Friday, 20 October 2017

The "Heart Of Eden"

I had thought that York was going to be my last road race of the year, and I'd be "playing" more off-road but sometimes plans change last minute and you have to make the best of the situation.
I hadn't done quite enough races to count in Dumfries Running Club's Grand Prix for 2017 and it suddenly seemed feasible to take part it the Heart of Eden half marathon (the last counting race that I could make) on Sunday. I had been told that it was a really tough hilly course, so there would be no pressure to run a fast time - it was just a case of getting round to score some Grand Prix points, which was a bonus considering what I've ruin recently (yes, I know that most people step up their race distance, but I was breaking the trend and decreasing mine).
 
Carsharing made it a sociable trip down to Appleby - and it was fun to catch up with various friends at registration - the location of the race meaning that people had travelled both from the North East and the North West. As well as it being a Grand prix race for DRC, it was also part of the Eden Runners' Grand Prix and so they had a really good turnout (and I know several of them well).
 
Photobombing the Eden Runners
Unknown to me, my garmin had also been drawn in to taking away the "pressure to perform" as it had broken that morning, and so a clubmate lent me a simple stopwatch to give me some idea of time, although I'd then have to do mental arithmetic to work out my running pace! It was a very low key start with people milling around for club photos, a gathering of the rabble in the road and then we were off.
 
The start was a steep descent and so some people hared off down it. One of my clubmates Niall did this, as we all knew he would. It doesn't matter how many races he does, he's never quite got the hang of sensible pacing and so started off leading the whole race, whereas I deliberately hung back with some of my (more senior) clubmates. As soon as we turned a corner and hit the first (of many) climbs, runners started to go backwards. I don't think I changed my effort level to any noticeable extent yet I seemed to be moving right up to the business end of the field.
 
Not the flattest of race profiles
From there on in the route was an undulating one (though a lot more up than down to the halfway point) round the countryside of the North Pennines. I'd sometimes see people ahead of me on the road, but at other times I'd appear to be all alone as I neared corners, ran through trees, headed up hill and down dale. Although the weather wasn't the finest (with some brief patches of rain) there were still some great views on occasion and so I really enjoyed the "testing" course.
 
On the country lanes having
passed Niall
It was interesting to see the race unfold ahead of me (when I could).....apart from the race winner who headed off and was never seen again by the rest of us mere mortals. As expected Niall faded somewhat and was overtaken by Alan (another of my clubmates) after about 4.5miles. This was a significant event as Alan and Niall are direct rivals for the lead of the club men's Grand Prix. Alan looked to be moving slightly away from me and catching the guy in front of him, who was actually second in the race.
 
I passed another couple of men (on the uphills) and then realised that I was almost up to Niall. I was enjoying my run and had the breath to spare to thanks the marshals as we passed them, but I didn't think it would be very PC to comment on Niall's pacing strategy as I passed him so I just moseyed quietly on past. I didn't know what pace I was running, and although at times I did feel like just stopping (this seems to be a frequent thought in races these days.....note to self...work on mental toughness) the gap to the guys in front started shrinking.
No prizes, but nice trophies!
Alan had been in second place for a good while but was now back to third place. I caught up to him at about 12 miles and tried to give him a bit of encouragement. We had started with that steep downhill and as I'd been told that the race had a bit of a sting in the tail (and started and finished at the same location), I figured we'd have to go back up it at the end. I thought that the second placed man had been struggling slightly with the climbs so there was a good chance this final hill would be his undoing. Alan put on a little burst with half a mile to go, though just quietly, I thought that I was probably the best climber of all three of us, so I might even sneak past them both.
 
We headed under a bridge, turned a sharp corner and were suddenly right at the starting point (arriving via a minor road and so completely missing out the hill). I was gutted as this gave me no chance of chicking the guys with their sprint finishes, and so I settled for 4s behind Alan who was just behind second place himself. Still....not a bad run for me considering the recent few weeks, so I felt that I'd earnt my soup and shower!!

Thursday, 12 October 2017

York....Take Four....

