Yesterday I ran the VHI Women’s Mini Marathon, an annual 10k race that takes place here in Dublin. This is the second time I’ve run this race, and was the first big race in my Dublin Marathon training plan.
In the lead up to the race I was battling a lot of inner negativity, questioning my abilities and my goals and generally berating myself for daring to run. Luckily I recognised what I was doing to myself and spent a week trying to drag myself out of that negative place and into my usual confident self. I’m happy to say I’m winning that battle, but on the eve of the race I wondered if I had started to win it too late. Would all that negativity I poured out on myself affect how I ran it?
The morning of the race I woke up in good time and felt…nothing. I didn’t feel nervous or excited. You would think I wasn’t even running a race that day. Since the race starts at 2pm I had loads of time to relax, in fact I played Skyrim for a couple of hours as if I had nothing else to do that day. In the end, being so relaxed probably did me good as I’d given up worrying about my time or race strategy.
At 11, I had my usual pre-race fuel of porridge then got dressed in my running gear. Normally I don’t take anything with me to a race so I can avoid the bag drop zones; I can usually get by with what I can carry in my arm pocket, but it being such a wet day I knew I would want a dry hoodie for after the race. I’ve also learned to never rely on there being water after a race so I packed a couple of small water bottles in my bag. It was interesting trying to decide what to bring and what I might need. I had to stop myself from bringing stuff that would have been useless!
It was while I was getting breakfast that I started to feel the butterflies in my stomach. I finally began thinking about my goals for the day and started to wonder; could I do it? Could I really smash it like I wanted to?
My first goal, which I’ve had in my mind since last year’s race, was to run the 10k from start to finish. No stopping. No walking.
My second goal, a more recent idea, was to beat my previous time by 10 minutes.
Not impossible goals, to be sure, but given the negative place I’d been in recently, it was hard to imagine I could do it.
So I stopped trying to imagine it and got on with the day.
The pre-race atmosphere was good, despite the bad weather. I arrived an hour early and wandered around for a bit to soak up all that pre-race energy. I dropped my bag off then went to take my usual starting line photo:
After that began the waiting game! With an hour until start time I sat on a kerb while the starting pen filled up, checking my twitter feed and texted with a friend. I still didn’t feel nervous OR excited. Instead I felt calm and determined; determined to enjoy the day, run smart and finish well.
I had talked about gels with my coach beforehand, and we decided on the tactic of taking a gel 20 minutes before the race, and bringing another one with me in case I needed it during the race. So with 20 minutes to go I had my first gel. I’ve been training with a caffeine free gel call High5. The one I take is mixed with water already so it’s pretty easy to drink down. So far they have been effective and I’ve had no problems taking them. I’ve even practised opening a gel, drinking it then tucking the wrapper in my sports bra while running so I don’t have to stop. So far, so good!
Anyway, I took my gel and another 20 minutes passed fairly quickly and then we were off!
This race is one of the largest women’s only races in the world, apparently. This year, over 37,000 women took part. It meant that the course was crowded and since the race is open to walkers, joggers, fast joggers, runners AND elites. I was in the ‘blue’ pen which was for joggers (we got to start after the runners and fast joggers), but most people ahead of me weren’t jogging, they were walking. From the get go it meant a lot of ducking and dodging around people. It took about 2km before the road cleared enough and I was able to gain a consistent pace.
But I managed to run from the start, and was surprised when the first km marker came up. I’d cleared the first km without even really realizing it! I kept going and the more ground I put behind me the more my confidence started to come back. This wasn’t a struggle! I wasn’t desperate to stop and walk! I felt strong, and powerful, and fast.
I kept it up past the second, third and fourth km marker, a little surprised at how good I was feeling. After that came the hard part.
From 4-6km are the toughest part of the course for me. First, there is a very long stretch of road that inclines uphill which then doubles back on itself, so anyone running UP the road can see everyone running DOWN it. When you first hit the road you can’t even see the turnaround point, all you can see is a mass of bobbing colours moving in both directions. For me, it’s disconcerting and I had a little mental battle with myself on this stretch. I refused to look at the other side of the road, and instead of thinking about my pace and the hill and the time, I thought instead about all the things I have to be grateful for. I counted my blessings with every step and it got me up the hill and around the turn easily.
I decided to take my second gel at this point. I didn’t feel as though I needed it but I thought that if or when the time came that I needed it, it would be too late to take it. So I drank the gel down, tucked away the wrapper and carried on, feeling happier and stronger than I have in a long time.
I should mention here that I did backtrack a few seconds to get a high five off a little girl sitting on her dad’s shoulders. I high fived her brothers but didn’t notice her little hand was up until I’d passed so I went back to get the high five. That was a highlight of my race 😀
I have to add, I also avoided the water stations. Partly because I had my own water bottle, and partly because I was running such a consistent pace, I didn’t want to risk losing it. I was already well hydrated, I didn’t even drink all the water in my own bottle!
Anyway, at the 6k marker I realised I was running a really good pace, feeling like I still had loads of energy and wondering if I should try to push it a little and run faster. I decided to wait though, because I didn’t want to ruin my chances of a strong finish and there was still a ways to go with no telling what might happen in the meantime.
The 7th and 8th km marker I passed easily. I really enjoyed the drummers in their kilts at one of the music stop, and at another stop a band singing ‘You’ve Got The Love’. Good stuff!
At 8k I felt better than I thought I would. I felt a LOT better. I’d run the whole way and never once felt like stopping to walk. I still had energy and, looking at my Garmin, I knew if I sped up I could finish in my goal time.
At 9k I sped up even more and ran for the finish.
When I crossed it, I knew I’d done it. Not only had I run from start to finish, but I had beaten my previous time by 10 minutes.
My official finish time was 1:26:35. Nearly 11 minutes faster than last year!
I don’t think it hit me until now just how big an improvement I’ve shown in my running. I remember how hard I struggled last year to run/walk this race, and how exhilarated I was when I finished. This year, it’s beyond exhilarating. I’m getting teary eyed writing this because this result is, for me, the proof I needed that my training is paying off, it’s having an effect; a GOOD effect. It proves to me that I was right to fight those negative voices, my negative inner monologue that wanted me to just give up and berated me for trying to run in the first place. It’s proof that I’m getting better, proof that I’m a good runner, proof that this girl CAN.
After the race I queued for my bag, remember why I hate leaving a bag in the first place, then made my way home where I treated myself to a fire in the fireplace, my favourite takeaway, an ice cold ginger beer and a Skyrim marathon. I earned it!
I’m also delighted to say I’ve raised €250 for the Dublin Simon Community, who help the homeless in myriad ways and whose volunteers have my highest respect and admiration.
In closing, I need to give credit where credit is due:
Huge, massive thanks to my coach, Shona Thomson for encouraging me, believing in me and also for writing me a training plan that is exactly suited to my abilities. I know I would not have done so well at this race without you!
More massive thanks to my trainer, Michael English; for supporting me, believing in me and understanding my ups and downs. Without you I wouldn’t be able to take on this training plan at all and I certainly would not have improved as much as I have!
This race is exactly what I needed to get my confidence back. Today is a rest day, tomorrow I’m back training for the Dublin Marathon.
I’m back, and better than ever!