Glastonbury is a town steeped in myth and legend. It is associated with King Arthur, said to have been visited by Joseph of Arimathea, and is home to a certain music festival. It is also, as I discovered yesterday, home to a lovely 10K race.
After my experience at the sweltering Yeovil Easter Bunny 10K, I had decided not to enter any more races for a while. Who was I kidding? An enjoyable long run last weekend, and the promise of a nice chilly May Day bank holiday weekend, had me scouring race websites. I was excited to spot the ‘Round the Tor’, part of the Glastonbury Road Run, which also features a 3K, 5K and a fun run. The 10K race promised closed roads, great views and undulating terrain. I signed up straight away.
As I’d entered last minute, I missed the cut-off date to receive a free t-shirt. This didn’t worry me – it’s not like I need any more t-shirts. I would wear my Lonely Goat Running Club (blue) t-shirt with pride. All the pre-race information was available online, and bibs were to be collected from the race HQ on the day. I read through all the information, poured over the route map, and waited for the day of the race.
The weather forecast for the day was perfect – dry and not too warm. I set off allowing extra time for parking. As roads were going to be closed for the race, parking needed some planning. The pre-race guidance suggested various options, including roadside parking in an industrial park just outside the town. This would mean an extra walk of, it said, 10 to 15 minutes. I went for this option as it was on my way into Glastonbury and easy to find.
As I walked along towards the town centre at a brisk pace, I realised that I’d underestimated the distance from the industrial estate to the HQ. It was not a 10 minute walk. I was happy to walk for a warm up, but didn’t want to use up valuable energy best saved for running. After 50 minutes in the car, I was also becoming uncomfortably aware of my bladder.
I began to feel anxious. What if it took me too long to get to the race, and I missed the start? What if I didn’t have time to visit the toilet? What if I couldn’t find the HQ, the bag drop or the toilets? What if I had to choose between getting a bib and going to the toilet? I certainly wouldn’t be able to run with such a full bladder.
As I walked down towards the town, I spotted marshals. I asked for directions to the race headquarters – down the road, turn left and head for the Town Hall on your right. I passed the start lines for the 10K and 5K races, and realised that the 5K race – which preceded the 10K – was already taking place. My anxiety bubbled up a notch.
I walked down the road looking for a Town Hall. I know Glastonbury, but not well. When I visit Glastonbury, I usually just hang out in the Abbey, one of my all-time favourite places. I had no idea what the Town Hall looked like or where to find it.
There were people everywhere, and there seemed to be lots going on. There were quite a lot of people dressed as wizards, or painted green and covered in ivy. This is not so unusual in Glastonbury, but seemed to be more popular than ever today. I spotted a poster advertising the Glastonbury Dragon festival, and the penny dropped.
I saw people coming out of an entrance in a stone wall wearing race bibs, so I went through the entrance. There were lots of market stalls in a fenced off portion of the Abbey grounds, but no sign of race-related things. I exited, walked a bit further, and spotted the public conveniences. That was one problem down.
I then went further up the road, looking for a likely Town Hall on the right. Speedy 5K racers were running towards the finish line. I panicked, doubled back to the Abbey grounds entrance, and asked a chap wearing a lanyard for help. He had no idea about the race, but could tell me where to find the Town Hall. Straight ahead, on the right, right next to the finish line. Still unsure, I asked a runner walking towards me where he’d got his bib from, and he told me – straight ahead, on the right, next to the finish, up the steps.
As I walked up the steps, freshly bibbed runners poured down towards me. I felt reassured. People were still around, they weren’t all up at the start line without me. I wasn’t going to miss the race.
I collected my bib, dropped my bag, used the toilet again, and chatted to fellow members of the Lonely Goat Running Club. As we walked up to the start line, we chatted about the course. Apparently, there was going to be a really big hill at the end, known as Heartbreak Hill. Something to look forward to.
The course very literally takes runners right around the iconic Glastonbury Tor. It runs through the town centre, past residential areas, and then into country lanes. It is undulating (AKA a bit hilly). There are some dodgy road surfaces. But the views are wonderful.
