This weekend welcomes one of the two biggest races to enter the cross country calendar: the South of England championships... held at the infamous location of Parliament Hill fields at Hampstead Heath in North London.
I have raced here, year in, year out, for as long as I can remember. Always being petrified of the hills, mud and sheer volume of competitors. There is something so exciting about the grand scale of the event, however as a younger runner, I got so, unbelievably nervous. So much so, I remember this well, the night before, one year, I cried my eyes out. Nerves had taken over, despite there being no pressure on me at all... to have made it round the course was enough of a feat for me at this stage!
My dad told me something that night that I hold dear to me - he said: "you run because you enjoy it, nothing more, nothing less. make the most of the experience, don't be nervous. give it all you have." Words of advice that ring through my ears when I line up next to European junior champions and Olympians.
I have been training hard. Statistics to prove this are boring - legs giving way, pins and needles, stomach turning... the real proof that I have been giving laps at Meadowbank in Edinburgh nothing less than my best.
So, last year I placed 39th at the Southerns - this was the beginning of my real love for cross country. I wasn't training anywhere near as I am right now and have been for the last 5 months since starting at University. Being the top age group I have a relative advantage, but also I now consider Arthur's Seat in Edinburgh a hill... a lap of this being the usual (one of two) Wednesday recoveries.
My aim therefore is to place in the top 20. From 2 years ago, barely making it round, now the fact that I could be in among the "big-timers," I am so excited.
So this week, Monday was a usual double day, easy, followed by an evening fartlek. I had my final tough session on Tuesday... legs shaking and falling over the finish line after my final rep. Wednesday saw a couple of recovery runs. and now we are at Thursday... anticipation for the weekend filling me to the brim.
Tonight I will do some faster, turn over reps. Tomorrow I will shake out my journey south, if I wake up in time, and then I'm travelling down the country.
Friday night will see me lay out my kit. Socks, shorts, vest and red ribbon for my hair. A pasta dinner and perhaps a movie. Relax.
Bag packed. Spare clothes and socks being a prerequisite to leaving for the race. I try also, the night before to imagine the race. Put myself on the start line, and then flying downhill for the final time, coming into the finish. Envisioning how it feels to be giving it my all, how I will feel on Saturday. How fast can I get my legs going through the mud? Not very. But neither can anyone else, so just give it a shot.
I will then go to sleep. Early - ish.
I tend to wake up the morning of a race like a coiled spring. Bouncing about the place like I don't know what. Porridge, coffee. Good to go.
This year I'll have my dad and sister as my top cheerleaders.
Warm up, strides, drills... the usual. I've also got various new friends to meet at the race. All of which add an easy-going and amicable atmosphere to the race, taking on a less daunting and new dimension to my favourite thing in the world.
See you on the start line.