I had been invited to run in the Yorkshire marathon before the China trip came off, and so I contacted them on my return. They have always been very good to me, and I enjoy going down there and meeting up with friends old and new, but I knew that there was no way that I could race it, and probably shouldn't even be thinking about running it, but wanted to honour a commitment.
The organisers were happy for me to come down and participate as I saw fit...the aim was to actually have a fun day out, and enjoy the atmosphere of the event without the pressure of trying to run hard, and see how much of it I managed. I was determined to be sensible and listen to my body, though I knew it would be hard to watch everyone run away from me off the start.
At Catterick parkrun
I did a parkrun on my way down, and although it felt like I wasn't going to manage to actually keep going for the full 3 miles, I actually ran it faster than I thought, so I formulated a plan for the marathon. I would run the first half at a steady 3 hour pace (if I could), and then when the 100k caught up with me, I'd either fade to a respectable 3:15 or be able to stop with no regrets.

Shona and I hatching our pre-race plans
It was quite odd to be able to just enjoy the build up to the race, while feeling for the other ladies who were obviously getting nervous as they had target race plans (one for sub 2:40, one for sub 2:45, one for about 2:45 and two for sub 2:55). I caught up with Shona Fletcher (who'd won the marathon 3 years previously and then had a break from racing for a year) and she had a similar plan of enjoying it, though she was going to start at a similar pace to me and then push on from 8 miles if she felt like it.

Chatting away....
....and waving to the photographers...
It was so nice to run down the initially steep hill (which did hurt my poor toe, still skinless from China), through the city, past the Minster and out into the countryside chatting and having a good time with Shona. The timing clocks along the road showed completely the wrong times, but we did seem to be clipping along slightly faster than we'd planned. However, I stuck to the plan of "taking in the whole race atmosphere" and managed to detour over to high-five the local vicar who comes out to support outside his church every year (I've always just run straight past before) and wave to people I knew taking photos en route.

I urged Shona to push on and not wait for me, as I realised that there was a 3 hour pacer running not far behind us, but she was happy to continue at the same pace, and some guys near us commented on how odd it was to hear ladies talking about ultras, triathlons and pacing etc while running a marathon. We passed a couple of ladies en route but made sure we were not chatting then, as it felt disrespectful.....and to be fair, the chat got less as the run became longer as I was definitely not as fresh as I could have been.

A "happy face"? In a marathon?
I had been needing a "comfort break" for a while, but every convenient place seems to have a car parked or supporters waving, but I finally decided that actually it didn't matter if I took a bit of time to get right away from the race route. I waved Shona on and said I'd see her after the finish. I then had to be disciplined in rejoining the run, as the temptation was to chase her to catch up again. 
Clearly enjoying it too much!

Still, I was just a few steps ahead of the 3 hour pacer by this time, so all was ok. I wasn't quite sure on the time as the clocks on the roadside had all been out, some wee fast and some were slow. Just after the halfway mark there is an out and back section to Stamford Bridge, which meant that I could cheer my friend Tracy on (looking strong in second place), as well as Shona as I ran the opposite way. I counted the ladies ahead of me and knew that I was 8th so I felt pretty good with that.

The next few miles ticked by, and they felt much easier than in previous years when I'd been pushing myself harder......in fact, I felt that I didn't need to take on the drinks or gels offered at feed stations (I actually finished still carrying the gels that I started with....but that may have been due to all the croissants I had for breakfast).

There was another out and back from 16 to 20 miles and as she came the other way, it looked like Tracy had now taken the lead so I have her a huge shout (so much so that the cyclist with her asked if she had a fan club). I'd somehow closed the gap back to Shona and could see a lady not far ahead of her that looked like she might be the first V40. I was feeling good so urged Shona to come with me as I eased past, but she didn't want to push further though urged me to go for the first v40 position (in fact she later caught up with a struggling clubmate and selflessly eased right back to keep him company right to the finish).

The course - showing some of the
"out and backs"

I passed the Knavesmere lady at about the 19 mile mark (I'd recognised her from previous York marathons so knew we were in similar age categories) and tried to keep running strongly to avoid her coming with me. A right angle turn took me down towards the last 6 miles. I distinctly remember those last miles as feeling rather long, lonely and a bit of a struggle in the past, but this time I rather enjoyed them.

