Once upon a time, in a far far away land at the fabled end of the Jubilee Line, in a remote place called Stratford, there was a strange tower called the Orbit. At this tower, there was a race. Not just any race Dorothy! A race between legendary creatures, a race where I met Pinocchia, Bluebeard, as well as Tweedledum and Tweedledee. I’m pretty sure Goldilocks and Shrek were here too, but I couldn’t see them in the crowd. This race was the Olympic Park 10k, organised by the RunThrough fairy.

The Orbit and the Olympic Stadium - Photo by Martin Pettitt

The Orbit and the Olympic Stadium – Photo by Martin Pettitt

This Sunday was supposed to be a great reunion with all my running friends at the Olympic Park, but they deserted me one by one. Brainy Owl had had a bike accident (it turns out that car bumpers are tougher than human knees), Lanky Pole wanted to come but his coach had decided that a 10k race wasn’t in his training plan that week, Grumpy Grampy had bought his bib but “forgot” to train before the race so he had to throw in the towel, even Mad Cook who had made the trip all the way from France couldn’t race because of a nasty health issue, to her greatest despair.

So get your hankies ready. On this cold and windy day, I had to go alone: I took the tube alone, I arrived at the race alone, I collected my bib alone, I drank a coffee alone, I warmed up alone (remembering Lanky Pole’s advice and slowly building my warm-up routine) and I went to the starting line alone. Emotional.

A few minutes before the start, I took an energy gel, not because I needed it, but to test them and see the effects it would have on my race. The ultimate goal being to take some during my first half-marathon in 3 weeks time. In all honesty, I didn’t feel the kick I was expecting. I didn’t feel anything at all really, but it may have had an effect on my race, as you’ll see.

Countdown to 0, I start running. Too fast but I don’t care, my strategy for this race is to ‘under-perform’ for the first lap, but at the pace of my previous PB, and then to ‘over-perform’ even faster for the second lap. It didn’t work as I expected: I ran really fast for the first lap, but I couldn’t run faster for the second lap, so I kept the same pace.

My first pacemaker was Pinocchia, a lady running like she had wooden limbs. I thought to myself: ‘with such a stiff running style, she can’t possibly go fast, I’ll overtake her quickly’. WRONG! She was doing much better than me and my self-righteous poorly executed mid-foot strike: she was already far ahead of me after the first kilometre. I soon found another pacemaker, a bearded dude in a blue shirt. Bluebeard is a heel-striker, I can hear his slow and heavy pounding from a distance, but his pace is incredibly close to mine. When the course goes downhill he’s a tad faster than me, but every time it goes uphill again I overtake him. For the next nine kilometres, it’s a real race between the two of us. Does Bluebeard pace me, or do I pace him? I don’t know, but the competition really pushed me.

Just a kilometre before the end, we overtake Tweedledum and Tweedledee (two funny ladies with orange wigs) who struggle to finish their 5k. I wish I could give them some sort of encouragement but I have my own battle to fight, so I’m sparing my breath to overtake Bluebeard. Eventually, I managed to sprint and overtake him just before the finish line! I let out a manly scream of relief, making the audience laugh in the process, and I crossed the line after 42 minutes and 39 seconds! OK, that was actually 3 seconds slower than Bluebeard’s chip time, but I beat my previous PB by more than 2 whole minutes! I think that deserved a manly scream followed by a manly hug to the guy.

In the end, between my energy gel and Bluebeard, I don’t know who I should thank more for this performance. But I’ll bet that the competition was the greatest motivator. So thank you Bluebeard for making me less lonely, and thank you for helping me set a new PB!