This race was possibly the most frustrating race of the year and that was even before I got to the start line. As the months have slipped by I became aware I was missing the miles, miles that I needed to ensure I completed the challenge that I dreamt up all those months ago. I’ve added in a couple of Park Run’s to top up my total race miles but sure enough, I was still short. As luck would have it, a handy 10 miler made itself known to me and the idea took root – a nice “little” 10 miler to round off the yeat…wouldn’t that be a good idea? Like most things I decide to do that require commitment, I left it too late. All 1000 places had been sold and there were no entries available on the day. What to to? The answer was to beg on Runners World and hope that someone took pity on me – or felt compelled to help a charity plodder who was struggling to make her miles. As luck and Christmas parties would have it, someone did have a spare place; two in fact. I was prepared to buy them both, sent emails confirming my desire for the places and sat back, safe in the knowledge I’d have a race place.
The best laid plans however have a tendency to screw up and this was no exception. The running saviour’s husband had previously managed to get rid of the places but has neglected to tell his wife. I was back to square one – with no place and 10 miles left to find. I was getting panicky, convinced I’d not be getting any miles and I’d let the 200 Mile team down. Clearly I am on the good girl list because I received yet another email from my saviour. One of the places was now available again, did I want it? Do fish swim? Do bears use leaves? We all know the answer to those questions – so late on Friday after a couple of abortive attempts, I made the money transfer and relaxed in the knowledge I’d be racing on Sunday. What I completely forgot was how hard I found the half marathons at around the 8 mile mark…and this was a 10 mile race…with HILLS. I had been told that Stockport was flat. They lied.
Sunday rolled around and I rolled out of bed, stuck the coffee and porridge on and dragged on my race gear. After dithering as to whether it warranted long sleeve and legs the squally wind and rain settled the argument for me. The weather wasn’t much better all the way down the M62 and across to the M60 – rain, wind, a bit more rain and then more wind. Under a slate grey sky we shuffled on to the track and waited for the starting signal. One of the best starts ever – not only did we have an Olympic torch bearer running a lap with his torch but out starting signal was a rocket – much oohing and ahhing even in broad (almost) daylight. As 750 or so runners streamed round the track twice I tried to settle into a comfortable pace and trotted along with the other plodders at the back, the only runner in Macmillan green.
We streamed through the park and into a rain cloud, or so it felt. The rain was driving straight into us and even with my contact lenses in, I couldn’t see a thing. Head down and breathing hard I rounded the corner out of the park and settled down for a couple of hours worth of streets and pavements, quietly hoping that the rain would stop soon and the sun would dry me out – no such luck. As the miles slipped by it did get drier but much windier. The upside to the wind was that it was behind me for a large chunk of the time giving me a welcome boost along. The first hill crept into view and after plodding as much of it as possible, I had to give up and walk purposefully up to the top until the first long down hill appeared. Flying down some surprise cobbles and through a farm was a nice change of scenery, even if the cows and horses didn’t want to come and say hello.
The miles got harder with each step and my lack of long distance training was making itself known – hips, knees and ankles were all shouting at me. This is what is known in my head as “time to start a proper training plan” feeling – something that when I’m running seems like such a good idea until the endorphins and adrenaline wear off again. As I plodded on alone, I wondered at which point I’d have completed my 100 miles. Having forgotten to work out at what point this would be before the race I assumed it was closer to the end – turns out I passed the 100 mile mark at the 5 mile point!
The last few miles slipped by without incident unless you count letting horses pass through a housing estate, dodging 2 huge dogs on leads while simulateously trying to not fall into the road and then trying to keep my balance as I flew down one of the last down hill stretches. As I climbed the final hill which seemed to go on forever, runners that had finished shouted words of encouragement from their cars, from the pavements and the adjoining park. It was a nice touch and a not for the first time I was glad to have my name on my race ID rather than a number. Sure, they don’t know you but “Come on Jemma” is so much nicer to hear than “come on 921” – less Prisoner: Cell Block H.
The last 1000 metres appeared…and I started to sob. Partly in pain (feet, ankles, hips, head) but also with the realisation that this was it. These last metres would be the last I had to run for the challenge. All the early starts, the early nights (not such a hardship really) the wind, the rain, the sun burn, sun stroke, blisters and chafing were behind me. My Macmillan vest, it’s distinctive green and white that when in a crowd my eyes automatically seek had run it’s last of the challenge. Rounding the final loop of the stadium track towards the finish line was hard work, physically and emotionally. I crossed the line at 2 hours, 7 minutes and 50 seconds – 7 minutes slower than I was aiming for. The wave of emotion broke and doubled over, I sobbed openly. Tears of pride, of sadness, of personal gain and loss, but mostly relief. I had done it – the biggest physical challenge I had ever set for myself and I had completed it…with 22 days grace.
I might go back and run it again next year…for me.