Day 4 of the Tour meant a return to a longer race and a second 8km course through some very hilly parkland. With the weather turning slightly colder, I was beginning to dread the event but at least it wasn’t meant to be routed through another stream. I went into this race with slightly low expectations after the miserable mile but I reasoned that at least, I could only go up.
I arrived with barely enough time to glance at the map of the course but it looked like yet another race running twice around a loop. As I made my way to the start, I couldn’t help wondering if I was the only one who struggled with repeats. Does everyone else really like the mental torture of running the same course twice?! But before I could continue whinging, the race began with the whistle.
Off we went over a grassy field like a stampeding herd of cattle until the course started to veer towards a steep downhill. Down we all ran in a thumping unison of heavy steps and I tried to not collide with the rest of the runners who were packed in beside me. I began to pick up more speed as we ran en masse and I started to feel like a running machine. However, I also realised that the faster I ran, the more I was starting to lose control of my sprinting legs. There began my attempt to put on the brakes by flailing my arms while shouting warnings, that I was incoming. After nearly tripping myself up (and others), the hill thankfully started to level out and I finally slowed at the bottom. I continued running but by then I was also laughing at the sheer ridiculousness of it all.
As the race went on and stretched out as the leaders sped ahead in the distance, the rest of us began to migrate into smaller groups. I soon found myself settling into one where I could run at a comfortable pace and as the course weaved through pretty parkland, I realised that I was starting to enjoy the race. Despite this, in the back of my mind was the recent steep downhill because like all runners, I knew that there had to be some payback. I ran on, taking my time and trying not to think about the inevitable uphill climb. But before long, the course started edging towards the beginning of a modest incline. Although it did not seem to be very steep, the runners seemed to slow to nought. The reason why was clear to me at once. It was precisely at that point in the race that every runner could feel just how much effort their quads had made in the previous day’s mile race. Despite coming last in my mile heat, my quads told me a different story.
I carried on slowly and dug in deep as I headed up more inclines and the final long hill before reaching the end of the first loop. But as I glanced at my watch, I was surprised to see that it had only recorded 3.6km of what I thought would be a 4km loop. Looking around, I wasn’t the only one doubting the distance as I heard a runner query the marshal as we passed. He replied that the race was in fact, 5½ miles long. That was an extra 800m or two more laps of the previous day’s race! Although surprised, I was grateful to know this and knew I had better save some energy to run much further.
In the meantime, I had another loop to run and I began the second one knowing what to expect. This time, I mostly managed to control my downhill speed and kept up a steady but conservative pace for the next kms. However, there was much less movement between different groups of runners and it felt as if no one was going to change tack on the second loop. I enjoyed it so much that I almost forgot I was running a race as I relaxed and let my mind wander. I spent the next kms thinking about what to eat for dinner and whether it might rain or not. But I also kept wondering where the extra 800m of the course was going to come from. I prayed that it wouldn’t turn out to be an extra hill or a partial repeat of the course.
There was no sign of the missing 800m as I carried on up the inclines. But I began to gear down as I approached the last steady hill. I glanced at my watch which confirmed that at 6½ km, I had well over 1km to go. Oddly, I could see in the distance that the runners ahead of me were ramping up their speed and starting to increase the gap. I didn’t worry about it because I knew I would soon catch them in the extra 800m. Just like yesterday’s race plan, I decided that I would start my sprint with 100m to go. Strangely, as I carried on up the hill, I saw a crowd of runners really cheering everyone on. I didn’t know why they weren’t standing closer to the finish as we still had the extra 800m left. I carried on up at my steady same pace with my extra energy safely stored for the final sprint. As I reached the top of the hill and followed the course route, I suddenly realised that I was only 20m from the finish line. I quickly sped over it not knowing if I had truly finished or not. I looked at my watch which showed that the race was only 7km! But as I looked around, I could see others who also seemed confused and kept looking at their watches. However, there was nothing I could do but smile and feel relieved because I had made it to the end.
And the missing 800m? Well, after speaking to some Tour veterans I found out that this leg was simply a distance anomaly of the Tour. It wasn’t a secret and I would have known about it if I had made more of an effort to study the course map. Fortunately, because I hadn’t, I ended up saving some extra energy and I finished Day 4 feeling slightly less exhausted than on previous days. Which made we wonder if perhaps going slower is the best way to get through the remaining days? With 2 more days to go, I was getting closer to the bigger finish line.
In the meantime, for an easy dip that works as a perfect recovery snack, try this recipe for Beetroot hummus. It works with any dippers and if your children do not demolish it as quickly as mine did, the leftovers make a great filler for a sandwich, wrap or jacket potato.