I ran Smokies for the first time in 1992 and this was my twenty-first running of the race, over the years I’ve had some strong runs and some with lingering illness or injury, last year I was in excellent running shape and ran a PB of 1.18.27. It was also my last race before the two surgeries, chemo and radiotherapy. Pauline asked me at training on Thursday if running this weekend would bookend the last twelve months. Hmm, I gave it some thought as she powered on up the hill and I shuffled on in her wake. No, not yet, I’m still working hard regaining my health and fitness, and once I feel back to full strength, from the neck down at least, I can move on. My treatment started just after last year’s race but didn’t finish until the last day of May with no running at all in that time, so it’s June I’m targeting and specifically the 21st, it will be then I’ll slam that book shut! From the neck up I’ll never be the same again but I’m learning to adapt, I saw the consultant a couple of weeks ago, he is happy with my progress and reiterated healing is slow and I’ll only notice improvement retrospectively
My last ten mile training run was at the end of January and in a time of 1.51.05 but training and racing are two different entities, and I’ve been working hard at the speed work at the club but it’s one thing hanging on to a sub nine minute mile for a five minute effort and trying to maintain it for a hilly ten miles. My plan was to push hard and see what happens, no matter what my finishing time, the work rate would be maintained throughout, I had hoped to run around ninety minutes knowing that that would be a tough ask but a quality test of where I am fitness wise.
The conditions were good, bright and sunny, with a little bit of a chilly wind, I was in my usual long sleeved top, long tights, Buffs and gloves although they were fingerless, a few were in shorts and vests. I put myself in the middle of the pack for the start and we were off, round the first corner is always into the wind, occasionally I tried to shelter behind the runner in front but it never worked out for long, they were either too fast or too slow. We were soon strung out and heading towards the drink station, I didn’t bother taking a cup, I always carry a wee water bottle since having a permanently dry mouth from the side effects of the chemo and radio, but swallowing gets in the way of breathing when I’m working hard so I just rinse and spit, luckily it’s only been my shoes that I’ve splattered… so far!
The third and fourth mile are a long slog up, I didn’t let the effort go but quite a few went past me, Ann, who I’ve known since we were five years old went by saying “You sound like me, you’re puffing!” I managed to puff back a monosyllabic “Aye!” At last, the left turn at the top and a good mile and half downhill, I used gravity to pull me down and I past quite a few here, I’m not competitive with anyone other than myself, it just gave me a gauge of my pace against those around me. I always run to my body and never my watch, but at half way I sneaked a peek, forty-five minutes, there are no more big hills just some wee undulations, if I could hang on, the ninety minutes is on!
When it levelled out I was close to pushing it over the edge. Control! Don’t waste energy thrashing it out! I shouted in my head, and once again I enlisted the help of William Sichel. I first did a William at Smokies 2011, (2011 race report here) He runs with a short stride, the cadence kept at a fair clip and minimal movement above the knees, I tried to emulate his excellent, efficient style and regain a semblance of composure.
With a mile to go I swithered about checking the time, I couldn’t have gone any harder, I did have a wee look, it will be under ninety if I can hold on. The last half mile was into the wind. My mantra was I can boak at the finish. I pushed on, round the gates and onto the grass for the final few yards. There wasn’t a big race clock but I checked my watch, 1.28.57. (My official time 1.29.15) Inside my goal! I managed not to boak but needed a minute hanging over with my hands on my knees to get control of my breathing.
Once I’d gathered myself I headed straight in, had a quick change, and headed for the food. I felt a bit guilty not waiting to see everyone else finish but eating is a slow process even when it’s just one wee triangle egg sandwich, a wee sausage roll and a wee chocolate cake, I took the liberty of bringing a big thermal travel mug, and the lady at the tea table didn’t mind filling it for me, I knew a wee polystyrene cup would not be enough fluid to aid my eating, but looking back six, seven months ago I wouldn’t have attempted eating these things in public, so I am making progress albeit slow.
There were fourteen Carnegie ladies running and Gail, Isobel, Mary and Morna picked up prizes in the old dear categories, and these old dearies can still shift, they also got second team too. A bit disappointing that for the first year, as far as I can remember, not one of us got a spot prize, of which there is quantity as well as quality.
Next stop was the fish shop at the harbour for our Smokies, again another tradition.
Comparing my old Smokies 10 results I didn’t think this year was my slowest, in 2010 I ran 1.32.41, I was a bit injured then but it is still a great boost to see how far I've come. I’ve still a lot of work to do but it is in hand.