Back in 1984, when I was 11 years old, the school PE teacher recruited me to participate in a marathon relay against other schools across the region. Teams of six or so took turns running 800m legs around a track until we’d completed 26.2 miles. It would be another 22 years before I’d attempt the marathon distance on my own, but from that moment I was hooked.
While I enjoyed the race itself, I relished the training, which mostly consisted of running short sprints in the gym and doing crunches and push ups and such. Once a week, in PE, we also ran cross-country, which soon became my favorite event. We’d head off into the woods and for 19 glorious minutes (the time it took for me to run the 2.4 mile course) I was all alone, breathing in the fresh air and listening to my footsteps.
Track was another matter. I didn’t particularly like track running. Granted, the “track” at public schools in England was grass; white chalk was simply used to mark the lanes on the playing field. At some schools, the track was on a hill; our track, while flat, had molehills in the finishing straight. So I learned from an early age how to pick up my feet to avoid obstacles, which was helpful for cross country! But the monotony inevitable in running circles and the exposure I felt from people being able to see me falter at any time made track running my least favorite event. I worked hard at it, however, because there was one girl who could beat me; that is, until she took up smoking and inevitably quit running.
At 16, I joined the local running club, Southampton City A.C. (A.C. stands for Athletic Club; in England track and field are known as “athletics.”) The track where we trained was a real rubber track, and we always ran on it in spiked shoes. Getting “spiked” by another runner was a regular occurrence. We also wore spikes for cross-country, trading out the 5mm track spikes for more dangerous 9mm ones; those left a mark.
I never excelled on the track, for reasons stated above, but I did well in cross-country and spent my winter weekends running for the club in league races – we ran in both Wessex (as in Thomas Hardy’s Wessex) and Hampshire leagues. Occasionally we’d take a ferry over to France to race against French teams. French cross-country was a different experience; while in England cross-country inevitably consisted of hills, mud, and more hills, in France it was the norm to run around a pancake flat field (which also contained pancakes left by the cows that had been temporarily removed) with man-made obstacles such as logs. I have very fond memories of my trips to France!
It was on one of these trips that I met Malcolm Campbell, who at the time was running for Great Britain as a junior and now runs ultras for the USA. Malcolm helped me train and, at 18, I secured a spot on the team for the prestigious English Schools Cross Country Championships. This was the biggest event I had ever participated in – there were 400 girls in my race (senior girls, age 15-18) alone. It was exciting because there were so many famous (in running circles) names at the event, including Paula Radcliffe, who is now the women’s marathon world-record holder. She was 2nd; I was 249th. 🙂
Fast-forward 20 years and I’m still racing! I recently added triathlon to my repertoire, which includes everything from 5K to the marathon, both on the road and the trail. This year I plan to complete my first ultra, the Capon Valley 50K. I’ll be documenting my training experience as well as the races I complete this year. I’ll also talk about my running club, South Riding Running Club, of which I’m president, and my triathlon group, Tri Performance Racing. I couldn’t do all of this without the support of my training partners.