The stormy weather that held off for the Dublin Marathon in October finally arrived in time for the Aware Christmas Run this morning.
Runners heading up to the start area on Chesterfield Avenue in the Phoenix Park were battered by manic winds that seemed to come from all directions at once. The vast expanses of the park offered no shelter. Dead leaves swirled in the air like a cloud of locusts.
But none of us were phased (too much) by the weather. A good-sized crowd took part in both the 5k and 10k races, and the pre- and post-race atmosphere was cheery.
For lack of fitness following my recent three-week layoff due to illness, I ran the shorter distance. And despite my unfit state and the difficult conditions, I had a good race – I finished in 21:28, around three minutes faster than I expected and a new personal best time to boot.
(I should admit that my time this morning was always going to be a personal best; this was my first ever timed 5k race.)
The 10k race started half an hour before the 5k, and it was hard for me to simply stand and watch the ten-kilo folk set off on their two laps of the 5k course. I had never watched the start of a race before! But I resisted the urge to slip in with the longer-distance crowd.
The leaders in the 10k covered the first half of their race in just over 15 minutes – a fine time considering the strong and swirling winds along the course. Standing and cheering them on, we wondered if it would have been better to run the 10k and at least have the benefit of staying warm.
Once the starting arch had been moved out to one side of Chesterfield Avenue, allowing the 10k folk to continue on their second lap, we five-kilo people lined up behind the start line, huddled together for warmth. (I made sure to be on the far side from the wind.)
I was so busy chatting and staying warm that I almost didn’t notice the start of the race – but we were off, on my first race since the Dublin Marathon six weeks earlier. How would the legs and lungs hold up?
Well, things felt tough at first. The first kilometre – up Chesterfield Avenue and left onto the Ordnance Survey Road – was hard work for me. Actually I didn’t see the 1k marker, and I don’t use a GPS watch, so I don’t know what my split was for that first kilometre. The wind simply battered us.
My conservative target was to beat 25 minutes, which meant 5 minutes per kilometre. But when I saw the 2k marker my watch said 11 minutes. Was I really running so slowly despite my hard effort? Had my recent illness and post-marathon hangover drained all the speed from my legs?
The third kilometre, on the Lower Glen Road and past the lake, was downhill and more sheltered from the elements. Every runner around me seemed to grow six inches taller and five gears faster.
But I still felt that I was tearing the backside out of the gearbox. My legs felt heavy and I had to block out the impression that I had travelled faster on the last occasion I ran through the Phoenix Park – and that was in a marathon. I tried to think of something to say to myself as a mantra or motivation, but nothing came to mind except the fear of finishing outside 25 minutes. So, with the brain not helping, this time the legs would have to do it all by themselves.
Kilometre four turned up onto the Upper Glen Road, but the incline wasn’t as steep as I had remembered. By now the wind was seeded with drops of rain. A smaller runner who was probably only five feet tall ran beside me for this stretch – using me as shelter from the elements. Up with this indignity I would not put. I kicked on as best I could.
The last kilometre along the Furze Road was the same as for the Frank Duffy 10 Mile and the Dublin Half Marathon this summer, so I knew that if I drove on hard I’d finish soon. I hadn’t checked my watch since the shock of seeing 11 minutes at kilometre 2 – and as I neared the finishing arch the clock seemed to be wrong; it said only 21 minutes!
Dazed by the effort of my unfit body, confused by the clock, I ran in for a time of 21 minutes and
28 seconds – a personal best, as I said, and good enough for 12th place overall.
I was delighted to finish three and a half minutes earlier than expected – but how had I made up so much time in the last three kilometres?
I learned the answer after the race. The 10k race had started a few hundred metres further up the road than the 5k – and the 2k marker I had seen was for the 10k race, not the 5k. Got that? It means that I was further than 2 kilometres into my race when I saw that 2k marker. (This could be a useful motivational tool in marathons; at the 20-mile point someone puts a marker saying ’16 miles’, and watch everyone take off!)
If I can run 21 and a half minutes in strong winds and with lack of fitness, then I’m sure I could have run in the 20 minute mark when fully fit and on a calm day. With some more speed training and regular parkruns I could even dip to sub-20.
So, one of my goals for 2014 is to run a 5k in under 20 minutes; today’s race has reassured me that this is possible for me. And that’s a great present from this Christmas Run!