GOING into the final race in the South Yorkshire road league, I found myself leading my age category (21-25, I wish).
This was a really nice surprise. I started to think about how fantastic it would be to win. I actually had a chance of winning! Then I started to panic. What if I had a bad run? What if it all went wrong?
It wasn’t the Olympics or anything, but it was important (to me). There were some Up and Running vouchers up for grabs, and I really wanted a pair of new shorts.
‘Just buy some new shorts!’ Dad said. ‘That’d be easier.’
He’s right, of course. It would, but it wouldn’t be half as much fun as actually winning them.
After three races I had a 40 second lead. The only problem was that the lady in second had beaten me on two out of three races. She also had a faster five-mile PB and has represented Great Britain for her athletic endeavours.
‘What vouchers do you get for second?’ I was starting to think Dad was right.
‘Don’t panic.’ Chris said. ‘All you need to do is stay within 40 seconds of her and you’ll be fine.’
It sounded like a plan. That’s what I would do. Then I realised. ‘I haven’t met her! I don’t know what she looks like.’
Chris consulted the previous race results. ‘She runs for Totley. She’ll be wearing a green vest.’
‘Totley!’ Just the name Totley filled me with dread. They’re a fast lot are Totley. I didn’t fancy my chances. ‘Right, all I need to do is stay with a girl wearing a Totley green vest?’
‘Yes.’ Chris was still looking at the results. ‘No! Actually, don’t try to keep up with Laura who runs for Totley. If you do that, you’ll kill yourself.’
‘What am I supposed to do? Ask her name when she runs past?’
Chris went back to looking at the results. ‘She’s a two-hour something marathon runner. You’ll not see her. It’ll not be a problem.’
This made me feel better.
On race night I also got a bit more information about the lady I was hoping wouldn’t beat me. ‘She has black hair,’ my friend said. ‘She’s called, Caz.’
‘Green vest. Black hair.’ I’d got it.
On the start line I spotted a lady in green with black hair. Then I spotted another one. Two of them. This was getting confusing.
The gun went, and the girls in green were off. They were shoulder to shoulder. I was behind. I needed to keep them in my sights. It was a fast start, but I decided I’d give it my all. If it went wrong at least I could be happy that I’d tried. They started pulling away. We’d only run a few metres, but I went faster. I overtook on the first hill.
Ahead I could still see my friend, Fiona. This was worrying. I train with Fiona and we’re never usually in the same postcode. I’d gone off too fast. I knew I’d pay for this later in the race, but I’d committed. I was attacking this race, no matter what.
We had to run up a few more hills and then a few more. It felt like we were constantly running up a hill. One of the Totley ladies passed me. Black hair. Green vest. I had to go with her. She was fast. She started pulling away. I worked hard to stay as close to her as I possibly could.
It began to hurt. By mile two I decided that I’d pull out of my next race. This racing lark was just too painful. By mile three I’d decided that I was never racing again. It was horrible. Every part of my body was screaming. It was the worst pain I’ve felt in a race for a long time. I pushed on determined not to let the lady in green get away.
She ran past a tree. I counted how many seconds it took me to get to the same tree. Ten. I was ten seconds behind. After that she pulled away more and more, until she was just a spec in the distance. I stopped counting.
I was running with a group of ladies who I recognised from previous races. Normally when I’m running I chat to the people around me, not a full on conversation, that would be too difficult, but I’ll acknowledge them in some way. I couldn’t even do that. I’d lost the ability to communicate. I was working so hard that I lost sense of everything and everyone around me. One minute I was with the group, the next I was on my own. I wasn’t sure if they’d left me, or if I’d left them. It was like my mind was elsewhere, detached from my aching body.
Forty seconds. That’s all I needed, but I couldn’t even see the Totley runner now. I had to keep going, every second would count. On the last hill I attacked. Mid way up the hill we had to turn right and go up another hill. It almost killed me. I was sure I would collapse at any moment.
I knew the end was near (my end or the end of the race, I couldn’t be sure). I went for it again. I crossed the line sixth lady in 34.03. We worked out that times were about a minute down due to the challenging course. If that was right, I’d run really well. I was delighted.
Chris and Fiona were standing at the finish line staring at their watches. They’d seen the Totley lady finish and were counting the seconds till I made an appearance.
‘We stopped counting at 30 seconds,’ Chris said.
I knew I’d not done it, but I felt so pleased with myself for attacking the race and giving it everything. I couldn’t have done any more. The Totley lady was just too good. I decided to introduce myself, congratulate her for her great run and say thanks for getting me round.
I walked over. ‘Are you Caz?’
She shook her head. ‘No.’
‘Caz is there.’ She pointed to a lady in a green vest just crossing the line.
I’d been chasing the wrong lady. I’d almost killed myself chasing the wrong runner! I started laughing, thanked her and went on my way, feeling, it has to be said, a bit daft.
My friend, Lesley, asked how I’d done. ‘I chased the wrong person!’
‘I know,’ Lesley said. ‘Caz ran near me. She looked to be taking it easy.’
It got worse. If I’d known who the Totley lady was, and that she was coasting round, I could have run with her. I could have saved myself so much pain.
Penistone was definitely the most challenging of all the road league races. It was a beast. It took about thirty minutes, a Mars Bar, slice of chocolate cake and a bun for me to forget about the pain. And then came the vouchers. My name was called and a few people cheered. I felt myself getting a bit emotional. I blinked back my tears.
I waved my vouchers at Chris. ‘For my shorts.’ I pointed at the Mars Bar wrapper, empty bun case and chocolate cake crumbs. ‘I’ll have to get a bigger size after that lot!’ But it didn’t matter. Whether in a medium or large, the shorts would soon be mine. I’d done it. A first place finish (in my category) and fourth overall in the South Yorkshire Road League. That’s something I never, ever would have thought possible!