One Week: Two Races. The Ego vs The Flow
I love the word ‘juxtaposition.’ It keeps me on my toes, wondering what’s waiting around the next corner, ready to jump out and ambush me. Like the world famous ‘Bushman’ (Google him, seriously) who successfully added me to his list of conquests when he launched himself from behind his mobile bush along Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco ten years ago. I was a sitting (or walking) duck. Thankfully, Beadle never got hold of me. RIP.
Juxtaposition then. It seems to follow me around wherever I go.
This week was no exception.
Race 1: The Ego
Or, alternatively known as the Inter Financial Services Cross Country race, in Richmond Park, London.
Some background facts first of all:
- I’m shit at Cross Country;
- I’ve come home with TWO prizes (women’s winning team, and women’s VETS team) for the past two years. Surprising? Unlikely? Yes to both. But it happened. Twice.
- It’s only THREE AND A HALF MILES LONG.
- It’s one of the hardest races I’ve done this year (and I’ve done a few)
- Did you get that? IT’S ONLY THREE AND A HALF BLOODY MILES LONG!!
There are a few other equally relevant facts at play here. Mini Me has been sneezing, coughing and spluttering over me for the past week. One night, I tucked her into bed and just before she sneezed right in my face for the final time that day, she said apologetically with heavy eyes, ‘It’s OK Mummy. You don’t have to get into bed with me and cuddle me tonight.’ I thought that was a very kind gesture, but the germ-infused damage was – no doubt – already done.
We headed down to London on Tuesday, and I felt terrified about the race. Enter Stage Left, The Ego. What if you’re shit this year, Rach? What if you don’t win ANY prizes? What if you crash & burn and make a complete arse of yourself? Hell, could my fragile, pathetic ego handle the prospect of coming away EMPTY HANDED? Surely not. DO YOU NOT KNOW WHO I AM? (please note the sense of irony, here.)
We arrived at the Bank of England Sports Centre – just as we have for the past two years – and I STILL felt terrified. Terrified, and also a bit tight chested. I thought it was just sheer panic.
We mingled, chatted and guffawed with the rest of the Lloyds team as they arrived in dribbles, nobody looking any different from the last two years. A couple of wide-eyed, overly tanned new members, but generally speaking – it was business as usual.
‘That’s the girl who ALWAYS wins’ someone said, pointing out a kind-looking girl with a big swishy dark ponytail. It’s true: she does always win, and she does seem to be in a league of her own, but imagine the pressure? What if she just can’t be arsed one year, or has to put a child to bed the night before with snot-infused kisses, after the virus-filled sandwich she just about stomached for tea? (I doubt that either are a part of her reality, but you never know.)
I did my usual John Cleese half-baked comedy warm-up routine – more for show than effect – and I still felt terrified. That and, well… just shit.
The gun went off and BANG! I shot off like a scared young kid who’d just been caught nicking penny sweets from Woolworths. I ran like hell. Why? Because my ego was running – not me; because I was stupid, and didn’t even consider pacing myself for the THREE AND A HALF MILES of the race. How hard can it be? It’s only three and a half miles! Well, I should know, because I’ve done it twice before and each time finished in disbelief at the level of nausea rising from the pit of my stomach, and the burning sensation settling nicely in the back of my throat. It’s ROCK hard!
The first mile is uphill. Off road and uphill, and this year, we had an entire herd of deer bolt across right in front of the female front runners (I was 4th at this point.) So, I killed myself on that first mile climb. Imagine then: you’ve just run as fast as you possibly can up a hilly, grass banking a mile long, and you get to the (kind of) summit. You want to stop, but you can’t because
- You’re being chased by the female Movers & Shakers of the Banking Fraternity. They are a ‘driven’ bunch. If you fall, they run over you. It’s like that;
- There’s another TWO AND A HALF DUCKING MILES still to go – and some of those are up even more friggin’ hills.
This was my predicament.
I began to wheeze heavily as I heard my Garmin ‘bing’ to signal the first mile. Jesus. I sound like a chain-smoker! I couldn’t help but worry as I heard my own breath sound laboured, crackly and painful. It was painful.
And then I felt sorry for me. My Ego had completely kiboshed my race (that, and Tilly’s sloppy virus kisses from the week before.) But mostly the ego. My first mile had been 7:05 m/m pace. To put this into some perspective, that would be a decent pace to set off on a flat road race. NOT off road, and up a steep, grassy hill.
I died from there, and came over the finish line wheezing, panting and coughing as though air had recently been rationed, and I’d run out of tokens.
I didn’t win any prizes. My Ego was gutted, but it has itself to blame, so tough tits.
Race 2: The Flow
After the unabashed disaster of Richmond Park, my chest didn’t quite recover. I honked up a few undesirables for the next couple of days, and would text Gav intermittently saying,
‘I don’t think I’ll be doing Barnsley on Sunday. Still not right. Coughing up gunk.’
He would reply saying,
‘OK, just see how you feel. Don’t have to decide now.’
I would text back saying,
‘But I should be OK. I really want to do it.’
And he would text back saying,
‘OK. just see how you feel. Don’t have to decide now.’ (I think he’d copied & pasted his reply.)
Even up to last night we hadn’t decided. My coughing had all but gone, and I began to feel lighter in my chest and my breathing. Like a fog had lifted.
So, we enjoyed a beer.
And then this morning came. I made myself a Bailey’s coffee for the journey over (yes, I did) and I felt free, and happy. I didn’t care how my race went today. I just wanted to go and run and feel alive. I knew my Ego was no longer in the driving seat.
Gav was the opposite (it was his turn for the feeling dodgy / ‘should I / shouldn’t I race today?’ musings) but he dug in and raced – and he raced well, all things considered.
I set off and I felt light. Who knew that feeling burdensome with worry can actually make you feel a good few pounds heavier? I’d left my Rucksack of Pointless Worry Rocks at home, today. Thank God.
I aimed for consistency: Keep the miles tight – don’t go off too fast and die; tick over but work hard. That was my aim.
The hills made me work, but my head was up to the challenge. I saw a couple of females in the distance and picked them off in the last (uphill) mile. I didn’t let it go, and finished in a decent time for a hilly course. I may well have been in the top 5 for my F35 age category, am waiting to find out.
I beat my time from last year, and put my ego back in its box: a warning for it NEVER to try and take control of my races, again.
But more importantly than any of that, I BLOODY LOVED IT!