It helped that after about a mile or so, I spotted a bike up ahead. I couldn't believe it, but the 3rd and 4th lady were almost neck and neck and not too far ahead. They must have been tiring as I didn't feel like I picked up the pace, but soon caught them up and when I passed them the cyclist came with me. I chatted away to him and he told me that I'd gapped by about 50m in just a few minutes.

The second place lady didn't look too comfortable just a bit further up the road, and it was an amazing feeling to slowly reel her in, while still being able to talk to "my" cyclist. As I passed her, the bikes didn't swop over, with the other cyclist congratulating me and saying that he hadn't expected "his girl" to be caught.

Moving into second place
I knew that I only had a couple of miles to go, but also that the lady I'd just passed was 11 years younger than me and had a faster marathon PB, so I expected her to come with me and then be able to take her position back at the end. My cyclist was great and in between talking about ultras (me) and ironman (him), he advised me of the gap.....10m.....20m....30m.....she's holding that gap.....she closed back (actually he said "she's dropped back" but I misheard....

My "recovery drink"

With a mile to go, the gap was almost 70m so I did have to put the work in to try to maintain my pace as I knew the final hill wouldn't be fun on tired legs. I kept my legs going up it (while being told when she'd turned the corner and started the climb behind me). The final section is downhill into the finish and I did my best to pick up the speed for that bit, as it would be gutting to be overtaken right in the final few yards in front of the spectators, but I'm not sure my legs managed to obey.

The "podium" with Dickie Bird

I was stunned to cross the line in 2:54 for second place (about a minute ahead of third) .....unbelievable from how I'd imagined it finishing, but the first thing I did was congratulate Tracy on her great win and new PB. As it turned out, I ran the fastest last 12k of the ladies (about 6 mins faster than Tracy but then again, she'd had such a strong run throughout the course that her winning margin was still 8 minutes). 
Showing Tracy how to drink!


Again, York came good for me........I achieved my goal of relaxing and enjoying the marathon while soaking up the atmosphere and en route support......and the surprise result was just the icing on the cake!

Monday, 9 October 2017

The Chinese Experience.....

Ready to travel with my little companion
When I was first asked to run in the Fuxian Highland Ultramarathon, I thought that it sounded like an exciting opportunity to visit a new place (I've been an expedition medic trekking and cycling in China before but never to the Southern Highlands) but I wasn't sure if it would come off. This may sound rather pessimistic, but I have been invited out to the Far East to race before, only to have the event change dates at the last minute, so leaving me unable to rearrange leave from work.

As it was, I wasn't sure if I was going to make it this year either, as there were a few sagas associated with getting my visa, and even my travel out wasn't as smooth as it could have been (my plane returned to the terminal at Manchester after leaving, and then landed at the wrong terminal at Beijing, so I had to collect my luggage and recheck in for my domestic flight......all with the aid of sign language and positive thinking as little English was spoken).
Not sure about this buffet option...

Eventually I got to the race hotel (though the bus driver tried to drop me somewhere else) some 24 hours later, though unfortunately without my luggage, but luckily it arrived by the next day and I could relax, unwind and catch up with running friends from various parts of the globe.
The sushi was much more to my liking

There were several of us out from the UK, so we had a good time trying short breathless runs (it was amazing how much we were affected by the altitude, both breathing-wise and sleep-(or lack of)wise) and giggling over the various "interesting" buffet options.

All too soon it was race day - I was running the 100k, though most of my fellow Brits were racing over 50k. We were all due to start together and so although I tried to keep reminding myself not to even think about running with them, as I would still have another hilly 50k to go once we crossed their finish line (the 100k took in a whole lap of the lake, whereas they would be bussed back from the far side), it was nice to be able to chat to my friends Hannah and Sue for the first mile or two.

Relaxing pre-race
I figured that this meant I was running too fast, so soon dropped back and watched them go, but I was going about the same speed as my fellow 100k runners (Meghan from the US and Frida from Sweden) so that seemed OK. 

There was a long out and back along a dual carriageway relatively near to the start, and the far end of it had no central boards. This meant that although I didn't see the fastest 50k men, I could see the women's race unfolding ahead of me, and could encourage my friends. I was just ahead of Meghan and Frida as we turned but they soon passed me, and though I thought about going with them (I had so much respect for Meghan's running that I knew she would be good at setting a sensible steady pace) but the pace was slightly too tasty for me.
With Meghan, Frida and some Chinese runners

As it turned out they went slightly to and fro over the next few kms, and I ended up catching up and joining them, until Frida put in a surge and dropped us. There were some Chinese men also running with us, which neither Meghan not I were big fans of, as they would spit, cut you up and pass wind without so much as a second thought.

