The Tired Hills of Saffron Walden

What’s that thing called? You know, that thing? It’s when you attribute a quality to an inanimate object for poetic reasons but really you’re referring to a person? It’s got a fancy, Greek name like synechtote, democracy or Iannis. Anyway, last night I took my new shoes to the tired hills of Saffron Walden for the last race in the Kevin Henry 5k League series. Two hours of sleep followed by nearly 500 miles of driving isn’t the best possible preparation for a hard 5k but that’s all I had. Bugger it, I thought, run anyway. It’s only 5k.

I arrived fairly early for once. I thought I’d change in the loo in the Swan Meadow car park and have a gentle jog round to warm up. Good plan. Like all good plans, they require good logistical support for them to work. My logistics fell apart when I arrived at the car park and found that they’d removed the loo. The nearest one was only a few minutes walk away but it was a sign of things to come.

I wandered off with my bag and got changed in the alternative loo location. By the way, how often do you get to say “alternative loo location?” Nowhere near often enough, unless you work for a loo removal company. A company called Loobrication, perhaps. Eloosive Loos. Dude, Where’s My Loo?

Sorry, sidetracked.

By the time I got back to the car park, it had filled with runners. There were club-mates and friends from other clubs all over the place. I like the atmosphere at the start of club races. There’s bravado. You find people talking up their prospects. Training has gone well and they’re in form and they’re bouncing around, releasing some nervous energy. Others carry their confidence more quietly. You get the sandbaggers too. They’re talking about their injuries or niggles but you know that they’re going to be caning it and you shouldn’t think for a second that they’ll give up if they think for a second that there’s a chance they’ll come past you. If you need a boost, there’s always someone to lift you. If you want to talk, there’s someone to talk to.

I was wearing the new shoes. I hadn’t done a run in them before last night and I was a little concerned about how hard I’d be able to run in them. They felt slightly odd in comparison to the Green Silence flats I usually race in or the Hattoris I’ve been training in. They feel slightly tight around the middle of my foot but they’re nice and roomy round my toes. They’re incredibly light, each one only about an ounce heavier than the slipper-like Hattoris. They also look more like normal trainers than the Hattoris. After I’d jogged for 500m or so, I forgot about my shoes and started to concentrate on my running. It’s why I’m taking part in the programme after all. Even shoe queens like me want to run more quickly for longer and that’s what efficient running is all about.

I found somewhere relatively out of the way and ran through The Drill for a few minutes. Short steps, high cadence, light feet. I wanted to keep that upright posture I’d discovered worked so well for me when I was running scared from the rain in Chicago. It seemed to be working. I could feel my shoulders counter-rotate and I felt my legs swing through from the outside. It wasn’t a long warm up but it was long enough for me to remember what I was doing.

I met some clubmates heading to the startline. ChrisHurk had said earlier he was cruising and aiming for 25:00. I said I was going to go nice and gently for the the first mile and then see what happened. I saw Alex and Glyn ahead of me and decided that they’d be my targets. They’re both much older than me but Glyn regularly hands me my arse at these races. Were I in the shape I was in during March and April, they wouldn’t see which way I went but now it would be a good race for the three of us.

The start was broad but soon funneled onto a narrow footpath up the side of the main road out of Saffron Walden to Cambridge. Last year I was caught behind some slower runners on this climb and I wanted to ensure the same thing didn’t happen again. I ran quite hard for the first hundred metres to the turn onto the footpath. Alex and Glyn were both still just in front of me as we started to climb. It’s only about 400m long but it’s quite a steep climb. We ran up together quite easily. The downhill section which followed was hard on the quads. I was trying to keep as light on my feet as possible and keep my braking to a minimum. We passed the 2k marker and I overtook Glyn and Alex. We had a long, gradual but punishing climb for the next 2k. I was finding it increasingly difficult from the 3k marker. My breathing had gone. I couldn’t find my rhythm. I was trying to keep my steps short and my cadence up but I just didn’t have the energy. My lack of sleep was telling. I died at 4k and first Glyn then another of my clubmates called Ben came past me. I was losing ground on the runners ahead of me.

As ever in a hard 5k, the finish took forever to arrive then suddenly the race was over. My Garmin beeped for the 5k but I couldn’t quite see the turn into the finishing line. I was hauling breath into my lungs like a drunk sailor hauls on a sheet as I desperately lunged over the line. I just wanted to lie down on the ground for about four years until I felt better. I remembered to stop my watch just after I crossed the line this time. It read 23:38. The time was better than last year at the same event but I still felt horrible. Everything had gone wrong in the second half of the race. It was partly a lack of race fitness and partly a lack of confidence. At least I kept going and didn’t quite throw up this time.

When the pressure was on, particularly in the last k, I tried to keep the mantra going. I don’t think I quite managed it. My form as I collapsed over the line must have been woeful. My feet and legs have been fine today apart from the bastard little midgie bites. I definitely attract them. It must be the taste of disappointment in my sweat. I’m more fine about it today. It’s only a race. It was a better time than last year. I was stupified with exhaustion. I’m only just getting back into training after a rough time in August with my foot.

I have a Mile to organise tomorrow. I might even run it. We’ll see.

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