I was talked into doing this last year by my erstwhile running pal, Sweatband, and a good time was had by all. Despite the fact Sweatband has moved away, we made plans to enter again this year, both for the run and as an excuse to meet up and catch up. Unfortunately, things didn't quite go according to plan, though…
Earlier this week I got a text from Sweatband telling me that she'd twisted her ankle and wasn't going to be able to take part. This saddened me a bit, because every single organised run I've taken part in I've done with Sweatband. OK, we don't exactly run together (I'm much faster then her these days, heh heh), but the pre- and post-race banter and mutual congratulatory back-slapping are every bit as important to me as the actual run itself. And on top of that, I realised that I'd not received my race number and timing chip.
With this in mind, I kind of thought about not bothering. I fired off a half-hearted email to the organisers asking what I should do if my number didn't arrive in time, and when I didn't receive a response I sort of started thinking about alternative ways of occupying my Friday night.
Because the Wedding Day 7k starts at 19:30, though, if I'm doing it I feel compelled to take a half-day's holiday from work simply so I don't have to rush home, sort dinner out, then have to run on a full stomach. And when I found myself leaving work at lunchtime today I knew that I was going to do it. Like the Dysart Dash and the Richmond to Windsor bike ride (which I did on my own for the first time last year), the Wedding Day 7k has become one of those events that is firmly fixed in my iCal; I knew I couldn't just sit at home while the race was going on just a few miles away.
And so, an hour before the race was due to start, I got myself ready, hopped in Clubbie, and headed for Bushy Park. It's lucky I set out so early because the roads around Hampton were jammed, and I actually ended up parking about half a mile from the park. Still, this gave me the opportunity for a little warm-up jog as I headed for race HQ, where I presented myself to a jovial looking lady and informed her that my number and chip seemed to have gone astray in our increasingly crappy postal system. She didn't say anything, nor respond to my slightly flirtrageous demeanour, but she did give me a new race number and timing chip. Good times.
With about 10 minutes to spare I headed to the start line, where I bumped into a few people from the running club that I attended for a few months last year, one of whom was a lady mooted as a possible Sweatband replacement at last year's Wedding Day run; we shall call her Sweatband 2.0 here.
So I caught up a bit with Sweatband 2.0 for a while as we waited for the countdown to begin, and like Sweatband Classic she was very modest about her expectations for the run. I took everything she said with a pinch of salt, though, because we were in the same group at running club last year and she was really rather fast. And then, after a moments silence for a runner who tragically passed away this week (which, with so many fellow runners in attendance I thought was a lovely gesture to honour his memory), we were off.
I hate starting runs. Not because I dread what's ahead of me, but rather because I have the irrational fear that my iPod might crash, thus corrupting my Nike+ data and impacting on my overall time while I stand around waiting for it to reboot, and because it's always such a crush as the entire pack surges forward. Immediately Sweatband 2.0 was in front of me while I got stuck behind a bunch of … well, slow people.
Fortunately, as everyone spread out I was able to put on a better burst of speed and wind my way through the pack like Luke Skywalker piloting his X-Wing down that trench on the exterior of the Death Star at the end of Star Wars. I also overtook Sweatband 2.0, and wondered if maybe she wasn't being modest after all…?
Anyway, I was really pleased with how things went; I wasn't attacked by any deer, nor did I step in any of their poo, and unlike last year I didn't peak too early and was a lot more consistent overall. I put a lot of this down to my breathing, which is a lot more controlled these days thanks to, I suspect, the pranayama breathing we do at sweaty yoga. This has the added benefit of meaning that I don't gasp for breath through an open mouth like a cow having an asthma attack, which in turn proved useful as Bushy Park was full of massive flying ants, and I really didn't want to swallow any of them. I think the only problem I did encounter was some bloke who kept swerving in front of me as I tried to pass him; he was from a club called the Sheen Shufflers, which to my mind sounds more like a saucy massage parlour than a running club. Fortunately I got past him eventually.
I felt so good, in fact, that I had sufficient energy to shout a complement at one of the marshalls; she had massive florescent gloves on, which I thought were awesome.
With 2k to go though, I glanced to my right and who should I see smiling back at me? Sweatband 2.0, that's who. This freaked me out a little bit because she'd said that she planned on taking it easy and didn't think she'd get a good time, and yet here she was level-pegging it with me. At least when Sweatband Classic says she'll be lagging behind she actually has the decency to lag behind. As a result I summoned a spurt of energy and shot ahead a bit.
As we neared the finish line, though, Sweatband 2.0 made another push for victory, and with about 300 metres to go SHE. OVERTOOK. ME.
And so, with every fibre of my being I brought to bear what Sweatband Classic used to refer to in our Richmond running days as my miracle sprint finish - or what I refer to as my 'oh-god-let-it-be-over-I-feel-like-I'm-about-to-die-sheer-effing-desperation-sprint-finish.'
Punch it, Chewie.
Within seconds I was back alongside Sweatband 2.0. She noticed this, and kicked it up a notch also. By this time we were both sprinting, weaving around people who were gently slowing down as they neared the finish, neither of us giving an inch to the other. We kept glancing across at one another, wondering who would fall first.
With less than 100 metres to go and genuinely feeling like I might fall over at any moment, I finally powered past Sweatband 2.0 and reached forward for the line. I'd done it - and in a time of 34:22, a new personal best that shaved a massive two minutes and two seconds off my time from last year. I was exhausted and extremely happy.
My Nike+ graph for the Wedding Day 7k 2009. I don't know why fancy new Nike+ Beta makes it look like I was constantly slowing down, because I wasn't, and old Nike+ agrees with me. Note the symbols under where it says '22 sec'; those mean that I felt 'awesome,' that the weather was 'cloudy,' and that I was running on a 'trail.' That's the bonus of new Nike+ for you.
After finishing I headed straight for the water stand and grabbed a cup for me and one for Sweatband 2.0. She deserved it, having put up a valiant effort and proved herself to be both a worthy opponent and substitute Sweatband. Shortly afterward, I queued up, handed in my timing chip, and collected my congratulatory Wedding Day 7k t-shirt.
To be honest, I'd kind of prefer a medal like they hand out at the end of the Dysart Dash, because people are impressed by medals, but on the other hand, this t-shirt actually fits pretty well so unlike last year's I might not consign it to the back of the wardrobe, and may actually wear it now and again.
Anyway, having collected the t-shirt and after a lady drew a big red cross on my chest (I thought it was because she hearted me, but it turns out it's so I didn't try to snaffle another tee) I headed out of the park and back to Clubbie. There's a big barbeque-party thingy after the run which I hung around for and had a great time at last year, but this time I was proper knacked, so, exhausted and elated I decided to head home to put my feet up.
That and the fact I've got sweaty yoga at nine in the morning!
And for anyone who's interested, here's my 2009 Wedding Day 7k stats:
• Average pace 4:50 min per km
• 488 calories