Well that’s that then. 10 Scouse kilometres covered, my first race proper for nearly two years completed. Liverpool City Centre to New Brighton, all the way under the River Mersey and out onto the other side, into the wind and rain on The Wirral. 6.2 miles taking in some of the less-celebrated sights of Liverpool including a dual carriageway, a road tunnel, an industrial area, a couple of car showrooms and several seagulls. It was good practice for the main event in October – which was kind of the whole point of the whole thing – but actually, it became a whole lot more than that. A morning that removed many of the doubts I had about the marathon, a morning that boosted my confidence in my ability and a morning that I achieved something Lionel Messi did not: 90th place in the Mersey Tunnel 10k. But more on that later.
My first big achievement of the day was managing to avoid the very first of my race predictions by utilising Moorfields Station’s exterior on arrival at the startline. I can’t say I am proud of myself, but the queue for the one toilet cubicle at the station was about 30 long, so I would have probably have had a “situation” regardless. It’s a fine balance between making sure you’re hydrated enough to get through the run, and overdoing it to the extent that you feel like you’re about to burst before you’ve even started running. And the train didn’t have a loo, so it’s Merseyrail’s fault, not mine. At least that’s what I keep telling myself.
Queuing up on the startline with over 3,000 other people was a bit nerve wracking quite frankly, although it was good to see that several people had turned out in the viewing gallery to see my return to competitive action. Looking around the rest of the field, it all looked A Bit Serious. There was hardly anyone in fancy dress which is usually a sign that this isn’t a fun run. I saw one bloke dressed as a banana, and had flashbacks to the Great North Run where I was absolutely annihilated over the last three miles by someone in a similar outfit. But by and large it was a fairly serious looking field, although the guy on the tannoy cheerfully announced that there were several runners over the age of 70 (the oldest was a chap of 88), and there was also one fella on the startline straight from working a nightshift apparently. All I could think about though was beating the banana. And the tunnel.
The first few hundred metres are usually a bit stop/start and so it proved here, with plenty bunching, so I was delighted to get to the first kilometre bang on four minutes and on target for a sub 40-minute 10k, a feat I have only ever managed once before. A promising start. However, it wasn’t long before we were scurrying down a sliproad, onto a dual carriageway and the dreaded tunnel was looming into view. “Not as daunting as you may think” said the race blurb. Exactly as daunting as I was expecting, actually. Although having said that, the first half was amazing. I literally don’t think I have ever felt better on a run. A gradual slope downhill, no wind, no noise other than the pitter-patter of thousands of feet. It was utterly awesome, and suddenly I had run a kilometre in less than three and a half minutes and was on for a new personal best. I was invincible, I was going to win the whole race, do the full marathon in under two hours and then win Olympic gold in 2012.
Then I hit the tunnel incline. And when I was out of the tunnel, I hit a bit more of an incline. And then a bit more. And then there was a slip road, with an even steeper incline. And then there was the wind, and the rain. I felt like I was running backwards, my Olympic dreams were slipping away, and more importantly so was my sub-40 minute 10k. I ran the sixth kilometre in God knows how long, and with 3km to go I was on over 28 and a half minutes. The dream was dying.
Nevertheless, I kept at it as best I could, and the last 2-3 km was actually quite nice, if “nice” involves sweating, panting, aching, and generally feeling like I was going to keel over at any minute. Still, there was a bit of a view over the Mersey back towards Liverpool, the wind was behind me and there were actually a few people cheering and clapping us all on. And then, just before 9km, I could see the finish line in the distance. I ran a bit faster, looked up, and the finish line looked the same distance away. I ran faster still, and the finish line looked even further away than it did two minutes ago. Then suddenly it was bearing down upon me, and I heard the announcer utter “number two zero nine five finishing, it looks like Lionel Messi but it’s Joe Hughes from Manchester”. Now anyone that has seen me play football would not even dream of coming out with anything like that, so it must have been the Barcelona shirt I had on. Thinking about it though, Lionel Messi may be the best player in the world, he may have won a La Liga and the Champions League double, but had he completed the Mersey Tunnel 10k? Had he buggery. I’m sure he’ll be able to sleep at night though.
So as warm ups go, it was pretty successful. My stupid little legs had carried me all the way to 90th place overall, and first place in the Runkeeper results. I had run my second fastest time ever, although I was a mere nine seconds from breaking the magic 40 minute mark. Even now, two days after finishing, I keep looking back on any little occasions where I dropped time and thinking what could have been. But I think am being harsh on myself. I’m chuffed to bits really. A job well done.
And finally, onto the most important part of the day: the post run pint. A challenge I sadly failed by leaving it until I got back to Lime Street station and turning up at the one pub that hadn’t started serving alcohol yet. A blot on the canvas of a generally successful day.