Herding cats. Knitting fog. Getting Striders to follow instructions…? Wendy and Michael did a fantastic job of arranging the format (keep it simple: tick), gathering volunteers and getting everyone in the right places at the right time. I was probably one of those moggies, as I’d toodled off for a warm-up and arrived back with about a minute to spare before my group’s start time. Perfectly judged (ahem). I had just enough time to stash my hoodie, we got our count-down and we were off.
I didn’t want to set off too fast as, despite a decent warm-up, I knew I’d do better to build into it. This left me at the back of our group as we entered the woods for the first time but as we started hitting the small climbs I found I was starting to make headway on the others.
As we came around onto the old wagonway and through the gate (marshal there next time please!), three of us (Sally Hughes, David Simm and me) formed a group and worked together coming along Houghall Lane. By this point I was getting into a good rhythm, working comfortably hard, though paranoid about being caught by one of the faster groups.
Sally started to draw away as we came through the end of lap 1; at first I followed but I decided I was going to have to let her go as I knew I couldn’t sustain the effort to stay with her. The little climbs came to my rescue again though, and I clawed my way back, also picking up some runners from the earlier groups as I did. The longer climb to the bench at the bottom of Heartbreak Hill pushed me into the red the second time around, so I couldn’t even give Mike Elliott any cheeky back-chat as I went past his marshal point.
I was picking people off at a steady rate by now and was trying to gasp out encouragement to everyone I passed (even if I didn’t get everyone’s name right – sorry again, Louise!). Coming up the lane for the second time, I set my sights on the person in front and tried to reel them in one at a time. Alan Scott was the last target as I reached the end of the lane but having got past I knew I couldn’t let up: if I was catching other people, who was catching me? I pushed as hard as I could for home and it turned out I could have eased off as there was clear space behind me. I was slightly surprised to see so few people had finished. I think I came in 6th, which is probably my highest placing in any Strider event yet!
I always feel that if I’ve done well in a handicap race probably means I’ve given a bad estimate to the handicappers. In my defence, I haven’t run a hard pace over that sort of distance for a while, so maybe I was a bit out of touch with my speed. I wasn’t the only one who’d put in a hard effort though, as testified by the zombie apocalypse photos.
As ever, the support and encouragement from the volunteers around the course – marshals, spectators, timers, results – was fabulous. The race itself was great fun, a useful personal fitness test and the handicap levels the field so anyone can get involved, no matter their speed. I got so much out of the camaraderie and simply chatting to people – those I haven’t seen for ages and those I hadn’t met before. I was disappointed that I couldn’t keep it going in the Rose Tree afterwards, but by that point my stomach was telling me I really had to get home for tea. Or was it really to go and lie in a sunbeam?