Today has been such an unreal day.
A few weeks back I was asked by the school principal to take the Cross Country Team for an event. Of course having completed my LIRF this year, I was happy to undertake the challenge. My first question naturally was “who is in the team?” And the answer I didn’t want to hear was given to me, “there isn’t a team, there’s never been one!”
Ok so taking on the Cross Country team meant I would have to run trials and break the news to some kids that they didn’t make the cut. Devastating for some I was sure it would be.
So marking out a course around the school grounds, I set about timing and selecting the team. With the task to choose 4 girls and 4 boys from each year group meant that with the small classes, it was a matter of losing just 1 or 2 from each class. It was heart breaking. However there was potential, natural runners who performed well over longer distances, not just sprinters.
We set about everyday after school learning the basics. With only 3 weeks until the event, I knew time had to be used wisely and effectively. From simple warm ups and understanding the theory to why we do it, running technique and good form, to breathing tricks and negotiating hills. There was so much information being thrown at them, I’m surprised they could keep up. Working on building the distance in the legs the poor critters ran multiple 100m laps round the schools green area. This could have been anything between 4 and 10 laps depending on the time limit on each run. We even managed a few interval sessions.
I thought taking the time on their feet approach to running instead of the distance would help serve them better on the day. Trying to explain pacing was tough but as time went on, many where going for longer and had that little bit extra at the end to push on so some of it was sinking in.
I did worry, who wouldn’t, it was 32 children hanging onto my every word. They were enjoying this new challenge of running and even when county footballer Mr Johnson came to cover for a day, they busted themselves to show him what they could do, even getting to run alongside him. The whole school had been swept up in the cross country excitement.
I didn’t sleep the night before. It was like results day. Running marathons didn’t compare to the nerves I had over the Cross Country. It was like they were all your own children and the hope that I had done enough to reassure them that they could and would complete it. . Being a back runner myself, I know that it takes that bit more determination, ignorance and support to finish a race and at the other end of the scale, the front runner had pressure, serious adrenalin and every eye of expectation on them. My mind boggled.
I had spoken at length about doing their best, finish lines not finish times and enjoying the atmosphere. I wish I had convinced myself as good as I had convinced them that everything was going to be alright.
Arriving at Kilbroney we were greeted by a sea of children. Different colours, hundreds of school kits and parents, passers by and officials. The sun shone brightly as clear skies engulfed Carlingford Lough, it was a day that the weather gods had kindly prepared for us.
We got numbers pinned on, hands marked with the school number and kids got their final race instructions. I was going to be all over the place but thanks to a great support from other staff members I knew the kids where in safe hands as I sorted out the race paperwork and ran round the race from place to place, cheering the kids on.
With all teams entered in Race 1 of 2 across the whole event, it was the P4s to go first. The girls set off and did a great job. There is so much potential in those wee legs and as a first event and 3 of the girls coming in the top 30, it was admirable and definitely experience will help their confidence for next year.
The P4 boys race was always going to be one to watch for me. I had watched Christopher square up shoulder to shoulder with the P6 boys in the school in training and keep the pace strong. I had hoped he would place in the top 10 but I didn’t expect what happened over the next two and a half minutes. As I watched him confidently tussle with the boy beside him to have his body in front, he took off and was mid pack by the first corner. I could see the yellow jersey steadily pick up places as we came towards the half way point. Sitting in 7th place at half way my heart pounded as I went from point to point to cheer him on. At just short of 200m I caught his attention as he sat in 4th place and just screamed (as you do to a pile of 8 year olds) “Christopher- empty the tank- good man” and there he cruised past the remaining few runners and was a good stride in front of the race leader crossing the line. A first place finish, in the schools first year in the competition. I couldn’t believe it.
That wasn’t even the last of it, the other three P4 boys powered home fearlessly and between them the boys bagged a team place. An unbelievable team effort from them and the tears rolled down my face with pride. It wouldn’t be like me to be emotionally unhinged.
The P5 races should definitely not go unmentioned. With a top 10 finish in both races, Leah came 10th in the girls race and Darragh took 9th in the boys race. I know the two of them had been working hard at home practicing and I cant wait to see how they perform next year with a little bit more coaching and training. Definitely ones to look out for in future.
The P6 and P7 races where tough races. Spotting children I have seen myself at organised events highlighted how competitive these races where going to be with junior club runners involved. Yet the children didn’t know who they were up against and as the distance increased for both races, it wasn’t as plain sailing as you would hope. But there they were, working their way through the field and pushing themselves on to the finish line.
For me though, I know what made the day for me. It was the sheer grit and determination or some might say stubbornness, of those runners who weren’t as fast as the front runners, continuing on to the death. The way they fought the demons in their heads as they gasped for breath and their bodies hurt. They kept moving. I was so blessed to be able to come onto the course and support them through the final 100 metres. A special moment for me, every single one of them finished the race whether first or last. They ran when they could and walked when they had to, moving forward towards the goal in their own time. Running their own races to the best of their ability and this made me realise I have done more than coach them how to run, I have taught them also to have faith in themselves and not to give up. There is nothing more a teacher hopes to leave as a legacy with their students.
I did have to laugh as we got back onto the bus.
“Miss since we did so well does that mean you get to go to Vegas then?”
IF only it was measured on that alone, I’d be taking off to the moon right now.
But while you are here you might as well vote for me again.