The flat concrete wasn't the most inspiring so Meghan and I were looking forward to "the hill" though everyone had been worried about it, as we had to climb about 150m to the highest point of the course (at over 1900m above sea level), though obviously it wasn't a straightforward climb as there were undulations on the ascent.

I've always preferred ascents to descents and thought I tried to take it as easy as I could, I suddenly found that I'd moved a significant way ahead of Meghan and was starting to overtake more of the 50k ladies. I caught and passed by Frida without seeming to alter my effort level (a couple of words of encouragement were exchanged), and then just after the 25k mark I passed Hannah who was run-walking up the hill. 

With Jo and Sue pre-race
It was already a fairly lonely run, so a quick chat with a familiar face greatly helped. After passing the high point, I fully expected the other two to come roaring past me, although the "long descent and flat section" from 35-50K that I'd "remembered" from having been driven round the course did still have a few climbs. I ran faster than planned downhill, but I didn't want to tire my quads out from consciously braking, and actually felt really good. Luckily, the morning had been overcast (with some wind early on) so it also didn't feel as hot as we'd feared.

To my surprise, I kept passing 50k ladies (and a couple of men from both distances) and when I passed by their finish, only 5 ladies had finished. I looked out for Jo and Sue (it turned out they finished in 3rd and 4th places respectively) but they were probably still in recovery mode, as I didn't recognise anyone at the side of the road. 

Lakeside near the 50K finish 2 days earlier
The sun had come out by this time, and I was rather jealous of their lakeside finish.....especially as all I could see ahead of me was an empty road with no other runners. It was definitely a "race" of two halves as the first and second 50k stretches were about as similar as night and day.

I really enjoyed running the first part, but I have to admit that the second half was the toughest road race I've ever done and there were many occasions on which I thought I wouldn't finish (and really didn't care if I didn't either!). The sun was out in full strength and there seemed to be no shade, little water and the concrete just became harder and harder underfoot. It was also a very lonely road that I traveled and each 5k stretch seem to become longer and tougher.
The route and profile map

The first two weren't so bad, except that it did seem odd to head away from the lake for 5k, up on a dual carriageway past fields and then a slightly more built-up area (so there was roadside support) and then back down again towards the shore. I was getting quite thirsty (so much so that I was tempted by a stream I saw beside the road)  but was also quite keen to visit a portaloo (there was one every 10k) so it was with immense relief that I crested a hill and saw the 60k aid station.

Unfortunately the portaloo was really just a box round a hole in the ground, so you had to take a few bottles of water from the aid station in with you, and squatting wasn't really the comfiest thing to do with tired quads.....but I guess it also meant that you didn't spend too long in there and were back on the road again as soon as possible.

It was a beautiful course...honest!!
The next few sections came and went with each one being more of a struggle than the previous one. Most people that I passed along the way felt similarly to me.....the heat, the sun and the altitude were taking their toll on us poorly-adapted runners (eg I live at sea level in Scotland.....not a country known for its warmth and endless sunshine). I had thought about adopting a run-walk strategy....or even going for a 3k run from an aid station until I ran out of water, and then walking the next 2k but somehow I managed to keep my legs moving (just about). 

A view of the lake on a slightly cloudier day
It would have been an absolutely beautiful course (the sun was reflecting off the lake as the road wound up and down hillsides beside it, and the hedgerows were full of purple sage and bougainvillea) had I not felt quite so rubbish. Although it was so tempting to call it quits, I hadn't come all the way to China to do that so I was determined to make it even if it took me all day. I was counting down the miles....initially until I got to see everyone from the 50k who was back at the hotel (as I knew I'd pass it with just over 5k to go), but then I'd just be thinking about making the next aid station.

