A small confession: I’ve had a bit of a problem with racing since I started Chi Running nearly 7 years ago. I can run as chilled as you like in training, but stick a number on my shirt with a bunch of safety pins and suddenly I’m wound up as tight as a piano wire.
Run relaxed? About as easy as running backwards.
And the result is that I end each race feeling as though I’ve been working against myself. More effort = less speed.
This year, I’ve got two goals in mind: to work on pace, and to mix up my running with some new events. When the Babcary Road Race popped up on my radar, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to combine the two and practice laid-back racing.
It’s an odd distance: seven and a half-ish miles of undulating hills. A guarantee of a PB as long as I crossed the finish line, so less pressure and hopefully a more relaxed run.
Although it’s part of the Somerset Series, Babcary seems a pretty low profile event. I knew it was an ‘undulating race on quiet country roads’. And the Wells City Harriers website threw up the nugget that there was a big uphill at the beginning, followed by some ups and downs, and a steep descent to the finish. But that was it. This was going to be a bit of a race into the unknown.
The morning of the race, I dropped my family off at the nearby Haynes Motor Museum and headed to Babcary. By the time I polled up at the car park, pre-race anxiety was properly setting in. And the recent early spring weather had gone, replaced by a cold wind and the threat of rain. Still, the location was very pretty. And the pub toilets were a cut above the usual race portaloos.
To calm the nerves and warm up, I walked around Babcary village, trying to spot the first hill and hoping it wasn’t the steep one near the car park (it was). Then a few minutes chatting to other runners and it was time to head to the start.
We lined up at the bottom of the big hill, as the race director tried to shout instructions from the front. Hopefully it wasn’t important as we couldn’t hear a word.
Then suddenly we were moving. Lesson learned from my last race at the Chard Chaser: this time, I came properly kitted up with Fitbit watch to track my speed.
I generally like to ease into a race, let everyone race ahead and settle into my pace. Rather more difficult to do when you’re starting up a hill.
Instead of starting easy, we were straight into hard work and I was feeling a little ragged by the time we reached the top. How to pull it back to a more zen style of racing?
I decided to focus on my breathing, deliberately slowing down the rate and concentrating on inhaling and exhaling into the lower ribs. It felt unnatural at first, when all I wanted to do was breathe hard and fast. But within a short space of time, I could feel myself relaxing and was able to settle into the race.
The next few miles were exactly as advertised: undulating quiet country roads. Each time we hit the top of a hill, I tuned back into my breathing. Each time I felt myself tensing up or pushing too hard, I tuned back into my breathing.
The more I connected with my breathe, the more relaxed I felt, and the more I could sense less effort from my legs.
And the less I tried to force the speed, the faster I ran.
Around four miles, we hit a longish drag of a hill. But by this time, I was really starting to enjoy myself. This felt less like a race and more like a group training run.
Even turning a corner into a strong headwind with a couple of miles to go didn’t feel too bad. By this time, home was within sniffing distance.
Just a final descent down the big hill we’d started on and suddenly there was the finish. I crossed the line in a smidgen under 65 minutes, feeling like I’d had a blast. 19th lady home out of 46. Not a bad result. And better than that, I didn’t feel as though I’d worked too hard.
A good day and proof that zen racing is possible. And it seems that breathing may be the key, for me at least.
Time to head back to the Motor Museum to pick up the family. And what better way to celebrate than with a ma-hoo-ssive fry up?