I do wonder from time to time what I actually look like when I’m running. I know what I’d like to think I look like – the effortlessly languid, flowing gait of Mo Farah springs to mind for example – but then there are occasions when I’m presented with the cold, hard evidence that reality is somewhat different.
I’ve never been a poker player, mainly because I don’t think I’d be very good at it due to the fact that my face is usually too quick to betray exactly what I’m thinking. You’ll hear of sportspeople regularly citing the need to get their ‘game face’ on – that impenetrable veneer which suggests they are in complete control as the pressure mounts, even when it might just be that panic has decided to set in.
From the race photos I have seen of myself, it would appear that I have no such game face. If I’m hurting, if effort is really being expended, I simply don’t appear to have the capacity to pretend all is well with the world. The truth really is written all over my contorting features.
I was reminded of this recently when I was identified in a picture from the Tom Scott 10-mile race, number 8 in my 40 for 40 challenge.
I loved the event. It may have felt for large chunks of my run like someone had fitted bolts to my hamstrings and was steadily tightening them, that my quads might explode at any moment, or that I might get to see what my lungs look like…but I loved it.
I was already starting with the event on good terms. Firstly, I’d never run a 10-mile race before so, barring serious mishap, a personal best was guaranteed. Secondly, I arrived at the race venue, Strathclyde Park on the outskirts of Glasgow, to find an excellent stage for running and ideal conditions in which to do so.
I arrived about an hour before the race was due to start and already the place was thrumming with sporting activity. Not only were the final touches being put to the race course, but there were runners everywhere indulging in catch-ups or warm-ups with friends and clubmates, while a number of rowers glided through the waters of the loch around which we would run.There was barely a breath of wind, it was cool, the sun was starting to come out, the race route was largely flat and fast and I felt in reasonably good nick as I jogged a couple of miles to get the blood pumping.
This was the 55th year of the Tom Scott memorial race – an event I’d always been keen on but never taken part in. It draws a big running crowd and, being host to the Scottish and West District 10-mile championships, the sharp end of the race is properly pointy. It’s a good sign when you have an Olympian – in this case Derek Hawkins – toeing the start line.
I was a little nervous as we prepared to get going. I knew this was going to hurt. I was keen to see how close I could get to breaking the hour mark for this new race distance – well, new to me anyway.
The first mile or two felt good. I didn’t have a flow, and nothing was coming naturally, but I felt pretty fit. I had been warned that mile 3 would bring a small hill which might bite and so it proved – I spent much of mile 4 trying to get back on pace and, though I succeeded, I knew teeth-gritting time was on its way.
The course was clearly marked, the marshals helpful and the ebb and flow of the race field enjoyable as we wound our way around the loch and began to turn back towards where we’d come from. It made it easy to concentrate on the act of trying to put one foot in front of the other – and simply just trying to breathe.
Going through mile 7, I was precisely on pace for a finishing time of 60 minutes. But then came a slightly undulating eighth mile, the camber of which would normally be easily negotiable but which felt almost Himalayan at this point in a hard race. At that point I knew I couldn’t scramble my way back.
However, even with those hamstrings tightening and my face crumpling, I kept trying to push and the finish line was soon hoving into view. Coming across it, I stopped my watch and bent double. A time of 60:34 and the buzz of a great race in the company of great runners seemed like a decent reward – well, that and the Tunnock’s Caramel Wafers they were giving out.
A couple of days later and my attention was drawn to that race photo. My initial reaction was to recoil a little at the gurning figure which met my eye. Then I looked again and saw proof that I had indeed extended myself and that there was a good reason for the lingering dull ache in my legs.
Come to think of it, I might just forget about trying to perfect a good ‘race face’. For the moment, mine seems to fit.
- I have challenged myself to complete 40 events – involving running, swimming and triathlon – in the calendar year of 2017, the year I turn 40. I am raising money for Macmillan Cancer Support. You can find my JustGiving page here. Thank you to everyone who has donated so far. It really is very much appreciated and if you have any event recommendations, please get in touch!
Thanks to Kevin Ramage Photography for the race image