My two week "non-running" holiday was over too quickly and I had to return from sunny California (where I'd cycled to the beach, been wine tasting, carved pumpkins, trick-or-treated, and eaten pancakes practically every day for breakfast) back to chilly Scotland - having to scrape the ice off my car at Glasgow airport was rather a shock to the system! The return was made easier by the thought that, in my absence, we would have moved into our shiny new purpose-built premises. Unfortunately, due to various factors outwith our control, this had not happened, so I was back at work, trying to find everything that had been packed away into boxes. Luckily this took my mind off the approaching weekend - I was due to go to Belfast to run in the Masters International Cross-Country as part of the Scottish team. I had not run any cross-country this season, and indeed hadn't laced up my spikes since having PF (plantar fasciitis) at the start of the year. Having not really run properly since the 50K, I was glad that the event was described to me as more of a social weekend than a serious "goal" race. My clubmates (Lisa and Sian Finlay) and I had decided to travel over together on the ferry from Cairnryan, though we almost missed it entirely as road flooding caused big diversions en route. It was odd to be travelling as friends but know that we'd be running as rivals the following day (Lisa and Sian were both running for Northern Ireland, whereas I was representing Scotland) - and it certainly caused much hilarity and talk of "taking out the opposition" on the ferry when I was locked into the toilet, and Sian almost tripped over in the cafe.
Sian, Lisa and I when running as a team
The evening was spent getting to know other members of Team Scotland over dinner, catching up with my room-mate and friend Avril (debating how weird it would be to run a short XC after all of our distance training), and trying on “race outfits“ for the morning.
Our hotel was so well heated and insulated that it was rather a shock to the system going outside to walk to the bus station, in order to catch the bus to the venue. I find that the clothing I wear to run in tends to affect my mindset, so I had decided to wear my vest teamed with a running skirt. I don’t like wearing anything under a vest if it’s a short race, but unfortunately I could have definitely fitted a few layers in under there without worrying about tightness. I had asked for a smaller vest but was told that I had been given the smallest available and that anyway “you’re one of the biggest here“...... I’m still not quite sure whether I should have been offended by that or not! The temperature wasn’t quite equal to the californian warmth I have become used to, so I was also glad of the extra skirt layer.
Some light rain was an added bonus (not!) as we watched the local parkrunners come by, and then hung around for our team photos. Team NI had a slight home-turf advantage for the race, as they’d run their trials on the course, so Avril and I headed off with Fiona Matheson for our warm-up on the course itself. The venue had been changed from Stormont to the Queens Playing Fields a few weeks earlier, due to waterlogging, and the new course really didn’t sound as if it would suit me (we were told that it was a “fast, flat, hard surface“). Our race was 3 laps of 2000m each, and although there were long straight stretches to pick up speed, there was also a nasty, slippery cambered hill soon after the start, a nice little incline halfway round, and 2 distinctly boggy bits.
Getting stuck in....
All too soon, the thermals were off and we were racing, 165 of us in total as the race was for all the ladies and the V65 and V70 men (2 of whom were racing barefoot – bet that was a little chilly). Knowing that I’m a slow starter on the best of days, I was about 8 rows back at the start and so had difficulty working my way past people before the first muddy climb. This meant not being able to choose the best (?grippiest) line up and so required some digging in with the spikes in order to stay moving in the right direction. I was definitely out of my comfort zone but kept working my way up the field as my went round the first lap. Places around me changed little on the second lap, though I found that I could power past some ladies on the inclines as I have strength in my legs even if not out and out speed. It was great to hear everyone cheering us on, and we really appreciated the men delaying their pre-race warmup to encourage us.
All the way round I had heard Irish accents encouraging a girl called “Lisa“ to chase me down, and so I was convinced that my club-mate was running a blinder and was just on my shoulder. On the last lap I realised that it was a totally different Lisa (running for RoI rather than NI), but she was still being encouraged to overtake me. There is nothing like hearing from a bystander that you “look finished“, are “exhausted“ and can “easily be outsprinted“ to make you dig in, so I have to thank that unknown Irish supporter. He made me dig in, and think about using my arms and my body position to really drive for the finish line. I tried so hard that I was nearly ill after crossing the line, but opened up a gap of about 10 seconds on “Lisa“ and a good 3 on the lady that crossed behind me.
I didn’t hear about the dramas that occurred at the finish to the podium ladies (the leading lady stopped just short of the line thinking that she’d finished and was then passed by 2 runners), but did see Fiona running in ahead of me to retain her V50 title in style – she was 5th overall!. I was the second Scot home in 9th place, and although my team didn’t win any medals in our category, we realised that if there had been no age groups, Fiona, myself and Sue Ridley (V45) would have been the 3rd team home!
The Scottish Ladies celebrating after racing!
The camaraderie of the day was great as we rounded it off with drinks, dinner and dancing, but I met so many lovely new people that I seriously doubt my ability to call them all by the right names when we next meet at races).
As the baby of the squad, I really enjoyed the whole weekend experience and surprised myself with my performance (a former British record holder said “Top 10 for an endurance athlete over 6K of grass is impressive“ and that meant a lot to me!), but still.......bring on next year and an “undulating course“!!!!