Some races are not meant to be.
I’d put Cranleigh in my diary ages ago as a possibility, but then forgotten to do anything about entering it. Cue a grovelling email to the race organisers after the deadline for entries had passed.
The next hiccough was realising on Tuesday that I’d put it in my diary for next Sunday. Cue a grovelling email to my coach to see if my training plan could be rejigged to accommodate it a week earlier than expected.
Then on Friday I had a four hour Thames Path recce which was meant to be 24 miles long but ended up being about 20 miles, not because of the conditions underfoot (Henley to Goring is now perfectly runnable, if a touch muddy in places) but because my legs had no oomph, and on Saturday it became clear that I was fighting off a cold.
All of which left me wondering whether to just take the hint and stay in bed.
I’m glad I didn’t.
Cranleigh 15/21 is a low key event run on undulating roads. There are two laps, one of nine miles and a second of six miles, and at the end of lap two you either peel off for the 15 mile finish or opt for a second six mile lap to bring you up to 21 miles. Each mile is marked, the water stations come about every three miles and every decision point is clearly signed and/or marshalled. As you might expect from a club-run event, it attracts predominantly local runners, so club vests and familiar faces abound.
I was under instructions to go hard, and as I struggle with that concept, decided to go off too fast (it was a conscious decision, not over-enthusiasm, honestly it was) and see how long I could hang on.
Miles 1 to 6 – the easy miles
I felt great, my splits were reasonable and I started having delusions of PBs and podium finishes. Okay, not podium finishes. I’m not quite that deluded.
Miles 7 to 9 – the steady miles
The initial euphoria passed, and each mile required a little more effort than the last, but I was feeling good, maintaining my place in the field and ready to take on lap 2.
Miles 10 to 12 – the hot and bothered miles
The second lap started with an un-shaded climb, as we passed the 11 mile marker a 15 miler murmured “only 4 miles to go” and shortly after that we started to be lapped by the fast 21 milers. Enthusiasm be gone.
Miles 13 to 15 – the dithering miles
“15 miles or 21? 15 miles or 21? It’s hot, I’m fighting off a cold, I ran 20 miles on Friday, I can make a case for wimping out at the end of the lap, can’t I?” Fortunately for my willpower, just before the decision point I got chatting to a club mate who was opting for the additional lap, so I kept right and carried on.
Miles 16 to 19 – the empty miles
I struggled. It was hot, I started to be overhauled by people who had not opted for a ‘go off too fast’ strategy and each mile seemed longer than the last.
Mile 20 – the face-saving mile
Just as I thought I couldn’t keep it up any longer, I was reeled in by a swimmer ten-or-so years my senior who was attempting her first run of more than 15 miles. “Oh no you don’t! I am *not* going to be beaten by a swimmer!” was not what I thought at this point. I thought “What an inspiration! If she can run this pace in this heat, then so can I!”
Mile 21 – the sting in the tail
There’s a hill. At the beginning of mile 21. Which evil genius came up with that idea? On the plus side, it does mean that you get a lovely downhill to build up your momentum for the finishing sprint. Or it would if that sprint weren’t after a sharp bend and across loose gravel.
Mile 22 – the after party
Runners, runners everywhere. And on such a glorious day, it was lovely to wander round and catch up with a few familiar faces. Before heading home to survey the damage that 21 sweaty miles had wrought.
Readers of a sensitive disposition should look away now.