I had never really contemplated when I would run my first race. I didn’t even think about what it would be like or where it would be. Then, on a regular work day late in June 2015 my friend and colleague Ruth told me that someone from the office team had to pull out of a 10K race in July. She promptly went on to say “you should totally do this Jon, you’ll be great. Come on join the team”.
My first run was on the 5th of June 2015!
It was 3K, it didn’t go well.
Then Ruth told me that this race was the British London 10K and it was on the 12th of July!
So not only was it about 6 weeks after my very first run, it was also in central London and about 4000 people, (maybe more), would be running it. WOAH!
After thinking about it for a day, and with a bit of peer pressure from other members of the running team, I relented and agreed to take the place. After all it was for good cause and my company would be donating money to a London based homeless charity.
At this point, I had run about 3 or 4 times and the furthest I had been was about 6.5k. Don’t get me wrong, I was starting from a good place. I had been going to the gym 3 times a week for 9 months. I had lost some weight and my legs were starting to feel strong, so I wasn’t starting from scratch. I didn’t know anything though. On the 4th run, one of my trainers fell apart at the end, which was pretty lucky really as that would have been a weird walk home.
I definitely needed some new kit! I mentioned this incident to Ruth and she immediately suggested I go to a running shop and have my “gait” analysed, buy some running socks, (I had been using white gym ones), and maybe some real running clothes. Yes, she had to explain about gait and that I would have to go on a treadmill and be filmed running. This filled me with dread. I can’t run on treadmills; I fall off them. I start off ok but then my mind wanders and I lose perception of where I am and that’s it, off the back like an idiot!
So the next day after work I went to a running shop on Rathbone Place. I can’t remember the name of it and it’s closed now. I went in all nervous and spoke to an assistant who took me to the basement where the running machines were. I explained what I was looking for, he asked me lots of questions like what races I was planning to run, how much running I would be doing weekly etc etc. Then he got some running shoes and socks out so I could go on the machine. I must have looked so awkward as it took all my concentration to not fall off it. Anyway he showed me the video and explained what he was seeing in my running and said that I should have some support trainers. I wasn’t too bad but there was definitely some pronation, and yes, he had to explain what the meant too. Eventually I settled on a pair of Asics, 4 pairs of running socks, a pair of Nike shorts, a Nike T shirt and also some moulded innersoles, (have given up on that now). In total it cost me about £150 and all I could think was, gawd this running thing is expensive…how little did I know!
With the race just a few weeks away I got it in my mind that I must run 10K on my own for confidence. This is something that I did later with my first half marathon race too, lol.
I was enjoying my new shoes and socks and it made quite a difference to how I ran, who knew that the correct gear would help! Then on the morning of Sunday the 5th July, 1 week before the race I went out and ran, then ran a bit more and ran a bit more until I hit 10K, (well actually 10.4 as I had to get home) and you know what, I didn’t feel that bad. Tired yes, a rush of endorphins, most definitely but I had just run 10k in 57mins and I was darn happy about it. With this in the bag I was read for the distance but not ready for the experience.
Fast forward to Sunday 12th July…Race Day
I didn’t really know what to expect. I read the instructions again and again about bag drop, timings and where I needed to go on the day. I turned up nice and early, (like I always do, well mostly), dropped my bag off and found the toilets, well found the queues for the toilets. Went once, then got back in line again. Yes I was really early. Then I headed off towards the start on Piccadilly, which if you don’t know is a big long road in central London, which funny enough leads to Piccadilly circus. Anyway for this race there were no starting or timed pens. This was something I didn’t know about so didn’t really consider. All I knew was, I didn’t want to be at the front but not at the back either. I wanted a sub 60min time, that was my only aim. When I got onto the road, I was shocked, where had all these people come from, it was crazy, I had never seen anything like it on a road before. That’s where I found myself for the next 30mins, nicely in the middle surrounded on all sides waiting for the start. At 10am the gun went and nothing happened. Then 5mins past and still nothing happened. Then we started moving forward, walking. Then we would stop, then move again and stop, then move again until we got near the roundabout of Hyde Park Corner. I realised then that the marshals had created their own “pens” and we were being released systematically by them to avoid congestion. As we rounded the bend back onto Piccadilly I could see the start, started to jog and off I went.
Alas, because of the lack of timed pens, it was chaos for the first 2k. People all over the place running at different speeds, weaving, walking, sprinting, jogging made it utter carnage. With poor old me running my first race and the first time running with more than one other person, (my friend Paul), 4000 other people! I won’t lie, it was quite scary, trying not to be tripped over or trip other people over. It took me a while to find my rhythm but eventually I did. I settled in, enjoyed the “race experience” and finished with a time of 55mins 35 seconds, which I was ecstatic with! This blog is not really about the time though and I won’t go into details of the race as it all happened in a whirlwind of emotions and to be honest I can’t remember much of it but here are some learnings for first timers, in no particular order.
1) Don’t underestimate support!
My wife and daughter came to cheer me about halfway. It was fab seeing them at Trafalgar Square and also straight after finishing. Kids love medals too. Also, seeing lots of other people out cheering is amazing plus the kids giving high 5s is so cool. I have since done some cheering and will do more when I can. Buy a cow bell and off you go! Support the community.
2) Learn the route
I didn’t realise that Regents Street and Charing Cross Road were on hills. I have worked and walked these roads for years. Now they are not big hills but it matters on your first race especially. Look at the route and break it up into sections for your mind, it will be easier for you to achieve small goals as you go around the course. Also memorise where the water stations are too.
3) Pick a starting pen wisely.
This race didn’t have any but if I had, I would have picked 50mins. Also go for just a bit quicker than your estimated time. The faster runners will push you on. Be realistic about your time too, otherwise you will find many runners going past you, which is not a great feeling.
4) Don’t try new things on race day
I think I tried some new headphones that day and it took me 3k to get them to work properly which was a distraction I didn’t need. Practice at home first people.
5) Leave enough time
For the bag drop, toilet and walking between places. You don’t want to feel rushed if you are already nervous.
6) Enjoy yourself
Running is meant to be fun. Yes, it’s hard but it’s also an amazing achievement to cross a finish line and get that medal. Races will go well and not so well, worry about the why, the next day though.
There you have it. My first 10k in the bag just 6 weeks after starting to run! Two and bit years on I still look back on that race fondly.