If anyone had said to me this time last year I would be running for England, I would’ve told them to stop being so ridiculous. Last weekend marked exactly one year since my first cross country after nearly a year out and 9 years since my first coach and first ever inspiration passed away. But, it also marked something else. It marked my England debut, and gosh was I proud to run in red and white and make my coach who initially sparked my love for running, and my friends and family, proud. I met an incredible group of people that I felt privileged to call my teammates, ate lots of tomatoes (probably my fair share for the rest of the year), did lots of running, lots of sitting around, and of course, lots of laughing! But it was an experience I will never forget, and hope to add to.
Before going away, I was slightly nervous as I wasn’t sure what to expect when we were out there. I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to have my normal pre race build up, or if I would have to just go with the flow. We were so lucky with the coaches that came with us because they did their upmost to make us feel at ease and ensure we could perform our usual pre race routines. Apart from being in a different country, the majority of the build up was pretty similar to usual. I took plenty of food with me, so I knew, if needs be, I would have food to eat before the race that I knew would sit well in my stomach.
Our race wasn’t until 4:30, so the majority of the day involved a lot of time sitting around doing not a lot! Luckily, I’d thought ahead and packed Bananagram. Those who know it will know how addicting it can be, but also frustrating if you never win (that’s me!). The morning dragged on and on, but finally 2:30 arrived and the coach took us to the race start! To make us feel like royalty, it was a police escorted coach!
The course itself was an interesting one. It consisted of 10x1km laps, each involving 4 corner turns and one 180 degree turn. We were lucky enough to be able to walk the course the day before, therefore we knew exactly what we would be faced with. We knew it wasn’t going to be a fast race due to the vast number of corners, so we would be racing for position and would have to put ourselves in a good position. The toughest part of the course was the surging. Rather than being able to lock into a consistent pace, as you would in most 10k’s, the sheer volume of corners meant we were constantly speeding up and then slowing down. This is what worked our legs the most as we weren’t able to keep a solid pace flowing.
The race itself
Going into the race I felt surprisingly relaxed. I had spoken to one of the coaches multiple times and he made me feel completely at ease, reminding me to stay true to myself and race my own race, not get carried away because of where I was.
It was all rather overwhelming to begin with. The whole team paraded to the start line after we’d warmed up and stood on the line. It then became surreal as our national anthem was played for us. This was when it began to sink in. I, little 5 foot nothing Hannah Irwin from Cambridge (well, Essex, Suffolk, Cambridge border) was about to represent her country for the first time!
After the start gun sounded, we were off, and imminently faced with the first of many corners. We had to be careful as some of the corners had drain covers and the rain had made them slippery, so we had to focus on where we were heading. A French athlete soon ran on ahead of us, but we stuck to our own plans and controlled our own races. After 1km, I knew we needed to push it on slightly, so the three of us from team England worked the race together. Before long, we were able to chase down the girl ahead and form our own little group. We did well to work our way through the corners and not blow up too soon. With 2k to go we began to separate from Danielle, but continued to work together as a team. The fierce team strength we showed led us to a 1-2-3 finish and the overall team prize.
Prior to the race, contending for a medal wasn’t even on my mind. I was proud to have earned the England vest, and my prize was simply being there! As the race unfolded it became more apparent that a medal was in sight and something I could achieve. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would win a silver medal at my first England race, but I was determined to work hard to prove I deserved to be there.
As someone who predominantly trains alone, I love it when passionate, driven runners are brought together. The England Team I was fortunate to be a part of was built up of incredible people. The energy was so positive and everyone was genuine and kind. As a result, it created a space where I no longer felt ‘weird’ to enjoy running and I was no longer the only one waking up earlier than necessary to fit in a run. All of a sudden I felt ‘normal’. And this is the power of running. The camaraderie that comes from people working together with the same goal is so incredibly powerful. This goes for whether you are with another individual who understands your love for the sport, or if you are at a club training night during the week. Suddenly a group of people with one interest unite, and you can all be ‘weird running obsessed freaks’ together.
Ultimately, my Rennes 10k England athletics experience was something I will never forget. It spurred me on to keep working as hard as I can to achieve my goals, and hopefully, this will only be the start of more to come!
I love to run and I love to write, so I write about running!