The train from work at Finsbury Park to Stevenage taking me to my first ever Midweek Road Race League fixture passed through a bleak, torrential thunderstorm. It felt like the end of days. What had I got myself into?
But after a short taxi ride, I arrived at Race HQ and felt reassured. Lots of familiar yellow and blue vests, many smiling faces. We run this distance (10k) every week, so why worry?
Our race numbers attached, we jogged gently to gather at the start. For the uninitiated, this was quite a surreal sight. The six clubs in the league all have very bright running shirts, and it looked to me like a group of Grand National jockeys who had all lost their horses.
Even so, we cantered off, helped by a downhill start, through a series of damp underpasses and along a ring road for at least a mile. Wasn't it supposed to be a beautiful valley?
For a while I ran with about eight burly Fairland Valley Spartans runners. Nestled in amongst them, I pretended that they were my bodyguards.
As I am new to this, I have a question: how do you do the 'middle miles'? The beginning is fine because I'm nice and fresh, and the end is helped by a healthy dose of adrenaline, but I'm never sure how much to push it in between. Answers on a postcard please....
Seeking help, I decided to try and find Striders running an even but fairly challenging pace (for me), and was lucky enough to latch on to Peter (King of the Marshals) and Mercedes, with whom I ran miles 3, 4 and 5.
Running can be a solitary pursuit, even in a crowd, and I really felt the benefit of our small team of three, while the many Striders vests stretching in front of me gladdened my (rapidly beating) heart.
And as we ran around a huge park and lake in Fairlands Valley, I remembered to look up and admire the surroundings, which were – at last – beautiful.
The final mile or so was deceptively twisty, not to mention turny. Aware that my final 'spurt' only lasts 50 metres tops, I struggled to know when to push on. Still I got round in just over 48 minutes which I was delighted with, pretty much matching my PB from the St Albans 10K only two days earlier.
This is 'reportage' rather than a race report, but I have to record how awestruck I am by the Striders' perfomances. Tom won the men's race, Vicky won the women's race, we won the men's senior and vets team and the women's senior team races. Six of the first eight men were Striders. All 12 of our men's 'A' team came in under 37:30. And the sheer numbers of yellow vests were only matched by the 'home team'. We were dominant, to put it mildly.
From a personal perspective, I was 39th Strider home, and would have scored some points for any of the other teams, so played my little part in pushing those behind me down the ranking by a place. I'll take that.
And so as we car-shared back to St Albans, Marc, Lucy, Emma and I – happy debutants one and all – basked in our runners' highs and compared notes, first impressions and discussed tactics for the next time. Bring on Welwyn!