British and Irish Masters International. By way of explanation Masters Athletics is for anyone aged 35 plus (in five year age bands) and the British and Irish Masters International XC comprises athletes from England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. The race is held every autumn (usually in November) in each of the competing nations and this year it was in Dublin. For the women four are picked for each age group of which three score (and there are up to three Reserves too).
It is the only British Masters competition in which you can be selected to run for your country. In order to do Masters races you have to belong to a Veterans running club – in my case Southern Counties Veterans AC (SCVAC) for which I run second claim.
I have been fortunate enough to have been selected to run for England in the past – in 2012 I was Reserve for the W45 England XC team and with a week to go was called into the team and ran at Queens University in Belfast.
In 2013 my aim was to get straight into the W50 England team, a goal which I achieved and went on to run at Cardiff.
In 2014 I was a reserve for the W50 team and didn’t compete. Because I was heading towards the middle of the age band I was determined to try to get into the team in 2015 and my quest began in
The selection criteria state that the selectors are interested in your performance not only at XC but also at 5k, 10k and 5000 and 10,000m, at local, regional and national level and that British Masters races are taken into consideration as you will be running head to head with your peers. Your most recent form is looked at so it is important to post as good times as possible and to try to be consistent through the year, no easy task. In addition you have to try to remain well and injury free so you can train and race to the best of your ability and while not wishing harm to your rivals you hope that you will do at least as well as if not better than them! Also each age group is a constantly moving target. With relief you see a swift rival moving up into the next age category to be replaced by someone younger and faster than yourself.
With that in mind my year started with the mudfest that was the Sussex County Championships at Bexhill. Never have I seen a muddier course – ankle deep mud and clay in places which made for very heavy going. I am a plougher, the conditions suited me and I had a strong run to finish 10th overall which meant I was considered (at age 51) to run for Sussex at the Inter Counties in March. I turned this opportunity down however as my target race for March was the British Masters XC race at Ruthin (nr Wrexham).
I trained hard for Ruthin, taking in Cranleigh parkrun in late January as preparation as it is one for the few parkruns which is entirely off road so it replicates XC conditions. Unfortunately for me come the day there was a galeforce wind blowing and it was sleeting heavily and although I was 1st female I posted a poor time of 22:28 Never mind I told myself, the important thing was that Cranleigh was a preparatory race.
I did Chichester 10k in February – a race which has done well for me in the past but clocked 40 minutes dead, not the 39 something for which I was looking.
In mid March Mark and I made the long journey to Ruthin. To stand a good chance of selection you have to be prepared to travel great distances to race.
Conditions for the BMAF 6k XC race at Ruthin were benign and the course was a good one – a lead out lap around a playing field then many undulations and a ploughed field. My preparations went well and I was delighted to finish 1st W50 and was crowned British Masters W50 XC champion which upped my chances of selection into the England team later in the year.
In May I was running very well and posted a PB of 32:26 at Hastings 5 mile race and got my best parkrun time of the year – 19:27 at Horsham.
Worthing 10k in early June was my next target race. Unfortunately it was a warm day which did not suit me and I ran a disappointing 40:30
Over the summer I did various parkruns with various degrees of success. I knew I needed a 5000 on the Track so on Issy’s recommendation (that there wouldn’t be many entries so the Track would be clear) I did Sussex Vets Track at Lewes in early July in 19:44 (not the 19:30 I was seeking but it had to do) and decided to do a different 10k rather than the same old so made the trip to Romney in mid July. Unfortunately it was another sizzling day and although I was 2nd F running 41:06 I did a worse time that at Worthing so at that point I gave up on 10ks for the year.
As the year moved to September it was time for me to apply for selection for the W50 XC England team. As previously mentioned you have to log your times and apply to your Veterans club regional selector who then goes to a meeting in Birmingham in early October where a whole day is spent poring over forms and times for each age group. The selectors have a difficult and unenviable task – whatever they decide someone will always miss out.
During much of the year and particularly in early September I had been a Powerof10 and RunBritainrankings stalker to give myself an idea of who I was up against and it was scary – there were W50s on there who had posted 18:30 parkruns and 19 minute 5000 Track times – way out of my league. However that did not mean that all of them would apply for selection. Looking at the names (and particularly those who had applied in the past) I reckoned I had an outside chance of getting into the team but would definitely be a Reserve.
On October 8th THE envelope came through the post – I could hardly bear to open it –in fact I opened it a little and saw the red strip on the letterhead – a good sign as you get the full colour version if you get into the team and a photocopy if you are a reserve. I was in and time for a quick post on Faceboast to celebrate the achievement! It is a real honour to be selected to run for your country especially in the W50 age group which is very competitive.
After the initial euphoria wore off, my place confirmed, hotel reserved and flights booked, it was down to the serious business of knuckling down to a five week training plan (four weeks of graft and a week of taper). I wrote down what I would do each day then ticked off each part as I completed it. Injury and illness anxiety increased greatly during this period- I would walk up another supermarket aisle if I heard anyone so much as sneeze near me and any niggle became magnified in my mind into a more significant injury
For those who are interested my training week was designed to work on my speed but not to neglect endurance. My mileage was not high – probably no more than 25 miles or so a week taking into account that I was training for a 6k race and that I am in my 50s so I don’t bounce back from training as quickly as the youngsters. In conjunction with Bob and Mark I worked out a plan –
Monday – a mile warm up then a Bob recommended 6 x 1k flat out with 1 min 30 secs recovery hopefully more or less the same time for each rep ( run early morning in Hove park when it was light to avoid too many loose and leaping dogs, kamikaze cyclists etc.) The slowest I did the ks was 3:50 and the fastest 3:39. This session was a beast and seemed to come round very quickly – I was always glad when it was over!
