It’s Sunday, 25th October and the morning sun is shining on the start line of the Inspire Races Get Running 10K at Thetford Forest.  My sprocker Toby and I are signed up for the canicross wave and will be among the first runners taking part.  I’m having a last minute fiddle with my phone, sorting out my playlist and my all-important running app while Toby – in chorus with the other doggy competitors – is getting himself all wound up like a noisy, excitable spring!

Before I go on, it probably makes sense to mention where I see myself as a runner as that will obviously have a part to play in my experience of the event.  I’m not as young as I’d like to be, that’s probably point number one, and I’ve only been running for about eighteen months.  Yep, just a year-and-a-half ago I rolled off the couch for the first time in ages and decided I was going to run.  I managed about half a kilometre that day and, I’m not going to lie, I was pretty chuffed.  Fast forward to now and I’m regularly running 10km with Toby.  Our only previous experience of competition is an earlier 10K which also took place at Thetford, just before Lockdown kicked in.  In short, we’ll be giving you a bit of an amateur’s view of proceedings…

Anyway, there we were, back in Thetford seven months later and raring to go again.  We’d had an early start, having to jump in the car at 6am to get there for our 8am wave time, but we weren’t alone in that I’m sure.  In fact, in the moments leading up the race, we had the pleasure of meeting fellow Tailrunner Clare and her spaniel Rosie who had made a very similar journey to ours and were both lovely (and, as it turns out, very fast)!

The folks at Inspire Races were set up well before we arrived and gave us a pretty good safety briefing, with a focus on social distancing as you might expect.  There would be no water stops for us humans – no drama to me as I’m not a thirsty runner anyway – but there would be water for the dogs on the course.  This was handy as it saved me having to run with Toby’s usual water bottle, which I felt sure could shave valuable seconds off our time…

We’d be running two laps of a 5km course; same as last time we raced here.  Except that last time we raced here (with different organisers, I should add) our 10km race ended up being 11.5km.  Now I’m all for getting more than I pay for, but that sort of thing can affect your pace a bit.  Anyway, briefing over, it was time for the race to begin.  The event was chip timed, allowing for a socially distanced, staggered start.  Faster runners were asked to make their way to the front of the line-up.  Toby and I, naturally, made our way towards the back.

And off we went, under the big inflatable arch that marked the start line, out of the field where we’d all assembled and into the forest, with an early right turn.  Immediately, tunes in my ears, my feet pounding and Toby pulling like a legend out front, I felt that buzz that I only really get from running with my dogs.  We overtook a few teams, a few teams overtook us, and then we settled in to a steady pace.  I wanted to finish in under an hour.  Toby had lost a bit of fitness over the summer following vets’ advice to rest and the last thing I wanted to do was push him too hard, although he’d been more-or-less back to form in training.

The course at Thetford is very flat and has a kind of soil that doesn’t get sludgy, even when it’s wet, so there were plenty of puddles, but no mud.  How you feel about that, I guess, is up to you, but I reckon it’s something that sets Thetford apart from other venues as I can’t think of anywhere locally where I can run cross-country in October and not come back looking like a swamp monster.  It’s also nice and open, offering plenty of room to overtake for dogs that like their own space and the course was really well measured this time, with the big fluorescent distance markers tying up almost perfectly with my app.  It felt like we’d hardly been running for any time at all when we re-entered the start field and crossed back under the arch, marking the halfway point in our race.

It was actually quite nice to run the same lap a second time.  There was one really puddly bit and for reasons best known to himself, Toby loves to run through a puddle.  I think knowing this bit was coming up helped spur him on a bit as he and I both started to tire and obviously, with my job being to follow along behind my dog, I ended up getting my own feet wet as well!  It was on this puddly stretch that we entered into a bit of a battle for position with a lady and her vizsla.  To be honest, as we were chip-timed, the battle didn’t really mean as much as it could have, but it was still quite a buzz, with Toby and I eventually getting ahead and staying ahead.  Toby’s focus and drive made me genuinely pretty proud and I reckon that battle knocked a few seconds off our time in the closing kilometres.

As we re-entered the starting field again, Toby was obviously starting to tire but was still out ahead of me and he gave me one last sprint as we approached the finish line.  We’d done it, our second proper canicross race was finished.  I was tired but happy and Toby had that look about him that says “what next dad?” which I’m sure any spaniel owner will recognise!  Toby made good use of the doggy water stop and I picked up our medal before thanking the organisers and heading off for a well-earned cup of coffee!

All-in-all it was a lovely morning’s racing.  The team from Inspire had managed to put on an event that felt friendly, fun and safe in spite of everything and they deserve a big pat on the back for that.  Well done, folks!

It was a good few hours before the results appeared online.  Toby and I finished 13th from a field of 26 entrants, putting us (just) inside the top half, which I’ll take all day long!  We even managed a time of 50:51 which is a PB for us.  I don’t now what more we could have asked for really – we look forward to the next one!