tea table

Hot beverages and biscuits for all

Friendly faces greet me as I walked toward the starting line of the “Fit for Life Race.”  The pouring rain that soaked my uniform straight through during the warmup has decided to stop for the race, thank goodness.

Sixteen of us form a rough double line along the two tire ruts in the grass road that marks our 5.2km course.  Someone gives me a special introduction as the “United States 5k Champion,” officially blowing my cover, if my OTC matchy Nike kit hasn’t done so already.  Another male athlete says, “Looks like we have our winner!”

Great, I just want to do my tempo workout during this race, unnoticed.  I don’t want a target on my back!  Oh well, stay controlled and do what you’re meant to do.  Its not really a race, its a tempo run with other people around, I tell myself.

The woman saying “Go” goes off, and we start running.  Having placed myself sheepishly in 10th, I am finding it difficult to move around people in the rutted lanes of the path toward the front group.  The challenge takes me back to cross country seasons of the past, and I get a surge of energy from positive memories.  I dart right through a neighboring bush to get around a pack, only to find its a huge clump of stinging nettle, now burrowed into my entire right side.  Shite.

the crewFree at last, I fly along the downhill that marks the first mile of the course alongside the top two men, pleasantly surprised at how well my feet and ankles adjust to the uneven surfaces of this country forest.  This is what its about.  The heart of running, happening all over the world, every weekend.  A bunch of people getting fit, meeting up for a morning footrace once a month, their wives and husbands forming the volunteer staff that makes it possible.

Having caught the leaders, I’m finding the pace a bit sluggish, and I ask myself if its fast enough for the intent of the day (which is a tempo run at about 5:30 effort on normal ground).  The trail has flattened to a 600 meter stretch along a trickling brook, and I decide its a good time to settle into my own rhythm in the front.  It’ll be great: an opportunity to practice running to feel; running in my own zone mentally and physically.  I easily pull ahead past the 2k marker and hear nothing but my own footsteps and the shwishing of the stream.

And then, a hill.

I back off the pace to stay in the right effort zone as my heart rate climbs and breathing threatens to become labored.  Halfway up, at about 3k, a young girl volunteering with her dad looks at me and says “SOMEONE’S COMING!!”  My adrenaline kicks into gear and I involuntarily start hammering up the hill.  I can’t lose this lead!  If I can only push the crest of this hill and try to relax while I fly down the other side, I can break him! All sense and logic is lost.  I’m suddenly racing rather than working out.

finish lineSlow DOWN!  Who cares if you don’t win the Fit For Life 5.2k trail run in the middle of this hobbit forest? Applying the breaks slightly, I settle my breathing again as the course flattens out.  With less than 1k to go, I’m nearly sure I’ve lost him, but I can’t be sure.  I listen after passing more volunteers to see how long it takes to hear them cheering for the next runner…nothing.  Never being one to look over my shoulder, I stubbornly stare at the trail ahead, determined not to make this my first time peaking behind me in a race.  But the anxiety builds…my pace quickens just to be sure I hold him off.  One more uphill to go, I think.  My legs feel like lead; my ribs extending from the effort.  Up ahead is a man carrying a white sign with a few people around him…what could that be?  Is that the finish?

time keepersawardsAh, yes, it is.  I stumble across the space between the finish sign and Noreen’s stop watch and clip board.  18:11.  No one behind me for ages.  I’m an idiot.  A competitive one, at least.

I enjoy the tea, biscuits, and company of the other competitors as we gather around the awards area, where we are all given a pair of congratulatory socks and sporty jelly beans.  The turnout for this event is a mere 5-10% of normal, due to its remote location and bad weather, but I don’t care.  The people are friendly, and the course was fun.  I pop a few sport beans into my mouth and a burst of strawberry and tart lemon combine and make my cheeks ache.  I shake my head at how impossible it is for me to do a tempo run during a race, no matter how small or remote it is.  A race is a race.  I should know myself better by now :).