Tour de force?

Well, it certainly feels like the summer has wound down with the damp weather, slightly cooler air and just a hint of autumnal leaves about. With the return to school and start of the new sports season, there is a sudden flurry of activities at home. Adjusting to the new routine whilst being presented with some looming deadlines have managed to stir my sleepy children, who act more like grumpy bears, woken from their endless summer of hibernation. I also had a slow start and was reluctant to remember our schedule of coordinating meals with drop offs and pickups again. I can’t say I take great pleasure from also being landed with some homework, hidden within the influx of red flagged emails and communications from my children’s schools and sports clubs. The sheer number of them is slightly overwhelming and only makes me second guess whether I have actually managed to finish filling in forms and ticking boxes before I pass them back again like a hot potato. At least there is still a little breathing space on the weekend left to catch up on things before we become fully entrenched into rugby and cross-country season. Or at least I thought there was…

Unfortunately, like my children, I was also woken up from my summer hibernation to realise that I had signed up for some running events in September. Ones that I conveniently put to the back of my mind after signing up, believing that they would be ‘fun’ and a great way to finish off the summer. Why wouldn’t I want to take part in a 6-day running tour of my local area that included 6 races of different distances and mixed terrains? The longest race was only 11.2km, so how hard could it be? Sure, there were two races of around that distance and a couple of 8kms but the remaining two days were far shorter. Sounded like it would be a week of good workouts among like-minded runners without the pressure of actually ‘racing’ and the chance to add to my collection of technical t-shirts. This year was the 35th anniversary of the Tour and rumour had it that the t-shirt was going to be in ‘Hawaiian blue’.

That alone, was enough to sign myself up to the Tour several months ago and I should have stopped there. But in my summer haze of naivety, I also signed up for the Cancer Research UK Race for Life Pretty Muddy 5km event with my daughter and her friend. As minors, they needed an accompanying adult and after enjoying the event in the past, I didn’t hesitate in signing up. I knew that it would take place the day after the Tour finished but did it matter if I extended my own Tour and finished on a very muddy 7th day? It was for a good cause, after all.

Unfortunately, I have found out the hard way that you should always read the small print. Especially, when it comes to running events. A couple of days before the Tour took place, I began to realise that I may have underestimated just how difficult it would be. As my daughter read out the description of Tour races to her brother, the reality of it all began to set in. When I overheard her say that the event was one that ‘local running club members simultaneously dread and look forward to’, I felt like I might have signed up to the wrong Tour. What happened to the week of relaxed workouts?? It was too late to bail out but I was starting to feel a bit out of my depth. The only option seemed to be to go forward and so I stepped up gingerly to the first event.

Day 1 Tattenhoe Park 11km
On the first day of the Tour, I arrived to register amongst a large crowd of mingling runners who were also collecting their race numbers. When I reached the front of the queue I discovered that they had been allocated alphabetically, which meant that for the Tour, I was number ‘1’. Now probably many people imagine that they would like to be wearing this number thinking that they could tell everyone with impunity that they were, in fact, numero uno. However, wearing this number also invites plenty of comments from others before you’ve even started running. Thus, began a running banter of variations of ‘She’s in the lead!’, ‘Look out for her!’ and ‘No pressure, then!’. Now this is fine if you are a confident runner and are feeling good about an event. However, if you are at all a little nervous, overwhelmed or intimidated by the whole series of RACES then it does not bode well for a week of being number 1.

Nonetheless, with my pristine number 1 pinned to my chest, I stepped forward to the start of the race. I knew that if this went well, it would help to put things into perspective and could herald the start of a really ‘fun’ Tour. But I began the race packed into a crowd that struggled to unfold. Gradually, we began to spread out as we faced the 3-loop course that alternated between tarmacked footpaths and parkland. Before long, I found a place to run alongside some friendly faces and I reminded myself that this was just a workout. However, it became abundantly clear that most people were opting to race. At the time, the race felt like it was a little bit speedy but I had no idea what pace I was running at as my watch’s GPS could not pick up any signal.

After the first loop, I was already tiring and I realised two things: I was running way too fast for a ‘workout’ and the course was not as flat as I had hoped. I started the second loop dreading the same again and now with legs that were starting to feel like blocks of wood. I focused on relaxing and managed to engage a couple of other runners in conversation for a km or so. But they didn’t have time to chat in the middle of a race and soon outran me. I somehow finished the second loop but then I began the mental torture of repeating a third and final loop. By then my watch had started to kick in but it was far too late to tell me anything useful. My legs had also transformed into concrete slabs and I felt like I was running through treacle. I could only grimace to cheers of encouragement and shouts of ‘Look, it’s number 1!’ from spectators. I grumbled on and wished I hadn’t won at the alphabet. It seemed to take days before I finally saw the finish area in sight and it couldn’t come soon enough for me. I was pipped in the final metre of the finish by another runner which only made me feel more knackered and frustrated. The first day of the Tour didn’t feel anything like ‘fun’. After commiserating with fellow tired runners, I heard that the first day was supposed to be the worst of the 6. In fact, runners were supposed to improve as the week goes on as long as they don’t start out too fast and overdo it. I also knew that you had to do all of the races to get the t-shirt. And I really wanted the t-shirt. Which meant that despite my low mood, I knew I would continue with the Tour. I mean, how much worse could it possibly get?

While you wait to find out, why not make a Spiced plum loaf? It makes a great snack to fuel up on before a run (or another race…) Or you can just relax and enjoy a slice with a cuppa.

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