2015 has very much so far been the year of the bike, it’s safe to say. After drawing a line under a spring marathon all the way back in January, I’ve been out and ridden nearly a thousand miles on various steeds alongside my daily commute. And it’s all been rather fun. Long rides, short rides. Overnight centuries, quick spins to the pub. Hilly / flat, fast / slow. Mild sunburn, severe drenchings. Even a bit of off-road stuff on my old mountain bike. Six months of getting out there, spreading my wings and finding new challenges.
I do think though, deep down, I’m still a runner at heart, and every so often something crops up which piques my interest. I’m in the ballot for the London Marathon again, for all the good that’ll do. I’ll probably make a fourth consecutive appearance at Standalone in October, with various members of my family in tow. And then last weekend I slipped in a cheeky 10k on one of the grandest stages of all, finishing at the venue for the 2012 Olympic Games.
I’ve missed out on the chance to do this one a couple of times now, with 2012 and 2013’s shorter 5k requiring a ballot victory to get in, and regular readers will know how painfully unsuccessful I am with London ballots. I don’t think there was an event last year, probably with the stadium being ripped to bits, and so to the best of my knowledge this was the inaugural running of a brand new event in the always-reliable Great Run series: The Great Newham London 10k. The only slight stumbling block with the whole affair is the teeny tiny fact that I hadn’t actually been for any sort of run since the end of February, probably the longest gap between runs since I laced up my very first pair of lurid orange shoes in 2007.
I’ve done this sort of thing a few times now over the past couple of years. Essentially these days I’m a non-running runner, going from rigorously following regimented training plans for weeks on end, running miles and miles and miles and alienating my friends and family, to just deciding to run an event and then worrying about the details later. It’ll be fine, I still ride my bike. I’m still healthy. I nearly ran a PB at Standalone in October, and three of my last four 10ks have been under the magic 40 minute barrier. Everything will be OK! Then I hark back to May 2013 and remember: don’t be such a fucking idiot. The first (and last) “10k without training” experiment was an abject failure, coming in over two minutes off the pace, rinsed beyond belief and unable to walk properly for a over a week afterwards.
So I’ve learnt the hard way that you need to do at least a bit of training for these things. Respect the distance and all that. I’d have liked to have had a bit more time to train for this one I guess, but coming barely a fortnight after that epic excursion to Dunwich, in the end it was just a case of a couple of jogs to build up and then a practice 10k a few days before to see how I held up (clue: not very well). It mattered little though; this one was all about the taking part rather than the result. The chance to finish in the bloody Olympic Stadium with crowds in the stands cheering us on was not to be missed. And, as a Tottenham fan, it was one of the last opportunities to get inside the thing before the dirty Hammers got their grubby little mitts on it and made it their home.
For once we were mega early getting to the start which gave us a chance to mill around the village, take a few photos and enjoy basking in the early morning sun. It was destined to be a warm one and as someone who struggles to even walk to the pub in the summer without breaking out in a horrific sweat I began to lament the lack of training, knowing it would be hard work in the second half of the race. We were then held for an extra ten minutes at the start which wasn’t ideal, the heat already feeling a little stifling and we’d not even got running yet. But finally at 9:40am my first running event of 2015 was underway and we headed off out onto a congested perimeter road, accompanied by polite clapping from assorted spectators and the first shout of “urgh, a Spurs shirt!” from a little kid noting my choice of attire for the morning.
I’ve not really got much else to say about the main chunk of the run other than the fact it got steadily more horrendous as it went on. There were a few bright spots along the way, seeing some of the sights of the Olympic Park as well as catching a glance of a fellow Tottenham shirt on the way round. Every so often a little group of spectators or one of the many music spots on the way round. Generally though, it was surprisingly hard work as the tiny undulations over the park took their toll. Well that and the heat. And, er, the almost complete lack of training.
The finish though was something else entirely, and well worth the entry fee alone. With a mile or so left I knew I wasn’t anywhere near a PB but that was OK. I’ve long since conquered my sub-40 demons and so didn’t worry about the feelings of helplessness as the pace crept up with every mile. I just had to finish the job. Oh yeah, and make sure I beat the arrogant knob I’d been swapping places with for most of the race. The one who insisted on constantly cutting me up on corners and drifting across me on the straights despite the road being almost entirely empty. I literally had to stop running on multiple occasions otherwise I’d have tripped him up, and although that would have been the easy way out I simply vowed to make sure I beat him across the line fair and square.
In the end I did exactly that, but I have no idea of the magnitude of my pointless little personal victory. I overtook him on the little drop down into the stadium and never saw him again. He could have finished in my slipstream, he could have blown up completely and come in minutes behind. I honestly couldn’t tell you. I barely even cared. Once we came into the stadium tunnel I was totally overcome by the most incredible emotion as Chariots of Fire (a firm favourite of mine as a kid) was played over the tannoy, accompanied with crowd sounds and a TV commentary soundtrack. And then we burst into daylight and onto the Olympic track. The actual Olympic track! It was amazing. Supporters were dotted around the stadium, and having a camera setup on the back straight projecting us onto the big screens was a lovely touch. I acknowledged it as I went past, hoping my one-lady support crew somewhere in the vast stands would see me.
Coming round the final bend I waved to the big crowd sat on the outside and they responded, raising the volume as we headed onto the home straight. It was totally like anything I have ever done before; a sprint finish with three or four others, in a massive stadium, on a proper track, my massive face on the big screen and people cheering us all on. Physically, I can honestly admit that I felt like complete and utter dogshit coming over the line, probably the worst I’ve ever felt after a 10k, but emotionally I was absolutely delighted, bursting with pride despite completing a distance I had now raced a dozen times. I came in over a minute outside my PB but it didn’t matter to me in the slightest. I felt like a champion.
As with the last 10k at Standalone, my sister was out on the course somewhere too and she came in a remarkable six or seven minutes inside her PB, absolutely smashing it despite the sweaty conditions. OK, so she looked like she was about to be sick everywhere as soon as she’d crossed the line but I guess you’ve got to suffer for your art a bit haven’t you.
All in all, a cracking morning. Even writing this now a week or so later while looking at the official race photos it still sends a little tingle down the spine thinking about that last 400m or so. I’ve mostly forgotten how absolutely terrible I felt for a good half hour before that, and instead focus on one of the most brilliantly unique experiences I’ve ever had as a runner, something I can look back on in years to come and say “I bloody did that”. I came inside the top 200 of a field of over 10,000 and I finished in the Olympic Stadium. And besides all that, when else would I have got chance to wear a Tottenham shirt inside West Ham’s new home before they’d even moved in?