Bristol 10k – it’s a long, long way from home….

Bristol. It’s a long way from Southend – about 180 miles, in fact.  Still, on a good day it should only take around four and a half hours to get there. Unfortunately, last Friday – as we travelled there to take part in the Bristol 10k race – it took a mind-numbing seven and a half hours. The highlight of the journey though had to be looking to the left as we were crawling along in stop-start traffic on the M4, and watching the woman in the car next to us balance a packet of Party Rings on the dashboard in front of her, before she took a picture of them. No, I’ve no idea either…

So why the long journey? As dedicated as us Thornton’s are to running, without a local family connection it’s highly unlikely we’d travel that far to be parkrun tourists and take part in a 10k race. My two sisters moved to Bristol around fifteen years ago, and when my 20 year old niece Millie told me she’d signed up to run her first ever race in her adopted city, we decided to take the opportunity to visit them, and join her for the race.

First up however was a spot of parkrun tourism on Saturday morning, at the infamous Ashton Court parkrun. Infamous for the fact that the course goes a little like this: set off, run up a hill, keep running up a hill, run up a hill a little bit more, turn around, run back down the hill to the finish. 321 ft of elevation over 2.5k. I can think of one particular Flyer who would absolutely love it.

Flying down the hill for the second half is good fun though, and the course is set in a beautiful country park, with deer grazing on the grassland and beautiful vistas wherever you look (particularly from the top of the hill. Did I mention the hill?) Around 250 participants, a challenging course, friendly locals, and a beautiful courtyard café for coffee and cake afterwards – a highly recommended parkrun to visit if you ever find yourself in the area.

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And so on to the race on Sunday. With 12,000 participants, the RunBristol 10k is a large event, and takes in both the city centre and the stunning Avon Gorge. Heading to the start with Alex and my niece Millie was an interesting experience; whilst I wouldn’t consider myself anything like an expert, this was Millie’s first ever race, and it was great to be able to pass on our experience of how to manage the tricky pre-race prep. When to get in the queue for the loos? When to eat that banana? What warm up to do? How early to head off to the start?

Talking of the start, I’m not sure the event handled it all that well. There were four waves, two with faster athletes starting at 9.30 (which Alex and Millie were in), then two slower groups (which I was in) setting off at 9.45. However, I found the starting pens very narrow and unable to cope with all of my fellow ‘Yellow’ start runners, and participants were jumping over barriers in order to join their start pen. With so many competitors and a fairly narrow city-centre start, I’m not sure how this could be avoided, but it wasn’t the best race start I’d been in. I did however manage the obligatory ‘starting line selfie’ – even if I was the only Flyer in it!

After hanging around for twenty minutes or so, my wave set off on time, and with heart beating and a dry mouth I was off on my sixth 10k race. It was strange being on my own – I’m so used to having at least a few orange shirts around me that I felt extremely nervous about having to rely on my own reserves of strength to get me through. But after a few months of injury and illness I was finally starting to feel like I was coming back to some sort of fitness, so really wanted to give the race my best shot – and secretly wanted to beat my previous PB of just over 55 minutes.

11355662_10155722359620637_1078958282_nHowever, settling in to a rhythm was almost impossible – the large number of runners and the early stages through the packed city centre streets meant that it was more of an obstacle race, and I spent the first few miles desperately trying to get past other runners without clipping their heels and taking a tumble. Trying not to get too frustrated, I felt strong as we headed out of the city alongside the River Avon, and under the breathtaking Clifton Suspension Bridge. The views really were stunning – if I’d had the energy to take them in!

Seeing Alex on the other side of the road on his way back into the city gave me a boost, but the support of the Orange Army was sorely missed. It’s so difficult to explain how much it means to see supporters out on the route – there’s nothing like a shout out by good friends madly waving orange pom poms to put extra energy into the legs and breath into your lungs! I knew my family were waiting just before the finish, but I was starting to struggle and could have done with an orange boost.

By now we had turned at the half way point, and were headed back towards the city. I hadn’t seen my niece, and was hoping that she was still going strong. Her goal was around 45 minutes, and having seen how well she’d tackled Ashton Court parkrun the day before, I had no doubt she’d make it. As for me, all I had to do now was hang on, but was increasingly struggling. I knew I had to hit fairly regular 8.40 minute miles to get a PB, but after 6k I felt like I was going backwards, and so decided to stop worrying about pace and just get myself to the finish.

The last few kilometres were horrible; I think all the dodging , ducking and diving in the first few miles to avoid other runners had taken too much out of me, and I was now really thorntonstruggling. But there’s nothing to do at that stage but keep putting one foot in front of the other. Seeing my family a kilometre or so from the finish gave me the push to get to the end, convinced I’d missed my PB, but not too worried as I knew how hard I’d worked, and had given it everything I had. So imagine my surprise when I looked at my watch after crossing the finish line to see I’d beaten it – albeit only by half a minute or so! A long walk from the finish line to the water station, goody bag and medals (no mugals here) gave me the opportunity to chat to a fellow runner, before meeting up with Alex and Millie at our pre-arranged meeting point for the post-race analysis and picture taking. Millie had finished in a little over 46 minutes – an absolutely phenomenal time for a first timer. She really has got the running bug – she’s going to join a local athletic club. Perhaps we could convince her to start up Flyers Bristol!

medl1So how would I rate the Bristol 10k? The course is almost completely flat and very scenic, but the number of participants makes it really hard going in the early stages. It’s a long way to go for a race (especially when the traffic gods are against you all the way), but if you find yourself out that way when the race is on, I’d definitely recommend giving it a go. Just sharpen your elbows and get ready to do battle….


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