November 17th – Winter league handicap race
On November 17th I ran in my first ever handicap winter league race. I’ve been a member of EHH since July but have never been to any club training/pack runs and have only ever been to one hill session and one speed session (both in the weeks leading up to the race) so I didn’t really know that many people. Id met a few at other races I’ve been to with my husband Martin Hardey (it was his idea to sign me up for the winter league).
Martin had explained what would happen and had shown me the route the week before so I knew where I was going and what to expect (or so I thought!).
On the morning of races I get really nervous and this was no exception. I spent most of the morning pacing up and down the living room. We eventually set off and drove to the clubhouse. We were fairly early but there were already quite a few there. I went to put my bag in the changing room then returned to the main room to collect my number and start time. Now, I’m not the fastest runner in the world, nor can I run very far – the furthest I’ve ever run is 10 miles (which was once and nearly killed me) so I was expecting to start very shortly after 2. To find I was starting after 9.45 baffled me (and Martin) AND I was starting by myself.
By this time the club was filling up fast and there was quite a buzz in the air as everyone was starting to find out their handicaps and trying to discover who they were starting before or after. No-one seems to know how this handicap system works! I went back to the changing room to change my trainers. A few ladies in there were comparing start times. I asked a couple what their park run times were – one said 23 mins and the other said about 24mins. Mines just under 27mins (on a good day) yet these ladies were setting off before me! Even they were scratching their heads a bit.
Anyway, the numbers pinned to the red vest, trainers changed, last minute wee, then we set off to the start line. I jogged down by myself to try to settle my nerves. After talking to a few people in the clubhouse beforehand I found it reassuring that even the best runners still get nervous before a race.
I jogged up and down and stretched before taking up my starting position. I think there were around 40 seconds between me and the runner in front. 3, 2, 1 – go. I set off by myself which felt really strange. It wasn’t long before I reached the first gate and squeezed through. I don’t seem to have got very far before I heard the gate squeak again. That’s when I knew I was in a race. How long would it be before I was overtaken? I managed to hold on until just before the next gate before I was overtaken. This was to be the theme of the race!
I reached the part where in our recce run the week before Martin had said to speed up a bit so you can get up the hill. So I sped up and pushed hard up the hill. Big mistake! I got to the top and couldn’t breathe. I struggled to control my breathing for the rest of the race. I really slowed down at this point but was determined not to stop and walk so I kept plodding along, round the field and back up to the hill all while people kept passing me and I’m not getting any closer to anyone in front. Most people who passed me had words of encouragement for me; unfortunately I could only muster a breathless thank you to most of them. The Marshalls were all very encouraging too – thank you. I managed to run down the bloody hill without falling over. It was not long after this that Martin ran past. He asked if I was ok but didn’t really wait for a reply!! (I suppose it was a race after all). It was with a huge surge of relief when I reached the final gate and knew that just around the bend was the finish. I thought surely there can’t be anyone left to pass me (I was wrong). Then it was a determined but not-so-sprinty run to the finish line. Watch stopped, done, finished, thank god! I walked over to Martin to see how he’d done. I then looked at my watch for my time. I hadn’t been looking at the time during the race, just my pace, so I was surprised and pleased to see a time of 27.58. No wonder I couldn’t breathe! Only a minute short of my park run PB.
Afterwards in the clubhouse the results were read out which just confused me even more! Well done to all the winners and big congratulations to Beth and Chris for getting London marathon places – good luck to you both.
Overall it was an enjoyable experience and it was great to see a field of red vests. Although it was a race everyone was very welcoming and encouraging. Its great being part of such a great club. On reflection I did enjoy the race (I think) but I will definitely be putting in more training before the next one.