My last race (and only race this year until now) was the Two Tunnels 10K in Bath, back at the beginning of March. I had a busy year of running planned with my daughter and we were, we thought, just weeks away from running our first marathon. However, within days, the world had changed.
I am grateful that I am healthy and well, and absolutely respect the adjustments to life that are necessary to ensure that people are protected from illness. Even so, the prospect of being able to run in an actual real organised race again was pretty exciting.
Having a Mare is not perhaps the sort of race I would usually have gone for. Firstly, the 10K was a two lap event. I hate doing laps – they are so demoralising. Then, the laps are of a racecourse (Bath Racecourse). I like a bit of novelty or scenery to keep me distracted when running (and running in my local area, I’m pretty spoilt for scenery). Just how interesting can running around what is basically a big field be? I like trail running – but wasn’t sure what it would be like running on racecourse grass (thick, longish with potential for divots). Even so, despite my reservations, I signed up – along with my daughter. The main reason being that I trusted in the race organisers – Relish Running Races – to do a good job.
Relish are the people behind the Two Tunnels races. They’d already staged a Two Tunnels event in August – and their planning seemed pretty good. Feedback from that event was also very positive.
The race was organised so that a limited number of runners arrive throughout the day, no one hangs around for long, and runners set off one at a time.
On the way, we’d driven through some rain, but when we arrived it was dry, sunny and breezy. It promised to be good running weather.
Instructions were to arrive 30 minutes before our start time. When booking, people select a wave to run in – and are then issued an individual start time based on their expected finishing time. The racecourse was easy enough to find. Parking was super easy as there was lots of space and everyone was arriving at different times. We left our bags in the car. There was a bag drop – self service but supervised – for people cycling/arriving on foot.
There was hand sanitiser dotted around outside any buildings/ tents/ marquees – basically any points where people might touch a surface. Toilets were the racecourse toilets, not portaloos. Again, as people were filtering into the racecourse gradually, there were enough toilets (even with cubicles/sinks taped off for social distancing) to avoid queuing.
While my daughter waited for me to come out of the toilets – she heard two people who’d done the 5K canicross race earlier discussing how hard the race had been – “I didn’t expect 5K to be that hard” was the quote that would stay with us throughout the morning.
Collecting race numbers was easy – self service with names written on numbers – you couldn’t go wrong. Numbers of people collecting at any one time was limited – but again this was fine due to the trickle of people.
With numbers pinned on, we went to wait for our turn to enter the “holding area”. We went to have a look at the race. The racecourse is flat, but when you’re level with it, it’s not easy to see what’s going on. We could see people spread out on the course, running in what appeared to be different directions. We were a little concerned that the course looked confusing – but hoped that all would be marked out. We moved up to the finish line, and then towards the spilt where runners either run towards the finish, or go for another lap. We cheered a few finishers on, and felt for the 10K runners continuing onto their second lap. It looked like hard work.
The lack of spectators or the big event atmosphere of the starting line seemed a little odd. Even so, we agreed that it looked like a nice, chilled way to run, and liked the idea of everyone being spaced out.
After a short while, it was our turn to enter the holding area. The holding area was set out with a grid of cones placed five metres away from each other. Runners stand next to a cone and wait to be called forward by name. There is no race briefing because it would not be logistically possible – all information is provided in a pack on the website. When called forward, runners wait in a line of five – again spaced by cones – at two metre intervals. When it’s your turn and time to run, you move forwards and wait to be counted down, like a rocket ship about to launch. Before we knew it, it was our turn – me first, then my daughter. We had toyed with the idea of running together. Two runners from the same household bubble were allowed to run together, single file, but had to stay together for the whole race. This was not likely to happen in our case, so we went off individually.
So we were off. Immediately, I didn’t much like the grass – even though I had my good trail shoes on. It didn’t take long for my daughter to catch up and overtake me. There was lots of space for overtaking – and many others after my daughter also overtook me. I wasn’t concerned though, as I was not expecting to go particularly fast on grass, and was just hoping to enjoy the experience.
Our concerns about getting lost on the course proved to be unnecessary, as the course was well marked. Even so, looking back, it’s hard to visualise where we went. There was just a lot of following the person in front and going up and down and around on grass. The photographer seemed to be lying on the grass everywhere I went. There was a stretch that went onto a dirt footpath with some interesting tree roots and rocks to avoid. At one point I saw a woman limping back towards marshals – and my heart went out to her.
Although the course was described as flat, there was an upwards or downwards tilt in places. This was most noticeable on the final half mile or so to the split/5K finish point. This was the hardest part of the course – the ground was gradually climbing, the grass was thicker, longer and more annoying than ever, and we were running into the wind. Having ran less than 5K, I found myself walking. I knew that this would be even worse next time round, on my second lap. As I passed the 5K finish I wished I’d signed up for the shorter distance instead. I’m raising money for a local charity through my running at the moment, and quitting would not have been an option at all, but I really would have liked to stop.
Then, running past the holding area, I heard lots of cheers and clapping. In a race without spectators, the support of fellow participants is very much appreciated. Similarly, the marshals were super friendly and encouraging all the way round – for which I am very grateful .
Once I got into the second lap, I felt a bit better. I passed a 2K marker, meaning that I’d now done 7K. I realised that this 2K was easier than the 2k that went before it. Another kilometre went by and I still felt okay. And then my energy just disappeared. For the final two kilometres I walked and ran in ever decreasing ratios of running to walking.
I was actually in sight of the finish line and couldn’t be bothered to run. A 5K runner from a later wave caught me up and said “You must be stupid doing this twice!” We both continued to walk a bit, run a bit right up to the end. I made sure I was running through the finish funnel, but I was very glad to reach the end of the race. My time was not great, but it also wasn’t my worst 10K time (that was Severn Bridge 10K last year).
After the race, medal collection was self service. There were also a good range of sweet snacks – chocolate, protein or energy bars etc. Bottled water, and water refills were available (no water stations on the course).
I was amused to see that the medal had a picture of a dead horse on it – which pretty much summed up how I felt at the end of the race.
However, even though the race was hard, I was glad I went, and glad I finished it. The positives were – it was incredibly well organised and I felt safe. At no point did I feel people were too close – I feel more at risk when I go to the supermarket. The marshals and other runners were all friendly and encouraging – I suppose we were all just so happy to be there! There were dogs – due to the earlier canicross. Dogs always make things better. Negatives? The course was hard work. Although the location was pleasant, there wasn’t much to look at other than the racecourse itself, which is a bit samey. This isn’t a problem as such – just not to my taste.
The biggest positive is that I got to run a race again – and I’d have the confidence to do it again.