I’ve moved around a lot in my not quite thirty years – started off in South Yorkshire in three separate places with ‘field’ in the name, thus having a smartarse reply handy whenever my mum said “Close that door! Where you born in a field?”. Taken a tour of north west Kent, meanwhile furnishing myself with an encyclopaedic knowledge of the bus network. Upped sticks to North Cyprus for four years, and learned how people lived before electricity – doing homework by the light of an oil lamp is not as romantic as it sounds. The relative civilisation of West London, where I fell in love with QPR and doomed my bank balance never to see black. But here’s a fact I don’t like to talk about much – for a good 6 years, like my mother before me, I was a Bromley girl.
So it seemed like entering the Bromley 10k, situated in Norman Park a 5 minute walk from my old stomping ground, was a no-brainer. Originally it was supposed to be one of the training races in mine and mum’s marathon schedule, but with her still recovering from an injury and me itching for another medal to add to my middle distance wind chimes I decided to go it alone.
The race is billed as the first in a series organised by MCC Promotions, the rest of which can be found behind the linky. The entry fee of £14 covers a medal (yessss), timing, a cotton t-shirt, a water station and a handful of plastic cones to mark the course – not to mention a very reasonable start time of 11am which suits my night owl nature. The course starts and ends on the athletic track but for the most part is run in a similar way to the Norman Park Parkrun, for those that know it – laps of the perimeter path with a switchback across the field to make up the distance. The Parkrun had actually been cancelled for a few weeks due to flooding (including the run due to take place 6 days after this race), and as soon as I saw the ground I could see why – that being said, I could also see why it wasn’t quite bad enough to justify cancelling a paid up race. With a field of around 350 runners, I imagine it was neither in danger of inflicting too much damage on the ground nor a small enough group of people to disappoint.
It’s worth noting for future reference that the athletics track entrance isn’t terribly obvious if you don’t already know it, and it would have been nice to see a few signs to point runners in the right direction. Then again, it’s likely that everyone who runs the Bromley 10k knows Norman Park and therefore already knew how to get in, so I followed the crowd that looked more like runners and less like hungover dog-walkers and eventually found it . It’s a tiny point, and churlish of me to mention it when you consider that the first thing you see when you enter the track is a pavilion, with a proper indoor changing room and proper toilets. I’d have paid £14 just for that. Race numbers were to be collected on the day rather than posted out beforehand, and with a small field there was not too long a queue. I should mention however that the bag drop consists of someone keeping half an eye on them under a gazebo, so don’t take valuables if you can help it.
The starting point is halfway round the track, of which three full laps are completed before peeling off to run four laps of the park next door, and back again for the final 300m to the finish line. The track makes for a gentle warm up to the race and a welcome flat finish and the design helps break up the monotony in a very compact and repetitive route. I spent the first kilometre trying to shake off my nervous pre-race jelly legs and didn’t really get a grip on the ground until we entered the park – by which point there was little ground to get a grip on. I don’t know if it was the effect of Christmas food, the elevation (which felt like Everest at times but according to my Garmin barely fluctuated) or the ankle deep bog swallowing my every footstep but even on solid ground I felt like I wasn’t making any progress. Judging by how badly I dealt with the not-quite-cross-country Petts Wood 10k back in October, the answer is probably just that I need to eat fewer mince pies and toughen the hell up.
The course markings were pretty sparse and not too stringently adhered to in my stretch of the field – presumably accounting for the route coming up slightly short on my Garmin – but the marshals were very present in all the right places and as helpful and vocal as ever. Particular thanks goes to the chap who smiled wanly at me as I plodded towards him through the mud whimpering “Oh for fuck’s sake, please no more.” At the time it felt as though I was knee deep in bog, I was Atreyu trudging through the Swamp of Sadness – I was very nearly the bloody horse that drowned in the film and gave me nightmares for about a year. For the first time ever, I considered giving up on the race three laps in when I figured that I wasn’t even going to get a respectable time, let alone a PB, when I had nothing left in the tank and my ankle was asking me if I had left it in the mud half a mile back. The sight of my poor long-suffering boyfriend cheering me at the end of that lap spurred me on to finish – given that I’d dragged him out of bed on a Sunday morning to watch me in the freezing cold three trains away from home, I at least needed a medal to show for it. So finish I did – to my surprise, not only did I finish well within the hour I’d resigned myself to, I even managed a sprint finish and a time 4 minutes faster than Petts Wood – 56:49 by my watch.
So why on earth did it feel like a failed race? Even as we walked back through the course to get to the bus stop the ground looked nothing more than slightly squelchy. Has my perception of my effort levels changed so much that I can’t pace myself any more? I was obviously doing much better than I thought I was, and I wasn’t out of breath at the end – just stiff as a board. Is my warm up routine still not up to scratch? I walked a mile to get there, stretched, jogged, stretched again. Maybe I was using muscles I hadn’t properly prepared? Certainly felt that way later in the day – on reflection, my glutes must have been working bloody hard to lift my feet out of the mud time and time again and they wasted no time telling me so. Or was I simply being a drama queen?
I think I’m left with a feeling of having done well on paper but not in practice. I should be pleased with my time given the conditions – even excepting the conditions it’s not bad for me these days. I shouldn’t have been focusing on a time at all, given that I’m supposed to be preparing for a 32 mile run through similar terrain in 5 weeks’ time and just want to finish. Maybe that’s what niggling at me – so you did OK this time, but next time you have to do this 5 times in a row and you have to do it on a farm in the middle of Canterbury in the middle of the night in the coldest month of the year. Stop making a fuss and get on with it.
Not on the level of a Tough Mudder or a Hell Run, but not exactly a walk in the park either. Maybe I should just take the medal and bank it 🙂