Since I started taking part in Telford Parkrun (a not for profit organisation arranging free to enter, timed 5K runs around a local park), my finish time has been steadily getting quicker. It is a great feeling to come away each week with a new Personal Best which is edging ever closer to my goal of completing the course in under 30 minutes.
It stands to reason that you cannot maintain this improvement indefinitely- you'd end up finishing before you even started - but this Saturday, I thought I would be in for a good time.
I had not been out running since completing the Market Drayton 10K the previous Sunday and I was really keen to get back out and see what I could manage over the shorter distance. Stupidly, I thought 5K would feel easy having now ran twice that much. I was very wrong.
Five kilometres may only be half of 10 kilometres but it is still 3.1 miles - which is 3.1 miles more than I would ever have imagined being able to run before starting my beginners training 6 months ago. (Lets be generous and say 3 miles more - I probably could have managed the 0.1!)
I started off really well. My daughter and I jogged from the car park to the start (first time we'd ever even contemplated doing that!) so we were well warmed up and ready. The first part of the course is a long downhill stretch and even with the uphill parts that followed, I averaged a comfortably less than 10minute mile pace. I was well on target, not just for a new personal best but for my ultimate sub 30 minute goal.
Unfortunately, things started to go wrong.
My legs felt fine, my breathing was OK but my stomach felt knotted and my back and shoulders were tired and achey. I tried to ignore it all and power on and sometimes I succeeded, keeping pace with runners in front of me. But it was a struggle. A quick look at my running watch was my undoing.
My watch is set to tell me how far I have run, the time it has taken and my average pace at the end of each completed mile. It became clear that not only was my goal slipping out of reach with each laboured step, but I wasn't going to achieve a new personal best either. I lost heart.
The course consists of a two laps, a long one and a shorter one. Cruelly, you run past the finish twice before you cross the line and even more cruelly, there is a steep incline just beyond the finish. I passed the finish line for the second time, witnessing competitors sprinting home to claim their best time (the elite athletes having long finished). I pushed myself up the hill and beyond, my motivation draining with each step. I thought about my daughter running behind me and wondered if she was feeling as bad as me. I stopped. I walked. I looked around and saw her some way away. I continued to walk and waited for her to catch up.
After a while, my daughter made up the ground between us and I resumed running with her. We both struggled, but we finished. I didn't feel great about it.
This was the thirteenth Parkrun in Telford. Maybe there is some truth in the unlucky connotation of the number 13. Due to a mix up with the start time of the race, the published results were wrong. It gave my daughter and I a time minutes more respectable than we deserved! They were later corrected but the error did have the effect of making me focus less on the importance of my time than I had been previously. It was like a sign - a warning even.
Fixating on getting a new personal best had been a key factor in me giving up and walking. I see now how idiotic that is. As lovely as it is to see real improvement, sometimes it is enough just to get round. No doubt I will have good days and bad days. I will celebrate the good days and bask in the glory of a new PB. I will celebrate the bad days too. As long as I give it all I have, it will always be a personal triumph.