I want to start positive here, and I WILL start positive here because it is quite a simple bottom line really.
I went abroad to run in an international event for Scotland and came home with a medal.
That’s the punchline right there. See? I have saved you 5 minutes; you don’t have to read any further if you were only after the score.
Wee baldy Marko.
The most irritating runner in Scotland.
What an absolute buzz and what an absolute honour.
This is my own personal account of the weekend. It’s not a race-by-race report, it’s my own personal jaunt and to be 100% honest on the day I was possibly a bit overawed by it all but I can’t really be blamed for that. You know my story, where I have come from, how I have had a good spell and been punching above my weight, I will not go repeating it all here and boring you with it. I know myself and that’s good enough for me. I’m not a confident person. I suffer from nerves. And stress. I’ve also been carrying the heavy burden on my shoulders of not feeling like I deserved to be there being well aware cross country isn’t my strong point and my selection was based on my performance in other disciplines, but tell me, would you have turned down the chance I was given?
This is real. There’s a program and everything. My name is on the back of a t shirt! It lists all the competitors, it’s like a T in the Park t shirt and its like I am 5th on the bill in the T break stage after “Dawn of the Replicants” But I am there.
Everything was new to me and hands up, a lot of it I got wrong. With it being in Dublin, I would pretty much have to be away from Friday through to Sunday, since I had no idea the time of the race on the Saturday and did not want to risk the chance of being late by flying on the Saturday morning. I didn’t think everything through right and wanted to minimise the time I was away from my family. So I booked a later flight out on the Friday and the earliest possible one back on the Sunday. Great in theory, terrible in practice when the Friday flight was delayed and the Sunday one involved me getting up at three in the morning even though I hadn’t managed much sleep anyway worrying about missing my alarm. I eventually arrived at the hotel at 10.30 pm on the Friday after delays but at least I got the opportunity to meet PH Racing gazelle Andy Davis who was on the same flight. A good guy. My roommate Justin was already asleep when I got there but he had picked up my number for me which was appreciated so that was one thing less to worry about. I then pretty much watched every hour on the clock tick by before it was time to get up for breakfast in the morning, consumed by the fear of snoring, and my head buzzing so much that I couldn’t drop off.
Started to meet up with many members of the team at breakfast and my nerves were kicking harder than Billy Abercromby at a Renfrewshire derby. The other countries were there too and was a pleasure to have a chat with England’s Tony O’Brien, not only a fantastic runner with countless records and awards to his name, but also a really nice guy with, it has to be said, fantastic hair which made up for his taste in 1980s style disco leggings. There was the option of leaving in time to warm up for the race, or to go early and get in the team photo. Most of my age group stayed behind but I wasn’t going to miss the photo, nor was my pal Alan who was also in the team for the first time after an immense run at the trials. I had first met him in 2019 at the 3000m indoors when we were both in the lowest ranked race of the evening and the two lads have done all right since. Here we are with many more members of the team, many of whom were earning their first vests too. All of us proud, and all of us supporting each other. There really was a great spirit building up.
A wee walk round the course and the conditions were kinder than expected. The ground was firm. We were to have 6 laps, 2 of a 1k circuit, and 4 of a 1500m circuit. No big hills, but a long drag each lap. By the time it came to our race a wind had built up too, but there’s been worse, we had gotten away lightly with the conditions. As we warmed up we watched the first race of the day, the 65+ race. Alastair Walker won it by two minutes, after 400m he was already well ahead. Absolutely superb. The 70s men were in a pack and finished first 4. A joy to watch. The blue vests were doing us proud. Dipped in and out of the female 35+ race as my own race time was getting closer but the effort being given by every member in blue, brilliant. My nerves in overdrive to be fair, but I wasn’t the only one and I walked over to the start with another member of the team who was also suffering. Think we helped each other out. A Northern Irish lad said hello. He knew who I was which was bonkers. Turned out he knew a clubmate of mine and was often over in Glasgow. A pleasure to meet you Stephen, and sorry for sprinting past you shamelessly with 100m to go (spoiler alert, but I did, despicable baldy toad that I am.)
