I entered the 2021 Colshaw Hall 10k with just days to go, and it was one of the best decisions I have made all year! I had such an incredible morning!
Not only was the race impeccably organised and vibrating with such a fantastic atmosphere, but it also happened to be set within the most stunning route, snaking around the sumptuous grounds of Colshaw Hall in Cheshire. Boasting postcard-perfect villages and views of Jodrell Bank, this was definitely the most charming and scenic event I have ever run at.
Running as a hobby changed considerably during the pandemic. With events and competitions cancelled, we were all forced to participate in virtual editions instead, streaking the pavements of our hometowns as lone rangers, gritting our teeth against the harsh winter and the wet spring. We had nobody to cheer us on but the monotone bark of our apps, and nobody to share a PB revelation with.
A huge part of attending running events is the atmosphere. I hadn’t realised just how much I’d missed the buzz until I found myself back in the hearty hub of it on Sunday morning.
There’s something really empowering about being surrounded by hundreds of like-minded individuals.
I have blogged about the unspoken bond between runners before – and our binding is never stronger than it is at shared events.
We can sense the struggle of another runner, and know that sometimes a quick fix remedy is simply a supportive back pat in passing.
From the breathless calls of “Keep going!” at that 6k slump, to the shared eye-roll as we approach a hill or a particularly tricky bit of course, us runners have developed our own language, and we thrive in environments where we can just be this version of ourselves.
I was really quite anxious about the 10k. I run a half marathon every weekend, and can complete the 13.1 miles without stopping or walking at all. The last time I did a full marathon, I managed to get to 34k before indulging in my first walk break.
But for some reason, I have a mental block around running 10k. I have no idea why – it just seems that every time I try to run a flat 10k, I get really de-motivated and find myself willing the whole thing to end. I find running 21k way easier – it literally makes no sense!
My average 10k time ranges from 48 to 52 minutes, and I have never broken this.
When completing the application form for the Colshaw 10k, I was honest about my predicated finishing time, and played it safe with a 52 minute estimation. I begrudgingly told myself that I’d be happy with anything under that time.
The night before the run, I had a nightmare that I was at the front of the race and went the wrong way. I ended up getting lost in a field of cows and finished with a time of one hour, 49 minutes.
^ Beautiful Colshaw Hall
Back in reality, the 10am starting time neared.
Music played out of the speakers – a ferocious gust of excitement to see us on our way at the starting line, and a beacon of glory at the finish.
“Happiness hit her like a train on a track...”
As I passed under the ‘START’ archway, I switched my pace from a light trot to a defiant stride, amplified by pent-up energy. I felt like a horse unleashed from the Grand National stalls.
The country lanes opened up in-front of me, and I settled into a comfortable pace.
The scenery was divine, and I found myself slipping into a daydream as I ran along.
Suddenly, an overwhelming feeling of contentment washed over me.
I felt a fierce stab of gratitude for my body. I’ve subjected it to relentless torture during my seven year battle with anorexia. I’m acutely aware of the fact that on many occasions, it could have quite easily given up on me.
Instead, here I was, enjoying this perfect Sunday morning, drinking in the beautiful countryside.
I was alive, and more to the point, I was actually living.
So often anorexia leaves its unwilling host an empty shell deprived of anything other than its glare. But not anymore.
Today, my body was fighting back. Today, my body was once again subtly handing me the sacred gift of life.
By 7k, my feet were on fire and I was only growing in vigour. I was overcome with an unrivalled passion for running and I ploughed forwards in a state of happy delirium.
The lanes which gently held me in the palm of their hands were not just the route to the finish line – they were the pathway to the ecstasy bubbling over within me.
At 9k, as if by magic, my ultimate running song bounced through my headphones: Sandstorm by DaRude. I flew down the road, spurred on by the music (and the thought of my finish line flapjack!).
My chest burned and my heart turned somersaults. I pummelled every last surge of energy I had into tearing through the last kilometre.
I gave it absolutely everything I had. This triumph was for my body: my incredible companion.
I completed the 10k run in 41 minutes – my personal best.
I came 10th out of 426 female runners, and 3rd out of 79 in my age bracket.
And when I crossed the finish line, my body pulsating with adrenaline, I wasn’t just celebrating my victory... I was once again sticking one finger up at anorexia.
The most important thing I have learned about anorexia over the past seven years is that the most powerful tool in aiding the long journey to recovery is turning the negatives into positives.
Given the amount of physical stress and pain that over-exercising has put my body through, I would be within my right to loathe running. It could have so many traumatic connotations for me, taking me back to my darkest days, whereby I’d spent hours upon end pounding the pavements at 5:30am on winter mornings, slipping across frost and returning home with sub-minus temperature nosebleeds.
Instead, I choose to embrace running. I choose to remember the evenings watching the sunset from the highest point in the village as I tick another 5k off my list, the supportive cheers from the crowds at every event, and the sight of my body flourishing with strength as muscle heals my jutting bones, growing over it like ivy.
Running gives me wings. Sometimes, I genuinely feel as though I can take off, leaving my worries on the ground below as I free fall through the sheer bliss of runner’s highs.
When I achieve something like today, it changes the entire dialogue inside my head.
It’s not longer a case of The Voice dominating my thoughts with taunts of, ‘You need to run at least 10 miles today to counteract every single calorie you’ve eaten in the last two days,’ Instead, my fighting spirit bites back with, ‘Look what my incredible body can do!’
While my legs can still move, I’ll take every opportunity I can to run.
While my heart still beats, I’ll throw it at the glory of racing through the miles.
While The Voice still screams, I’ll continue to yell back at it, my head held high.
And while my body keeps leaving me awestruck by its resilience, I endeavour to honour it by showing what it’s capable of achieving, despite the inner force determined to drag it down.
It will never win – anorexia will never again take me down completely.
Cara Jasmine Bradley