When I embarked on a beginners course at my local Running Club a couple of years ago, I could never have dreamt that one day I would be signing up for a 7 mile multi terrain cross country race. In a moment of optimism or madness, that is exactly what I did. The race was organised by the Irish Regiment stationed at our town's barracks and was part of an initiative to promote community relations.
My daughter Liberty signed up also along with her boyfriend and my husband.
I can' t say that I did a lot in preparation for the race. I hadn't run as far as 7 miles for quite some time and the day before the race I spent at a beer and music festival enjoying more pints than I should have of the real ales on offer. I wasn't feeling fantastically confident but by the time we arrived at the start, it was too late to worry about it.
Army vehicles and men in uniform set the scene for the race. There were plenty of familiar faces from my running club but I couldn't help feeling a little intimidated by all the incredibly fit army personnel taking part. The British Army Cross Country team were there and of the civilians taking part, I was struggling to spot anyone that looked like they'd be slower than my daughter and I.
As my husband and Liberty's boyfriend found their strategic position for the start of the race, Liberty and I stood well back and watched as the field opened out before us. We crossed the start line at the back and didn't expect to be doing any overtaking.
Resigning myself to the fact that we were almost certainly going to finish last was quite liberating. Someone has to be last and today it was going to be us. I was determined to finish and enjoy myself. I am a slighty faster runner than my daughter but we made a promise to each other that we would do this together. We would help each other. There was no way I was going to leave her behind. I had a not unrealistic concern that with my slight hangover from the ales, she could be leaving me behind.
We ran the first couple of miles keeping the other runners in sight but then the course started to take twists and turns through fields and woods that made us feel quite alone. The race was marshalled by smart young men in military attire who were incredibly supportive and generous with smiles and words of encouragement but there were times when we weren't exactly sure which way to go. It was quite an adventure. I was very glad that I was sharing the adventure with my daughter.
As we dragged ourselves up a steep bank in the woods, I wondered how on earth anyone could actually run up such an incline, especially given how soft and crumbly the surface was underfoot. At the top, there were three well placed trees. I held onto them in turn to manoeuvre myself cautiously over the top of the bank as I planned the equally steep descent. I mostly let myself go and trusted to luck to stay upright. A log at the bottom needed to be jumped over but I surprised myself by timing it just right and coming to rest without injury to body or pride. I turned round to see how my daughter was doing. She was clinging to one of the trees for dear life bemoaning the fact that this was her worst nightmare. To her credit, she took my advice and just went for it. She made it safely to the bottom ready for the next ascent.
I was actually starting to love this rough terrain, skipping down the slopes with a childlike abandon and something of a daft grin on my face. My daughter was less amused by it all but we were making progress.
It would not be fair to write about my daughter's tree hugging incident without mentioning an incident of my own. I was drinking plenty of water to try and counter the hangover symptoms and I had a sneaking suspicion that my bladder was going to start to protest loudly if I did not do something to relieve it before the seven miles were over. Liberty needed to stop to catch her breath and stretch her tightening muscles. We were in a wood. There was a conveniently large tree. I popped behind it for a wee. I did check first to make sure there were no marshalls in sight but mid wee I had a moment of panic imagining sophisticated army surveillance equipment monitoring the activity. The feeling of exposure and vulnerability was not good but the lightness of an empty bladder most definitely was.
We moved swiftly on away from the scene of the crime against modesty.
As we emerged from the woods and began running on more open stretches, we occasionally caught sight of other runners ahead of us. It was lovely to see a friendly splash of our club colour orange running shirts. We weren't too disgracefully behind.
The route was comprised of a two loops joined together by a long straight stretch that included an underpass. You ran round one loop, out through the underpass, round the second loop and back through the underpass to the finish where you started on the first loop. As we were running out towards the second loop, the elite runners were making their way back and towards the finish. How do they make it look so easy? It was a very humbling feeling to be taking part in the event with these amazing athletes and many of them, to our delight, took the time to offer us encouragement. And we certainly needed all the encouragement we could get! We had a long way still to go.
The route was tough. To our tired legs it seemed like never ending hills but eventually, we were running back towards the underpass with the promise of the finish line not too distant. Liberty's boyfriend had completed the race in under an hour and had now come back to run her home. He was using all his best motivational one liners: you're doing great, not far now, dig deep, keep breathing. I think for poor Liberty 'keeping breathing' was proving increasingly difficult.
I was actually feeling pretty good. My bladder felt comfortable (good call having the wee behind the tree despite the embarrasment) and a glucose gel sachet that I had slurped up at about the halfway point was having a positive effect on my energy levels. When my husband (who finished his race in just over an hour) came back to run with me, it didn't feel too different to when we go on our training runs together. We chatted, he told me he was proud of me and we ran ahead. Just behind me I could hear the motivational one liners picking up pace: final push now - the finish line is just around the corner - come on Liberty, push harder. The one liners were picking up pace. Liberty wasn't. Her breathing sounded awful and I thought she might actually be close to tears.
We started the race together, we ran the race together and I was absolutely determined that we were going to finish this race together. I gently pushed my husband out of the way, paused for Liberty to catch up and held out my hand to her. She took my hand and suddenly, the finish line was there in front of us.
I imagined that by now most of the runners and supporters would have dispersed. We would have the satisfaction of crossing the finish line but quietly and unnoticed. Wrong. A huge crowd of army, civilians and competitors were waiting at the finish and cheering us on. I felt a cocktail of emotions welling up and threatening to completely overwhelm me. I looked at Liberty. She looked at me. I held her hand tight and I ran. I think I blurted out some nonsense like we're nearly there as much for me as for her and we made it. To cheers and applause, crossed that finish line - together. Seven gruelling miles in 1 hour and 24 minutes. We'd made it.
I have never been so happy or so proud to come last!