I handed in my bag to the lovely/fantastic/awesome (you’ll see why later) volunteers who quite happily secured my wristband to my arm as I was so nervous, I was shaking. Clare laughed at me, and I laughed too, but it’s true, I was THAT nervous! I pulled a bin bag over my body, and we walked off toward the start line.
Now I had not done a warm-up, but my nerves were making me go haywire so I jogged a little and just concerned myself with getting to the race start where we were also due to do a warm-up. I jumped a lot on the spot and did a little dance to Beyonce’s ‘Single Ladies’ which was belting out of a speaker behind me.
Taking off my bin bag, I then realised to my horror and dismay… I had forgotten my race number.
Just as Clare started to reassure me, I legged it back to the bag people. A thought crossed my mind that I was in fact now getting the warm-up.
Arriving, they were brilliant. Still shaking, they helped me retrieve the number from my bag and even put the safety pins in it for me. I legged it back to the start line, and found Clare again near the front.
Clare revealed her new running top – an Angry Birds little number, and I thought I’ve to get myself one of those and then we can be angry birds together.
We did a Mexican Wave and then I started dancing again. My tram buddies, tutu lady and arthritis guy were there in front of me! It was very cold. After a short warm up, the commentator then asked everyone to take a moment of reflection.
He asked us to put our hands up if we knew someone affected by cancer.
Everyone put up their hands.
He then asked if anyone had been personally affected by cancer.
A lot of people put up their hands.
He then asked if anyone was still fighting cancer.
I saw at least three people around me put up their hands, but what amazed me was a lady directly in front of me put up her hand. She looked no different to you or me, and here she was, about to take part in a 10k race. A lady next to me, and myself included, both patted her on the back/shoulders and I simply said what I was thinking, that she was amazing.
Then the countdown started!
I hugged Clare good luck.
The snow started to cover us all.
“THREE… TWO… ONE…!”
Then that was it! We were off!
After a short uphill stretch we veered to the left of the Ethiad stadium. My legs were a little sluggish and I willed them into a steady pace. My running tights felt loose around my waist, and my bra was not as tight as it could have been. Clearly, I had lost weight in the run up to the race but thankfully, nothing was falling down!
Despite my gloves, my hands were cold and I flexed my fingers to get the blood flowing. I then did my usual thing of questioning myself. Would I be able to run all of this? Why oh why was I putting myself through this? The pace I was doing felt steady but I questioned whether it was fast enough then surmised that I was working really hard so to just stick with it, if I could. I saw the lead runners coming up the other way and I thought that they were not too far ahead and that I was doing well.
Then the 1k sign went past and a little part of me inwardly died. It was so, so hard.
A guy accidentally clipped me (and he apologised) and keeping to my pace, I managed to pass him later. The thing that surprised me was that there were not many people around me, and those that were, were tall, stocky, fit looking guys.
“Believe in yourself, Jane,” I told myself. There’s a reason why there were not many runners (or women) around me, and that’s because I was running a good race.
Passing the 3k sign I started to look for my “competition” in the race. That’s the girls. It is very difficult to compare yourself to a guy if you are a girl runner because of their natural physical advantage. I counted three women in front of me, but managed to take on one of them, sending myself into third place. I did not allow the sheer excitement/enormity of being in third place to hit me, I knew I still had a way to go and I was finding it very hard.
But then suddenly, the course went downhill and it was great! But what goes down…
…Must come up. And I knew the hills on the return leg (the race was two laps of a 5k circuit) would be tough.
My mojo was being constantly challenged and I willed myself to keep going. To stop would have been horrendous. I would never forgive myself. I had to just keep up the pace. I resorted to my race “tactics”. On downhill slopes, use gravity to go as fast as you can, on uphill stretches, go into denial and tell yourself it’s flat and your eyes are playing tricks on you!
At one point I got covered in snow but I ignored it. For the most part, I ignored the other runners and the crowds and just focused on running the actual course. It was easy in a way as the lead runners had a trail of followers so we all ran the course efficiently. I did spot three kids who were with their parents just standing and watching and I’m a big believer in inspiring the younger generation when it comes to sport, so I held out my hand and pointed at it with my other hand and they got the message and all went for the high-five!
We reached a running track manned by penguins. Not real life penguins, but dressed-up ones. At the end of the running track, one penguin came in for a high-five but I missed, I was finding it so tough.
I saw the lead girl come back and pass me on the other side and I eyed her, willing the awe in my eyes to be transferred to hers – she was an amazing runner.
