Sadly my initial two weeks in Kenya didn’t go to plan but thankfully the second half went much more smoothly. At long last I put an end to my niggling injury problems and enjoyed a solid two weeks of training. Playing catch-up at altitude is very demanding on the body. Every day was a slog and honestly, my training sessions were pretty dreadful.
Even though I was struggling to hit a decent pace I was excited to be back running again and asked my coach if I could enter my first race in over 18 months! Although he was concerned I was not as fit as we would like, we decided to put a marker down to determine exactly where I was.
As an athlete it is important to set yourself a goal; something to focus on and commit to achieving. Firstly, I wanted to complete the race in one piece but secondly, I felt it was important to throw myself in at the deep end and remind myself how racing feels. You can train hard your entire life but nothing compares to racing. It’s a different experience and one you should never stray too far from.
After such a long absence it was vital to see how I would feel in a race environment and whether we would repeat it again in the summer season, when things really count. So I entered the Armagh 5K road race only to find out it was only 3K for the women which actually worked out perfectly. I initially thought it would be a low key race to get my legs turning over a little faster than they had been in training… until I saw the start lists! It was the best depth of female athletes they had ever established, so no pressure!
Waking up on race day was exciting. I had forgotten that nervous feeling and the adrenaline rush on the start line. It was surreal being back in my trainers again and waiting for the starting gun. As soon as the bang sounded I was engulfed by a sea of runners. I was very cautious and scanned the road for potholes, making sure my foot placement was correct on every step. With seven screws and a metal plate in my left foot – safety is currently high on my agenda! I’m sure the more I run the less of an issue this will be but at the moment it’s turned into a slight paranoia. The race was late at night with only street lights beaming across certain sections of the road.
After we completed the first lap I became more confident and was ready to push on. The pace at the start was difficult and my legs were stuck in slow motion. That initial burst of energy was something I was seriously lacking. All the running I’ve done over the last fortnight has been no faster than 80 second pace for the 400m and these girls were running much closer to 70 seconds but for a much longer duration!
Thankfully, my legs adjusted to the pace after the first lap and I moved up from around 40th place and positioned myself behind the leading pack. For the majority of race, I was about 10 metres off the pace, however over the last one kilometre, my racing instinct kicked in and I could feel I was getting faster and closing in on the leading pack. By running a large negative split over the last section of the race I closed in strongly on the leaders but ran out of ground, finishing 5th in 9.22.
Although my time isn’t anything special I was absolutely over the moon, I couldn’t quite believe I was back running again and in a race! My performance was much better than the two weeks of training in Kenya had indicated I’d be able to achieve which gave me a huge confidence boost. There’s still a long way to go to make this summer a reality, but it’s a major step towards that goal.
Over the last 12 months, I’ve envisaged a day where I would return to running pain free and now that moment is here. I have an absolute mountain of hard training ahead of me, combined with intense rehab to keep my injury issues at bay, but it’s exciting. Although it is frustrating to accept that I’m not currently running personal bests in training, I have to put things into perspective; after a complicated ankle fracture, twelve months of injury drama, crutches, moon boots and surgery… I’m still running! Every step I take is getting faster which is hugely motivating.