Thursday, 24 September 2015

Just a few laps in the Netherlands.....

My less-than-ideal pre-race preparation seemed to follow me all the way to the Netherlands. 
While desperately trying to get my work finished up on Wednesday, I was fielding calls from relatives of patients, and from hospital colleagues about patients right up until close of play. Luckily, I'd got my bag packed and sorted for my silly o'clock start in the morning......or so I thought. I picked it up last thing at night to place it by the front door, and noticed something was dripping......all I needed, a drink/gel explosion necessaitating some emergency cleaning/repacking. At least I'd decided to leave rather early to avoid all the rush-hour traffic on the Edinburgh bypass......only to be caught in stationary traffic due to a multiple vehicle pile-up causing closure of the exact section of bypass I needed to be on. Panic did start to set in....but I finally made my flight and joined the rest of the GB crew in Amsterdam airport for the (3xtrain and bus) trip to Winschoten, only arriving about 12 hours after I'd left home!!!
Team GB awaiting the Flag Parade
Friday passed in a blur of meetings, a press conference, an interview, getting bottles ready, sorting/swopping kit amongst ourselves, and attending the opening ceremony/pasta we were rather glad to get to our beds that night. Sue Harrison and I were sharing a tiny twin room (luckily we avoided the bunkbeds this year) and it seemed no time at all from when we turned the light off until we were getting up to walk over to the dining hall and prepare ourselves for the day. Half an hour by bus into town, and then some more sitting around worrying about how the day would pan out (though I was actually more worried about having just lost my phone, but maybe that was my head shutting down and refusing to think about how many miles I was about to run!).
Sue, our other team mate (Holly Rush) and I headed over to the startline and lined ourselves up at the back, while shouting good luck to the 3 guys running for GB who were rather further forward. People always start off exceptionally fast when you consider that the race will last most of the day, and from experience, I suggested we position ourselves where we did as there was a sharp 90 degree corner and narrowing of the path soon after the start, and I didn't want any of us to have a silly accident (we would need all 3 of us to finish to score a team result).
Our names and numbers were attached front and back, and I love seeing the variety of names in these international events. We started off following "Jesus", later on I ran with "Marco Polo" and , as it was also the Belgian and Dutch national championships, I passed a lot of "Dicks" and "Dirks"! My number said "Joasia" this time, and though many people, especially in the running world, call me "Jo", I've always been "Joasia" to my family, so I'm always startled to hear "Go Jo Go" in my mother's voice! I first saw my parents and Polish cousins at the 2K mark, and they then spent most of the day shuttling backwards and forwards between 2K and 7K to cheer me on (5K for me between those points, but only a few hundred metres for them so they usually beat me to it!), along with Les (Sue's coach).
Sue and I both had slight dramas with our watches at the start but as we were running together, we managed to estimate our pace for the first mile between us. We had to consciously slow down as we found ourselves comfortably trotting along rather quicker than we'd planned. It was rather nice to see a digital clock had been set up on the 5K mark, and yet again it made me check my speed as I was there ahead of when I should have been.
I somehow lost Sue in the first few Kms (but heard later that she and Holly had hooked up and so were running together) which basically signified the start of a rather long lonely run, though this didn't actually bother me as I usually run alone. The first few laps were nice and relaxed, and I used them to settle into the course and check out the exact kilometre markers, specific route features, support and feed stations.
The open feed station
Walter's vital right arm!
We'd previously had a feed station at 5K, but as the course had changed slightly, the best place on this route was around 6K. Eleanor and Spencer were on our 6K aid station, but when I passed it on the first lap, Spencer hadn't yet made it there. To be honest, this made no difference to me as I was alone so could easily get my bottle from Eleanor, but I just hope it was OK for any of the others running in pairs. There was a general feed station just round the corner from the "National" ones, so you could always grab extra water/drinks if necessary. Our other feed station was just after the start/finish area, with Walter sending us on our "merry way" every lap - though admittedly, the first two times that I passed him, he was actually trying to reassure me that my phone had been found (I had lost it that morning, and was strangely more worried about that than the actual race itself - talk about "transference").
I'm not going to go into a km by km, or even a lap by lap description of the whole it would only help insomniacs, but there are certain things that stick in my memory.
The best memory I have is from the brilliant level of support - not just from family and friends (with my parents, cousins and Sue's coach out on the course, and other team member's partners/families at Walter's feed station), but from people totally unconnected to Team GB. One member of the French support team encouraged me with "Allez Grande-Bretagne....Go England" on the first lap - I replied with "J'habite en Ecosse!", and so I got a cheer for "L'Ecosse" every lap after that (I apologised to Holly later as she wasn't quite sure why he was encouraging her with the same cry!). There was also a lady who lives in Glasgow on the Australian support team, and so she gave me a huge cheer every time I passed (and so I tried to feed back to when the next Aussie would be coming in). Team Ireland have always given the British ladies lots of support and this race was no exception - with me even managing a quick chat with Keith (their lone participant) when I caught him, so it was a truly international experience. The cries of our supporters were loud enough to turn heads, especially when a lad with a wheelchair appeared to be blocking my run-in to the feedstation one lap. I realise that he was there for a reason (though I couldn't see any casualty at the time) but he seemed totally oblivious to the fact that there was still a race going on, and that he was blocking the narrow path!
