Last week I took part in my first track race in almost fifteen years.
It was exciting stuff. Twelve and a half laps (5,000m) of the Dorothy Hyman Stadium in Barnsley, as part of Barnsley Athletic Club’s winter track series.
I’ve always thought track was for the kids and the professionals. But at the age of 36, I decided what the hell, I’ll have a bash anyway. Deep down I had the hope that I might, just might, break 20 minutes for 5km. It was flat. Surely, I could smash my PB.
‘I’ll run sub-20,’ I told Chris. ‘Definitely.’
The evening arrived. There were one or two mishaps – like putting my arm warmers on the wrong arms, even though they were quite clearly labelled Left and Right, and almost stopping the circulation. Before that, there’d been the asthma attack in the changing room, because I’d sprayed, and consequently, inhaled far too much deodorant, the main trigger of my asthma. You’d think I would learn!
Despite this, I found myself on the start line of the A race, with the elite. I was excited, laughing and joking with my friends. Then came the realisation. This was the elite race. I am in no way what you would consider an elite athlete. I’m a nine-and-a-half stone asthmatic! ‘Oh shit,’ I said. ‘I’m going to come last!’
There was no time to fret, because the whistle, or was it a gun, I can’t quite recollect, was blown and away we went. Well, away they went. My friend Sarah was just in front, and another friend, Lee, just behind. Sarah started pulling away. I looked at my watch. I was going at 6.03 pace. It didn’t take a mathematical genius to realise that Sarah was running fast, sub six pace at least. I didn’t panic. I didn’t do anything drastic. I continued running consistently – 6.03 minutes for a mile is a very fast pace for me and I didn’t want to blow up. Away Sarah went, further and further until she was just a spec in the distance.
Keep going. Keep going. I looked at my watch. 6.03. I was doing well. Keep going. 6.03. PB pace. And dare I even think it, well under sub-20 pace. A nineteen was on the cards.
As we completed each lap a man shouted times at us. There’s no need to shout, I thought. I’ve got my Garmin. I know what I’m doing. I checked again, 6.03.
The last lap. I injected a bit of pace, it was after all the final lap, and it’s always good to finish on a high. Sub-20 here I come. I sprinted (when I say sprint I mean I moved my legs slightly quicker). I crossed the line. What a fantastic race. What a great experience. The night I broke the 20-minute barrier.
I looked at my watch.
It still said 6.03 pace. It was lying to me.
‘The watch!’ I pointed at the clock face. ‘Look!’ I might have even stamped my feet. ‘It was supposed to say NINETEEN!’
‘Garmin’s don’t work on the track,’ someone said.
They don’t work on the track.
My state-of-the art watch with the latest technology, linking to the most advanced satellites in space, goes to pot when you run round in circles.
I may have sworn. Several times.
‘You need to get your watch to bleep every time you complete a lap,’ someone said.
‘That’s against the rules,’ someone else said. ‘Cheating. No one else has the benefit of being bleeped at.’
‘F*** the rules,’ I thought. ‘I want sub 20.’
I stepped away from the track, my head down. I’d been so sure this was the night for a nineteen.
I didn’t realise the world of track racing could be quite so complicated.
‘You’ve got to be pleased with that,’ my friend, Dave, said. ‘A PB and at the start of the season.’
Initially I may have ranted. I may have stamped my feet and sworn, but actually he had a point. I had just run the fastest 5k of my life.
The real delight came a few days later when I realised that my time had put me top of the UK 2016 veteran 35 rankings. I was TOP. My time of 20-something had set the standard for the rest of the other vet 35 ladies in the country. There are two things to note here. Firstly, that it is January. No other clubs have held a 5,000m race. Secondly, there were only two vet 35 ladies who have so far completed the distance – me and a friend, Zoe. However, I am refusing to let the reality take away from the fact that just for a little while, I was top.
It may not have been a nineteen, but it was definitely a good night. Nineteen next time…