When I got to an aid station, my routine was the same. I'd pick up my bottle, but stop dead, empty 2 cups of water over my shoulders, 2 over my head, drink 1 and then pick up 2 bottles and 2 cold sponges. 1 sponge was squeezed over my head (with a bottle chaser) and the other I'd take with me for a little way along the road, along with the the extra bottle. As it turned out, the sponges were laced with soap (no wonder you got a funny taste in your mouth) and so washed off any remaining sunscreen....which would come back to haunt us later!

I was desperate for one of the other ladies to overtake me as I just wanted to walk, but felt I couldn't as there'd been a van and a motorbike with to cameras in front of me for the last 25 or so kms. Both Meghan and Frida had said that they love the sun/heat and so I couldn't work out why they hadn't done as I wished and passed me. I could no longer tolerate my gels as the heat/altitude was making me feel sick, so whenever I picked one up, I'd just put it down my top "for later"! 

Caught walking on Chinese TV!!!
Eventually I gave up and at about the 83k mark I started to walk up one of the steepest hills. Suddenly Valeria shot past me as if she was just out on a normal run at home. Being from Argentina, I guess that the altitude and heat didn't affect her as much, but I tried to raise a cheer and encourage her to keep pushing for the win as she looked so strong.

I finally crested that hill and caught Vale up again on the descent, but at the 85k aid station she grabbed her drink and gel and carried on (taking the tv crew with her....phew!!!) whereas I stopped as usual, tried to cool off and get more liquids down me.

Trying to look like I was running past the hotel
I don't really remember too much after that, but I know I did try to keep running as much as I could. I admit to a further little walk up the hill just before our hotel, but I was back running (in a fashion) as I summitted it. The hotel was just as I started to descend back down to lake level.....you'd think a descent would be welcome, but by that point I'd have kissed and cuddled anyone who would bring the finish line closer, and I didn't know if my legs would hold me up going down the slope.

I clearly didn't get enough soap from the sponges to wash my mouth out properly as I may have shouted some naughty words about it being the hardest race I'd ever done as I passed my friends by the hotel. They tried to encourage me and keep me going (though luckily waited until later to tell me what a "lean" I had as I was trying to run). The girls told me that I had a good gap behind me and could walk to the finish if I wanted to (as I really thought I'd vomit if I tried to run much more), and then hijacked a car to be driven to finish, screaming and shouting at me as they passed.

A VERY welcome sign
A Chinese man walking back from the finish gave me the really useful info that I was the second lady, but when I asked where 3rd was, he said "100m". I knew that I still had 4.5k to go, so desperately tried to work out how much distance I could afford to lose with every remaining kilometre. By then I was just trying to get to the next kilometre marker (as there was a countdown of the last 5k). I knew that my speed was probably much slower than my parents do for a parkrun, but my legs felt like they were going to collapse as they wobbled with every impact. At times there were cars coming towards me, which I thought strange as the roads were meant to be closed, but I didn't have the energy to move sideways so they swerved round me.
In a world of hurt coming into the finish

As I neared the finish, I saw Jo and Hannah coming out to greet me, and Sue was also there with her camera, though I can't say that I spared much of a thought for what I looked like. The "100m behind 3rd lady" still hadn't passed me so I shouted to Jo and Hannah to ask the gap. Hannah told me that no one was in sight and that I could walk home as it was about 500m to the finish. I promptly did, so she said that she didn't really mean it and I should get running. Somehow, despite all my protestations, I did and the finish line swayed into sight.

"Was that a PB for you?"
A hard-won finisher's medal
I've never been a drama queen before but I only just made the line before my legs gave way completely and I was on the floor. Race staff came and offered me towels and blankets, but the girls had it spot on with ice and water down my back, on my head and to drink. They were fab, even shielding me from media cameras and attention, and helped me get up and walk away from the line.....kindly refusing the offer of a stretcher....get my bag, take my shoes off etc.

Not the most glamorous podium ever
Valeria had a great race and took the well deserved victory so hats off to her. I am proud of myself for not giving in and getting to that finish line (though I found it funny when a to crew asked me if I'd run a PB and I had to say it was a PW by over an hour) and cannot thank "the girls" enough for their help and encouragement, after having run 50k themselves. I was back with it by the time Frida came in for 3rd place (10 minutes behind me....not 100m) and also managed to cheer in some of the others I'd passed along the road, including Meghan who'd really struggled with the altitude that day.

