So, yesterday was the day of my return to a nice little 10-mile race around the local area, the Braunton 10. I ran the race last year, just as I was starting to get my eye in on racing in general and it was great to come back a year later, knowing a bit more of what to expect and how to go about tackling it.
The route is all on-road (that is, mud-slicked, flooded road at this time of year) and is more than a little undulating - in particular, there are two significant category 4-5 climbs along the way. Fortunately, I'd run the course the week before with Clare and Luke, just to remind myself of exactly where these hills came and exactly how brutal they are. I reckon preparation is the key for a good steep, long climb that turns enough corners to hide its true end from you!
I ran with Clare, Luke and my brother Joe - the last few times I've run with this guys, we've all stuck together around the course; this time we decided we might not stick together and I'd go for it as much as possible. The strangeness of leaving Clare and Luke at the start line was balanced at least a little by being able to focus more on my own running (Joe was going to try and keep pace as best as possible).
Although I'm feeling great with my running at the moment, I don't know... something wasn't feeling 100% as we got around the first couple of miles. Heartrate was too high, breathing too difficult to keep controlled; not my finest moments to be honest. As we hit the first steep climb, I guess having the ascent to focus on reined in all of these loose ends though - we were determined to keep running up the hill, rather than throw in walking breaks, and I suppose because that meant I had to truly focus on my gait and tempo, everything else snapped into a good place. Not sure. Either way, once we were on the ensuing downhill section, I started to feel a bit better; my heartrate started to creep back down and I could begin to enjoy the run; it was almost as though a tough climb had hit my 'reset' switch.
Although I'm not super-competitive against other runners at races, it was nice when we hit some of the steeper downhills and I found I was still flying down them confidently (all that downhill work must have paid off and stuck somewhere!) to help us gain ground on some of the more cautious racers. Likewise, it felt good that on the second major ascent, our (Joe was still with me) careful dialling-down through the gears kept us slowly running past people who'd started up it too quickly, or just plain ran out of juice.
The second steep hill comes just after halfway on the course, leaving around the remaining four miles as a mix of downhills and flats, which would normally make for a good, easy, quick section. Yesterday, though, this was tempered just a bit by howling winds and horizontal rain pushing back against us as we ran. This was one point where mild brotherly competitiveness actually came to good use, as neither of us was going to be the first to let the conditions slow us down.
In fact, Joe kept pace all the way to the finish line - one last steep downhill saw us gain another couple of places and then we eventually crossed the line in about the same time as I'd run the course last year. Considering how nightmarish the rain was for the last few miles, I'll definitely take that.
That wasn't the best thing about yesterday, though. Clare and Luke finished a while after us, towards the back of the field, but not last! Neither of them were runners at all before I started running and gradually, as we wanted to spend more time together as girlfriend and friend respectively, they've come into their own. Now that they're both choosing to enter races, I figure it may even have transitioned from 'running because Ben does' into 'running because we want to' (I guess Clare counts as my household, but Luke means one more household with a runner, Eric!). I was so proud - and they're still in early running days. One day, I reckon they'll be cheering me over the line, if things keep up like this...