Otherwise known as my first attempt at marshalling!
When Wimbledon is upon us, so too is the Holme Pierrepont Running Club Grand Prix, the club’s big event of the year drawing the running fraternity from several counties around. It’s 4 parks, 4 distances over 2 weeks and all races on a school night. Last year I committed a cardinal sin and entered all 4 races which as a club member I’m not supposed to do. My excuse is that I had excitedly joined the running club and entered all 4 races in an unusually enthusiastic moment sitting in bed with my laptop being proud that it had taken me over 5 years of running to pluck up the courage to join a running club!
This year, still wallowing in my London mara exertions, I decided to run 2 and marshal 2, I’ve never seen a race from a marshal’s perspective. Ellie and Susie entered all 4 again after Susie’s baptism of fire entering all 4 as a new runner last year ( it’s a competitive environment to start your race career, Race for Life or Park Run are the usual safe options ! ) and we all agreed, doing all 4 is bloody tiring, so hats off they did it again.
The weather was amazing, but probably not for runners, coinciding with Wimbledon usually ensures average British summer weather…aka crap. So seeing the ‘Phew, what a scorcher’ headlines are not what runners really need to see pre race.
Race 1 is 4 miles around Rushcliffe Country Park and my first marshalling gig. My plan was to stand in a hi vis vest on a lonely bend on the course shouting encouragement to the leaders, the First Ladies coming through, the visibly struggling, the stragglers at the back and of course I had some special verbal abuse ( I mean words of encouragement ) for Ellie and Susie lined up when they came past …… I was guessing around the middle of the pack.
No, I had been allocated to the finish line ! The terror, the pressure, the words ‘please don’t give me a stopwatch’ must have been written all over my face! Thank god there were experienced finish line marshals there. So I ended up with a great job. It’s not a chip timed event, the finish line is therefore two funnels, men to the left and women to the right…….because women are always right boom boom! So the runners need to be herded to the correct side as they come in.
The Rushcliffe race starts and finishes in the ‘Field of Hope’. I don’t know why it has that name, for the race strugglers it must be like the field of no hope whatsoever. So I simply stood in the field, ahead of the finish line with a large sign sign saying ‘men’ on it and a left arrow. It could have been the dream job for a single gal or Bridgford cougar ( stressing I am neither). But it worked, from the woodland at the far side of the field, rather like a Lynx advert, men did indeed burst out from the trees and hurtle towards me.
It’s a great way to see a race, the leaders are just running at a phenomenal pace and don’t even look like they’re trying. Then gradually as the race progresses you realise the sheer variety of runners is staggering, it’s a sport for all without a doubt. Young, old, fat, thin, tall, short all thundered past me. Beards, kilts ( yes really), short shorts, long Lycra it’s truly hard to define a runner. And I guess that’s the point, if you entered, you’re a runner…….you took the key crucial step, the first one over the start line and here they are ready for the off.
Two days later we move on to the Colwick Park, 5 miles. Another hot one, another good turn out. This time, I ran and I love that two ladies separately spoke to me at the start line and said, “hi are you Justine, I love your blog” ……I’m sure they must be Notts Women Runners but it was so lovely to hear. Of course I did think, wow how much do these ladies now know about me ! Still honesty is the best policy, I like keeping blogging real!
I love Colwick Park, there’s rivers, lakes, woodland and it all makes for a really pleasant route. Hot or not, if there’s a number pinned on my chest I’m going for it and I’ve finally mastered the art of ‘controlled discomfort’ . Sadly it’s the only way to get faster and it’s a hard place to get to when the thought ‘heart attack’ keeps entering your head. In my mind I was after a target time of 40 minutes, but what I should have done was look back at my time for the same race last year to realise that I actually managed 39.58. Knowing that, I would have known that 40 minutes would never do. Sadly at mile 3 the heat got to me and I felt myself flag. Thank you to a great guy who noticed the pace dip and asked me what time I was after. When I said 40 minutes he said ‘me too, we’re nearly there’ and we got cracking together. Ironically mile 3 to 4 seemed to go on forever, my head was letting me down, how long could a mile take? Running is such a mental game, I could have stopped and feigned injury there and then but I checked my Garmin to find we were actually at 4.75 miles, the marshal had actually stood in front of the 4 mile sign! It was the mental lift I needed to push to the finish. The final time 40.33…….gutted, but it would have been a lot worse without number 519.
Whilst cooling off at the water station I felt a sharp prick on my calf and looked down to see a creature settling down for a drink. I batted it off quickly but over the next few days was left with a huge painful lump that hurt with every step of every training run. Not scratching it was agonising.
The following week we move on to metric week and the Wollaton Park 5km featuring the stunning backdrop of Wollaton Hall. It came the day after the hottest July day for years and thank god, the temperature had dropped a little as fortunately it can in the UK. Once again I had avoided my 5km nemesis and opted for some hi-vis assistance whilst letting Ellie and Susie do the work. Helping load up the drinks station for the end, we feared we’d run out of water in such heat and then my next job was to act as a human funnel to channel runners hurtling downhill into the finish channels. The 5km is ferocious at the front. I recognised the leaders and those at the rear plus a whole host of familiar faces in between.
My favourite moment was a guy coming in with a respectable time, around the 23 minute mark wearing cargo shorts and a tee shirt. He had trainers on but it felt like he’d just been sat in the park having a picnic when he realised there was a race on. I imagine his girlfriend just laid down the gauntlet “I bet you couldn’t run 5km!” To which he gets up registers, runs it and goes back to his tartan blanket……” Happy now love?”
Ellie and Susie PBd at 27.55 and the photographer got a cracking shot of them, which became his album cover for the race. She says jealously.
Finally the last race of the series, the Holme Pierrepont Country Park 10km. It briefly rained moments before the off but sadly remained quite humid. I checked last year’s time in advance this time, 50.22, the sub 50 minute 10km always just eluding me. As we set off, I ran alongside a couple of other HPP ladies and a lady from Notts Women Runners (NWR) who has a cracking 5km time and their talk was of trying to go sub 50. I said ‘hi’ and knew I had to stick with them. If you’ve ever ran with a pacer and then eased back in a moment of weakness only to see them steadily get away from you knowing you won’t catch them again, you’ll know it’s soul destroying.
Have confidence, I’m saying to myself ,controlled discomfort, you can run as well as these guys, I’m saying. It was hard, but I kept going and gradually myself and NWR pushed ahead. I had to stay with her, neither of us had gone sub 50 before, both of us were clearly egging each other on. We clearly had separately both decided we couldn’t lose vital seconds stopping for water at 7km. That was it, we were pushing together, it was game on. She did say along the final straight of the huge main lake ‘just a mile to go’ . I thought it was less than that but I tried not to lose the mental focus, not so late on. I managed a push to the finish and came in at 49.11……..awesomely proud of myself and thrilled my fellow NWR did it too. I’m not sure I’ll ever manage it again ! It made up for the disappointment of Colwick Park.
So the Grand Prix ended on a high for me. A PB , at my favourite distance and a dabble with the ‘hi-vis of helpfulness’ I want to do both again.