I used to run in a vest printed “MAD AC”. It wasn’t one of those slogan shirts like “I run for wine”. Magherafelt and District Athletics Club had a sense of humour and I was somewhat disappointed to learn that it had relinquished madness for "Mid Ulster" AC. My current favourite tee proclaims, almost truthfully, “I run because my dog makes me”. I’ve one dog who loves running anywhere anytime and another who only loves running if it’s an adventure - she wants hills and forests. She supervises the younger dog and me in our routine circuits of fields, usually only joining in for the last lap. She either knows the phrase “last lap” or spots when I’ve slowed down for an active cool down. She’ll also join in if my hubby is there - if it’s the whole pack running together at a nice easy pace. Running with a pack seems instinctive for man and beast.
This Saturday I’m to compete for the right to run with the Northern Ireland pack. It’s the selection trials for the NI teams that will compete next month at the British and Irish Masters XC Championships in Santry, Dublin. Having to prove your worth to wear a particular vest certainly gives wearing it a different dimension. Usually it's called “pride”, but “affirmation” fits better. Stepping out with your country’s (or team’s) colours on your back is an affirmation that you will represent them to the best of your ability. Earning the vest isn’t the goal, it’s what you do with it on your back that counts. We put our bodies through extra pain wearing such a totem. With it on our backs we're more than ourselves, we're actively part of a tribe.
At last year’s national selection meet, I won my age-category and went on to represent NI. However, this year I’ve been wearing my NI tracksuit to training in the firm belief that I’m not likely to earn the right to wear it again in competition. Not never again, just this year. Defeatist? The wrong attitude? Most definitely! It could be a self-fulfilling belief. I’d be tempted not to try out at all, but there's the problem of the nagging "what if?". I’m actually running faster than this time last year. So are many other runners in my category. They've logged some amazing performances in the last months and it's truly exciting how strong our local field is. We're developing a rich pool of talent amongst ourselves, showing one another what might be possible and supporting one another in the strive to be ever better. Therefore I’m planning to run, believing that I’m only there to make up numbers and with a faint ember of hope that there might be enough in me. This won’t be this year’s longest race, nor the muddiest, nor with the steepest elevation. However, it’s likely to be my toughest….unless I miraculously qualify for Dublin. Help!