Friday, 16 August 2013

My Race For Life (5k): 14th July, Hyde Park (Part Two)

I wish I had documented the day better, but I think I was too busy feeling nervous to really think about taking photos!

The morning of the 14th arrived, the hottest day of 2013 so far. This was not good. I always specifically made sure that I ran either early in the morning or later on in the evening because I found running in the heat so hard. And yet here I was at 11am, queuing up with all the other runners in Hyde Park.

Things suddenly got pretty damn real...

It was boiling and it was only going to get hotter.

I was actually a little glad that I had got just a little (a lot) lost on my way to Hyde Park and missed out on the warm-up - I definitely didn't need to get any warmer than I already was.

Before I knew it I was lining up with all the other women to start. I opted to join the 'joggers' rather than the 'runners' because I am chronically afraid of holding other people up and this was definitely the right choice.

Lining up to start the race
After a bit of a false start (it was a bit confusing how they got us all hyped up and then herded us off again to the actual start line), we finally started the race.

One of the most important things I've learnt about running so far is that distraction is a powerful tool. When your mind wanders off on a tangent, you often find that you've suddenly run a kilometre without even realising it. The Race For Life was great for that as I was so deeply engrossed in people-watching that I didn't even realise that I'd run past the first kilometre marker.

There were plenty of people just like me, plodding along on their own with their earphones in. But there were also whole groups of people, some in training for bigger runs, families, classmates and sports teams. Sometimes I paused my music to briefly catch a snatch of conversation, whether it was encouragement ("Apparently Mum's made pavlova, just think of that!"), complaints ("My ***ing legs feel like they're going to ***ing fall off") or just general chit chat.

Even more engrossing were the 'I'm running for...' signs people wore on their backs. I'd completely forgotten mine, but it was fascinating and kind of moving to read them as I ran past or was overtaken by others. Many simply read things like 'My mum', 'Jess' or 'a cure'. But there were a few that really caught my attention. One woman's read "because my children have already lost their father". Another's had a whole list of family members. And one little girl, who couldn't have been older than about 10 and jogging with her mum, had a sign saying "because I miss my dad".

Now I'm not an emotional person. In fact I think I've cried about twice in the past year. But those signs were one of the saddest things I've ever seen. Well, sad, but also in a way sort of uplifting. Without going all mushy-gushy on you, just after the 4k mile I had a little moment of realisation. I was here running alongside thousands of other women, all doing the same thing because we really bloody hate cancer and what it's done to our families, friends and people we don't even know. Whether these ladies were walking, running or flat-out sprinting (yeah in my dreams), we were all here to join the fight against cancer. 

That feeling of being in a team like that is something pretty bloody amazing, something you don't really get to feel every day.

Beginning of the race

And what made it even more amazing were the supporters. Now I assumed that people simply came along to support their own friends and family. But just over halfway, the heat was really starting to get to me and I was wishing I hadn't dumped my water bottle by the start (future tip: DON'T DO THAT). I was starting to doubt myself and the little niggly voice in my head started to tell me that I'd never actually run 5k before, I was kidding myself that I could actually do it and to be honest I might as well start walking now.

But that's when I ran past three guys who I reckoned to be about forty-something. Now after several occasions where people have beeped their horns, passed smart-arse comments or wolf-whistled as I've run past (seriously HAVE YOU SEEN HOW RED MY FACE IS?) I've perfected my staring-straight-ahead. But these guys were shouting at almost every woman that ran past them. And it wasn't until I too ran past that I heard what they said: "You're amazing!"

I couldn't believe it. As I continued to run I could hear them encouraging those behind me: "Go on, you're over half way now!" "Well done, keep going!" "You're awesome, keep it up!"

More than once this happened, coming across pockets of people, mainly men and children, shouting encouraging words. Then of course there were the people with the foam hands who insisted on giving you high-fives as you ran past.

As someone who always runs solo, this was a whole new experience. But it gave me SUCH a boost.

Before I knew it, the 4k mark was heralded by the above-mentioned foam-handed people. Despite the insane heat I still felt okay - I wasn't going fast by anyone's standards, but I wasn't walking and that was my goal.

The crowd thinned down as the heat started to take its toll  - these trees were one of the few shady parts of the course!
I didn't start to feel really knackered until the very final 500m. There was something about knowing I was so close to the finish that made me start to feel tireder and tireder. The last bit really was a battle, with the almost midday sun beating down, but finally (and about bloody time) the finish line appeared.

I remember a friend who ran the London Marathon (yeah dream on) telling me that you have to do a sprint finish for every race. Now I don't know how you feel after 26.2 miles, but I imagine it's a whole lot worse than after 3.1. So with her words ringing in my ears, I absolutely pelted the last 50m. Everyone around me probably thought I'd lost the plot, but you know what? It felt bloody good.

Finishers were herded through a gap in the fence to collect their medals, a bottle of water and a brioche bun (personally my favourite part of the whole day) and I promptly collapsed under a tree.

I had been worried that doing the Race For Life on my own would be a kind of lonely and I would feel like a bit of a Billy-No-Mates. But even though I didn't chat to the other runners or have anyone there at the finish line to cheer me on, I really did feel like part of a team.

I realise that for many people, 5k is no distance at all. When I mentioned that I was doing the 5k Race For Life, several people promptly told me "Oh that's easy, you'll have no problem, 5k is nothing". But for me this was a really big deal. I was so proud to cross that finish line after running all the way and I think I always will be. I made to so much progress to get to that day.

But I hope that there is more progress to come.

I've kept up my running since the Race For Life, adding either distance or more intensity to my run. I'm not really sure what the best way to go about it is, but I'm determined to continue to improve.

Next stop, 10k.....?

Harris x


  1. I love this! My first races were Race for Life 5Ks, too. You SHOULD be incredibly proud of yourself! 5K is an amazing accomplishment! I should warn you that as great as 5K felt, 10K felt like I'd climbed Mount Everest and flown to the moon - that's how big of an accomplishment it was...distance running can get pretty addictive. :-)

    I might have run two marathons now, but I'm STILL proud of the work that got me across those first Race for Life finish lines. Be proud of your journey and congratulations!!

  2. Really lovely recap, my first 5k was Race For Life in July too and it was SO hot as well so can definitely relate, I was totally sozzled by the end ;) I too found the signs so moving and the whole atmosphere of togetherness was lovely (as I was going solo as well...) - we ran on hampstead heath and it was great because all the dog walkers etc. who were just there incidentally were whooping us all along (much needed in the heat!). Glad to hear you're still running, I am too, and yes 10k is a great next step! It was my first race/running experience in May, didn't think I could do it, but it somehow ignited some sort of running fiend within :) Good luck for your continuing journey!

  3. Thank you for the kind words guys :) it was an amazing experience and has definitely inspired me to carry on improving!