My running club take part in the Southern Cross Country League which runs, joyfully, all through the winter months. But I’ve previously avoided cross country races like the plague.
It’s never been something I was tempted by because I was convinced I hated it (the mud, the cold, the hills, the competitive element) and it’s frequently been at awkward times in the day like 1pm or 2pm. But when there was one over the Christmas break at a relatively normal time (11am) I really had no excuse but to go and try it. It’s free, loads of my club were doing it and the car-share point was a short walk from where I live.
Ridiculous I know, but I was quite nervous. My running has been more plodding lately and I wasn’t sure how mud and hills would go down with me. But there was a lovely crowd going and I felt more at ease. I had no goals; just get round, get the miles in and use it as a training run. See what my legs fancied doing when I got there basically.The weather was beautifully sunny, but fairly chilly. Still shorts and vest weather though – unbelievably at the end of December!
The course was two laps and I’d heard there was a nasty hill, which you’d therefore have to do twice. I did a little warm-up with the club and then headed to the start which was basically in a field. No one could hear what the race director was saying and we were all stood shivering just waiting until it was clear we were off.
It was a free-for-all at the start across the field until we got to the main course and then it was a case of finding your place in the line. I managed to overtake a chunk of people and then was stuck behind the person in front. This wasn’t so bad though as it forced you to pace yourself and you couldn’t go flat out. Well, you couldn’t really go flat out anyway as the trail was tricky under foot and very muddy in places.
Straight away my nerves disappeared and I was loving it. It was exciting, fun and required a lot of concentration for where to put your feet and what the person ahead of you was doing. We came to a bottleneck and everyone had to stop quickly, almost banging into each other, and then we were off again. It was just so different to normal road races where you’re go-go-go the entire time and focused on maintaining a certain pace. It was a completely different story. The course required you to pay attention and it involved jumping up verges, balancing along narrow pathways and slopping through ankle deep mud.
The downhills I took at breakneck speed to gain some places and get past people and then it was back to being behind someone. The infamous hill was a killer though. I’d already pre-planned to walk it (my friend, Chris, had advised this was the best way as it was so steep) so I took the time to catch my breath and plough on up. Some people attempted to run it but barely went faster than the walkers and most gave up and walked. Those who persevered with running were caught up again on the straight as they’d knackered themselves.
The second lap was even muddier due to all the people running over the course. I found myself smiling as I sloshed my way through the mud – happy to take the muddier route to get past a few more people who were teetering to the side.
I was putting in a good amount of effort and thoroughly enjoying myself. The miles ticked away quickly as you had no time to dwell on pace. Then it was the final stretch back to the start area (now the finish area).
Photo credit: Dan Bailey
The ground underfoot became even trickier as it was now wet grass rather than mud and dirt and slipping became a real risk. I pushed on, seeing the finish in the distance (you could see the finish from about a quarter of a mile away which was both depressing and motivating).
I finished first female in my running club and 18th female overall, which I was chuffed with! I was pleased with my paces as well. Not too shabby at all!
Everyone was covered in mud at the end. Some people washed the mud off in a large puddle but I was proud of my mud and left it be (plus I didn’t fancy getting cold and wet).
I was so chuffed with myself. I literally loved every minute of that race, tough as it was. It felt like an adventure and reminded me why I love the Cheddar Gorge and Stansted Slog trail races so much.
Photo credit: Simon Sinclair
This wasn’t even all of the cake!
I knew there would be cake (you pay £1.50 for sandwiches, cake and tea) but I didn’t realise how bloody long the queue would be at the end. I might have got there a bit more sharpish. I started to get cake anxiety, fearing that all of it would be gone by the time I finally made it.
I needn’t have worried though… There was so much cake it was unreal. It’s funny because the line was also for the sandwiches but I just wanted cake so I asked if I could skip that line and just get to the cake bit (after queuing to get to the actual food area). I’d like to say it came as a surprise to my club that I had absolutely nothing savoury on my plate buuuut they know me too well.
That plate is pretty damn good if I do say so myself. Cake heaven!
So I’m now a cross country convert (and not just because of the cake…). There’s another race from the league at the end of January which I’m going to do as well which I’m looking forward to. I don’t know why I was so worried beforehand!
Have you ever run a cross country race before?
Do you like getting muddy when running?
What have you done recently that you were nervous about beforehand?