Saturday, 21 November 2015

A Good Double-Header of a Weekend...

Team Scotland
It was quite a surprise to receive an email congratulating me on my selection for the Dublin Masters International XC, as it was completely off my radar and I hadn't put myself forward for it. Still, the last time I competed was 3 years ago (due to other running commitments) and it looked like a good excuse to catch up with my friend Niamh, so I dug out my Scottish Veteran Harriers vest and off I went.
A tortuous journey to Dublin (via Manchester due to flight times from Scotland not fitting with my working hours) saw me arriving to a bit of a temperature shock. Niamh greeted me off the airport bus with the offer of an extra jacket, as winter seemed to have "arrived" suddenly the day before, and I wondered what I had let myself in for.
As the next day dawned, it appeared to be less windy and several degrees warmer, but unfortunately the payoff for this was pouring rain. There was a lot of standing water on the motorways as we drove to Santry Demesne...and I secretly half-hoped we might get there too late for the race. Unfortunately chauffeur Niamh was too good for this and I arrived in time not only to pick up my numbers, but also for the Team photos.
Lacing up the spikes ;-(

With my "running mum" Fiona

Niamh and I ran a recce lap of the course in the lovely rain, and then I changed into my spikes. My "running mum" Fiona Matheson tied a saltire ribbon into my hair and I was off to find the start. I was running for the V35 team, but unfortunately didn't really know my teammates. I met two of them as we headed towards the start/finish and they asked me if I was "SuperJo". "No, just Jo" was my reply. I had been trying to convince myself that there was no pressure on me in this race (apart from that which I put on myself) as I'm not know for short distance speed or XC skills, so I hoped they weren't expecting too much of me either.
some of the path crossings
were rather "crunchy" on
the spikes
I started at the back of the pack and followed the other Scottish vests down the right hand side of the course. This looked like it would be a good line as we were on the inside of the turn into the first straight, but unfortunately it meant that we were all nearly taken out in turn by the overhanging branches of a huge tree. No major mishaps though and I forged ahead down that straight to move up the field near to Fiona. It was interesting to see that one of the Irish ladies was well away into the lead by the time we got to the first corner (she ran in the senior Irish team for the EuroCross last year - and just continued to stamp her authority on the race as it progressed).

My line downhill and along through the mud and puddles wasn't exactly ideal as my vision was limited by those in front of me, but I managed to make up those places (and a few more) through the second half of the lap (I did prefer the uphill section). Niamh had suggested that the first lap was for settling in, the second lap for holding a pace, and the third lap (it was a 3-lap race) for holding on....but by the end of the first lap, I just wanted it to be over with. I was soaking wet, covered in mud, and could hardly feel my hands.

Lap 1 was tiring enough
Full marks to those who were out on the course supporting us, and special thanks to Niamh who kept running backwards and forwards from one side to the other, and to Jim Buchanan (a fellow DRC runner who was making his first Scottish Vets appearance in the later V50-65 race). I have to say that the person who showed the greatest strength of character on the day was another DRC clubmate, Sian Finlay. She was second reserve for the Northern Irish team, but was asked to compete a mere hour before the race due to a last minute injury. Having got her kit and spikes on, they then stood her down again just 10 minutes before the start as the first reserve had turned up. What appalling timing.....but Sian remarkably stayed out in the rain to be there at the start of every lap cheering and encouraging (and then ran the open race herself in the afternoon).

