First of all, thank you to all who have kindly sent messages to me after my run on Saturday, and a homage to all the other Croft runners who have had success in Europe (if I list them, I’m bound to forget someone) and to those who, had they had the time/money/freedom, could equally well have made it onto the podium last weekend. Croft has some very fine athletes.
Having entered back in February, for this uphill mountain race (8.6km, with 650m of ascent) I watched the number of competitors in my age group gradually increase, so that by the time we set off from home for Prague, I was thinking that if I could finish in the top 4 (out of 9) I’d be quite happy. Googling the opposition didn’t exactly boost my confidence! Anyway, on the start line in Janske Lazne (having wished Steve H luck, and slipped a bit further back in the field) I shook hands with Gerold Seiffert, and wished him luck too. My research had suggested he was probably the most likely winner of the over 75 category. There was a bang, and we set off, and I lost sight of Gerold. The first 3km were quite steep up through a wood above the town, followed by a short drop on a tarmac path, before the serious stuff began, from the cablecar station up to the summit of Cerna Hora (1300m). For near enough 3km it was straight up on a fire track, and here it was that Jose Antonio Arias de la Cruz (another’favourite’ in my eyes, being I believe the Spanish champion) got past me, but he never managed to get more than 20m ahead. Not knowing where any other over 75s were, my task was simply not to be beaten by Jose (knowing a name like that must weigh heavily on him). At 2km from the finish, we ‘dived’ off the main track onto a stony path, where, unaccountably, JAA de la C faltered, and I swept past, keeping my lead as we carried on climbing a zigzag path for a kilometer before the path levelled out and we squeezed between what remained of snowdrifts, and with about 800m to go, came back onto a fire track to tackle the last short climb before we picked up speed down to the finish, at the top of the cable car ride. Steve was there to shout encouragement, and told me I was 1st MV75, which I found hard to believe. JAA de la C arrived 40 seconds later, and Gerold about three minutes after, somewhat dejected but he consoled himself that he was 3 years older than me!
Steve was naturally a bit disappointed to be 4th, but once his water bottle had been filled with draft beer, he felt a little better. There was nothing more to be done up on top, so we took the cable car down, showered and recovered in time for the awards ceremony. It was only as we arrived in the town square and saw the pinned up results that we learnt Steve was in fact 3rd, and that I had indeed come in first.
It was at this point that it began to rain, so we sheltered (round the back of the podium/ bandstand). Steve had kindly offered to lend me his (rather sweaty!) GB vest for the ceremony, but we were caught out by their running order, which began with the over 75 awards. Not only was there no time, to don a suitably athletic looking top, but I nearly missed the ceremony altogether, having to leap in rather ungainly fashion onto the middle podium. As they started playing a recording of God Save the Queen (which squealed as the microphones picked up the sound too), thunder rang out overhead. All in all, it was rather surreal, and I certainly didn’t get around to placing my hand over my heart, with a well-timed tear in my eye!