I always hated sports day at school.
As far as I remember it, we never actually did any running or athletics training during PE lessons beyond some half hearted javelin flinging. So when our form tutors went round every year to demand that we sign up to run around the grass track on the school field my natural inclination was always to tell them where to stick their 100m dash. I think I did it once, knowing I would be dead last, and hating every single second of getting jeered from the sidelines by the sporty kids. At least they were talking to me, I suppose.
It's a shame, because having used local tracks for various interval training sessions in recent months I've found that I really enjoy running on the track. It reduces the impact, you're safe (albeit freezing cold and soaking wet in the winter months), there's no need to worry about the route and you just have to focus on your pace and form.
Anyway, last night my 14 year old self would have been astonished to watch me turn up at an athletics track at 7pm on a fine summer's Friday evening instead of opting for the nearest beer garden. I was off to take part in my first 5,000m track race as part of an Eagles club championship event. Billed as 'the night of the 5,000m PB's', Race Officer Heidi had organised three 5,000m races grouped into current 5k PB times followed by a series of 400m and 100m races.
I'm not sure what I'd been expecting when I arrived, fresh off a sweltering Piccadilly Line tube after spending a rare and pleasant day off work with some school friends in town. I dragged my Eagles kit on slightly reluctantly, not really wanting to put my trainers back onto already hot and tired feet. I never run on a Friday night and I'd been on my feet all day. Basically I was talking myself out of doing well before I'd even started, despite the fact that I know my track 1k intervals are always paced a lot faster than my road runs so there was a good chance I would do well if I just gave it a decent go.
Walking out across the infield to where the group was gathered just beyond the 100m finish line, it started to feel quite exciting. The summer sun was setting low overhead, giving the red track and green infield a warm glow. There was a smell of grass, and whatever a running track is made of when it gets warm.
The set up was amazing - Heidi and her volunteers had done a great job. We had small race numbers which we had to pin on front and back, like proper athletes. We had UKA officials, an electronic timing board, and best of all a starter's gun and a bell to ring you into your last lap! I started to get butterflies which I thought were nerves, but really it was excitement.
Those of us in the third race watched happily as the two faster groups completed their 5,000 metres, cheering them on and amazed at the times they were pulling out of the bag. The winner of the first race was Jose with 17:20, and Sarah Bailey bagged a new PB of 20:12 to win the second race, which seemed very appropriate on Olympic Opening Ceremony Night! Amazing times - it's always a privilege to watch the faster end of the club pack running - usually we only get to do that if we're running a race with laps as they come speeding past us!
Very soon it was our turn. We all felt absurdly nervous when we were lining up, which was ridiculous since 5k is a distance all of us are perfectly comfortable with. Granted we're not used to having an audience of the much faster runners in the club, but we needn't have worried. It was really exciting to be started off by a proper starter's gun - and we all seemed to settle into our strides really quickly. I had originally decided to go easy for the first couple of laps to see how I felt but all the speedy people and other spectators gave us all so much personal encouragement I found myself starting to race without even thinking about it. I don't think I've ever had so many people shouting me by name at an event and it was lovely, no sign of nasty comments from the sporty kids here.
So I decided to give it a proper go.
My official 5k PB was 28:02 (watch time 27:58). I had run 27:39 at the actual 5k point of a triathlon run leg in early July, but the course was long and my official time was recorded as 28:25. I've been desperate to properly break into the 27's, and I vaguely knew I would need to be between 8:45 and 9 minute miles average to manage this, so I kept checking my watch and tried to keep on pace.
I must have paced it pretty well, since by just after half way I started to overtake people. I couldn't quite believe it when I got to the 200m to go point in a time reading 26 something...I could do this! I put my foot down a bit in the 100m straight and came away with an official time of 27:21. That's going to sound really slow to a lot of people, but I was absolutely thrilled - 40 seconds off my PB and very definitely in the 27's! Bearing in mind that this time last year my best 5k time was 31 minutes, that shows progress that I'm very proud of.
Having very definitely not opted to run the sprint races (sports day PTSD is real folks), after my race was done I enjoyed standing at the side cheering on the brave souls/amazing runners from the club who had gleefully signed up for everything. We have some real talent in our club; that much was clear from watching them zoom round the track. We even had a proper sprint start from Sarah, who won the ladies race convincingly, and James has since said the evening reignited his love of track running and may look into some master's events. Hopefully we can have some more of these events to get our teeth into in future.
I'd encourage any Eagle to seek out their local track, regardless of what level they are running at. There's no need to be afraid of it or think it's only for people fast enough to actually compete. How do you think they get good enough to compete in the first place?
They run on the track, of course!