“Step in time!” – Oxford Town & Gown 10k race

It’s not really part of bike training, but this weekend I did my first ever run – and by run, I mean race, not just “going for a run”.

It was the Oxford Town & Gown, raising money for the Muscular Dystrophy Campaign. I signed up with a group of friends, planning to cycle from London to Oxford and then run the race. I sadly had to pull out of the ride element, as I’m not recovered enough from my accident to be able to do these sorts of things just yet, but the magnificent 6 set off from London at 4am and rode to Oxford, via Watlington, where they were met by our country cousins. Both parties were dressed as chimney sweeps.

I set off from home at 5am, leaving plenty of time “in case of traffic”. Yesterday was a Sunday, and there was – of course – no traffic, so I was in Oxford by about 7.30. Plenty of time… for a 10am start. After drinking mint tea at the bus station (nicer than it sounds), I went to meet one of the Oxford contingent who had set up a “Bike and Brush Emporium” for all the tired chimney sweeps to leave their bikes and brushes while they ran.

Up until this point I’d been wearing jeans and sneakers. But the time had come to get changed into costume – Mary Poppins! The only thing missing was a parasol, which I regretted a little as it turned out to be a very sunny day.

5 of us went to the start line: me, Bernie, Alan, Tom and John. We cracked some jokes about our predicted 30 minute finish times. I started feeling a bit nervous, like I needed the loo (or was it just all the mint tea?). Too late to pull out, too late to do any training. Christine Hamilton (lord knows why!) did a little speech, and then the gun went off. We slowly shuffled forward. Then started to jog. Then crossed the line!

Almost immediately we passed the non-running sweeps (around 10 of them) and they gave us a massive cheer. The race was on. From the crowds we heard “come on chimney sweeps!” and “look, it’s Mary Poppins!” and we obliged with “chim-chim-cheroo” and “step in time”. Tom and John started moving ahead and I matched my pace to Al’s. We chatted about our jobs, our lives and how we were hoping to avoid blisters. Almost as soon as I said the B word, I felt a blister form on the sole of my foot. Urgh.

1km passed. Only a tenth of the way?! 2km. 3km. We looped past the chimney sweeps again as well as a man on a penny farthing. My shoelaces untied and a kind man pointed it out and stopped me from falling and breaking my neck. Just before 4km there was the first station. We walked briskly and downed 2 cups of water, then started running again. 5km was a welcome sight, and another loop past the chimney sweeps. Halfway between 5km and 6km my hip and knee started to feel really sore and I started to doubt myself. It was a very long way to 6km, where we walked for a couple of hundred metres.

Back running again, we entered the park, where the last 3-and-a-bit km were. Another water point. Running in the shade. A breeze from a lake! 7km passed and felt a lot better. But it quickly got hard again, and Al and I were taking any excuse to walk for a few metres. 8km and I was feeling grim. I started talking about how much I loved everyone. A man in a chicken costume ran past and we spent the final 2km trying to pass each other. We looped past the finish line, and spotted more sweeps, who gave us a cheer. The 9km sign was a welcome sight! Al, Bernie and I made the executive decision to walk for 100 metres. And then we ran. Bernie made some terrible, terrible puns about the chicken. We kept on running.

We saw a sign saying 400 metres to go. Bernie and I passed the chicken. I tried to run while turning round every few metres to cheer on Al. Al and the chicken were neck and neck. 200 metres to go. I picked up the pace. 100 metres to go. Bernie held out his hand and we sprinted to the end and across the line! My legs felt like jelly and it was simultaneously the best and worst feeling ever!

Lots of hugging, photographs, an interview with the race organisers, more hugging, more photos, collecting our goody bags, and I finally remembered to turn my strava off. We met up with the other chimney sweeps – sidetracked on the way by a little girl who asked if I was a real-life princess – and back to the Bag and Bike Emporium. Snacks were brought out, along with a bottle of port I’d brought along for post-race celebrations.

After downing most of the port, we headed to the Turf Tavern, where sunshine and beer awaited us. The pub wasn’t open yet so we polished off the port (passed to the left, of course) and ate more snacks, before the bar opened and we got on the beers. Eventually I got out of my Mary Poppins costume and into more normal clothes, and the hat got passed around for everyone to try on (and for yet more photos). I felt drunk and tired but very very happy.

By mid-afternoon, we all had trains to catch so we headed off. Such a brilliant day – excellent company, lovely weather, a great cause. Bernie was the man behind the organising of the day and he really was amazing.

I got my official race time later that day. I did it in 01:10:42 – not too bad for a first race, first 10k distance and in costume. My longest run until that point was the night before, just under 6km. I actually feel inspired to do another 10k – though I think next time I’ll wear more practical clothes!!


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