Anyone who reads this site will tell you I’m a runner. But go back any further than five years and that wasn’t the case. I never dreamed of running at the Olympics. I never looked at Steve Cram or Michael Johnson and thought I want to be you. I certainly never closed my eyes and imagined myself lining up at an Olympic Stadium about to race the mile.
And yet here I am. Wearing a vest, a proper runner’s vest. My go-faster pink-flecked Nike Zoom Vomero 10s scratching the start line alongside a dozen other runners, all about to race the mile in front of a crowd of 15,000 at London’s Olympic Stadium – 30 minutes before the start of the Anniversary Games, the final athletics meet that’s going to take place on this iconic track. It’s definitely a dream come true, the thing is I just didn’t know it was my dream. Until right now.
It wasn’t that I didn’t like watching the British distance icons, Cram, Ovett and Coe, back in the day or admire their achievements. I could see these were guys whose faces deserved to be on posters on any youngster’s bedroom wall. But I was a footballer. I prayed to different Gods.
Back then running was the part of football I hated most. It was a necessary evil, an annual ritual of run-til-your-sick pre-season training. I always did it but it was a means to an end. The faster and longer I could run, the better I’d be at football.
This is once in a lifetime stuff. If this was Wembley I’d be chasing every ball. But now I’m a runner, living a runners’ dream.
Break open my chest and instead of a heart, you’d find a round, pumping Adidas Tango football. I didn’t have time to think about other sports, I was too busy dreaming that one day I’d walk out at Wembley.
The irony is that running has taken me closest to achieving that dream. The nearest I’ve come to stepping on a blade of Wembley turf was during a half marathon that took us pitch side earlier this year.
And now running has brought me here, with the Olympic track under my feet staring down the barrel of four laps into the unknown.
In the weeks building up to this race we’ve been given plenty of advice, with experts on hand to show us what to eat, what to drink, how to run and what to think. But even a shakedown run three days earlier with Britain’s legendary miler Steve Cram, followed by some help with our mental preparations from a British Athletics sports psychologist, hasn’t killed the nerves I’m feeling while we wait for the gun. And I’m not even under that much pressure. I’ve never run a timed mile before so whatever happens here I’m getting a PB.
The lining up bit seems to take an eternity. I quickly realise that I don’t really know what the drill is here at all. Will they announce us? How long until they fire the fake gun? Wow there’s a lot of people here. Then I remember the words of the sports head doctor.
Focus on the race plan. Focus on the race plan. So that’s what I try to do. Mine goes something like this.
- Get out fast but don’t be silly. Use the first lap to settle into the race.
- Steady on the gas for lap two.
- Hold on tight for lap three but don’t empty the tank.
- Finally when you hear the bell, use the adrenalin to get you to 200m, then finish with a flourish.
I’m half way through my second run through and pop. The gun goes. And with it the race plan. I belt it into the first corner and realise I’m ahead of the 5:40 pacer which is my target time. I’m blowing out of my arse within 200m and wondering what the hell I’m doing here. Over head I pick up the stadium commentator mention my name and offering up details of some of the other runners in the race. Shit starts to feel very real all of a sudden.
After the first lap I’m in fourth place. The 4:40 pacer is way out in front, a blazing yellow vest smashing round with ease. The two runners trying to tail him are also already well out of reach. I can feel the breath of the rest of the field on the back of my neck. When a couple of them pass, including the 5:40 pacer, I’m pretty happy. It means I’m settling back into my race plan. All I have to do is keep the pacer’s yellow in sight and it’ll all be good.
Lap two flies by. Half way. As we move into the dreaded lap three – the lap I’ve been hearing horror stories about all week – my legs and lungs start to burn. I’m not quite going backwards but the track has started to turn to treacle beneath my feet. I get that taste of blood you only get when you’re pulling deep for air.
Just as I’m starting to wonder if the engine’s about to fall out, another four people pass me on the back straight. It’s bad. “You’ve fucked it,” my mind says. “Give up and coast home.” Then I remember where I am. This is once in a lifetime stuff. If this was Wembley I’d be chasing every ball. But now I’m a runner, living the runner’s dream. I stare into the corner and focus on getting to the bell still in touch with the pack.
Technically we’re supposed to racing ourselves our here. The idea of the Nike Milers is to find your own fast. But I can’t help myself from treating this like a race. It’s probably not what the psychologist would recommend, but I tell myself the people in front are going to be hurting too. Luckily for me it’s true. Up the straight to the bell I’m able to ease off the gas a little but still stay within projectile vomitting distance of the group in front. Then comes the bell. “Ding ding ding ding ding ding.”
The sound brings up mixed feelings. I’m happy it’s nearly all over but I know there’s a lot of pain left to come. I figure it must be similar for a boxer who’s spent nine rounds taking a battering and is about to get off the stool for the final round. Your body’s giving up, your mind is battered and you’re staring at almost certain defeat. But you’ve got one last chance. There’s still hope. Only if you throw it all in.
And so that’s what I do. I conjure up the last mile of the Marathon des Sables. I ran that mile almost as quick as any other mile of the 156 during the six days. I remember the feeling of lightness that came from knowing the end was in sight. I need some of that for the final push now.
I put my foot down and hope there’s gas in the tank. As we round the final bend I find myself picking off a couple of people. Earlier this morning Mo Farrah and Steve Cram had told us that it’s better to be running well down the back straight than feeling like you’re crawling home. It felt good to be pulling that off.
More importantly I was also closing in on the 5:40 pacer. I see I’m going to run out of track before I catch her but I’m happy that I’m definitely coming away with a time that begins with a 5. With 10m I get my head up to drink in the moment and as I cross the line I clock my time. 5:40 dead on.
What makes this even more amazing is that when I get back inside under the stadium I pull out my phone and look at a text I’d sent to a running buddy mentor of mine before the race. On a day when I accomplished a dream I didn’t even know I had, I ran exactly the race I planned to run. You can’t do more than that.
For more info on how to #findyourfast visit the Nike Milers.