Crossing a finish line is always an emotional event. Whether you’re sobbing your heart out, have a grin plastered all over your face or simply are awash with relief that the miles you’ve just run are over, there’s no other experience in the world quite the same.
Over the last three months I’ve crossed four different finish lines, and before the year is out, two more – but before I go collect some more medals, here’s how the events I’ve run so far have gone:
Standing in a field in the middle of Cirencester, black marker lining my face a la Rambo, I questioned my sanity at being so up for electrocution, ice baths, crawling in mud and more.
But jogging my way around the field with a team of 22 of friends and old work colleagues, it did start off to be a pretty fun day.
About a mile in, we spotted a guy, hands on his knees, head between his legs. “Keep it up!” one of our team shouted at the retching man, before regretting his choice of words.
Thankfully, mr retcher wasn’t an omen of things to come, and probably someone who had a few too many the night before.
After getting past a few easy first obstacles, including a pyramid wall and crawling under some nets, we entered the domain of one of the absolute worst in the 11 mile course: ice bath.
Naively, I figured it wouldn’t be so bad, and slid myself off the edge of the skip with relish, but as I hit the icy, icy water below, my breath was taken away, leaving my cold and shivering on the other side as I tried to waddle through some slippery muck to warm up.
Tough Mudder 1, Rachael 0.
And indeed, Tough Mudder remained in the lead; I fell a number of times, got trod on, went chest deep in muck and helped over wooden pallet walls. I helped carry a log 10 times my weight and was given a piggy back several metres by one of my not-so-tall teammates.
But eventually, one final obstacle stood in the way of me and my pint of cider: electric eel. Basically, this is where you run through a bunch of strings hanging down with electric bits attached. However, freezing, wet and dripping with mud, I ran full pelt, zig-zagging my way through them, managing to come out unscathed!
Rachael 1… well, Tough Mudder about 10, but at least I had the very last laugh.
All in all 10/10 for event organisation and motivation before the race starts. I signed up for 2017’s event with my lovely, similarly mental boyfriend shortly after, which means I’ve either got amnesia or actually enjoyed it very much. I’ll go with the… erm… chips please?
A few weeks later, as we were donating some things to charity, James picked up a leaflet for a 10k run in a St Peter’s Hospice shop. For £10, it was great value for money and the charity is one that I really respect, so we decided to give it a go.
We woke up to a really beautiful day outside, and decided to jog across the bridge to Ashton Court, a pretty leisurely 5k from my house.
It was a pretty small event in terms of numbers, but the usual race atmosphere was evident – and if anything it was a lovely change to run a smaller, more personal event.
The route takes you around Ashton Court, up some inevitable hills and down through the forest, which you go around twice. It is a very hilly route, which I certainly found quite challenging – but racing in at the end past the ice cream van, toward the small crowd cheering you on, surrounded by fields is certainly worth it.
As you can see, we were pretty shattered afterwards – especially James who was far quicker than me on the hills!
Of course, this was all great preparation for the Great Bristol Half, which I also blogged for this year.
Blog posts and training cumulated on a very rainy day indeed in late September, when I found myself queueing for some portaloos as rain dripped down my face.
Thankfully, the showers cleared up as James and I made our way to the start line, and after a quick kiss, he was off like a rocket, while I focused on plodding along to my own pace.
The sunnier weather was punctuated by a few showers, but along the way these felt like a welcome refreshment – and it has to be said, the actual refreshments (the water and sports drinks) were flowing well at regular intervals.
Around mile five to eight, I felt my left knee twinge. Shutting my eyes, I willed the twinge away but this only seemed to make it come back harder.
I ran the remaining miles with a grimace on my face but through sheer teeth-gritting and willpower, I made it across that finish line in 1 hour 55 minutes. James did an ace time with 1 hour 42 smashing his previous PB, so we were both pretty happy in all.
Except my left knee, which to this day is a bit sad indeed, and has developed IT band problems.
(To read a bit more in depth review, James has done a pretty good summary of how the day went on his blog!)
We then decided to run the Eden Project Half in Cornwall, as we were going down that way for a weekend. This was, without doubt, the hilliest race I have ever run in my life.
After a 10 mile training run the weekend before, my knee was feeling very delicate – but with a lot of foam rolling, swimming (which, by the way is a miracle cure) and Nurofen, I made it to the start line in half-decent nick.
James and his brother-in-law Sam raced alongside me (by alongside, I mean way ahead, of course) and we all took off around the beautiful, scenic route on a sunny Sunday morning.
It’s a route that’s half on, half off road, and you go from running on tarmac roads to narrow country trails, to through forests and past cottages where people’s children are offering you jelly babies.
The hills are relentless, though, and once they stop they don’t start.
“It’s all downhill from here” a marshall would randomly shout, but you soon learned not to believe them.
Of course, my right knee did not like the undulating hills, not one bit at all. It complained, whined, whinged and twinged, but it didn’t stop me and my legs still pumped me down the windy hill toward the end, with the domes from the Eden Project looming in the background. It really was a stunning end to a race.
James and his family were at the end of the race and caught a picture of me crossing the line. At 2 hours and 3 minute it’s the slowest half I’ve ever run, but with IT band issues and the hills I was buzzing with happiness all day at what I had achieved.
The free pasty is a godsend and you get free entry to the Eden Project, if you can still manage to walk. James, his family and I all had a wander around the humid tropical section before we had to drive back to Bristol.
That takes me to the here and now! My knee suddenly started feeling miles better two days after the Eden Half – but I have taken a week off training due to a bit of a cold-flu thing I managed to pick up.
But our next event is the Cancer Research Tough 10K in Box Hill, Surrey, which looks like a killer (but in a good way!), followed by a beach run in Weston in December. Two more finish lines before 2016 is out – and I can’t wait.