Monday, 25 January 2016

Saying "Sayonara" to my 30s.....

That's probably a misleading title as I didn't wear my Sayonaras either weekend!!!

Birthdays are funny things - as a youngster you look forward to celebrating them eagerly, and often wish to be older than you are. When you are older, you often dread them and wish you were younger.....until you become very old and they are celebrated once again, and you start adding years on (as my Polish Babcia was keen to do!).

What's in a number?
In between they're a bit of a non-event, though there is quite a lot of social pressure to make a big deal of special birthdays, eg those ending in 0. I was told that I might dread turning 40, as I might feel "middle aged" or that I was getting old.....and I was also told that I might be really excited to be joining a new age group, and hence open up a new category in running. I can't really say that I felt either of these - I still wonder when I'll feel "grown up" and age is just a number to me, it doesn't affect the way I run or race.

However, my life these days is filled with running, racing, friends, family, food and drink .......oh yeah.... and I celebrated with a bit of all of these.

In a way, I also celebrated the end of my 30s by doing something memorable - something I've never done before - which was take part in a 3000m race. Don't worry, I've not gone completely mad, it wasn't a 3000m track race, but a XC relay race.

I didn't sleep well the night before as I was rather nervous about letting my team mates down. I was running for my English club (Durham City Harriers) who were actually hosting the event, and I was due to run the middle leg (out of 3).....and for the Senior "A" team, rather than the Vets team. Setting us up on the first leg was Rosie Smith (who actually runs XC for GB/Scotland) and then I was handing over to Emma Toogood (the club's track captain) who are about 10 and 20 years my junior, respectively. My main thought (apart from "oh, no they'll hate me if I let them down") was that "this could be really embarrassing", especially when I saw the course. It consisted of 2 laps of 1500m, all of which was visible to everyone else (teammates, other competitors, the men, other spectators and the general public out for a Sunday morning walk).

Setting off....

The temperature was well below zero, and so most people (myself included) opted for trail/fell shoes as the ground was frozen so hard that it looked like spikes would hurt. Rosie set off in tights, but Emma and I bravely opted for shorts, as wearing tights (mentally) made us individually feel like it was a training run.

By the time Rosie (who ran the fastest leg of the day) handed over to me, she had opened up a huge gap on second pressure to stay ahead then (yeah right!). I have to say that it was actually great to have so much on course support (even if quite funny to hear people trying to give you advice as to how to run the race while you were just trying your hardest not to slip).

Confused by the laps?
I breathed a small sigh (it was all I could manage) as I had managed to stay in the lead as I was waved onto the second lap, but at that point the race became rather confusing. There were now ladies running various laps of various legs, so it was impossible to take your preferred line (for the course or the terrain). I tried to stop myself turning to look behind, and just kept working towards the finish. A final sprint into the finish funnel saw me handing over to Emma having kept a gap (although I fully admit it had got smaller) over the second placed team. Unfortunately, their last runner was also a very strong lady but it was a great result for us to finish in second place overall as the host club. Strangely enough I actually quite enjoyed the day....being part of a team and encouraging each other, even if the distance was rather short. A memorable last race of my 30s, but funnily enough, I might not be averse to taking part again in the future!

Fast forward a week and it was onto my first race of my 40s - again a relatively short (3.8 miles) relay race, but this time on "road" and for my Scottish club, Dumfries Running Club.

There was slightly more pressure this time, as we were the defending champions. To add to that  everyone said that we had to win as we hadn't actually returned the trophy (Sian, who ran with us last year but wasn't running this year, still had it). It's always nice to show that a relatively small club can field a good team, and what's more, we had 3 different age groups covered (Lisa is a V45, I'm a V40 and Mhairi is a V35).

Lisa is a feisty starter and not afraid to use her elbows to get some space, while Mhairi is a fast finisher, so I'd suggested the order of Lisa, then Mhairi then myself.....which is what we went with. We also had a men's V35 and a men's V50 team taking part.....and they said they were going to try stay ahead of us for the three legs of our race (the men had an extra 4th leg to run).

After the first lap, the MV50 runner came home first, just a few seconds ahead of Lesley, the first (and fastest) lady who had a storming run to take Garscube into the lead. Next back for DRC was our V35 men, and so when Lisa handed over to me as second placed ladies' team, I wasn't sure how much I'd be able to make up. I was 70s down on the V50s, and 41s down on the V35s, but more importantly 67s down on the leading ladies.

Finishing my leg
Surprisingly, it only took just over a mile to overhaul Garscube, and I was then tempted to just settle back as I couldn't really see anyone ahead to chase. I find these short races really difficult, as you feel like you're running a solo timetrial and it's very easy to find your concentration has wandered (in a longer race, you tend to settle into a pace, and if your mind goes astray for a wee while, there's enough time to get back on track).

I gave myself a mental talking to and tried to refocus and push on, with the aim of giving Mhairi every advantage I could to overhaul the guys on the final lap. Soon after that I spotted both DRC guys up ahead, as the V35s had caught the V50s and they were working together. As we closed into the changeover area, the V35 runner drew ahead and I put in a big effort (well for me anyway) to just pip the V50s on the line.

Rather muddy feet for a "road race"
Then it was all down to Mhairi, and she rose to the challenge admirably. She anchored us home to retain the title over 5.5 minutes clear of Garscube and finishing well ahead of both DRC 3rd leg male runners!

I know that people often complain about the conditions, but it was definitely tougher this year than last year. Not only was there a pretty strong wind to contend with.....varying between a cross wind and headwind as far as I could work out (though I guess there must've been some tailwind too).....but as most of the second leg runners discovered, the walkers, dogs, lead and buggies were a massive challenge. The route is meant to be run on the tarred paths round the lake, but I spent the whole of my first mile jumping onto the grass into puddles and mud, as there was absolutely no way that anyone was going to give me an inch of space on the path.
The winning DRC ladies

As a team, we were delighted to retain the title, but on a personal note I was over the moon to have run 6s quicker than the previous year, despite the conditions, and be only 15s slower than Mhairi's anchor leg (in fact, we DRC ladies ran the 2nd, 3rd and 4th fastest legs of the race).

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