I’m not religious, spiritual or superstitious, nor do I believe in destiny or fate. I don’t even believe the bus exists until I actually see it pulling up to the stop.
But even my rational scepticism withers in awe before the strange power that my race number holds over my target finishing time.
It all started with two races in Dublin last summer.
For the Frank Duffy 10 Mile, my race number was 7359. It struck me that as a time, 73:59 – or 1:13:59 – was 3 minutes inside my personal best time for the distance. Now, I had been fairly confident of taking a few minutes off my P.B. time – but that race number confirmed the challenge; I simply had to beat my race number.
Thankfully I came in a minute and a half ahead of my race number for a new 10-mile personal best time of 1:12:30 – 72:30, if you will.
Next up was the Dublin Half Marathon a few weeks later. My race number came in the post, and as I pulled it out of the envelope I had to gasp – I would be wearing number 9476.
Put another way, instead of being happy to go under 100 minutes in a half marathon for the first time, my target finishing time had now been set in ink as 94:76, or 95:16, or 1:35:16 – five minutes inside my previous P.B. A half marathon in 95 minutes would be a bit of a stretch for me, and I was wary of pushing myself to the point of injury or worse.
On race day I ran hard through heat and over hills to go under 100 minutes and set a new P.B. – but my finishing time of 1:37:51 was over a minute and a half outside my race number. Pleased as I was with my time, the race number nagged at me.
Since then I’ve entered races and opened race packs with trepidation. For the Dublin Marathon last year and this, I’ve tried to judge the best moment for entering online so that I wouldn’t get race number 259, 2590 or the like. For the 2013 Dublin Marathon my number was 987 – pleasantly memorable, and impossible to construe as any sort of formidable target time. I know that because I sat with pen, paper and calculator for an hour just to be sure, like some extended Countdown numbers round.
My recent short races threw up no such race number problems. I thought I had the whole thing licked.
But then last week in the post I got my race number for the Irish Runner 5 Mile, which takes place in the Phoenix Park in Dublin this Saturday, 28 June. With my only other 5-mile time, set 10 years ago in the infancy of my running career, being 41 minutes and 30 seconds, I had been feeling certain of taking a good few minutes off that time given my recent parkrun performances. Under 35 minutes for 5 miles on a hilly course and a warm day – that would be a nice start to my summer of running.
I opened the envelope and pulled out… number 3075.
Now, 3075 converts to 30:75, or 31:15. That’s a good 4 minutes faster than I had been planning to run! And yet, and yet… My sub-20 parkrun 5km form would get me around 5 miles in under 33 minutes, according to the McMillan Running Calculator. A storm-force tailwind could earn me another minute.
And if I pray for an act of God to level those hills in the second half of the race- oh, wait, I don’t do that sort of thing.
Damn that bloody race number! From now on it’s lone-wolf wilderness trail running for me, where I’ll be number one and only!