Getting my silver medal from Hilary
A random car and bit of cardboard as a prize!
All in all, the trip was a fabulous experience.....if not my favourite running experience.....and I am so thankful to have been invited out there to take part, visit an amazing place, and have the opportunity to catch up with old friends and make new friends from round the globe. I love that running (and suffering) unites us all......as did the post-race buffet and bar back at the hotel!




Monday, 25 September 2017

Mmm....traybakes 😊😊😊

Last weekend was rather a busy one.....finishing up at work, catching up with friends, attending a course in Glasgow, helping out the National Trust, and then travelling down to Manchester ready to fly out to China.
I felt that I needed to squeeze in a little run to get my legs turning over somewhere along the lines, and so the Stoneybeck 10k hosted by Eden Runners just north of Penrith seemed a perfect chance to do this and break up my drive south. It also gave me the opportunity to catch up with my friend Karen who runs for the host club (and the fact that the race was being sponsored by "Traybakes" was just a minor incentive!!!!).
After registration and the prerace safety briefing (at the Stoneybeck pub) we wandered down to the start line....with me trying not to be intimidated by younger looking women in hotpants doing drills and stretches.

An informal gathering in the road and we were off, though there was a rather steep climb up and over the railway within the first 100m. Karen had said that she thought her legs would be tired after a recent triathlon but I knew our relative start speeds of old and so it was no surprise to be chasing her down and overtaking her on that sharp climb. What did surprise me was the speed of other ladies that I didn't recognise. I didn't think I was hanging around with a 6 minute first mile, but I was nowhere near the leading lady.

The race route was an uneven figure of 8, starting with a 1.5 mile long southerly loop which took us almost out to the M6. Having circled back to the start line, we then had that tough little climb over the railway again before heading northwards this time towards Plumpton. 

Into the finish line
I tried to relax into my running, but realised I'd actually increased the pace, so it was no wonder I felt like there was no way that I could keep going at that speed. Despite this, I could just about make out the ponytail ahead of me disappearing away up the road. I'd overtaken several men in the first few miles and so although she was about 30s ahead of me (and stretching that gap) at the 3 mile marker, there was no one in between us.

Plumpton village was at the far point of the loop and involved a cheeky descent and climb up again out of it. At the 4 mile point, I noticed that the gap had stopped increasing and seemed to be actually decreasing, so it was time to rely on my strong if not speedy legs.

This was helped by the fact that we had to run along the A6 south from Plumpton, directly into a headwind. I tried to just ignore the chase and focus on keeping my own running going. This clearly worked as I moved into the lead at the 5 mile point, though I thought she might then duck in behind to use me as a windbreak and outsprinted me at the end.

I know you're not meant to look back as it just encourages those behind you, but I was not that self-disciplined as I felt exhausted and that the finish line couldn't come soon enough. Little turns did give me some confidence that I was pulling away, as did listening for the marshal's advice and support when he directed runners off the main road and back down towards the finish.

My "prize haul"
My gansta hat prize - 1 size fits no-one!
A final descent on a muddy road towards a farm, and the long finishing straight came into sight. I know I'm "meant" to be a distance runner, but that finish line just looked so far away and I really wanted to stop as soon as possible. I managed to avoid embarrassing myself by keeping the legs moving to the line, and had just about enough time to gather myself, thank the organisers and marshals, congratulate the male winner and welcome in the second lady. If it wasn't for her, I doubt I would have run anything like as fast as that, even though the race did live up to its promise, with as much traybake as you could eat once you'd finished!

Monday, 18 September 2017

My short-lived track career!!


I did say to a good friend that I would "try anything" once and I felt that I couldn't really refuse Archie Jenkins challenging me to enter the British Masters 10000m track championships when I met him marshalling at the marathon in London a few weeks ago.
Post-race with Charlene (1st V35)

I then promptly forgot about it until a few days before the race when I started having nightmares about running rounds in circles, forgetting the number of laps I'd done/still had to do, impeding other faster runners, and trying to avoid massive detours to pass others.


I still have a big fear of race starts and so it takes me a little while to get into any run. In a road race this means that I usually spend the first part of the event weaving round people and working my way up the field. The main difference with a track race is that you don't just have to pass people once, you may have to pass them (or be passed by them) on multiple occasions as the laps progress.


