Bag on back, I frantically swing open the toilet door and rush to the belongings drop. I have just 20 seconds before the RunThrough Victoria Park Half Marathon begins.
Speeding off towards the bagging area, I apologetically push past a dozen or so people. I then fling my stuff in the vague direction of the bewildered bag man.
It’s fair to say this isn’t how I imagined my first race of the year would start.
Feeling regretful, I shamefully continue towards the start. The half marathon is the first race to kick off and, like usual, I’ve allowed myself too little time.
The 5K and 10K runners, whose races both take place after mine, are looking at me in shame. If only they knew I worked at a running magazine…
The race begins, and I’m in line. Just. Phew. Panting already, I look around me and send off a few sorry nods and hand gestures to those nearby.
I finally allow myself to take in the surroundings; it’s a cold Saturday morning in Victoria Park. The trees stand tall, though, and the atmosphere is lively and fun.
The course is made up of six-and-a-half laps of the park, which may sound tedious. But it’s pancake flat, and the wide paths are a runner’s dream.
I snap into race mode and charge off as soon as I cross the start line. “Take it easy, Josh, remember you’re training for the London Marathon,” I tell myself.
My race-day kryptonite tends to be my inability to hold back. I push myself too hard at the beginning, slow down towards the end and usually feel ill afterwards. That’s been my formula.
Today will be different, however. I will stay in control from beginning to end and I will prove to myself that I have some self-control. I will!
The first few laps go by quickly, and my pacing seems to be OK. My legs were achy from the week’s training, but they strangely feel better now.
The route is bendy and includes a few twists and turns, but flows nicely throughout. As the 5K and 10K races begin, the paths slowly begin to fill up.
At the sixth mile, a runner joins me and claims he’s looking to keep to the same pace as me. Happy to have picked up a running buddy, I continue on my way.
My new friend, however, soon reveals he has just recovered from an endurance race-related injury that he picked up towards the end of last year.
I then realise I’m now running with an Iron Man athlete. A bloody Iron Man athlete.
Slightly intimidated, we continue to run as a duo – overtaking a few people in the process – as he talks about his 2017 racing achievements.
We make up good ground, but I’m often checking my watch and making sure I don’t throw my game plan completely out the window.
Before I know it, we’re at mile 10. I’m feeling fresh and my new buddy, Charles, has turned out to be a solid training partner. Result.
My mind strays and I begin to think of all the races we could complete together, the sporting achievements we could earn. Could this be the start of a great friendship?
I focus back on the race; the support is still great and the volunteers and spectators are making the event real good fun.
Glancing at my watch, I notice there’s under a mile left. I shoot off, leaving Charles behind, as I feel relatively fresh in search of a good and strong finish.
The last part of the race takes me away from the normal lap, and I then notice the end isn’t as close as I first thought. Damn it. I’ve gone too early.
Still feeling good, I make my way towards the finish line. According to my watch, I cross in 1:34:13. I did it! I’ve managed to end well, and without a NDE.
Feeling pretty satisfied with myself, I walk to retrieve my bag. Has the kind volunteer I propelled it towards earlier burnt it in sheer disgust?
I wait for my girlfriend to finish, already thinking about how I should take my next training race. I conclude that I’ll probably avoid the rushed toilet-to-bag-drop-to-start-line beginning.