Yes, a bit like fantasy football, if you could specify the ingredients for your perfect race day, what would it look like?
1. I wouldn’t have to spend months planning for it, just keep those running legs ticking over every week and one Saturday, after say, a big glass if red wine, I’d say to myself and anyone else in earshot “That 10K I was half thinking about doing. It’s tomorrow morning, and you know what, I think I’ll do it.”
2. I wake up, in winter, in daylight. It’s just before 9 a.m. and I have still have time to get some porridge down me and fire up the espresso machine. Then spend an hour “pre-race faffing” – getting kit ready, changing my mind, losing stuff and finding it again.
3. In a last minute change of plan, I decide to drive there, risking spending too long trying to find a parking space in a busy part of London. I arrive and find a perfect spot, right next to the gates of the park.
4. I walk the 20 metres or so to the race HQ, wait in a line of one to sign up and get my race number. I pick up my free race t-shirt and am advised to “try it on, if it doesn’t fit, bring it back and I’ll get you a medium”. Passing on the free pre-race massage, I’m ushered into the baggage drop area, ask if I can drop my baggage later and then brace myself for the pre-race toilet stop turmoil. There is a queue of one person to join. Later on I see someone else waiting in a queue of one. Someone from the running club apologises and points out there’s a second toilet around the corner. This is 20 minutes before the race starts.
5. I pass on the plates full of home baked cakes, the tea, coffee and water and head for the start. It’s a dry, cool, autumnal day and after a surprisingly effective group warm-up, we’re off. Four laps around a flat park. My watch is set to a target time I know I could achieve on a good day. Every time I check it, it tells me I’m ahead of schedule.
6. There are 12 marshalls stationed around the 2.5 mile laps. Once I get over the shock I experience in every race (“yes, it’s me, I used to avoid running with a passion, and now I’m running. Outside. In a race! And I’m not last!”) I notice that the marshalls are holding placards with little messages for us runners. Usually I’m cynical about motivational messages, but today some of them make me smile and, how should I put this, motivated?
7. I also imagine that the course must have some hills somewhere, but they’re too subtle to notice. We must be going uphill at some point because there’s a nice long incline towards the end of each lap. I give up checking my watch. I’ve still got time to spare. I’m soon on the fourth and final lap. I overtake a couple of people who’d overtaken me on the third. My energy’s running low but I have enough to step up the pace a lot sooner than I’d usually entertain.
8. Then all too soon, it’s over. There’s a little machine into which I type my race number and get my time on a slip of paper. I’ve done lots of races before but I’ve never got to use a gadget like that before! (It was like the first time I used a Dyson hand-dryer) Almost three minutes faster than my target time. My second PB of the year. I’m beaming.
9. I’m back in the clubhouse. The massages are still free, the chocolate brownies have gone but there are still cakes. Apple and cinnamon or banana and ginger, I’m on such a high that I choose the banana one, the devil’s fruit. And I like it. I pick up a certificate, an Oyster card holder and some more water. I head home – it takes 20 minutes.
That would be my fantasy race. Only I actually did it this morning. I’m going to think long and hard before I let anyone know which race this was and where it took place. In case it was all a dream.