Sunday, 10 November 2013

Race recap: Ascott-Under-Wychwood XC 03.11.13

Distance: 6.5km (approx - I think each Oxon XC league race is slightly different).
Time: 30:21
Place: 43/190

I wish I could write this like Hollie writes her recaps, mile by mile (or something similar...), but I actually don't know where each mile ended and the next began, because I forgot to start my watch at the beginning of the race. Oops.

I decided to try to have fun instead of going all out and dying halfway round the course. The only other experience of racing I have is one Race For Life that I did with Imi, which I didn't actually treat as a race, and one ParkRun in York which I thoroughly enjoyed and ran a PB at, but went out far too fast and lost the man I'd chosen as a pacer with at least a kilometre to go. I thought that if I attacked this race competitively right from the beginning, there would be a danger of that happening again, and with a huge hill up to the finish I had to have some energy to make it to the line.

One of my team said that the runners tend to go out pretty fast, so I put myself towards the back of the pack at the start line and took it slowly. There were a good few downhill stretches in the first third of the race, and I'm alright at speedy downhills but I didn't want to kill my knees by doing it in spikes so I just took it gently (seems to be the general trend of the race!). The water trough and the hill (mountain) were looming in my mind...

Two of my team were ahead of me, as expected, but I tried to keep them in my sight. I was getting tired halfway around the first lap, but instead of slowing down as I might do on a training run, the fact that I was racing other people kept me going. I'm very uncompetitive against myself, but I hate giving up against others.

The water trough, or 10 metre stretch of water that came two thirds of the way up to my knee, wasn't as terrible as I'd imagined/various people had told me. One moment I was running along a winding trail through a large spinney, the next I was in the water. Mentally, it coming around so suddenly was easier than seeing it from afar and dreading it. There was no time to think about how to approach it or the best technique for running through more-than-a-puddle, I was just in the water and then out again. The initial, 'Oh god my feet are now twice as heavy' thought was quickly followed by, 'Ooh that was quite refreshing and my feet don't feel so tired now'. Then I saw the hill and all thoughts of water troughs went out of my head.

Probably a third of the way up the hill the first time around, wondering how to make it to the top.
There is no way to describe that hill other than brutal. It was awful. It was never-ending, a tricksy trail that pretends that the incline will stop around the corner/wall/gate but actually it just carries on. I'd done two hill sessions in training, definitely not enough, and I was all-too-aware that once the hill was done I needed enough energy to get me around the course and up the hill all over again. Running up that hill at a pace that would conserve enough energy was hell. Not that I could have sailed up it by any means, but I felt like I was walking with teeny tiny steps and not going anywhere. Luckily I'd asked my parents and sister to stand two thirds of the way up the hill at a wall which I would have to run around, so that they could see me coming and cheer me on up, and then yell at me to keep going as I went around and past them, up the hidden bit of the slope. If you ever have the opportunity to go and cheer someone on in a race, do it. Hearing people yelling your name is second to none in keeping you going, save for a new pair of legs.

"If I can't see how far there is to go then it won't be so bad, right?"
I picked my pace back up as soon as I hit flat ground - the hill was more tiring on my actual leg muscles than my breathing so it wasn't too hard to recover, plus some of our men's team were watching there and spurred me on. Picking up the speed was all I thought about for quite a while after the hill. A couple of women overtook me, and there was about twenty metres between me and the next pack. I looked behind and estimated that I would place in the last third of the runners, and decided to aim at catching the pack in front of me before I hit the water trough for a second time.

Matching your nails to your club vest obviously makes you faster.
I'm not sure if I ran faster or they slowed down, but I caught them. It hurt, but I managed it, and I could see one of my team not too far ahead. I tried to concentrate on (a) the water trough refreshing my feet and (b) the race almost being over, powered up a little hill, and after the water overtook the women who had done the same to me earlier.

I don't remember much between then and the end, except that I think I overtook three more women and looked like I was snarling as I tried to keep running up that hill. If I hadn't been trying to breathe I probably would have yelled in frustration that I couldn't make my legs go any faster. I knew it would have to hurt, and that if I could walk easily when I crossed the finishing line I'd be cross at myself for not giving it more effort, so despite the pain there was a certain amount of satisfaction when I couldn't stand upright after I'd crossed it.

After thinking that I was in the last third, I honestly thought that I was looking at the wrong number when the results came out and I saw a 43 next to my name. 1st and 2nd in my team came in at 33rd and 40th overall so I'm really pleased with my result. It went a lot more quickly than a normal 4 mile training run does, possibly because there were two laps so I knew how far there was to go on the second one, and also because there seems to be a lot more to occupy your thoughts in a race than running on your own. For the next one I'll walk the course beforehand so that I know when to push my speed and when to conserve it. There didn't seem to be much point for this one: I knew the hill was the final stretch of each lap and that the water was just before that, and the rest of the course was in full view from the car park field.

I'm definitely looking forward to the next one. Racing is totally different to going running, which hadn't really clicked in my brain. The people around you push your pace for you so I wasn't  forcing myself to go faster for no reason, which in a twisted way is easier than doing a tempo run or speedwork. Three weeks until the next one, and in the meantime hill training is going to be the flavour of the month.

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