Today was the day of the Zone Cross Country Championships for my Alfie. As Alfie is in the Under 9’s and as that’s the youngest entry age, this was Alfie’s first year of competing. To go to the Zone you have to have placed in the Top 6 of your school’s cross country race and Alfie had placed second.
The school’s cross country race was about three weeks ago and since that time, fabulous preparation and training was set into gear and organised by one of the mothers who is passionate about running and regularly competes in marathons. For the race, Alfie trained on Monday afternoons and before school on Tuesday and Thursday mornings, and last Sunday there was a training session at the venue so the team could practise on the actual course.
Alfie is not a sprinter and this race, being only 2kms long, is run like a sprint (if you want to win!) He also has an astounding lack of competitiveness. I don’t understand. Last night I was giving him the pre-race pep talk of all time. I was talking strategy and mentioning starting positions and not how not to be in first position but to follow closely behind the person winning and how to make great gains going uphill and how to use the downhill parts of the course as recovery. But I didn’t seem to be getting anywhere. I sat him down and made him watch the video of Roger Bannister when he ran that race where he became the first person ever to break the 4-minute mile.
‘Did you see that, Alfie? Were you watching? Did you see how he didn’t start out at the back of the pack? Did you see how he ran the whole race behind the person in first position and then, when there was 300 yards to go, he made his move?’
This morning I was at it again. ‘Did you sleep well, Alfie? How are you feeling? Do you remember Roger Bannister? Did you notice his strategy? What do you think? Is that what you’re going to do today?’
And Alfie looked up at me and said, ‘Mum, I just wish the world wasn’t so competitive’.
I had no words.
We set off at 9am this morning. I reined it in a bit and said, ‘Alfie, as long as you do your best. As long as you put all of your training to good use, I’ll be pleased. Before you’ve even raced, I’m proud of you’. And when we arrived at the venue I gave him a big hug and a squeeze – just because I knew he wouldn’t enjoy that.
Have I mentioned the fabulous and remarkable weather we’re having? With many days well over the average temperature of 20C (68F) this is officially the warmest May on record. Today was like a balmy summer’s day with 26C (79F) which is lovely as a spectator but a little warm for a competitor.
Alfie’s race was the first race of the day. I had told him to make sure he was in the front row at the start of the race and this he remembered! He elbowed his way into a tiny gap and was at the front. I could tell the poor boy was nervous but so was probably every other competitor. There were 84 boys lined up and to advance to the Regionals, you had to finish in the Top 5. (Coming 6th would see you be a Reserve). I thought if Alfie could just finish around 20th, I’d be filled with joy.
The course is 1km long and so you have to do two laps of the course. Some of it is on an oval while the rest of it is running across bridges and through a bush track and up lots of stairs. There were only certain parts of the course where I could see Alfie.
He didn’t get off to the best start and was two-thirds towards the back of the pack within 100mtrs. But my little guy ran his fastest race ever. He didn’t give up. He kept trying and slowly but surely he began to overtake those in front of him until he was in the Top 20. Meanwhile I was running to all the vantage points where I could see him along the course and was yelling at him, ‘Pick it up now’, and, ‘You’re going great’, and, ‘Get moving’, and he always seemed to lift his pace when he heard me.
Alfie finished in 13th position. I was elated for him. He had some water then said, ‘If I’d just overtaken seven more people, I’d be going to the Regionals’. Even if he’s not that competitive, his maths is good.
And I can’t work out whether perhaps he is competitive or maybe he just loves running. In the car on the way home he said, ‘Mum, running’s my thing. You always make me do too much swimming. I want to run more. Can you put me in more running groups?’
And you know how much I love my swimming! I mentioned to him that in summer, there’s a biathlon group that meets every Friday night where you swim and then run. I think this will suit both of us very much.
The very best thing about today is that my little guy did his absolute best. Lucky 13 is an excellent result.