We set off, a large group of runners in a comparatively small space, shuffling along, then gradually picked up the pace a little. We ran as a mass down the road, with spectators cheering and Glastonbury’s Dragon Drummers playing a rousing beat for us. I had my best ever running playlist ready to go, but held off playing it so I could fully soak up the atmosphere. We ran past the Abbey and then along past the finish line, making all the expected jokes about short races. Then a turn, and an uphill section, with onlookers clapping and shouting encouragement.
One kilometre in and I was feeling very comfortable. I remembered the Easter Bunny race. I’d felt comfortable at 1K then, and then it all got too hot and uncomfortable. But today felt different. It was cooler for one thing. Plus there were no cars, and at the side of the road, as we ran through a residential area, people were still clapping and cheering. I put on my playlist and began to get into my stride to the sound of Sweet’s Ballroom Blitz. I did enjoy the 70s.
As I caught my first glimpses of the Tor to the right of us, it looked very far away – I didn’t see how we could possibly run all the way around it in just 10K. I could make out tiny shapes of people walking along the top, and made a promise to myself that I must finally get around to walking up the Tor this summer.
I’d settled by this point into a little group of people who’d been together since the start. I’d lost my fellow Lonely Goats – they’d all sped off ahead of me. I noticed a young couple just ahead. They were walking and running, but at the same pace as my constant slow jog. Every time they began to run again, the woman started off with a little skip. I smiled each time, and wished I could feel like skipping.
I also noticed that lots of people were wearing those free race t-shirts bearing the slogan ‘it’s a hill, run around it’. I made a promise to myself to try to buy one at the end of the race. It seemed I needed one after all.
At the 4K marker, I realised we must be near to the water station. Before we reached it, there was a fairly steep hill. I noticed a couple of runners start to walk, but I was determined to keep going, sure that there would be water and an opportunity to walk any moment. As we neared the top of the hill, I could hear loud cheers just ahead.
The water station was just outside a camp site, and was well manned by volunteers, including cheering children handing out jelly babies and Haribo sweets. It’s such a simple thing, but the encouragement makes a huge difference. All along the route, wherever we passed a house or farm, there would be people waiting to cheer and clap. Some people had set up deckchairs in their gardens, clearly making the most of the entertainment. But I really appreciated their presence.
I whooped for joy as I passed the 5K marker. At 7KM there was another water station, with children banging musical instruments, and being generally just fabulous. As I passed the 8KM marker I realised I was coming to the end and felt a little sad. At each marker, I try to relate the distance to my home 10K run. I visualise where I would usually be, and this seems to help keep me going. At 8KM I know I would be on the straight run back to my village. Except my home 10K ends with a downhill stretch, whereas this run still had Heartbreak Hill to come. The 9KM marker came and went as we headed back towards the town and still no hill. Oh come on, I thought, lets get this hill over with.
Then I saw it. A hill. People walking up it. I walked. I looked. It didn’t actually look too bad. It was a bit steep, but not that high. Perhaps there will be more around the corner? I decided to walk to be on the safe side, to keep something in reserve, in case it went on and on. But no, that was it. When I looked at Strava later, this hill was not that significant compared to the rest of the course. But it was in the wrong place.
After the hill, a good downhill dash, and a long run in to the finish with crowds of people cheering. It felt fabulous, and I shaved minutes (about 5 – going by Strava) off my personal best. Maybe it was the long warm up, or the adrenaline of my irrational anxiety attack, or perhaps it was because this profile and terrain of this run was more like the runs I do it home. Or maybe it was just because this was just such a damned good run, well supported by fantastic people. But it was so far (in my very short experience) the best run ever.
Afterwards, I bought my t-shirt (£7 well spent). I was more thrilled than anyone can imagine that the woman selling t-shirts genuinely thought I should buy a medium. But I bought a large. It takes some getting used to, after having to always buy the very biggest size available – and then worrying that it still might not fit. Then I enjoyed some of the Dragon Festival festivities, had an obligatory wander around the Abbey, before getting lost on the way back to my car.