British Transplant Games: North Lanarkshire 2017

11 August 2017, 15:28

Hot on the heels of the World Transplant Games came this year’s British Transplant Games – yet more running around a track! In 2015, the British games came before the Worlds, which made them into a kind of practice-run to check your fitness and make sure that everything’s on track, but having them only a few weeks after the Worlds this time around just made them feel a bit… deflated and overshadowed, which was a shame.

It didn’t help that they were held in North Lanarkshire (“outside Glasgow” to you and me) and were therefore a costly and lengthy journey for quite a lot of people, which meant that a significant proportion of the athletes who’d competed in Malaga weren’t there this year. To be fair, my enthusiasm for these games was at an all-time low, and I’d really only agreed to run after my team manager offered to share her hotel room and drive me around, leaving just the cost of the flight to Glasgow.

BTG17 - Haggi with Ellie and Ruth
Haggi the haggis! With Ellie and Ruth…

In the weeks between Malaga and North Lanarkshire I’d only managed to run a handful of times (and only one speed session), such is the way of post-competition illness and recovery, but I physically felt like I still had the bulk of my speedwork training in my legs. But my motivation and enthusiasm were very low, and the weather for my first event really didn’t help.

The mini marathon was held in the gorgeous Strathclyde Country Park (location of the Commonwealth Games triathlon), but unfortunately it absolutely chucked it down for a good two hours before the start, meaning we were all soaked, shivvering (I could actually see my breath!), and huddled together in the few bits of shelter available to us. So pretty much the polar opposite to the oppressive heat in Malaga!

BTG 17 - poncho

If you’ve ever tried to run in a poncho, I wouldn’t recommend it! You’ve basically got to hold your arms out underneath to keep it from sticking to your legs and ending up around your chest! But it was better than not warming up at all, and after the start was delayed several times, leaving us standing in the starting pen (minus our ponchos) for a further 20min, I was starting to wonder what I was doing there at all, and all the places I’d much rather be.

But eventually we set off, and I took the lead for the women’s 3km circuit along the loch. It was surprisingly hilly, but at least our paths were all paved, leaving only some careful footing on the downhills and around areas full of debris left from the previous heavy rain. Said rain held off for the race itself (I guess it decided we were already wet enough), and apart from having to shout at some marshals who seemed surprised to see me, the race itself went smoothly enough.

I was hoping to have a bit of breathing space the way I had in Malaga, but fellow athletes Nadia and Ellie REALLY kept me on my toes this year! I could hear they were close behind me for pretty much the entire race, and I didn’t get a single second to relax as I gunned it hard for the entire route. I crossed the finish line first, but only just – the difference between myself in first and Ellie in third couldn’t have been more than 10 seconds at most! But it meant I got to retain my “first lady” trophy for another year, and earned my first gold of the games, which always makes me feel a little better (though a hot shower might’ve trumped it this year!)

BTG17 - with Kings teammates
BTG17 - with Ryan, first man

The next day saw us on the track bright and early for the 1500m, traditionally my strongest of the track races. I set off at a fairly aggressive pace, but with my usual competitor, Orla, out of action this year with a stress fracture, I wasn’t quite sure who’d come out to play, so to speak. I knew that Nadia and Ellie were behind me again, but I didn’t allow myself a quick peek backwards on the bend until the second lap, when I saw they were together about 200m behind. I kept up my pace during the third lap, and then, as I rounded into the 4th and final lap, I waited to hear the next bell, which felt quite far behind, enough to give myself a bit of a breather coming into the finish. I hadn’t quite gained my breath when I was able to see Ellie sneak past Nadia right near the end to flip their positions from the night before, with my friend Ruth finishing in 4th. I might add that all of us are in our 30s, too – clearly the toughest age group for female transplant athletes!!

I then had quite a few hours to rest, eat, and cheer on my Kings College Hospital teammates (what little there were this year!) before the 200m after lunchtime. The 200m is traditionally my weakest event, but with so many of the Team GB athletes either absent or injured, it turned out that I was the only one in my age category on the start line. Score! An opportunity to just jog it in, right?

BTG17 - with Emma and Ayesha

Not really – in my same heat were the 20 year olds (Emma and Ayesha, pictured above) but also, strangely, the 12-14 year olds! This was definitely a first, competing against children! And my pride dictated that I couldn’t be beaten by children, and I knew one of the Kings girls was really quick, so I actually had to push myself, finishing second overall in a time less than a second over my PB in Malaga (and yes, I beat all the children).

BTG17 - 200m with Emma
Photo credit: Dave Medcroft

So I enjoyed a very rare lone podium moment to do my best model poses!

BTG17 - lone 200m podium

I then had about a half hour break before the 400m, but I’d clearly given my legs more of a bashing than I’d realised in the 200m, because as I rounded the final curve into the finishing straight, my legs just… died. I mean, it felt like I was swimming in treacle and everything was in slow-motion, disconnected and just awful. I’ve never ever felt this way in any run before of any distance, and to be honest, I’m not even sure what the cause was. But apparently Ellie oddly had the same phenomenon – the way she put it, she hit a wall at that final straight as well, but was perplexed as to why I wasn’t getting any further away from her!

Note: it’s literally only now, two weeks later, as I’m writing up this review that I noticed I actually ran a PB in the 400m! This might be some explanation as to why I felt so bad, as it’s likely my legs started out at 200m pace!

BTG17 - 400m
Photo credit: Dave Medcroft

Just a brief aside at this point to say that this was not only Ellie’s first year at the British Transplant Games, but she had only had her liver transplant 6 months before!! She and her husband are race directors for the Running the Rift marathon in Uganda, and you can read more about her transplant story here (and you should!).

BTG17 - 400m podium with Ellie and Ruth
Photo credit: Dave Medcroft

At this point in the Games I’d normally be pleading with our team captain to please not make me run the mixed 100m relay, but the eclectic scheduling this year (with the 800m being run after the relay, which is traditionally the last event) plus the fact that the only runners on our team this year were all distance runners (and all of us running the 800m), meant that I didn’t even have to plead – no relay for Team Kings, hurrah!

But I was already absolutely shattered, and really I just wanted to get the 800m over and done with and get to the airport to fly home. So when the gun eventually went off, I led a pretty sedate pace around the track – even a bit slower than my 1500m pace, purely because I knew I was knackered and the horrible finishing straight of the 400m was fresh in my mind. Nadia had already headed home by this point so it was just Ellie behind me, and I could hear she was close behind me in Lane 1. She stuck on my tail until the last 200m or so, and I really only saw her make her move in the last 100m, when it was too late to really answer (as if my legs had anything left to give!).

Even though I got silver, I crossed the line with the biggest smile of the day – it felt right that such a strong athlete should get to go home with a gold, and she had certainly earned that!

The final event of the Games actually came as I was boarding my (rather delayed) flight back to London, when my team captain texted me to say that I’d just been jointly awarded Best Senior Female with another athlete! Even though I’ve won lots of medals in my last five years competing at the Games, I’ve never ever come close to the best age group award (across all the sports), and I was chuffed to bits to hear I’d been given this honour!

BTG17 - medal haul

And now, with my track running out of the way, I’m so pleased I can finally head back to some long and hilly trail runs in preparation for a hilly 25km race in Portugal in October – much closer to the running I love the most right now!

British Transplant Games – North Lanarkshire 29-30 July 2017

3k Mini Marathon: 12:42 (gold and trophy)
1500m: 5:41.94 (gold)
800m: 2:54.89 (silver)
400m: 1:09.23 (gold & PB)
200m: 32:95 (gold)
Best Senior Female trophy – tied with Kathryn Glover

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