EW. That’s the best way to describe my feelings about yesterday’s fourth and last cross-country race at Happy Valley in Coulsdon. I came out the other end of that race vowing to never ever run XC again. It was horrible. In fact, they’ve all been horrible. I simply don’t think cross-country running is my thing at all.
I went into this race with a different attitude: not to try and hit certain splits and get disappointed if I ran more slowly, but instead to ignore the time and just focus on the people in front of me. We were trying to chase down Fulham in the points table, so all I wanted was to take them out one-by-one to ensure our team’s success. If I ended up scoring for my team, great, but if I didn’t, that would also be ok.
It was a nightmare getting to the race (two trains, two busses, two missed connections and a lost wallet – thankfully found again!), and it was snowing! I only arrived with ~10 minutes spare; just enough time to pin my number on and line up for the start. My team positioned themselves on the front line but I stuck myself some 10-15 rows behind, knowing that this would ensure a slower start and mean I could spend the first while overtaking people rather than burning out.
The course was two laps + a bit, featuring a hell of a lot of mud and two nasty hills. Oh, and it was snowing! At least this time I wore long sleeves and long pants, unlike last time’s disastrous wardrobe choices.
The first lap went well, I was successfully roping in Fulham girls and even powered up the first hill (which had an annoying gate to walk through halfway up). The second hill was much harder, as it was entirely mud and there was very little to grip on at all. When it finally ended, you had to run through a field of randomly placed rocks (ouch), around a tight muddy corner and along a camber back towards the start of the lap.
There were marshals warning us about that muddy corner, but of course as I came around it whoops slip, slide and I was on my butt in the mud. Very embarrassing, and cold! After this I passed all the guys who’d come to cheer and spent most of the time pointing at my bum to highlight my misfortune. Well, no-one did ever call me glamourous…
That fall put threw a bit of a spanner in the works but I plowed on and finished the first lap. Coming into the second though my legs felt really heavy, and every step forward was becoming more and more of an effort. Mentally, I had decided that I really hate cross-country, which definitely didn’t help anything. By the time we came to the first hill I had slowed right down and getting to the top was a massive effort. The second hill was even worse – it took all of my willpower not to stop and walk, although that may have been quicker! It felt like everywhere I put my foot there was only more mud or a rock, and absolutely nothing to grip on. That hill went on forever, and sapped so much of my energy.
I could pick it up a little on the flats, but I was now super wary of all the mud as I didn’t want to fall over again. On the camber section (some 800m long) the arch of my left foot started to hurt so much that I was biting back tears and again forcing myself not to walk. No matter where I ran on the path I had to contort my feet strangely to stop from falling down the hill entirely.
The team was cheering just around the next corner, but as I turned some
bitch girl elbowed her way past and I nearly ended up in the mud again. That’s when I lost it – the tears came down and I just ran and ran to make it all stop and to avoid acknowledging the people on the sideline calling ‘are you OK?’. Utter low point – the first time I have actually cried during a race. It just felt so utterly shit, and I knew then that I would never ever do another race like this ever again.
Finally 500m, and there is James Poole with his hand outstretched for a high-five. It was a godsend from on high, my legs found their rhythm again on the flat grass, and I sped up and sped up and overtook 3-5 girls who had earlier passed me as I cried. That final bit felt good – why couldn’t it all be like that?
I’m so glad that ‘vile sport’ (as I called it afterwards) is done. Of course, when the next season comes around I probably will have forgotten all the pain and will sign up again, but I did not enjoy it one bit. Ew. Ew. Ew. The one major redeeming factor is the fabulous team, seeing people do well, and then shoving our faces with burgers and beer afterwards.
Our team ended up fourth in the match, and fourth overall in the league for the season, meaning that next year we should be well placed for promotion into Division 1. We’ll see if I’m there to help make that happen!