At the start of the year I signed up for the Two Tunnels Mini Challenge. This would involve doing a 5k in March, a 10k in May and (gulp) a half marathon in September. Two days before the 5k I got a chest infection, and so I re-scheduled to do the 5k in May and the 10k in July. Useful to have a series of events with 4 dates in the year!
Unfortunately this screwed up my timings somewhat. I ended up doing the Glastonbury 10k just a week before the Two Tunnels 5k, with no recovery runs in between. Achey legs and an annoyance at driving all the way to Bath for a (probably short) 5k made it a pretty miserable experience. Ben tried to persuade me that it was good experience for the later runs, but I wasn’t having any of it. By the time I reached last weekend, I wondered what the point of doing a 10k at this point was, particularly having already hit my sub-60 target for the year.
The Two Tunnels events are based around a section of the former Somerset & Dorset railway line that’s been turned into a cycle path. Along the line it goes through, wait for it, two tunnels. Bet you didn’t see that one coming. All the events start in a park in Bath, and the ‘Return ticket’ 10k goes out through both tunnels before coming back the same way.
The events have quite a laid-back feel to them, with everything you really need from a race but not a lot more. On arriving in the park (field) I collected my number and then headed straight for the very long toilet queue. Four toilets between several hundred runners led to a long wait, but as luck would have it I was queuing right behind two fellow club members.
The range of events and size of path means that runners are sent off in waves. We were in the last wave to go, and during our (very good) briefing the first few 5k runners started to go through. Many of us were clapping and cheering them in – it was that kind of event. There was a countdown until the start clock got to 20 minutes, and then we were off.
Well, we were mostly off. Some people nearer the front weren’t in much of a rush, so it took a little while to properly get going. We headed across the field and then down a bank to meet the footpath. Lesson number 1 from the 5k – there is no need to rush down the uneven bit. I nearly twisted my ankle first time out, but in the 10k I took my time and chose my footing carefully.
Once we were on the path properly I started weaving to try to get into the right position. What I didn’t learn from the 5k is that the bridges have posts in the middle at either end, and so I nearly smacked straight into one of them. The typical re-shuffle for the start of a race continued, and I found myself overtaking people who were overtaking people themselves. Reminded me of the motorway on the way up! It was also pretty hairy at times, as the 5kers were flying along in the opposite direction.
Having settled into a pace, the first tunnel approached. Lesson number two from the 5k – the tunnels are your friend. The footing is solid throughout, and there is a surprisingly consistent cool, easy-to-breathe air quality. There are lights at regular intervals, and the path is easily wide enough to run three across. I knew this was my chance to get into a solid rhythm at a quicker pace.
Heading out of the first tunnel, I lapped my watch. Then I lapped it again. The tunnels are great for running but terrible for GPS. By lapping once it had re-found me, I could use my lap pace to get an approximation of how fast I was going. Something else I’d thought about after my 5k experience.
We passed the turning point for the 5k and then, in what seemed like no time at all, had reached the second tunnel. It’s fair to say that this part didn’t seem like no time at all. This tunnel is very long, just over a mile long in fact. Somewhere in the middle I spotted the distance markers on the ground, telling you how far it was to each end. The atmosphere was good, as runners from an earlier 10k wave were heading back the other way. Friendly faces and the tunnel features made for nice racing conditions.
The major downside with a mile of cool tunnel was coming out the other end. It was like running into a wall of hot and humid. My watch took a little longer to find me this time, so I was lapping for quite a bit. It helped to pass the time until that magical moment – drinks station! The water was in the usual cups, and was handed out very efficiently.
After a short while longer we reached the flag. Turning round on a reasonably narrow path made for a tight corner. I went round at the same time as a reasonably tall guy who was packed with muscle. This gave me that brief smug moment of being small enough to accelerate back up very quickly. Pretty sure he caught back up shortly after though.
As inevitably happens, the way back seemed to take that big longer. The drinks station was further than I remembered, although I did have the lift of seeing club members passing through. The drinks were outbound only, but someone nice had taken a few cups to the other side to give us the option of more water. And it was then furhter to get back to the tunnel than I’d remembered as well.
The atmosphere changed on the way back, as I was fairly lonely in the tunnel. Fewer people were running the other direction, and I was a way behind the runner in front as well. Every hundred metres I looked to the ground to see the distance markers, and it’s fair to say they helped keep me going. So much so that I caught and overtook the girl in front, who was very supportive in cheering me on.
Leaving the tunnel meant another wave of heat, but a psychological milestone had been passed. The marshal at the 5k turn point was a welcome sight, and by the final tunnel section I was feeling pretty good. So I started to speed up. Compared to the longer tunnel, with the knowledge of heading home, the shorter tunnel was over much sooner than expected.
Back out in the open I was aware of someone catching up to me. At one stage we were side-by-side, and he told me not to let him overtake me. Even though it felt harder the pace was still good. We crossed a bridge, and in one of those horrible moments I forgot that there were, in fact, two bridges and so we weren’t as close to the end as I thought. I felt like I had nothing left to give, but with the support of my new running partner I maintained pace.
We finally got to the bridge near the end. Some earlier finishers were waiting there cheering – one of my favourite features in any race or parkrun. The final lesson I had taken from the 5k was that the finish was relatively difficult, going up a reasonably steep slope before heading back to the grass. I really struggled up the hill, but I got a lot of support from the guy I was running with. Then we reached the last slog along the grass. Cheers came from all around, including from Ben and our daughter, and I gave every last thing I had to make it over the line.
I’d seen the clock as I crossed the line, and it’s really not hard to subtract 20 minutes from a time. Which mean that as I turned to shake the other runner’s hand I was able to thank him for pushing me back to a massive PB. He said that he’d been using me for pace for quite some way. I think it was really nice of him to cheer me home instead of overtaking – I know which option Ben would have taken!
Across the field I took my toddler to pick up my medal – number 2 as it was my second race in the series. The bag literally just contained a high-quality medal and a chocolate bar which, to be honest, is all I really want at the end of a race. Ben then took a trip to one of the food vans, and so I was happily munching away as I watched some of my club friends cross the line. Special shout out for Kirsti who had an amazing sprint finish to pull off an overtake just before the finish line.
So what started off as a pointless event turned into one of the best 10k experiences I’ve had. In September there will be events ranging from 300m to a full marathon, and I would strongly recommend it to anyone in the area. Scenic race with everything you need, and the added bonus of going through some old railway tunnels. Definitely one I’d happily recommend.
My 3-part medal is now two thirds complete, and I worked extremely hard for that second piece. My 10k PB was reduced by almost 4 minutes to 55:23. The scary thing is though, I’ll have to work even harder for the third part. I’ve never run that far before!