It’s Wednesday evening, the sun has decided to make a rather miraculous appearance and I’m all kitted out in my running gear. So what, pray tell, am I doing clutching a banana that I have absolutely no intention of eating (you’ll see why in a little bit!)
Wednesday is my running group night and usually we all meet up and head off for a strenuous trot in the gorgeous and somewhat hilly Hampshire countryside. This week however is track night…
Cue ominous music!
I’ve never been to a Runnyhoneys track night before, but boy have I heard about them and to say I’m nervous is a bit of an understatement. As I’m sure is the case for many of us, I haven’t set foot on a racetrack since school and that was well…well it was a lot of years ago.
The track is on the fields of a private school in Petersfield, which means the verdant green grass is well clipped and the crisp white lines have been freshly painted. Flashbacks of school sports days come back to haunt me as I remember being forced to compete in the 400m race. I was a sprinter, not a distance runner, so being chosen for that particular race was my worst nightmare. And, lo and behold, as if to prove to my PE teacher that this really wasn’t my strong point, I made it to about 350m then blacked out in front of everyone! I was DEVASTATED!
Those memories stick with you, so when faced with another 400m track and told we’d be going round it more than once, a shudder of dread swept through me.
Approximately 20 women; a mixture of newly graduated runners (the ‘Gentles’), ones that run slightly faster/slightly further (the ‘Chattys’), and the experienced ones that have been doing it for ages (the ‘Raceys’) have all turned up to be put through their paces and to test the limits of their running ability.
I belong in the ‘Chattys’ group, so I can hold my own but am still daunted by the prospect of running alongside the ‘Raceys’. However, with a huge sigh of relief, I realise that the three groups will be separated out and although we’ll be pushing ourselves it will remain within our own capabilities.
First off, a gentle jog around the track, I’d be fine, surely? I mean, I’ve easily run further than that, it’s only once round on even ground, how hard can it be?
I find the start of running really difficult; many others have also told me they feel the same. It takes me a good 1km or so before I ‘settle’ into it, find a comfortable pace and sort my breathing out. So, in actual fact, the warm up can quite often be the hardest bit for me. In answer to the question ‘how hard can once around a 400m track be?’…really hard and all I want to do is go home, climb into my pyjamas and bingewatch ‘Orange is the New Black‘ (seriously late to the table watching this series, but am loving it!). That’s one of the huge advantages to running with a group, because there’s no way my run leader (Lizzie ‘drillmaster’ Mant) was going to let me off the hook that easily.
Sip of water, catch my breath and then it’s back on it for some more warm up exercises. It’s time for some primary school esque sports day activities. We’re divided up into four teams (please don’t let me be picked last, please don’t let me picked last!) and told to line up on the track. What follows is a bunch of women taking it in turns to hopscotch, skip, sideways star jump and run backwards (something, it seems, I’m rather good at!) whilst pretending we’re not in competition with one another, when you can so tell we all are.
Warm ups done, it’s on to the main event; track running. My ‘Chattys’ group are told we’ll be running for 10 minutes round the track, alternating between 1 lap at slow speed, 1 lap at fast speed. When I say fast speed, it means giving it 85% of what you’ve got, so that you’re definitely out of breath, but you can just about utter a word if need be…like ‘Stop’ or ‘Help’!
It was tough, I can’t lie, especially as it soon became obvious that the ground wasn’t as flat as first thought; the final third of the track was on a gradual incline and wasn’t further helped by the fact that it was at the exact point the evening sunlight directed it’s glaring rays.
My laps went something like this:
- First slow lap…fine.
- First fast lap…panic starting to kick in.
- Second slow lap…panting like an asthmatic dog.
- Second fast lap…why, why, why am I doing this?!?
- Third slow lap…lungs bursting, somebody kill me now.
- Third fast lap…H (pant) E (pant) L (pant) P (pant).
It wasn’t a pretty sight believe me, but I did it none the less…right time to go home then yeah?
Let’s talk bananas…
So then, on to the bananas, why on earth would we need bananas at a track night?
Let’s take a moment to brainstorm some (non-filthy) ideas…I know what you lot are like!
- Energy food for fainters…?
- To feed a passing band of hungry circus chimps…?
- To lob at Lizzie when she blows her whistle…?
- For the larger chested ladies to lift and separate, therefore avoiding chafing?
- To peel and use the skins to ‘slip up’ the competition…?
No, I’m afraid none of the above are correct, although I’m slightly worried I may have given the run leaders some ideas!
The bananas were actually used as…wait for it…batons. That’s right, we were going to be doing a relay race…BRILLIANT (note the sarcasm).
Divided up into teams again, this time 4 lots of 3, we split ourselves up around the track. Now, I must say at this point that we were told “don’t worry it’s not a race, just do what you can, go at your own pace”, but looking around at the other racers, seeing the tight grip on the bananas, the steely look in their eyes and the speed at which the three of us adapted a good starting position, none of us wanted to lose!
We were off!
Man alive was the woman next to me fast! Like a rabbit out of a greyhound trap, she shot round the track with me trailing her ankles desperately trying to keep up. Banana baton passed, it was time for a breather…but woah hang on somehow in some time traveling dimensional weirdness my team are already back round and I’ve got to go again.
Nooooooo I haven’t got my breath back yet!
Let me tell you, I ran like my life depended on it and when you thought “right that must be it, we’re done now”…off we’d go again. By the end, we were all knackered and couldn’t care less who won, we were just all revelling in the fact we’d done it and it was over.
What have I learnt from my first Runnyhoneys track night?
- It hurts.
- It’s hard work.
- It’s rewarding.
- It’s good to try something you’re scared of. OK so you might not enjoy it, but at least you did it!
- Women are competitive, but we’re also very friendly with it.
- Don’t eat a banana after it’s been used as a relay baton…(what even happened to those bananas?)
- You’ll discover muscles you didn’t even know were there – my thigh muscles literally hate me today!
- If you’ve done it once, your run leader knows you can do it and there’ll be no excuses next time!
As I hobble home on shaky legs the one thought that goes through my head is the fear of what running challenges might be thrown my way next…stay tuned!