8:30am – I wake up with a totally parched throat, despite drinking a huge quantity of water the night before. Less than six hours to go before the relay race I signed up to a couple of weeks ago begins. 3.6 miles per leg – I’m hoping to do it in under 30 minutes, at least.
12:15pm – Finish an early lunch of a tuna and cheese sandwich at the lab. Check the outside temperature for the thousandth time – it’s a balmy 5C. My supervisor exclaims, “I think it’s started snowing!”. I jump up and look hard out of the window. She laughs cruelly and says, “Only joking.” I grumble something in reply.
1:25pm – The race starts at 2pm, and I don’t know what the race order is yet, so I have to turn up early. I hop on my bike and cycle towards the Iffley Road track, site of the famous four minute mile by Roger Bannister. It is damned cold outside.
1:35pm – There must be hundreds of people here! They all look extremely fit and worringly, they all look like bona fide runners. There are visiting teams from universities across the country including Imperial, Cambridge, Birmingham and Bath. Each team has four runners, each of whom run the same 3.6 mile loop around Oxford, and they enter into the male, female or mixed races.
1:40pm – I’ve decided to wear both of my T-shirts and take my coat out to stay warm before I start. It turns out that I’m going to be the third runner in my team, which is composed of graduates. The other runners – Andrew, John and Jason – are all far more experienced than me but they assure me that my time of around 26 minutes for a slightly shorter distance than 3.6 miles is fine (I ran the race course, or at least what I thought was the race course, on Monday).
1:55pm – All the first runners are assembled on the start line on the race track in an enormous crowd, easily close to a hundred. Suffice to say that it is pretty intimidating for me, who’s never run a race before.
2pm – They’re off! The front runners are zooming along at a fearsomely fast pace, and our guy Andrew has set off pretty quickly as well. John, the second runner, begins to look worried. Many of the serious teams have clearly put their fastest runners in first so they can get ahead of the pack.
2:15pm – John departs to the start line across the track to have a jog around and warm up. I chat with the other people in the Queen’s College contingent about running stories. The Queen’s College is probably the most successful college in the university at sports – we seem to win most competitions and athletics, despite the fact that we’re not particularly big.
2:18pm – The front runners have just started returning. 3.6 miles in 18 minutes – not a shabby result by anyone’s standards. Surprisingly, there’s quite a bit of separation between the front runners.
2:22pm – Andrew has just entered the stadium and is making his way around to the start/finish line! 22 minutes is a very good time and not what any of us were expecting. I start worrying about the fact that if John is also fast, I’ll find myself in the midst of a pack that is significantly quicker than myself.
2:23pm – John zips past the stadium and on his way out I give him an encouraging shout. I begin to bounce around to try and warm up.
2:30pm – I remark to Jason, while bouncing around, that I feel like getting into a fight. Evidently the adrenaline is kicking in.
2:38pm – I pin on my runner’s badge and make my way to the start line. I do a few sprint and jogs around, but for some reason I’m getting progressively colder.
2:42pm – I see someone who looks very much like John entering the stadium, which startles me immensely because it seems impossible that he’d be able to do it in 20 minutes, given that he was supposed to have had a leg injury recently. Luckily, it’s just someone else who doesn’t have much hair.
2:46pm (T0) – John appears! He might not have been as fast as 20 minutes, but 24 minutes is pretty decent. My worry increases. I make my way to the handover point and bam, I’m running.
T+1 – It is very cold. Too damn cold. It seems like I didn’t warm up properly.
T+4 – I’m on Iffley Road, just approaching Magdalen bridge. I’ve already been overtaken by two people, which isn’t surprising since I’m in the middle of a much faster pack, but it’s still depressing. The race marshalls are very encouraging though.
T+6 – I’m feeling pretty tired already, running by the Botanic Gardens. I briefly ruminate on the utility of actually going and running outside instead of cheating and using the treadmill. This accomplished, I return to watching the runners ahead of me recede into the distance.
T+10 – I’m getting into my stride now, but a stitch is developing. I find this entire development to be almost unbelievable – I’ve never found it this hard to run outside. Perhaps it is psychological. Perhaps I should do more training. I’ve warmed up quite nicely though.
T+14 – Running along the Isis River now. There’s a guy running by my side – he’s been keeping face for the last few minutes but now he’s set to overtake me. Thankfully, he looks pretty fit.
T+17 – I can see Donnington Bridge! That means that I’m well past the halfway line and I’m on the way home. Things are looking up.
T+19 – I’m on the penultimate final straight, which unfortunately is very long. I can see a long string of runners making their way along it, and there’s one guy in the distance who appears to be walking.
T+23 – I put on a spurt of speed and overtake the guy who was walking (he’s gone back to running now), which pleases me to no end because otherwise I wouldn’t have overtaken anyone in the entire race.
T+24 – There’s not far to go now – I’m on the final straight on Iffley Road and the rugby ground are to my left.
T+26 – Just before I enter the stadium, I pick up the pace by quite a bit and make it around the track at a decent clip.
T+27 (3:13pm) – It’s over – I just handed off to Jason, who appeared at the start line a mere second before I reached it.
3:15pm – Wander over to the stands and collapse. Drink some water. Go into a daze. Visions of armoured bears with cockney accents and windows in the sky pass before my eyes.
3:17pm – Wake up. 27 minutes is almost exactly the time I thought I’d get. I feel like I could have shaved at least 30 seconds or maybe even a minute by picking up the pace closer to the end, but 27 minutes isn’t bad and it was my first race, after all.
3:38pm – Jason enters the stadium in a flamboyant multicolour jersey, alongside a guy in a very sober black and white T-shirt setup. Jason steams past the sober guy with apparently zero effort and everyone from Queen’s speaks admiringly of his frankly excellent stride technique.
3:43pm – Have a chat with Jason, and then celebrate by going into the gym and spending 20 minutes on the weights. Definitely a quick race, but not one I’m going to forget… and there’s still the 10k race I intend to do in May to train for…