No Cars, Go
First up, sorry for the delay in reporting in. I know you have all been on the edge of your seats waiting to find out how I got on running round the home of British motorsport last Sunday, the truth is though I’ve had a rather busy few days since I staggered over the line a wheezing, sweaty mess. That’s right, a sweaty mess, even more so than usual in any case. Despite all my fears of wind and rain battering me senseless while I stumbled around a deserted airfield in the middle of Northamptonshire, in March, as it panned out one of the hottest days of the year so far coincided with my return to competitive action. No one could possibly have seen that coming.
Arriving at the racetrack with plenty of time to spare, I had a chance to look around some of the areas that are usually restricted to peasants like me. As a bit of a motor racing fan, especially when I was growing up, I’ve been to Silverstone a couple of times, and gazed from afar at some of the most famous corners in the world; Copse, Bridge, Stowe. And that was usually as good as it got, a fence and gravel trap between myself and the hallowed concrete. Here though, I was allowed to wander about with carefree abandon, my little feet treading the very ground where the world’s greatest drivers have passed over since it first opened in 1947.
I decided to mark this historic occasion in the only way I knew how: by taking a piss up the side of the old pit wall. Lining up on the startline, half hour or so before the unusually late start time of 12:00 midday, I was feeling like I might need to spend a penny or two. Unfortunately, the amount of hydration I usually go through in the run up to the start often leads to this sort of situation, and my list of shame thus far includes the exterior wall of Moorfields station, the motorway embankment of the A167(M) in Newcastle, a metal fence running alongside a pathway in Birkenhead Park and the side of an athletics stadium in East Manchester. I thought I would be okay on this occasion, and I was, right up until an announcement crackled over the decrepit PA system telling us the start was delayed by 15 minutes. Then, panic stations, and as a result I can now honestly say that I have left my own unique mark all over the armco barrier of a Formula One track. Jenson Button probably can’t say he has done that.
As I filtered back onto the startline, hoping to blend in anonymously before remembering I had a fluorescent running T-shirt on, we were told the delay was in fact only 5 minutes and then we’d be off. In hindsight, I probably needn’t have pissed up the pitwall, but let’s not dwell on that. I looked around for one last time, gazing over the vast grandstands by Copse, Silverstone’s original first corner. They were teeming with supporters; the biggest crowd that had ever assembled at the startline to watch me race. Two full grandstands as well as hundreds on foot dotted around. It was showtime.
The BBC Formula One music filtered over the PA system and I tried to avoid the temptation to pretend I was in a car. I wished I was in a car a little bit, it would make the next 13.1 miles a damn sight easier. And then just like that, we were off, streaking through Copse and down towards Maggots. As we weaved through the opening few turns, I immediately began to notice the field thinning out into a distinct “racing line”. We were crawling through the corners roughly 5% of the speed the F1 cars do it, but it didn’t stop everyone drifting across the track, clipping the kerbs as if we were racing in the British Grand Prix itself. Or maybe everyone was just taking the shortest route round the corners possible and it was only me pretending I was in a car. We will never know.
As we hit Hangar Straight, the first mile down in a respectable 6:42, I heard a familiar tune feebly emanating from the tannoy speakers: Mr. Brightside by the Killers. A university favourite, my one woman support team at the circuit had posted on Twitter under the hashtag #SilverstoneHalf and requested it for me. Sadly I didn’t hear the shout out to me as well but the music was enough. I was ahead of my target time, feeling good, and only had 12 miles to go.
The opening lap was brilliant in all honesty; a full revolution of the brand new Formula 1 circuit, all three miles comfortably inside my target time. We entered the old pits and as we came through the first corner for the second time, this time on the infield of the circuit, and there was a brief glimpse of my supporting crew for the first time. The next time she would see me I wouldn’t be looking quite so pleased.
As we wound back inside the track, popping out into the brand spanking new pitlane, I was beginning to suffer a bit. The water stations had obviously not been placed with 17 degree temperatures in mind and the lengthy gaps between refreshment, with only sugary sweet sports drinks on offer, were taking their toll. I was yet to cross the 6 mile mark; less than half the run was behind me. And then, they threw in a short, sharp incline up and over a bridge just before 7 mile mark. I had been planning for this one as a flat, fast course. This was anything but. Sure, there were none of the ridiculous, mile plus climbs that I experienced when I did the Liverpool Marathon, but some of these were pretty severe in their own right, especially as I a) wasn’t expecting them b) was running over half a minute faster c) did I mention it was fucking hot?
Fortunately I was now over half distance. Unfortunately, that meant still around 45 minutes of running. Miles 7-10 were a real effort, and I honestly don’t know why it was so bad. I had run a practice 13 miles the week before in 1:28:19, equating to 6:50 a mile and a new personal best. Here though, on race day, I saw my pace regularly creeping over 7:00. The field was thinning out, we were running around a deserted service road, it was a bit hard to focus. I felt drained. Then, on 10 miles, a final view of my pitcrew spurred me on, my wonderful ladyfriend who had given up her Sunday to stand in a field and watch me sweat. As I cruised past this time, there were no smiles from me, only a horrible, sweaty grimace. She would later say I was in the top 10% of sweaty people that had gone past her. It was hard to argue.
All of a sudden we were filtering back onto the track itself. One more lap, anti-clockwise this time taking in sections of the old circuit, and it would all be over. My dreams of a new official personal best had probably slipped away by now, but I still wanted to get under an hour and a half if I could. The last mile up Hangar Straight in the opposite direction took it out of me completely though, and as I crossed 13 mile mark and saw the finish line looming up, I simply could not muster enough energy to do the big sprint finish. So I showboated over the last few yards, waving my arms around like a fucking idiot to ramp up the volume of the packed crowd at the finish, and the roar I generated pushed me over the last few feet, and then that was it. I clocked it at 1:29:37, my official time was 1:30:36. I’m not sure quite which was right, but regardless, I was chuffed to find out I had come in 184th out of a field of around 10,000. It seems like I wasn’t the only one who had suffered in the sun.
Never before have I needed my after-run pint quite so badly. Sadly, the necessity of a quick getaway to prevent getting stuck in the car parks before the 140 mile drive back up to Manchester put paid to that. My pint would come though, all in good time.
All in all, I’m pleased with my day. The heat was a bitch, the middle bit of the run was a bit dull, and I was gasping for a drink of water for large chunks of it, but I can now say I have done something truly unique. If I’m being honest, I’d say that it would have made a blinding 10k, avoiding the need for so many switchbacks and deserted service roads. Nevertheless, I can probably say I enjoyed large parts of it, sweeping round some of the most famous pieces of tarmac in the entire world, and finishing with hundreds of people in grandstands cheering me on. Next time though, I’m bringing the car.