You know how when you picture Great Britain, you tend to picture it as being overcast and rainy accompanied by a sharp wind that leaves people bustling through the streets with their jackets hugged cold to their body?
Today was one of those days.
Up until today, in fact, we’d had been pretty lucky with the weather we’d experienced during our Scottish vacation. One day had been rainy, one day had been windy, and one had been kind of cold, but none had done so all at the same time, so we were lucky enough to have free reign exploring the Scottish countryside under fairly blue skies that, while bearing a temperature far colder than the Texas heat and humidity I’m used to, was bearable and overall better than expected. But today? Today was a different story, which made me unsure of how today’s race would go as my parents and I hopped in the car and made the two hour trek over to the city of Irvine, where plenty of adventures were to be had.
As mentioned in my previous blog post, after the great experience of yesterday’s 10k in Musselburgh, I decided to immediately sign up for the next race I could find, which just so happened to be the Irvine Running Club 5-Mile race, which was coincidentally located in the same exact city that we had made previous plans to travel to for the day (my mom and I had bought tickets to go and watch the British Open, also in Irvine, so it worked out magnificently). However, my legs screamed in protest as I awoke this morning, reminding me of the 6.25 mile race I had run the previous day and the subsequent 8+ miles of hiking I had done with my parents afterwards—which included the trails hiking up the 822-foot summit of the hill/mountain knowns as Arthur’s seat and the exploration of the trails that surrounded it—and then hours upon hours of walking the streets of downtown Edinburgh—shopping, walking up and down the Royal Mile, and going on an hour-long ghost tour. We hadn’t gotten home until nearly midnight and I had spent the majority of the day on my feet, so as I pushed myself out of bed, my feet, calves, hamstrings, quads, and back screamed in anger. To top it off, I was going off of three-to-four hours of sleep, so it was just feeling like the race would be nothing too impressive.
But here’s the thing: when we signed up for the race yesterday, it had said that a maximum of 200 racers could participate—a number which had failed to reach its max—so I figured that, despite my sore legs and back, the race would be an easy win. The race was obviously a tiny little thing with just a few last-minute sign ups, so how hard could it be?
Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.
After sleep-navigating my dad as we voyaged to Irvine, we made our way into the packet pick-up. It is at this point that I realize how cold and windy and rainy it is, factors that just confirm my presumptions that no PRs were to be had today. They hand us our bib and I smile, noticing that there isn’t even a timing chip attached—yeah, that small of a race. Easy win. We go over to one corner of the room, where they have race results from previous years posted for all to see.
My mouth falls open.
Winning time from 2012 – 24 minutes, 12 seconds.
Winning time for 2013 – 25 minutes, 13 seconds…by a different runner.
Wining time for 2014 – 24 minutes, 49 seconds…by another different runner.
Winning time for 2015 – 24 minutes, 58 seconds…by yet another different guy.
I do the math in my head. Each of those paces were roughly a 5-minute pace…I’d never broken 30 minutes for a five-mile race.
Looks like the race would be much harder than I had anticipated, much like the 10k the day before.
Yeah, so there’s a lot of setup for this race, but don’t worry, I’ll wrap it up quick. After warming up a little bit and making the nearly mile-long trek from the packet pick-up to the starting line (which was in fact very difficult to find), I found myself bouncing around with the other 200 or so racers, all of whom treated the rain, the cold, and the wind as if it were no big deal whatsoever. I stripped off my A&M warm-up gear to reveal my star-bangled racing attire, which received many curious looks from the surrounding Brits, most of whom probably began to assume that I was here to win (which, up until about 30 minutes earlier, I had been planning on doing).
The race kicked off at 11:00am. Like the 10k yesterday, there were no formalities exchanged. Heck, this time we didn’t even get a “1, 2, 3, GO!” but instead just a “Set…go!” and then we were off. My legs were yelling at me for putting them through so much strenuous activity over the last 24+ hours, but I told them to shut up for a little bit and work with me for the next thirty or so minutes; they obliged. I noticed within about a tenth of a mile that my pace was a bit too quick, so I reeled it in, backing off into a 5:55 pace as we wound through the slippery streets of Irvine, past some cafes and some ice cream shops and through some neighborhoods. The neighborhoods soon poured us out into some lightly-wooded asphalt running trails, and it is here, about a half-mile into the race, that the race truly began.