That wheelchair.....
Bryan Powell of irunfar was taking pictures and sending tweets from the finish line, so it was great to have some banet to look forward to when I saw him every lap...even if it was just an "awesome!!!" or a thumb's up (or a knackered look later on!!!).
Thumbs up for Bryan!
I did get a cheer from Steve (Way) later on in the race....which I'd really rather not have had, as it meant that he'd had to pull out. I shouted across "Whats' happened?" and he replied "Don't ask!" as unfortunately a glute problem had curtailed his run. This meant that the men could no longer "finish a team" as we'd only started with 3 counters, and as it happened, the same happened to the ladies as Holly unfortunately had to withdraw later on.
The problem with such distance events is that it's very hard to avoid starting too fast as it feels so comfortable. I thought that I could still see some of the leading ladies way off down the road ahead of me when I reached the 11K point. This may not sound like a big deal, but I knew that Camille had thoughts of breaking the 7hr mark, and that the Japanese runners, amongst others, had been altitude again I reigned myself in and let them disappear up the road.
No comment....
I'd been running behind (but within sight) of Marina, one of the Russian ladies, for about the first 30Km. I had spotted the fact that she appeared to be being paced by one of the Latvian men - well, I'm not saying that she was, but I had heard them chatting together in Russian and he slowed down after every feed station/marshal point until she caught him back up. When I reeled her in and passed her, he came with me for a bit, then dropped back to her and then came back to me again. I politely (I think!) asked him not to run so close to me, as I did not want to be accused of being paced. he told me that he had thought it was OK if we weren't from the same National Team, which does suggest that they had planned to run together prior to the event. I decided to ignore it and not let it bother me, so just calmly opened up a little gap. This was a great mental victory as Marina had beaten me by a long way the last time we'd run at Winschoten, though I'd come out of the last couple of Comrades slightly better.
I spotted a Japanese vest at the side of the road, and got excited that I might have caught the lady that finished one position ahead of me at Doha, but when I passed I realised that it was actually one of their male runners...what a shame! While I'm mentioning "side of the road" events, the Belgian men must be the best-hydrated team ever, as I seemed to see one of them relieving themselves every couple of Kms.
Could we be anywhere else with that windmill?
In the 6th lap, I did finally catch the Japanese lady and smoothly moved into 3rd position, though I was worried about how long it would take for my fast start to catch up with me. The answer to that question was "about 80K". When I started the 9th lap, I commented to the guys at the feedstation that I felt like I was going backwards. It turns out that I hadn't really slowed that lap by more than a few seconds (and unknown to me, I was running under British record pace), but I really started to fade then. It felt like I was just slowing and slowing, but having now looked at my laps times, the last two laps weren't that different from each other - just a lot slower than the previous 8.
A Croatian lady passed me before we started the last lap, but I realised that I was still the 3rd European and also still as Masters' medal position. I'm not sure I was thinking much about that, and more about keeping moving one foot in front of the other, as I still thought we were in with a shout of team medals. I started breaking the lap up into small sections, bearing in mind where the Km markers and supporters were...."1K to my parents, then grin"....then a bit later, when looking at the clock "how long can I take to get to the finish and run a PB?", though it took me some distance to work that one out.....and then "1K to Eleanor".
Slight muscle spasm at the finish?
After passing Eleanor on that last lap, I knew that barring disaster I would run a PB. Spencer shouted that there was an American girl on my shoulder, but I decided not to even try to go with her (as she wasn't in either the European of the Masters championship - and 4th/5th in the Worlds didn't seem to matter so much). I was starting to trip over my feet, as I do when I'm tired (as my poor running style  sees me never picking them up high enough) and didn't want to push it and come a cropper  - as it was, I nearly fell over a kerb when knocked sideways by a relay runner with sharp elbows - only my flailing arms saved me, to the delight of the runners near me and those watching at the roadside. With hindsight, maybe I should have run for home from further out as I seemed to be able to pick it up quite well down the finishing straight, but the previous few hundred metres were rather twisty and on an uneven cobbled-type surface through the heart oif the shopping area so maybe self-preservation was a better idea!
Happy Days!!!!
I looked up at the clock as I finished and couldn't believe it.....I'd been worried about not being able to run another 7:41 yet here it was showing 7:31 and almost 10 minute PB!! Maybe I didn't quite pace it right, but I was over the moon with the time (and I got to take home European Bronze and World Masters Silver medals). To put the icing on the cake, I was still sitting drinking by the finish when Sue came home so I was able to cheer her in with another huge PB (taking about 8 minutes off her previous best) and winning the Silver V40 medal - what a day!!!
Masters medallists
Yes, it's a shame that we didn't finish teams for either men or women, and I feel for the two that had to drop out - I know how hard that must have been for them, as you'd do everything in your capability to get across the line when everyone counts for a team result - but they were great in helping us celebrate afterwards as all 4 of us that recorded great new
times (and combining them all, team GB PB'd by about 35minutes....."AWESOME!")!!

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