The idea of the challenge was to give ourselves a realistic idea of our time for running 5K under race conditions - a baseline upon which future improvement could be measured.
Since starting the beginners programme with the club, my aim has always been to complete the 5K course in 30 minutes. I was still hopeful that this might be possible despite the fact that I was getting over a cold and had missed my mid week training. I held onto my dream but had a gut feeling that my time would actually be a tantalisingly close 33 minutes.
Why 33 minutes? It's odd but whenever I wake up in the night and look over at the glowing green digital numbers on my clock, more often than not, they will display something:33. This is not because my clock is broken! Thirty three seems to be one of those numbers that crops up in my life with more than random regularity. I have tried to cash in on my mystical number when choosing lottery combinations but without success, not even to the tune of a tenner.
It was a cold and drizzly 9am start to the 5K Challenge but there was a level of excitement amongst the expectant participants and I admit to being a little thrilled by the "Caution Runners" signs in use. It all felt very much more formal than our usual Monday and Wednesday evening jogs. The route was down a lovely country lane, pretty muddy in places, and involved running out to a cattle grid that was the turnaround point and running back.
I set off at a reasonable pace but almost immediately lost my daughter as the runners separated out. I hoped she would catch up with me so we could share the experience but the only times I saw her were once when I passed her on the return half of the route and to cheer her over the finish line a couple of minutes after I completed the course.
It took me about half a mile to warm up properly and find my stride, by which time it had stopped raining. I was struggling with my breathing a little and was grateful for the tissues I had stuffed in my jacket pocket before I left home.
Reaching the cattle grid was a good moment. Halfway. All I had to do was keep going.
Keeping going would have been easier if I hadn't started to feel decidedly light headed and a little bit like I might be sick. I was determined not to stop but I did slow my pace down to barely above a walk just to try and regain my composure. This was not a good moment for me to spot my husband who had cycled out to offer support and take a few photographs.
I want my husband to be proud of me. I want my husband to see me as graceful gazelle striding effortlessly towards the finish. Instead, there I was struggling with every fibre of my being to keep putting one foot in front of the other without keeling over. He smiled, he shouted encouragement and took a bad photo!
I knew that my husband would stay where he was until our daughter had passed so he could offer her the same encouragement as he had me. I found myself picking up my pace a fraction to put some distance between myself and him and the embarrassment I had felt at being so rubbish. The longer I went on feeling faint and nauseous without actually fainting or being sick, the easier it was to ignore it. I didn't have a lot left to give but I was definitely starting to give it again.
A short while later I saw my husband speed by on his bike to wait for us crossing the finish. I allowed myself the luxury to consider how much I wished I had a bike at that precise moment then pushed on, every step a step closer to the end.
I started to look forward to the finish - husband waiting to congratulate me and take me in his arms. I was fairly sure that my 30 minute goal had already ticked away but I did my very best to open up and give it one last push as the end came into sight. I was putting in a lot of effort for what felt like very little actual improvement in speed but I did my best to go for it. Runners who had already finished were there cheering, along with my husband and other supporters. Rather than being spurred on by this, I started to feel somewhat self conscious. My final exertion (and no time to make use of my tissue collection) left me with a snotty nose and I was sure I must be glowing beetroot. I would rather have sneaked in quietly and unobserved!
As my time was called out I was not at all surprised to hear my familiar number: 33 minutes 26 seconds.
I felt a mixture of euphoria for having made it all the way without stopping and extreme wobbliness. I remedied the wobbliness by sitting on the ground (remedied the snotty nose with a good blow!) and then simply basked in the euphoria. I was fully recovered in time to cheer my daughter on as she made an impressive final push to the finish.
It is quite hard to explain exactly how I feel about the whole experience. There were times when I was running that all I wanted to do was stop and never run again. There were times when I wondered why on earth I had ever started. But the euphoria upon completing the challenge cancelled any doubts.
I cannot wait to run again.