I’d love to know what it feels like to run fast. I really would. But meanwhile (like that’s going to change??), I’m destined to work with what I’ve got. At 51 and late to running there are quite a few compromises going on – but I refuse to be accused of not giving my 100% – even if it doesn’t look it from the outside and I can tell you what … as slow as I am racing is no less exciting from my end of the field.
Yesterday – 22 March 2014 – I competed in my first off-road half marathon at The New Forest Running Festival (http://nakedstrength.co.uk/events/the-new-forest-running-festival-2014/). Not that it would have made any difference to the result but it was slightly ‘unplanned’! I’d had a number lurking for the 50k (to face last year’s demons) but being in no way ready for a 50k the RD very VERY kindly allowed me to switch races, which was perfect. I mean, where better to do a Saturday LSD? This was, as it happened, also my first official HM. I’ve run them in training runs but never as a race distance. It took me 2 hours 17 minutes but in my heart I am still taking 1st place on the podium. The course was just nicely challenging – undulating but nothing close to heart-stopping. The wilds of the New Forest were stunningly rugged and beautiful and threats of rain and hail proved empty. Sun shone and conditions were superb. Even my favourite Dirty Girl gaiters (http://www.ultramarathonrunningstore.com/Trail-Running-Gaiters-s/1899.htm) came back as pristine as they went out!
Perfect. What’s more, for me it was an exciting race! I’m used to that ‘red lantern’ position – although I think that term really only applies to ultras. You’ve got to admit, though, it’s a much nicer term than ‘last’! And yes, with a time of 2:17 I wasn’t too far from last but what mattered was the shortlist of mental games and dreams that yesterday I managed to turn into personal mini-conquests.
I don’t know the exact numbers but after the first two hills there were maybe a dozen runners behind me. By Mile 5 the ‘steadies’ had overtaken and I was probably about 3 from the back. That’s ok. That’s normal for me. My goal was to try and keep a few of them in sight for as long as possible. My first ‘target’ was a lady hereinafter referred to as Purple. She was like living proof of the effect of good cadence. It took her forever to run past me but she was so consistent and steady and efficient that even though she looked like she was running really slowly she very soon disappeared into the middle distance. It was fascinating to watch. I had some fun for a while trying to match her cadence because it seemed to be working so bloomin’ well but mid-race is not the time to try something ‘different’ so I dropped the idea, made a mental note and found ‘my own’ pace again.
My legs were tired after 3 miles – honestly! Or was that my head? Stressy week, not the best nutrition, too much going on at home and I’d missed a couple of key runs because Body just said ‘No’! So I wasn’t in the best headspace but I knew this was the perfect LSD run for me and ‘new’ scenery would help rekindle my waning mojo. I very soon realised that my head was playing games and I decided on a reward. I’d divide the race into 2 x 5 miles and after each 5 I could walk a bit and regroup before the final leg. This helped me push past the nonsense of being tired at 3 miles!! By the time I got to the 5-mile mark I also knew that any walking was a matter of Can’t-Be-Arsed Syndrome rather than ‘need’. I made a deal with myself that if I ‘needed’ to walk, I could do that at 6 miles instead – round about 10k. Cut a long story short, I played this ridiculous mental peekaboo with the nonsense in my head for the entire race – and didn’t walk at all! *** Achievement No. 1
As always I found myself running solo for a few miles but a turnoff onto a longish downhill gave me a glimpse of several runners not that far in front! OMG my heart leapt! I am not used to EVER being able to see runners in front of me – I am too far behind for that (unless they’re lapping me), so this was tremendously exciting. That 500m gap, in my world, made me feel like part of a group. And with this little moment of joy came another miracle. My brain kicked in and I actually remembered that I am quite good at running downhill now (I’ve been practising)! Time to give it a go … I ran that downhill fast and by the bottom I was on the heels of the back runner!! *** Achievement No. 2
3 miles to go and either head, legs or both started to get the better of that group of runners and as much as I possibly could I tried to take advantage. It doesn’t happen often that I can reel in a running target. Yellow was first to topple. We’d crossed paths a few times but she kept coming back to haunt me. This time I passed her on a long uphill – and lost her. Whoop! Ahead was Black – who’d looked invincible from the start. That same hill got her, too, but I was on a mission now (even if it was a 10-minute mile mission!) and passed her on the same hill. Red! I never thought I’d see her but yay! And then … Purple! Seriously? The cadence lady. I don’t know what happened but I didn’t stop to ask (sorry!). At this point I remember wondering if I’d actually been transported to some kind of parallel universe. I mean, this was me – OVERTAKING PEOPLE!
2 miles to go and I had a great mile alongside Blue. She finally pulled away in the last mile looking super strong. A part of me hopes that during the mile or so together she was thinking ‘That old bag is bloody well not getting ahead of me!’ I’d like to think I encouraged her to push a little harder.
Finally, in the last half mile I passed Tall (not to be confused with Red lol). Jeepers, that final hill was evil. Thank you Tall for your support – the only person who spoke to me. The giggle on the way up was great. I made it to the top first and thought I was home and dry until in the final 50m you absolutely ripped past me! It was AWESOME running! I hope you heard me shouting/cheering you on. Trust me, I was coming after you but you totally had that and it was great to have someone to chase to the finish.
So there you have it. I – Me – overtook a BILLION other runners (a.k.a. 4) … *** Achievement No. 4!
I crossed the finish line and … the tents were all still up and the TEA LADY WAS STILL THERE! And that, Ladies and Gents, is most definitely a first! *** Achievement No. 5!
Finally, I have to admit to be really very proud of myself – something I don’t usually permit. *** Achievement No. 6.
HUGE thanks to the most wonderful, friendly and supportive marshalls and organisers.
Many thanks to to the wonderful Mandy Jackson for your company, the laughs, the chat and the support. You didn’t have the race you wanted but your turn will come.
And a final and massive thanks to the reason that I experienced the joy of coming in ‘a few from the end. This, I know, comes down to training and very patient coaching. For that, I have to thank http://iancorless.org/tag/talk-ultra/
OFFICIAL FINISH POSITION: 32 ….. TOTAL RUNNERS: 47 !!!!! Sooooooooooooooooooo not last. Whooppeee 🙂
This is fantastic, was smiling right the way through! Made my heart melt to hear that you were proud of yourself, Most of the time I don’t think I could be prouder of anyone else on the planet and to hear that you felt proud of yourself makes it that much more brilliant.
From the proudest daughter to the most inspirational mother – thank you for brightening my day with this!
Wonderful bit of writing and well done you. You’ve put into words what we’ve all thought. Keep on enjoying your running. Best, Steve