My very own Chariots of Fire moment

IMG_3864For someone who is at best ambivalent about racing, I do seem to have signed up for more races than I had planned to this year. With the Inverness half behind me and buoyed up by a recent PB, the races I have now entered are less competitive or serious and I have chosen them for their location, quirkiness or just because it looks as if it might be good day out.

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I guess it’s a bit of an oxymoron to say a race is not competitive , so maybe I should say I am not really that competitive or as I have discovered maybe not competitive enough to successfully participate in racing. As an individual sport, running is as much about competing with yourself or setting personal challenges and that aspect I enjoy, but I have not fully made the step over into the ‘no pain no gain mindset’, and always find that I am holding back whenever it feels I am getting out of my comfort zone.

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After any race I am fired up with endorphins and joy, although this is often tempered with nagging doubts of what if ? and could I have gone faster? So I replay the race in my head and resolve to become more conscientious in my preparation and training for the next one. Imagining that by following this as yet unconfirmed magical plan, I will be gliding around the next race as effortlessly as an Ethiopian elite athlete. Sometimes we all need the power of positive visualisation 🙂

On Saturday Alison and I were taking part in one of these races, a 10k in scenic St Andrews, featuring a beach finish along West Sands, a beautiful location on any day and made famous by the film Chariots of Fire.

I think I signed up to this while basking in the afterglow of the Inverness half, and encouraged by Alison’s vision of us recreating our own Chariots of Fire moment. Added to the filmic mental picture I reasoned that 1. it was only 10k and 2. April seemed ages away.

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Race day or April 6 was in fact 19 days after the Inverness Half – but I had resumed my regular running schedule so all was well until March 28 when I picked up a flu-like virus ( so head cold, bad cough, wheezy, lethargic). This is quite dull to write about and even more dull to deal with particularly as it coincided with me taking some annual leave from work , my daughter being home for the Easter holiday and of course the ongoing unseasonably cold March weather ( snow, low temperatures & Easterly wind )

Yes I am getting my excuses in early here, but truthfully I rarely get ill and when I do I tend to bounce back fairly quickly, but this time I was struggling – and although I reduced my running, I did not stop completely and with hindsight I maybe did not allow myself time to properly recover.

April 6 and St Andrews race day dawned to beautiful sunny spring weather – hurray !

It was cold but bright and sunny and I was looking forward to the race. Alison and I had agreed to run together with the aim of getting in under 1 hour. This is quite a modest target for Alison but a bigger ask for me, as I have only once managed a 10k in under 1 hour.

When we arrived at St Andrews it had clouded over, but compared to the recent cold and snowy weather it looked like great conditions for a race. The event is organised as a  fundraiser for two charities; CHAS and Chest,Heart and Stroke Association, and it is a fairly small race featuring a fun race for kids , a 5k and a 10k.

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These smaller races tend to have a good atmosphere, and this was the case yesterday, but there was some confusion over the race start time, so this meant a bit of hanging around waiting for everyone to turn up.

At 12 noon we set off from the beach and along West Sands on firm sand, then a swift left turn through the dunes onto the road that runs parallel to the beach. It was only  50 yards at most of dune running, but it is energy sapping stuff and I understand why it is a favourite training technique for sportsmen and the military !

I think by now I realised that I had set off faster than I should have, as although my legs were strong my breathing was laboured. The next section takes you down a long straight stretch of road, and quite early on I was feeling a bit light headed. Maybe after weeks of running in grey and dismal conditions -my body was struggling to deal with the  bright sunshine and blue skies !

We slowed down a bit but kept going until the first turning point- on a point to point race you have the somewhat dispiriting factor of seeing all the front runners heading back towards you, and being quite a small field the race had thinned out, so it did feel a bit lonely at the back.

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On the return loop there was a split between the 5k and 10k field and I was sorely tempted to slope off with the 5k crew and call it a day, but brushed this thought aside and kept going anyway. The next section is a repeat lap of the long straight road, and after the 6k mark I did seriously consider dropping out as I was feeling pretty awful and felt I was really holding Alison back. At this suggestion Alison stepped up into supreme motivator mode, offering me the option of walking to the finish if we had to , assuring me there was no pressure on time – she really did not mind what time we took, we only had 3 miles to go etc etc. What a gal !!

So we slowed down a bit and a took a walking break at a water station- that said we were still averaging just over 10 min mile pace even with the breaks. I decided after 7k that if I could dig in deep I would get there somehow.

The thing about running generally and racing in particular, is how much of it is in your head. Throughout this  rather ropey time, I was having conversations with myself about the pros and cons of stopping or continuing and calculating – how could I get through the next 15 mins or so, was it just 15 mins or was it longer – imagining how I would count down the long return section by the water stations and reminding myself how bad would I feel if I gave up now – funnily enough hardly noticing my legs at this point.

Then in the middle of this debate – and not knowing the route – it turned out that instead of a final loop back along the same straight and rather monotonous road, the final section was heading to the beach. This was the motivator I needed, as the course then had a change of scene and headed left through the dunes to the beach. Somehow finishing seemed achievable.

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It was around 2.5k of beach running, and as we set our sights on the goal of finishing, I did wonder if this was how it might feel to be in a desert and be faced with a mirage. My oasis being the finish gantry. And as we ran that last stretch, it did feel as if the finish line kept moving further and further away – but I guess that was a trick of the light.

We kept on running and in that final section Alison was keeping me moving, encouraging me to imagine we were Harold Abrahams or Eric Liddle making our heroic Chariots of Fire run on the beach.

It was lovely running on West Sands and we both thought how good it must be to have this as a regular running route. Inspiring to have the waves at one side, golden sands on the other and the town of St Andrews framed beautifully in the foreground against a backdrop of blue skies.

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We reached the finish and Alison’s daughters were there to witness our final strides, alas no accompanying music, but we crossed the line in suitably heroic fashion at 1hour 2 minutes.

Unfortunately with all the delay at the start, I had again got myself flummoxed with my gadgets and failed to restart my Nike+ and so I had no record of the race. This is annoying, and a reminder of one of the other race stresses I have not quite overcome.

Even with me feeling rubbish at various points in the race, I really enjoyed the experience and it was such a beautiful setting, and memorable for the beach finish. Alison and I had a great day out and a race I would happily do again next year.

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