Eventers do all sorts of odd things in the off-season. Some stick to the well-trodden path of indoor dressage and show-jumping, others head outdoors to recreate the XC adrenalin buzz by taking part in hunting or team-chasing. Airports fill up with pros fleeing the country to ski, sun themselves on a Caribbean beach or tackle the overdraft with lucrative clinics in the US or the Antipodes. Me? I went to Leeds. In my shorts.
I like a challenge. I am intrinsically lazy, so the only way to get anything done is to enter slightly ambitious things then make myself do the prep required to get there. The latest challenge was to run a 10k, and my competitive streak wasn’t going to be satisfied unless I came home in under an hour. I am a race-running virgin so I had no idea whether this would be feasible or not.
When the big day dawned (or rather, before it dawned – I thought eventing took early starts, but making you get out of bed in winter before the sun is up, without even the prospect of XC to look forward to is just plain rude) the first challenge, like eventing, was to find the venue. Simple – or it might have been had most of the roads in the area not been closed on account of the race. Luckily the lack of a trailer and horse behind me meant that pulling a couple of U-turns was child’s play. I kind of missed the cheery army cadets ushering you to a parking spot like you get at events though.
Having passed the parking test I now knew how rookies turning up for their first BE90 must feel. I had no idea where I should go, whether I needed to check-in anywhere or what the general format was. At least I knew I didn’t need to walk the course first! Instead of a medical armband I had to write my emergency contact details on the back of my number and although I was tempted to take my BE number bib it appeared that safety pins were the more conventional option. As for dress code I’d opted for some shorts bought to play hockey at uni and a T-shirt my brother brought me back from Cambodia at least 10 years ago. In running terms this was clearly the equivalent of turning up to event in rubber long boots (remember them?), white breeches and your Mum’s old tweed when everyone else in is head to toe Cavallo, Anky and Animo. It would appear that to fit in in the running scene you need eye-wateringly expenisve dayglo technical tights and tops. And that’s before you even start on the footwear. The dressage princesses would have had their retinas burned by the plethora of neon un-matchy matchy!
The race itself confirmed my suspicion that sporting stereotypes are universal. There were the people happy to push past, those three abreast conducting a conversation whilst you’re trying to get through, those who insist on walking in their own world right in the middle of the runners, and one idiotic girl who thought it was a good idea to stop, bend down and tie her shoelace with 9000 people behind her, nearly causing an almighty pile-up. Anyone who’s been in a BE show-jumping warm-up would recognise all of the above! Luckily my assertive eventing skills saw me on my way and into some clear space to run at my own pace.
When I entered I had to predict my finish time so that they could group me with runners of a similar standard. This presented me with the dilemma familiar to all those applying for a place on a clinic and asked to state the height they’re jumping – do you play safe and end up stuck with a bunch of people far worse than you or do you over-exaggerate a bit and end up out of your depth? I went for the former and as a result spent most of the race overtaking people – which was good for my self-confidence. My predicted finish time of 60mins was on the pessimistic side and I crossed the line in 55 mins 19 secs which I was thrilled with.
So, as I see it, the pros of competitive running:
- It is literally the only way I’ll get off the sofa to exercise – the ultra-competitive brain that can hamper my eventing won’t let me go out and run a bad time ergo I have to put in the training miles.
- It’s cheap – entries are £10-15 and you get free bottles of sports drinks and free technical T-shirts at most races. Suck on that BE!
- My completion time was texted to my phone before I even got back to the car. That’s organisation. Or at least some pretty nifty computer programming.
- No tack to clean, no horse to plait, you just need to put your trainers on and get in the car.
- I may just about be fit enough for the 2014 eventing season. No red face at the end of a 5min XC course for me!
And the downsides:
- You have to do all the work. There’s no horse to take the strain for you. I now fully sympathise with how my horse feels when I ask him for a final sprint over the last fence at a team-chase. Sorry old boy!
- I will never, ever, ever be tempted to buy a pro pic of me during a running race. Unattractive! (Actually as far as my bank account’s concerned that’s probably a plus point!)
- I’ve found another sport where I will get kit-envy and spend hours on-line drooling over the newest clothing and equipment designs.
- Well, to point out the obvious, there are no horses involved. What sort of a sport is that?