There can’t be many other sports where you can pay your entry fee and race the national champs alongside the top competitors.
Even in running we can all enter the major marathons but you’re not actually racing the elite competitors. They’re on the same course but they are going from a different start and racing based on gun time. If by some crazy reason you happened to record a faster chip time, you don’t finish ahead of them because they are off racing first to the finish.
The National though, oh the glorious National, makes it a level playing field. You just need to be a member of a registered running club and pay your race entry fee. The chance to churn the mud, pump your legs over hill, and bomb down the slopes with a demented grin on your face.
Parliament Hill provided the course this year and that presented the chance to run The National and it’s most iconic venue. The wide starting line at the bottom of the hill flanked with the resplendent colourful banners, flags, and tents of running clubs and various groups. I half expected Jon Snow to appear, calling all the factions together with the glorious cry of war against the advancing wildling army.
We arrived while the juniors racing and collected our race packs before setting up base camp. I took the opportunity to wander round the collections of tents and get some more filming under my belt with the GoPro. I still haven’t edited the footage into one coherent video but I will get round to it at some point.
I watched as the senior women stormed their way up the hill for the start of their 8km race with the crowds urging them ever onwards. I was fretting about making the same journey, worried that I would be left at the back of the race, but who could resist the joy of running in such a frantic mass start?
Eventually the senior men began to trickle down towards the start pens. More club vests than you could shake a stick at. Runners going through their final warm-up, the racers wanting to get at the front of their allocated start area to get their clear run at the hill. The more sedate runner (i.e. me) just taking in the experience with a nervous expression and the wry grin of someone wondering just what the hell they had let themselves in for.
The race started and two thousand men begin their ascent of the hill. The front packs make it clear but the rest of us come to a halt as the course narrows and we slowly edge further upwards. One more quick crowd related stop and we’re all running down the other side and wading through the swamp. Well, nearly all wading. Some go off the racing line and cut bit of the course off. I splash my way through the puddles for the thrill of it and stuck to the course markers.
I was languishing near the back but running without a care in the world. The next hill drained the energy out of my legs but I stuck to the task. I then let the legs fly down slope again but stood on something hard and sharp under all the mud that had me wondering if I had done serious damage to my foot. Thankfully it didn’t seem to be anything serious although after the race I found that something sharp had cut through the side of the shoes where they join the sole and there was a massive hole. No need to try and wash the spikes after this race – just unscrew the metal spikes and bin the shoes with new shoes required next season.
Thankfully I made it round the first loop without being lapped by the leading runners (I did hear the announcer in the distance cheering on the winner Charlie Hulson to the finish line) and it was all about trying to chase down the various vests in front of me while not letting anyone pass.
I remember one vocal marshal shouting at us to pump our arms and run up the last hill. His cries of “It’s not an egg & spoon race gentlemen, this is the bloody National” gave me the impetus to force my weary legs over the crest of the hill and carry on running to the last section before the final descent into the finishing area. I spotted another Eagle vest and decided to take him down and all the other runners in-between. I probably made up 20 places in the last 400m sprint down the hill and over the finish line.
It was a great race on a great day but I obviously needed to sort out my fitness and lose some weight. My white & black Eagles vest was needed for this one since it’s our officially registered colour but either the vest has mysteriously shrunk since I last wore it or I’ve eaten all the pies (yeah, it’s the pies). Next year the National means that an Eagles road trip is on the cards. Already looking forward to it.
- Finish position: 1933 / 2005
- Race time: 1:15:27