I may never get to experience the pain of childbirth, bikini waxes or how it feels to wear a bra that pinches in all the wrong places, but for one hour, 26 minutes and 30 seconds on 25th September, I knew what it was like to run as a woman.
No, before you ask, not because I’d had pre-race transgender surgery. I’d forgotten my timing chip and when I ran into Health & Fitness’s Lucy Miller by the starting gate, she offered to let me have hers. She’d just got back from holiday and wasn’t going to go all out so wasn’t that bothered about her time.
So on to the race itself. I went into it with the aim of finishing in under 1hr 35min but didn’t think I could top my half marathon PB of 1hr 32min because I was feeling a little sluggish. My race strategy was to get ahead of the 1hr 30min pace setter and stay in front of him for as long as I could. At the 2011 Adidas Silverstone Half (where I’d posted my PB) he caught me at the eight-mile mark and left me for dust so I figured that if I could stay in front until the seventh mile I’d come in at around 1hr 35min.
Run To The Beat’s USP is that there are music stages dotted around the course where you’re meant to get inspired by top DJs spinning uplifting tunes. But because I’d been told that there were big stretches of the race where there wasn’t any music, I decided to run with an iPod to keep myself motivated. I could, however, appreciate how the pumping beats and pumping fists of the DJs would give you a boost if you were struggling.
The thing that had really drawn me to the race was the futuristic Canary Wharf and Greenwich course. Most of the time I run off-road so big city races such as this make me feel as if I’m racing through a Blade Runner set.
More than 10,700 people entered the race so it was pretty congested at the start but once we got past the three-mile mark, it opened up a lot. I could have done with a water station at two miles (the first was at three) but after that, they were well spaced and I never felt dehydrated.
I’d been warned that the race was hilly but I’d done a fair bit of hill training up meaty off-road humps near my home in Oxford so, while I wasn’t overjoyed about the prospect of hammering up them during the race, I was prepared.
The hills were between miles four and seven. The one between mile six and seven was the steepest, but I put my head down and charged up it. I find that technique really works for me. OK, so it’s an inefficient way to run but getting into a charge frame of mind makes me feel like a bull. Once we hit mile seven the race flattened out a treat. At mile 10 there was a half-mile of downhill from the top of Greenwich Park. I let my legs go, which sped me up without increasing my effort.
As I hit mile 11 I was somehow still ahead of the 1hr 30sec pacesetter. I wasn’t sure if I could keep it that way for the last two miles because I was really starting to suffer but I was determined to give it a go by employing an interval technique. Every three minutes I’d run one minute fast by timing my right foot strikes to each second.
There wasn’t any 12-mile sign, or maybe it was just that I was so deep in the trenches at that point I missed it. The next marker I came across was the 750m to go sign. I looked at my watch – it said 1hr 24min. I almost stopped in shock. At the 250m mark I channelled the lightness of Lucy Miller (she weighs 55kg to my 82kg) and started to sprint towards the finishing line.
I crossed it at 1hr 26mins 29sec, smashing my PB by almost six minutes. After I took off Lucy’s timing chip I embarrassingly staggered into the spectators barrier and went arse over tit into the crowd like a big clumsy man. Oh, to be a woman again. Next time I will be entering as Nicola Hutchings – it might be what finally gets me in under 1hr 25min.
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Nick Hutchings worked for Men’s Fitness UK, which predated, and then shared a website with, Coach. Nick worked as digital editor from 2008 to 2011, head of content until 2014, and finally editor-in-chief until 2015.