Unlike yesterday’s race, this race was not a flat one. It started out flattish for the first half-mile or so, but once we hit those trails, there were rolling hills a-plenty. Up-and-down, up-and-down, up-and-down, the trails winding and undulating at no particular rhythm as all of us racers pushed a head, my 6-minute pace keeping me in roughly 20th place. The 30mph wind was directly against us for the first 2 ½ miles (the course was an out-and-back), but as we got further into the race, I was beginning to feel not only good, but really good. The pace was feeling easy, but I made myself hold it, saving energy for when I would need it.
One thing I noticed during this race is that, despite their stunning speed, most of the people in the race were really bad at pacing. I tried to draft off of some people throughout the entire race, yet all of those people who had started way ahead of me easily fell behind, allowing me not a single runner to actually pace with until the final mile and a half. As one runner would fall below a 6-minute pace I would open my stride until I caught up with the next racer, but in no time he too would fall back. The entire race I was the one passing racers, whereas back in America I am the one typically getting passed because I am the one who is worse at pacing.
Another thing I noticed is that, despite my Texas origins and the lack of any legitimate hills to train on, I was gaining ground on the hills. As I mentioned before, I finally found someone to pace with towards the end of the race, but every time we would hit a hill—whether big or small—he’d just drop back considerably, proceeding to then catch up with me on the flat ground. On the other hand, my legs felt great on the hills, allowing me to maintain my flat-ground pace even on the bigger of the slopes, including some of the quarter-mile inclines that would seem to drag on forever before suddenly giving way to some quick downhills. (Moral of the story: LUNGES ARE AMAZING. DO THEM.)
But yeah, the race was pretty great. Sure, the wind was against us for the first 2 ½ miles and it wasn’t totally with us for the last half (in fact, I would argue that is flipped directions and began to blow against us for the majority of the 2.5 back as well) and the roads may have been slick and the air cold, but I was having a blast! Even as my lungs gasped for air and my legs begged for liberation, I found myself praying to God and thanking him for giving me the opportunity to race with such amazing athletes, who were doing nothing but making me a better and more dedicated runner. I found myself pushing myself just as hard as I did the day before, yet actually having a smile on my face as I did it! Though those five-miles on those crazy hills felt like they lasted forever, I honestly had a great time.
Then came the last half-mile, where my body began to really struggle. My running buddy had fallen a bit behind me and I was determined to gain some more distance on him, but a sudden desire to throw up hit me like a punch to the gut and my pace faltered for a second, allowing him a moment to gain on me so that we began to battle it out for the last 800 meters. He tried to push past me and I fought to maintain my distance, yet my leg strength and cardio had suddenly disappeared in the twinkle of an eye. I was running off of a pure desire to not give in, and I wasn’t sure if that would be enough.
It had become a pure-guts race.
As the two of us made our way down the final stretch, I found myself attempting to sprint yet incapable of doing so, totally depleted of energy. The announcer at the finish line told the crowd that we had a race in our midst, referring to me and my running buddy as we pushed each other to see who would prevail.
Even as I write this, I’m not sure who won. It could’ve been me or it could’ve been him; perhaps we will never know. There wasn’t a chip, so I can’t say who truly won, but it was a great, great race. It was close—very close. We clapped each other on the back as we gasped for breath and I headed over to my parents, antsy to tell them the endless stories of yet another Scottish race.
Despite the wind, the hills, the slick roads, the cold, the rain, and the fatigue from the events of the previous day, my final time was 29:14, a personal best for me despite my uncertainty going into the race. I can’t express how awesome an experience it’s been to go out and race against such awesome runners, and I equally have no words for how thankful I am to both God and my parents for providing me with the opportunities to go out and participate in things such as this—I truly am blessed to be provided with such opportunities, and perhaps someday I will find the way to show them my gratitude and pay them back.
So, to sum things up, it was another awesome race, far different than the any race I've ever run in the States. So far, Scotland has been totally awesome and I can’t wait to see what else is in store, for I’m sure there are more surprises around each and every corner, and I can't wait to discover them one by one! This was my last race until the two Spartan Races next weekend, so now it’s time to go out and see more of this beautiful world God has created! Time to train and explore and see what life has in store. Let’s do this. Cheers!