On the start line my quads and groin ached.
As I set off I ignored the distraction and focused on charging up the first of many gradual inclines.
The road was packed with runners.
I maintained a comfortably hard (tempo) pace as we navigated the undulating rural landscape.
I kept within a pack of heavy breathers as we approached Hardwick Hill.
As runners slowed I passed them by sustaining my effort level.
Only, the route continued to ascend for over half a mile.
My heartbeat accelerated and my breath shortened.
The steep path twisted until I reached the entrance to the Hall.
I saw the leaders running the opposite way.
I chased them back down the hill, past the long queue of runners refusing to stop despite the challenging climb.
Before I conquered the hardest section I was stunned.
People began clapping me. Not just spectators but groups of runners, one after another.
I could not hold back a smile. I returned their applause.
I ran hard to catch up with the top runners. But they remained too far ahead; I was alone.
No sooner had I reached the last kilometre I was cheered again.
I sprinted to the finish, to celebrate with my family and retrieve my t-shirt with “I beat the Hardwick Hill” printed on the front.
This race was the first I ran in the county of Derbyshire, the first 10km for over four and a half years, and the first held in the evening.
Although I tapered my running I played an hour of walking indoor football the day before. This made my upper leg muscles sore when I most needed them. Although my performance was consistent with my recent training improvements and past race results it was not ideal preparation.
As a warm-up event before my marathon later in the year it was the perfect experience. The Hardwick 10km was a great test of my strength and produced an inspiring and supportive atmosphere.
My mistake of trying a new activity too close to race day reminds me of an important lesson too: experience counts for nothing if you do not apply previous learnings.