Soon (not soon enough), we got to the halfway point and there were a lot of marshals, I suspect to encourage us and prevent us from stopping when we came to the hill at the start again. But I kept my pace. I did not dare look at my Garmin, despite it faithfully clocking away the miles. I was too scared – what if it said I wasn’t doing well? What if I misinterpreted the time? I consoled myself – I was doing the best I could do and no Garmin time could change that.
At 6k, I did a body check. Despite finding the race incredibly tough (and questioning my sanity at every point), everything felt remarkably good. My legs were strong and steady, I tried to drop my arms a little as I have a tendency to keep them hunched up, and my back and shoulders were moving comfortably (as possible). My toes were a little sore but that is to be expected.
Focusing on getting to 7k, I ignored the runners who started to overtake me and who cut corners. For example, there would be a traffic cone and I always made sure to go around it, whereas some runners chose to go inside the cone. I don’t know why this bothered me, as they are only cheating themselves, but I am stickler for accurate race times and was put out that others thought it acceptable to, well, cheat.
My chest/lungs felt a little tight at around the 7k mark but I told myself to stay calm and just ride it out. I did not take any water here, even though it was on offer.
Reaching the running track, I knew two things. One, that there was not far to go. And two, there was an overly excitable penguin waiting for me at the end. I overtook a guy who was breathing really heavily, but then he came back, and I watched as he approached the penguin. I could see he did not want to do the high-five but everyone else had, so at the last second, he held out his hand.
Miss. Penguin saw me coming this time. I held out my hand. And missed.
Leaving the running track, there was a hill and I noticed that women were starting to overtake. When I saw how toned and slim these women were, I saluted their perseverance in trying to get ahead. It really is inspiring to see people running so hard and trying to be the best they can be. Plus, they were a lot younger than me. (ha ha!)
I could feel the pressure on my broken toe around about the 8k mark. It was not going to stop me from finishing (or slow my pace) but I became conscious of it around this point.
We got to the starting hill again and I could see the finish in the distance. We still had the last 1k to do, but I knew this was nothing in the scheme of things. I knew at this point that there was no stopping.
I took a first look at my Garmin.
It said “46” something.
I could not believe it. I was aiming for under 52 minutes, but figured if I could keep it together, an unbelievable sub-50 was possible.
I focused hard on form and pace. There was a little bit of wind against me but I worked my arms harder.
I could smell the finish.
But then fear hit me. What if I came in at just over 50 minutes? What if I had been so close to a 40-something finish? The photo belows shows the second that fear hit me...
I could see the finish.
I was so pumped.
And this is the part where I went a little mental.
The commentator went wild, and I soon realised he was talking about me.
“Someone’s going for it!! Look! She’s really going for it!!! She’s making a break!! Look at her go… really, really working hard…”
My legs stretched out and I’m counting everyone I’m passing. The course curved and I sped ahead to the crowd of people all watching at the finish.
“COME ON!!!” I yelled, to nobody in particular (probably myself).
Then, with one hand, I punched the air as I passed the finish line and leapt into the finish.
My Garmin read 49:22 (but my final time was 49:16). I was made up.
I got handed coconut water and my medal. And had lots of polar bear hugs. It was great. There was a lot of laughter at the finish.
Grabbing my bag from the lovely bag volunteers, I impressed them with my time, and then started to make my way back to the course so that I could find and cheer on Clare.
It was not long before I saw her.
“Come on Clare!! Come on!! The medal is GORGEOUS!”
She yelled back!
“What’s your time?!!! What time?!!”
I laughed. “I’ll tell you when you finish now MOVE!!!”
I found Clare five minutes later – she was close to tears.
“I did it! I did it! I did sub-60min!”
We celebrated both our PB’s with photos and a hug.
Jumping on the tram to go home, I reflected on the day. My achievement hit me about halfway home. Not only that, but when I thought about all the people on the route who had been running with names on their backs, those with “For my Mum,” or “For my Mum and Dad”, or for sisters, brothers, kids, even for themselves, it got me completely choked up. To have been part of something so special, so inspiring, was really, really out-of-this-world. And surrounded by Man United fans going to Old Trafford, I could not help but shed a tear.
Many thanks to the organisers, Cancer Research UK, for such a lovely Sunday morning. Keep up the good work!
Follow me @JWilbyPalmer
PS. If you would like to sponsor my friend Clare, the link to her sponsor page is here.