Sunday, 8 July 2012

Howard Webb Stole My Thunder!

After four months of training, my body is decidedly leaner and more toned. Counter-intuitively, the pain which used to wrack my knackered knees has gone. The most expensive (and ugliest) pair of trainers I ever bought have cushioned my feet and joints brilliantly – and almost justified the outlay! My only injury worry is a repetitive and nagging groin strain.

After a training wobble on Friday, my weekend has consisted of relaxing in hot baths and carb-loading. Sadly, this included the worst pizza I’ve ever eaten (a Casa Mia calzone kiev – avoid at all costs) and a difficult-to-eat bready peanut butter breakfast. Despite this arduous diet, I’m energetic, well hydrated and eager to get started.

The dreadful recent weather has seen the majority of my training take place indoors, but this morning the sun is as it should be in July: bright and hot. The assembled throng of participants shuffle towards the start line: supposedly the ‘runners’ are at the front, the ‘joggers’ in the middle and the ‘walkers’ ought to be bringing up the rear.

Of course, this is not how things transpire. Having never run a competitive race, I wrongly assume that people will follow the instructions issued and take their places as instructed. They do not. Having crossed the start line, I spend the first two kilometres of the race dodging, weaving and occasionally slowing to a standstill as inconsiderate buffoons sway and stroll through the early stages. Oblivious to the chaos behind them and the queues of people jostling to get around them, these 10k tourists are the Leeds 10K’s least popular people.

Eventually the field thins and stretches, gaps opening up into which I can accelerate and overtake. I step on the gas, hoping to make up for time lost behind the wandering masses, skipping across the roads and pavements, delighted to be leaving people in my wake. But gradually my progress slows: unused to running in such heat, the sweat pours freely from me. The gradients of the city’s streets, too, are alien to me – my training has largely been on the flat.

At the 5k mark, breath is becoming harder to find and my legs are becoming very heavy. Up ahead, the course turns a hairpin bend and the race leaders start charging back towards me. They look amazingly fit and light on their feet – their energy gives me a spur, as does the sight of World Cup Final referee Howard Webb running towards me.

With three quarters of the race gone, however, I hit the wall. Leaden footed, soaked in perspiration and the bottle of water I’ve tipped over my own head, it’s all I can do not to give up. But I realise something strange: I’m still overtaking people. I’m not the only struggler – and others are in far worse condition than me.

And then we’re back in the city centre – with throngs of people lining the streets. They’re not specifically cheering for me, but their enthusiasm is energising – and the temptation to show off in front of them is undeniable. Desperate to finish strongly, I pump my legs into a sprint finish, crossing the line in a very respectable 48mins 51secs. My aim was to run slightly quicker, but given the conditions and the slow start, I’m massively impressed with my first competitive attempt at the distance.

In the aftermath, my soaked t-shirt is swapped for my new souvenir top and I retreat to the pub: my first proper drink in quite some time is like liquid gold. A bottle of beer quickly follows and I am, quite frankly, fucked. Slightly drunk, exhausted and dehydrated, but delighted with myself and having raised far more money for Leeds Children’s Hospital than I ever expected.

It’s not too late to make a donation or find out more about the charity I’m supporting. Click here to add to my fund or find out more about the condition which affects my brave little brother, Jacob.

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