Positions didn't seem to change on Lap 2, but by lap 3 I was starting to get sick of cheers for the Irish girl running just behind me. Local home support is a brilliant thing (and her coach was running backwards and forwards as she seemed to be everywhere - either that or she had a very loud voice) but it's less exciting when it's not for you. I thought I would scream if I heard another version of "Well done Fionnuala - you're looking great, you're looking strong, you're moving up, she's tiring in front". Hearing that you're "tiring" may motivate some people to prove them wrong, but it made me question whether I was looking rather knackered.
Finally in the finishing straight!
Anyway, Fionnuala was "strong" and did "move up", overtaking me with a kilometre to go. That effort might have been too much for her, as rather than her pushing away from me as I expected, I got her back with 500m to go. I knew that I then had to keep driving (through the next ankle deep soggy patch) right to the finish. Turning into the final straight, with 200m to go, I noticed that I was suddenly quickly reeling in the Irish girl in front. Unfortunately I ran out of race and finished a couple of paces behind her, though I was just happy to be the first Scot home.

With supersupporter Niamh

Still, I was over the moon to find out later that I'd got an individual bronze medal and led the V35 ladies to a team bronze! This was all the more surprising to me as I'm now at the top of my age bracket, and on the last occasion that I took part in the event, I was only 7th V35 (even though I was 3 years younger then!!).

My medals were sent on after me
There was no time to hang around and join in the post-race festivities, as I was due to run the last race of the DRC grandprix on the Sunday - we have to have 5 results to "count" and up until this weekend I only had 4 scores. The rain was biblical as I drove back from Manchester airport in the dark, so I stayed the night with a friend in Carlisle. There was a chance of the race being cancelled/shortened (again a faint hope at the back of my mind) but they decided to go ahead with the full course.

The Brampton-Carlisle 10 mile roadrace is a very popular one and so the start is always congested. It was nice to see so many DRC vests out and about (and to catch up with friends from other clubs too). The start becomes a bit of a fast downhill charge with a 160degree bend to negotiate at the bottom. Lisa Finlay and I managed not to get caught up in those going off like bullets and hit the main road to Carlisle as about 10th/11th ladies. I questioned why we were putting ourselves through the race as I dislike the start, I dislike the finish (again a 90 degree bend into some barriers) and I'm not keen on the middle part either. She agreed that we always seemed to get sucked into running it, without it being a favourite course.
Although I know that I'm not huge, beside Lisa I appear like the BFG so she was able to get a bit of shelter from the "lovely" headwind by tucking in behind me. We gradually worked our way up the field and as we turned off the main road (between miles 3 and 4) there were only 3 ladies left to reel in. Lisa was hoping to run a specific time, and so I tried to encourage her to stick with me as we were on target for it. She was looking strong and starting to surge ahead of me as we passed the currently leading lady. I thought that the XC would catch up with my legs at any point (as it had felt an effort just to climb the stairs that morning), so I just tried to keep going at the same pace while I could.

By 5 miles, a small gap had opened up between us, I was now not far off Niall (the leading DRC man). To quote Niall, he's not "famous for his outdoor toughness" and so I don't think that he was too impressed when he saw how flooded the road was. There were three sections of about 20m in length where the road was totally under water. There was no option just to plough through it, even though it was ankle deep at times. It really broke your stride up (and I knew that I would personally have to work to pick my feet up through the water) and boy, did your feet feel heavy afterwards.
The last of these dips was at the 6 mile marker and at this point I found myself to be the leading DRC runner, a totally unexpected position to be in. From then on home, it was just a case of getting my head down and working against the wind. In the latter stages of the race a runner from Tyne Bridge Harriers nipped in front of me - I'm sure that he was trying to get me to go with him to get some shelter from the wind, but I couldn't do it - I knew that my pace was dropping, but then again, it seemed like everyone else's was too.
DRC prizewinners at Brampton
It was such a relief to go up the final incline and then down over the main bridge to the finish. Luckily (?) there was noone to chase or be chased by, so there were no mishaps with that final tight turn. Others might have been disappointed with their times on the day - but I think that everyone who got out there and raced in those conditions did well, and I certainly wasn't complaining about my result, even if I was not far off 4.5 minutes slower than last time I raced it.
Two races, two disciplines, two countries, two vests, two hostesses, two fun days....and two good efforts with two good results...what else could I have asked for?

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