Nice and wet to start with
My race consisted of all the ladies and the men from age 65 upwards so there was a total spread of pace. I had no idea how the run would go as I felt knackered when just running around to warm up (though it was hard to feel warm with the wind and on/off rain). 


The event started a bit late as the hurdles had to be cleared from the ongoing pentathlon, but we were all called up to the start line. I was pulled up by the official starter as, without noticing, I'd put my right toe "on" the start line rather than "behind" it, but order was restored, the gun was fired and we were off.


Getting up to speed on the first corner
The track was rather wet and slippy, especially in the outer lanes, so my most pressing thought was not to fall over in the first few metres with everyone watching. I briefly envied those wearing spikes but had decided that I'd be happier running 25 laps in my usual race shoes. I ran wide round the first bend to pass most of the field and by halfway down the backstraight found myself leading the race.

This wasn't what I'd expected....and it wasn't that pleasant as there was a headwind down that backstraight and I knew that we had to do that stretch another 24 times!

Starting to move away from Charlene
A girl tucked in right behind me and I wondered if she was going to use me as a windbreak for the whole race. Although you always feel the headwind against you down, there never seems to be an equal benefit from a tailwind, and this was compounded by the home straight being more sheltered by the "grandstand".
Lapping some of the "more experienced" men

Don't worry, I'm not going to describe the race lap by lap.....it was bad enough watching the lap counter tick down slowly every time I passed it, though I have to admit that it was probably easier for me than some others as the lap counter denotes the number for the race leaders, and so it must be rather dispiriting for lapped athletes.


Passing several abreast at times..
It took me almost three laps to catch my first man.....a legendary v80 runner with several age group records. As he said post-race, he set off rather too fast so I started to lap him slightly sooner every time, until it got down to every second lap, though he always wished me well as I passed. The pre race briefing had advised us that faster runners must move out to pass, which does make sense as you can see those that you are approaching from behind and so drift out into a different land in good time. This only became a bit of a nightmare when you had to pass people running several abreast.....and even worse was when you caught them in a bend. Due to the difference in pace, it made more sense to me to run slightly further by moving wide, than to slow down significantly and wait until a straight section. It was actually quite fun to keep passing the same people, but with the gaps varying as they started to lap each other.


A soggy lap
Vicki Thompson had told me pre-race that it would "be easy" once the lap counter showed 17 laps to go.....and as she was supporting us all on the 200m line, I made sure to let her know that it didn't feel like it was getting any easier to me. She was so good at encouraging us all, and reminded me when I was exactly halfway through so I could start mentally counting down. With about 9 laps to go, I asked her where the second placed runner was and she advised me that I had a decent gap (it was had to work out who was what distance behind you, due to the number of intervening people on different laps). 

A sunny lap

When I passed her the next time, she told me that I had an 80m lead, so I hoped I wouldn't lose more than 10m per lap as I'd lead for so long. However, by the next lap, she said that it was down to 55m...."eek", I thought, "I've lose 25m in one lap", so the next time I passed her I said I thought it was all over and that I was going to be caugh. She encouraged me to push on, and (although she might have been "bending" the truth to keep me going) the gap did seem to open up again.


My attempt at a sprint for the line!
I knew that I was more likely to be stronger at the finish than other runners.....they might have more speed, but I can probably keep going for longer at a certain pace....and tried to pick it up slightly for the last couple of laps. I know that I really don't have a sprint at all.....and "lengthening my stride" probably makes it only "slightly" shorter than everyone else's normal gait, but I tried to push down the final home straight, as I was dreading being outsprinted for the line.
 


Nice bling!
Getting my British and North East medals
As it turned out, I had no need to worry as the final margin was 21 seconds, but it was lovely to meet and go for a cool down jog with Charlene afterwards (she was awarded the first v35 position so there are medals all round). I'm no track convert and may well never do a race like that again, so it was lovely of my parents to come along and support. I was very impressed that they came down trackside, cheered me on and took photos when it was raining as well as on the odd sunny lap. In fact, everybody was amazingly friendly, which took the pressure off the actual race and made it more of a fun day out (and I can't complain about the farm shop/cafe we visited afterwards).