This week-end was supposed to be my attempt to re-break 38:00 in the 10 km and by break, I mean decimate but then I got an e-mail from the coach of my club telling me he was one woman short of a competitive team at a cross country race this week-end, and our exchange went somewhat like this:
me: I can't, I'm running a 10 km.
me: I already paid.
him: Can't you do both?
me: I can race twice but I can't leave hubby wrangling the kids two mornings of the week-end.
him: My wife will babysit.
me: I'll see you Saturday.
Which is how I wound up in the playground next to the cross country course at 8.30 am this morning with Thing 2 sleeping in the marsupial around my neck while Thing 1 handed me spikes to screw into my seldom used cross country spikes (because really nothing screams "I'm a great mother" like letting one's toddler handle brand new, razor sharp, 9 mm cross country spikes). Despite my documented dislike of racing cross country, anticipating the race summoned long forgotten feelings of team and togetherness though I would be meeting many of my teammates for the first time on the start line.
I used to run cross country for Mc.Gill U.nivers.ity and have raced several times on this particular, brutal 4 km cross country course which is laid out on the flanks of Mount Royal. As I walked over to the appointed meeting spot with hordes of thin, fit uni girls, their calves, temporarily tattooed flashing in the gleaming sunlight and school colours twirling in their hair who were, on average, 18 years younger than me, I couldn't help but feel way too old to be doing this again. It's hard not to feel out of place at a predominantly university cross country meet with an infant in a marsupial sucking on your boob and a toddler in a stroller.
After an argument about going to the bathroom (Thing 1 wouldn't), eating some cheese (same) and having a cookie (done!) I left Thing 1 with the gracious babysitters and headed out to warm-up with Thing 2 in the Bob. On the course I felt the ghost of myself past wooshing by me on her too-fast warm-up in a herd of identically dressed, equally frenzied girls.
After a too-strenuous warm-up (Bob in cross country course, 'nuff said) I checked back with Thing 1, donned my spikes and realized oh... my feet DID get bigger during my last pregnancy. Socks on? Socks off? Minutes ticked by... start in less than 8 minutes with the start line a solid 700 m away, uphill. Finally I left all the offspring behind and ran for it to avoid making one of my recurring anxiety dreams (missing the start of a race while I fiddle around with logistics) come true.
I met the women on my team at the start line. They were all extremely friendly, one of them also had offspring hanging out on the course (with mine in fact). We did a team cheer (team cheer... so fun!) and it was only then that I started to become cognisant of the fact that I was lined up with approximately 180 women all wearing presumably razor clad spikes all of whom would shortly be bearing down on the same 90 degree turn about 100 m in front of us. Cross country is freaking scary. So off we went, I chose a pace that was a compromise between not going out too fast and not being in the middle of a tangle of women trying to negotiate the corner.
I honestly barely remember anything else about the race. First off, 4 km is short and painful and I spent a lot of time trying not to step in a hole, trying not to get spiked and always questioning my effort and pace. I probably went out too hard (7:22 for the first 2 km) and then just tried to maintain my position in the second lap which despite slowing significantly (7:43 for the second 2 km) I managed to do. In the last 500 m I made a conscious decision to shut it down. I could see I was surrounded only by girls from two teams who were clearly going to beat us and likely by their "B" teams whose scores wouldn't even count. I promised myself I would not let more than 3 people pass me in the last 500 m. Normally no one passes me in the last 500 m of a race (and if that sounds arrogant it's only because it is) but I wanted to avoid lactic acid and give myself a small chance of running fast tomorrow.
So I finished up 23 out of 180 girls, 4th on my team running 15:07 for 4 km on a tough course. Our team placed third out of 13 teams and I think I was able to contribute a small part to that result so very satisfying. I don't think I will be running more cross country anytime soon, about which I can only say thank god! but it was a fun albeit somewhat terrifying experience. Onwards to sub-38 tomorrow!