Sunday was my 5th year racing at the Scottish national cross country in Falkirk, the first time running for Edinburgh Athletic Club. Scottish Athletics had changed the course this year to keep us away from the golf course and also so we weren't running up a steep hill at the back of the course and as it happens, it was a good move.
12pm I met the rest of the squad in Corstophine, Edinburgh to arrange car sharing and make our way to Falkirk for the race. We all arrived with about 90 minutes to spare and usually that is a nice way to start preparing for the race, but yesterday it was cold, wet, windy and very very muddy.
Cross country at the best of times is a no frills sort of setup. You turn up, pull on your kit, get on the start line and race. By putting the words 'Scottish nationals' in front of the title of a cross country race makes it no different. I remember the first time I raced at Falkirk in 2010, I walked down on to the course and met up with a couple of other runners but expected more, expected maybe some TV coverage, some big screens, spectators on every part of the course cheering us all on but nothing.
You see all the banners, flags and tents of all the other Scottish running clubs but even yesterday many of them were dismantled due to the high winds.
The male race is the last and the longest race of the day. 12 km, 3 laps around Callender Park.
Yesterday everyone was covered in mud just walking to their club tents, the rain had made the park a mud bath, brown rivers flowing down paths and ankle deep bogs stretching the width of the course, no way around, this was going to be a tough race.
I went for a recce of the course and there was nothing that caused any real concern, maybe one or two short steep climbs which had turned in to very muddy sections, if you were able to get any grip on them you'd be doing well.
There were two aims for the race, one was to finish, the second was to stay on my feet!
I tried to do a warm up but it wasn't easy, if I had thought about it more, I should have gone back to the main road and ran there, but in the end I did some strides but I was cold and wet and all I wanted to do was find some shelter.
15 minutes before the race started I took off some layers and put them in the club tent for later. I decided to keep a tshirt on under my club vest and also run in my Vital Active compression sleeves, my brand new red ones along with shorts and my Inov8 Talon 190s.
5 minutes to go, I headed over to the start line, did some more strides and relaxed a bit, I was now looking forward to the race. My feet were already soaked but I didn't care, I was running in the Scottish nationals. There was no pressure, there was no chance of placing in this race, the best in Scotland were here and I am no where near the pace of these guys.
In previous years my times have been:
2010 : 52:21
2011 : 50:10
2012 : 51:45
2013 : 47:28
2014 : Didn't run
So I would like to aim for sub 50 as I know I am capable of that (6:50s), even in the conditions that we had, a PB would need me running 6:26s, again, something I thought I might be able to achieve but I was just going to run to the conditions and see how I got on.
I started in the middle of the pack and as soon as the gun went, I knew I should have been a bit further up the front. We started jogging, then running, the stopped as everyone arrived at the first uphill section which was muddy and on a corner. Not a great start!
I decided the best approach would be to stick to the outside of the pack and although it was the longer way around the course, there was less mud and less runners. This allowed me to get in to my own pace, passing quiet a number of others.
The first lap was pretty uneventful though, the bad hill at the back of the course had been replaced with relatively hard packed mud covered trail, there was still a couple of short climbs but nothing lung busting.
About half way around the first lap I spotted Colin in the distance, he was having a good race, obviously had got a bit closer to the front at the start and it was going to be tough trying to catch him in these conditions.
The second lap was still a pretty uneventful run, I felt comfortable, I was still catching and passing people but the mud that greeted us after near Falkirk House????? was my weak spot.
I did get to watch someone be attacked by the ribbon that marked out the course though, somehow they had managed to straddle the ribbon that marked out the course. This wasn't an issue until they met the post that the ribbon was attached too! They quickly tried to get out of the way but in doing so, the ribbon tangled around their foot and down they went, face first in to the mud. I had a wee chuckle to myself but was thankful it hadn't been me. After that I did take an extra side step away from the ribbon, even though the conditions were a bit better closer to the tape.
Trying to get through the mud was a bit of a gamble that I never one, the first lap I kept to the inside near the tape but that was slow going, the second lap I tried the outside line and I ended up just getting undertaken by others. I was slipping all over the place and a couple of times thought I was going to fall face first in to it!
Once out of the mud I was able to make up the lost places on the harder trail sections and I could see I was eating in to Colin's lead but I would have preferred not to be losing places, it just made it a harder race.
One more lap to go and I was still feeling pretty good. I knew the pace hadn't been as quick as I had hoped but it was nice to think I had it in me to push for one more lap, rather than feeling like death and trying to just hold on for the final lap.
The weather hadn't been too bad so far, it was windy and it had rained but no where near as heavy as we had had while trying to warm up.
Last lap, one more time through the mud bath and then it was over. I put my best foot forward and headed up the hill near the start line. The pack had thinned out now so the corner which slowed us down at the start was just another part of the course, you could run what ever line you wanted now.
Up the hill, across the table top and then down the other side, in to the mud and I lost more places. I wasn't having that and with less than a lap to go I decided to chase down the positions. I had passed Colin on lap two but I knew he wouldn't be far behind. This attitude may have been my down fall.
Shortly after the mud, on the hard trail, a stitch crept up on me and forced me to stop running. This is the second time this has happened this year and I had a similar issue a couple of sessions back and thought I'd solved it. It happened a Devilla a couple of weeks ago and I can't figure out what is causing it.
It just comes on and I can't breathe it becomes so painful. The only thing I could do was stop at the side of the course and watch all my hard work unfold in front of me. Runner after runner would pass me, some giving shouts of "Come on Edinburgh, you can do it!". This is what I like about racing. People that haven't raced and think it's going to be full of elitist, super fit, arrogant people, it really isn't. I'm sure out of 500 runners, there might be one of two but I've not met them. You never want to see a fellow runner in trouble, I'm not expecting anyone to stop but just to have their support and them willing you on, does help.
The thing is though, they are going past pretty quickly so you don't really have time to say thanks or give a reply, there is very little chance you will see them again at the end, so I gave a quick thanks and then got moving again but the stitch came back.
Then it's that moment. That moment the shouts of support aren't by your club vest, it's your name, it's someone that knows who you are. It's Colin.
He has now eaten in to my lead, caught me and passed me. Then another Edinburgh AC vest, Martin Ferguson passes me, I decide I'm going to try and stick with these guys. The stitch feels like it's gone this time. I catch Colin, thank him for his encouragement and as if by a sick twist of fate, the stitch comes back for one more time.
This time I decide to admit defeat and step to the side of the course, reach down to my Garmin to stop the watch and get a DNF against my name. I've never had a 'Did not finish' for a race.
What am I thinking! Less than a lap to go and I'm giving in? Not today!
I started running again but just eased off the pace, this was now a run just to get home.
I did finish, I made up a couple of places but I was not impressed at all with my effort.
I finished in 50:21
Overall the course was great but I need to try and work out how not to get a stitch in future.