I am on that starting line. The Scottish mob around me, looking left and right seeing the Irish vests, the English vests, the Welsh vests, the Northern Irish vests. It’s like an out of body experience. I am actually in there. That there gun went and the pace was rapid from the start. I won’t give you a lap by lap, step by step report but I made huge mistakes. My head didn’t get where I wanted it to and instead of looking in front and seeing how far up I could finish, my head had me in the “Let’s try not to be last” mode. Caution rather than bravery.
Whispers… Power of Ten is a dangerous thing, don’t go checking your opposition on it when your confidence is fragile…
“Death or Glory,” Stevie Allen had said to me before the race but I didn’t listen. He went for it finishing first Scot, whereas I went out more reserved. I guess you could count on one hand the amount of places I changed after the first 2 of the 6 laps were out the way, I didn’t take the risks I should have at the start. I had hoped to get carried round by a group but instead I was leading a group that never quite caught the one in front. I had 3 or 4 laps of cat and mouse with the Irish lad who finished 3rd in the 60s race who was getting magnificent home support before 1 pulled away on the last lap.
Don’t get me wrong it was great fun racing against the international vests, and although only the top 4 of each country counted in the team event every position counted because every position you took could be knocking some of the other countries counters down. Every member plays their part so all 6 members are eligible for medals. I finished well enough, going past Stephen as I said earlier, but not well enough to trouble Alan who was one place ahead of me. I had finished 37th out of 67 in the overall race, 23rd out of 30 in my age category. My team mates had finished in positons 10,14,16,19,22 and my own 23 and although we had to wait until the (and it has to be said utterly shambolic) meal and prizegiving for the final results, we knew we had a right good chance of a team medal. I mentioned the prize giving, and although the craic amongst the Scottish team was brilliant, and I thoroughly enjoyed their company, (and my first ever pint of Guinness, it’s what you do in Dublin though, eh?) that’s the only company we got as we were put in a room by ourselves with only an audio link to where the awards were being presented. We were well away from where the awards were being handed out and by the time anyone had got from our room to the main one they had moved onto the next award and there were no Scots there to cheer you on anyway. Disappointing to be honest as my team got the bronze and we were quickly despatched to the foyer to get photos so we didn’t hold back the ceremony. Biggest race of my life, an international medal unlikely to be repeated and our presentation felt like an afterthought. A huge disappointment after how well organised the actual races had been to be honest.
Thinks aloud…Now I have complained, when I don’t get selected again I can pretend I am blacklisted rather than not being good enough …
Had an early night and missed Stuart Gibson’s snake hips at the disco as up early the next morning, got no sleep and got home knackered and spent the next week loaded with a cold or manflu but no excuses about the performance. It wasn’t awful, it wasn’t great, a better run wouldn’t have materially affected the team outcome, but what a buzz it was. While I wish I could turn back the clock and be braver it is another bucket list running aim ticked off, and an unexpected one. Was I out of my depth? Maybe. But look at those pictures. I’m in them. I did that, and that in itself for someone like me is the real glory. A pleasure to run with these lads, to be in the same team as these lads, and every one of them treated me like I belonged there. If that isn’t a victory what is? “Coming First”, you all say. Ach wheesht. I may end up being a one hit wonder and the Chesney Hawkes of Scottish Cross Country Running, but if this indeed is the one and only then I really did love it.
A big thanks to Elaine and my boys for all their support with this, to my boss Harry for ensuring I could make the trip, to John and Ada and all at SVHC for the organisation, and all that made me feel welcome. Thanks to Pete Bracegirdle, Northern Ireland Masters and Simon Boyle, Colin Feechan, Katrine Kelly, Roger Clark, Claire Cunningham, Paul Reilly and anyone else I may have forgotten for the pics.
Three songs on the playlist. Firstly the new single by Glasgow’s Bis, the aptly named “stress” because I may have suffered a little. More cowbell!!! Secondly, because I was in Dublin (or the outskirts) I have to pick a Dublin band, and an old favourite of mine, A House, with the quite majestic “Endless Art”.And of course, the Nik Kershaw penned “The one and only” by your man Chesney. Enjoy.