I first stretched myself to this distance eleven months ago when I ran the Maidenhead Easter 10 with Patrick Wadsworth and Dave Bartlett. On this occasion I ran steady eight and half minute miles and was on target for a time of 1:25 until I reached mile seven where the course started to slowly climb. I found myself struggling with what Patrick described as a ‘typical sugar crash’. With Patrick’s encouragement and being back on the flat, I managed to find something in the last mile and finished in 1:27:08. This left me feeling I had unfinished business with this course but felt confident if I could learn to hydrate and fuel properly and build up a bit more stamina to this distance I should be able to knock some more time off.
Having upped my distance to 10 miles I felt my running was at last, starting to really improve but I was dealt a blow when I found I had to undergo shoulder surgery in July. The surgery was far more invasive than I had expected and I struggled through months of pain and lost sleep whilst trying my best to keep some level of walking and jogging going. Running felt very unnatural and I lost a lot of the ground I had previously managed to make.
I set myself a challenge to ‘get back to where I was before surgery by the time the Maidenhead Easter 10 was scheduled to run again in March 2018’. In November 2017 I was able to start running more regularly again and I gradually started increase my mileage back up. Winter colds and bad weather seemed to be conspiring against me and as quickly as I fitted in an extra run or distance the following week I found myself unable to match it.
I have never been a keen fan of the Sandhurst Joggers’ monthly handicap event but found myself asking Patrick if I could jog there and back with him in February to try and increase my mileage. We jogged there through really icy rain and then jogged around the handicap course before jogging back again. I’d managed to run nine miles and in pretty horrendous conditions. The following month I did the same and managed to knock a minute off my previous month’s handicap time, which gave me some confidence that my running was slowly improving again.
Then came the weekend of the Sandhurst Joggers’ canal run, five days before Maidenhead. This was now time to test how well I could cope with running ten miles and on varying terrain. With hydrating fluids and gels in a newly purchased belt, I went off steady and with a plan to run in just under ten minute miles. I was pleased to find that when I converted my watch from minutes per km to minutes per mile, I had actually run it in just under nine minute miles. At this point I started to believe I may be able to run Maidenhead in a similar time as last year.
Good Friday came around quickly and I woke up easily. I ate my porridge, drank water and drove to collect Patrick and Dave. We arrived at the business park, just outside of Maidenhead, at around 8.30am and wandered across to the Runners’ Village. As we walked in the Prime Minister was there with her husband, happily allowing runners and spectators to take selfies with her. We collected our numbers and then as we wandered around found plenty of other Sandhurst Joggers to talk to. Dave and I then decided it was time to drop our bags and go for a warm up. We left Patrick at this point as he was free to run his own race. Having removed all outer clothing it started to feel quite cold and my legs didn’t feel very race fit. I hoped it would all click into place once we started running properly. Shortly after our warm up it was announced the race would be delayed for fifteen minutes. We all started to feel a little chilly but happy Sandhurst banter kept us all going positively. Apparently, due to the additional 35% of entrants compared to the previous year they were having difficulty parking the late arrivers away from the course.
It was then time to make our way to the starting crowd where we found some more Sandhurst Joggers eagerly awaiting. All of a sudden someone shouted ‘we’re off!’ and the crowd started to surge forward. The first mile is around the business park, which some people find rather boring but it’s flat and I find it a great way to get into my stride. The additional runners this year did slow the first bit down as we weaved in and out and around to make our way through but I soon found myself getting into a comfortable pace and on the road leading out of the business park. I took a look at my watch and my pacing was pretty much where I wanted it to be. As we ran along the outward road the faster runners started approaching us, coming back the other way to do another lap of the business park. It was good to see a few familiar faces wearing their red vests and we all shouted encouragement to each other as we passed.
After coming out of the business park for a second time I started taking some of my gel and we soon reached the first water station, where I gladly took a swig of cold water. We then took a left turn and headed out across the side of a very large field. As I looked ahead I could see runners snaking along the path for as far as I could see. It felt good to be out there with everyone and when I looked at my watch I could see my pacing was at 5.17 mins per km, which from my previous learning told me I was just slightly over 8 and half min miles. At times I found Dave starting to run ahead but I knew I had to face ‘those hills’ and to give myself any chance at all I knew I need to keep something in reserve. I stuck to my pace and at around mile six saw a very smiley Caroline Cutliffe, which was just what I needed at this point of the race. I then realised I was over half way and I was still feeling strong and in control. As we ran down the lane and approached the railway bridge I knew I was taking the bridge in a better place than the previous year. We then turned left and back onto the main road and towards ‘those hills’. We started the gentle climb and I made a conscious decision to push so as not to lose too much time. I even managed to overtake a male runner and a person walking their dog, which was not particularly easy as the path was rather narrow and I found myself having to use the soggy and slightly uneven verge.
I carried on and was still feeling reasonably strong. “I’m doing it”, I thought. Just before the railway bridge the road levels off and you get a slight relief from the upward trend before turning left onto a side lane. As we ran along here the road started to climb again but this time more steeply. I gratefully took another swig of water at the water station along this stretch and then pushed on. I could feel it starting to become more difficult “keep going, don’t throw it away now”. We then turned and ran along the side of a smaller field and as we turned left and back onto the access road to the business park we were directed by the Prime Minister. Dave who was a some way ahead of me at this time shouted “Don’t give them anything Theresa, don’t give them anything!” to which her entourage all fell around laughing.
As I ran along the road towards the business park I thought “I really must start lifting my pace if I want to make up any time I may have lost up the hills”. My pace lifted but it didn’t feel easy or natural. Ahead of me I heard someone should from the side “come on Sandhurst” as Dave went past them. As I went past I realised it was Vicky Rice who was, unfortunately, unable to run due to a foot injury but had cycled across and was cheering everyone on from the sidelines. “Come on Sandhurst” Vicky shouted as I approached. I then heard “oh it’s Andrea” and the next thing I knew Vicky was pedalling her bike a little way behind me, shouting under her breath “move those arms!” and “pick those people off ahead of you!”. This was just the kick up the backside I needed and I picked up my pace. I ran on and managed to ‘pick the people off” who had been ahead of me, as instructed. As I rounded the corner and back into the business park I consciously tried to make sure I maintained my pace. I could feel the gap between me and Dave closing slightly and knew I just had to keep this going for a little bit longer. We turned the last corner and there, in sight, was the finish line. As I crossed the line I stopped my watch; I’d done it and reasonably comfortably and I felt elated! I felt even more elated when I found out my time was 1:25:18, nearly two minutes faster than my previous time.
I can now say I’m back and look forward to my next event later in the year but my main aim is to stay injury free and continue to enjoy my running.