Tuesday NO RUNNING.
Wednesday morning undulating tempo run 6 milesish up to Devil’s Dyke with a bit offroad. Wed evening 45 mins core fitness session.
Thursday was a Bob style Hove Park Training session on my own first thing in daylight – usually in the Goldstone corner and doing 20 mins hills and sprints and 10 mins sprints.
Friday NO RUNNING.
Saturday various parkruns (used as speed sessions) including a return to Cranleigh. This time there was no wind, the course was firm and I took nearly 2 minutes off my time from January – 20:46 and the W50 course record too.
Sundays were a long slow run mainly offroad of up to an hour 10 mins- again undulating.
My taper week (the week of the race) was 4 x1k on Monday, 4o mins temp on Wednesday and 20 mins strides on Thursday plus a pre race massage from Fiona Jamie. In my opinion taper time is VERY important – it is vital not to get to the start line tired and by race week you cannot put in what you have not already done. It is the hardest part in many ways – you are used to doing more but you have to put the brakes on.
And so the night before the trip to Dublin and the footwear dilemma – short spikes? Long spikes? Studs? Racing flats? (the lot were taken, just in case).
Friday 13 November saw us up early and off to Gatwick for our mid morning flight to Dublin. You have to build in lots of contingency time in case you are fog bound/the plane suffers some techie difficulty etc. Steve Smythe who writes for Athletics Weekly was on our flight and I spotted a few Masters athletes milling about in the Terminal building.
We were staying in the Crowne Plaza hotel immediately opposite Santry park, race venue, which was very handy and gave us a chance to look at the ground conditions although not the course on Friday afternoon. Much standing water suggested that it was WET so I immediately thought medium spikes. Chowed down some pasta early evening Friday and left Mark chatting to Walter M75 running for Scotland while I went to the team briefing which was packed. Came out of team briefing 30 mins later and Mark was still in restaurant talking running with Walter.
Race day dawned WET. I was up just after 7am although my race was not until 11:30 at it was pouring outside. The team photo was being taken at 10:15 in the park and literally at 10:05 there was a dash from the hotel in the pouring rain and we all stood in the deluge in our team hoodies while we were papped from all angles. Mark and I then walked (or rather splashed and slid round) one lap of the three lap course. Because it was so wet and cool I adjusted my warm up – the main thing was to keep warm and not get too wet before the race itself so I emerged a little before 11am and did some strides before changing into my spikes. Correct choice (of spikes) is vital in a race like this is the wrong footwear will scupper your chances of doing well.
The mental part is tough -the doubts were going through my head – I wasn’t good enough/I would make a fool of myself/I was out of my depth but the rational part of me said that I had prepared well, had not been ill or injured and to go out and do my best. As I lined up I felt that at any moment I would be uncovered as a fraud – that I shouldn’t be there. I tried to zone out and not be psyched out by all the very fit and determined ladies line up around me. To say I was nervous was an understatement!
I got into position – not at the front with the speedy W35s but one row back on a fairly wide start.
Everyone wears a number on their front and back prefaced by age group so you know which age groups are ahead of you.
We were called to the line, the gun went and we were off!
I had worked out that I would be 60 -70 runners back assuming that all the W35S, 40s, 45s and a few of the 50s (plus the odd 55 and a few of the M65s who were running with us) would be ahead of me and that would be fine. My start was scrappy – I got a bit boxed in until after the first corner (which was good in that I didn’t go off too fast) then I saw some W60s ahead of me and though it was time to put the pedal down. From then on I chased down and passed lots of people who had set off too fast and were paying the price. The course cut up immediately and as with Bexhill in January I gamely ploughed on with shouts from the team manager and other spectators who knew me. During lap 2 I was on the back of Pete Witcomb M65 from Brighton and Hove – I levelled with and passed him then latched on to my fourth team member and passed her too. I knew then that I would be a scorer for my team. Even though a couple of speedy W55s passed me they were not in “my” race and with growing confidence I tackled lap 3 and finished very strongly, determined not to let anyone past me on the finishing strait. I crossed the line very muddy, feeling wibbly and totally done in. Had a quick chat to a few people then it was back to the hotel for a bath and some coffee.
Resultwise I was 59th overall , 7thW50/20 in 24:31 and third scorer for my Gold Medal winning W50 England team beaten only by my two swifter teammates including Masters World record holder Clare Elms, World record holder Fiona Mathieson from Scotland, Irish Record holder Nimah O Sullivan, another Irish lass and a lass from Northern Ireland. (AnneMarie McGlynn from Ireland who won the race outright ran an amazing 20:57 but she is only 35!)
All the preparation, physical and mental had been worth it and I ran a good race on the day.
When you have a goal, focus on it, race well and be the best you can be there is no feeling like it and that is what drives you on through the tough training and the inevitable troughs.
The medal presentation is made at a formal dinner following the race which is a chance to meet fellow athletes and enjoy the glory. Each (winning) team is announced and photographed and we all got a medal befitting of the occasion.
Would I do it all again? Definitely but probably not immediately – you have the highest chance of selection when you are at the bottom of the age group and I am the wrong side of bottom now!
I could not have achieved any of this without my support “team” – coach Bob, Fiona and her massages, through the year my Track training group, all the wonderful Areenez for support and encouragement, my core team members from parkrun for their support, other parkruns we have visited this year, all my running pals and last but definitely not least my stalwart Mark for accompanying me to races, for keeping me calm on race days, for getting soaked to the skin at Santry park while letting me know the gap between me and rivals.