After the last race of the 2016/17 cross-country season I swore I would never do XC again. I hated it so much: the mud, the snow, the rain, the hills. I got very little enjoyment from trying to run as hard as I could, and didn’t actually do particularly well at most of the events. However, there was an amazing feeling from being part of a team (and we’d often go for burgers & beer afterwards!), and so when it came to sign-up again this year, I conveniently forgot how awful the running is and joined in.
I could only make one of the four races this year though, the second fixture which was held in Nonsuch Park in Surrey. This was my last race of 2017 and my last race before we move to Paris. Last season, this was the first and best race for me, because it’s a lot flatter than the other courses and we had been blessed with dry weather. This year… not so much. It had rained and the path was already muddy and trampled from parkrun earlier in the morning, so we were definitely going to get dirty.
Our team had done quite well in the first fixture, with the A-team coming 3rd. However, many of our scorers were away in Athens for the marathon and others were injured, so I felt like I needed to step up, run hard and place well for our team. I also set myself the personal goal of bettering my time from last year, when I ran 29:41 having blown up in the last kilometre.
After a quick hands-in, our team of 16 runners joined the mix of excited women dressed in vests and short-shorts. With everyone ready to go there was a minute’s silence (as the race was on 11/11) and then the whistle went. Immediately everyone surged forward – a feeling I can only compare to when ten people try and get onto the Underground during rush hour. I had to run at full pelt or risk being pushed over onto the ground – it was intense.
The women’s league has two divisions, but everyone runs in the same race. This means that there are a lot of incredibly fast runners in the mix who you’re not actually competing against (as our team is in Division Two). However, there is no way of telling who is in which division, so you just have to try and run as fast as you can to keep up with the people around you. I ended up running the first kilometre in 4:02 😱
With the adrenaline used up, I settled into a steady but strong pace. I hadn’t seen anyone else from my team come past me, so assumed that I was in first place and needed to keep pushing. As it turns out I was actually in second, but thinking that I had the lead gave me a massive mental boost.
The course is two laps, with a long slow climb in the second half of each lap. Just before that climb my friend Amy from Fulham Running Club ran up and said hello. It was great to see her, but I think my response was “let’s chat once this is over!”. We ended up chasing each other back and forth for the rest of the race, but in the end she just scraped in one place ahead of me. I liked having her to chase though, makes it feel like a mini race inside a race.
I finished the first lap (3km) in ~13min, which was very quick and in part due to the blistering early kilometre. Setting out on lap two it was then just ‘same again, same again’. This worked pretty well until I hit the slow climb for the second time. My pace slowed but I had to keep pushing as much as I could, with my stomach grumbling away wanting food. Thankfully once we crested that climb we could then go bombing down the other side (well, for most people. I still can’t bomb down hills, I just descend at a reasonable pace) to the finish line.
In this race last year I hadn’t had the energy to put on a final sprint, and this time felt the same but still managed to speed up a little in the last 50m. I crossed the line in 27:02, which was over two and a half minutes faster than last year!! I’m very pleased with that!! It was then a case of cheering the rest of my team home, with everyone putting on a strong performance. Big congratulations to everyone who ran, and a thank you to the few guys who came along to cheer us before going to their own race.
We ended up placing 9th, and I took 42nd place (up from 61st) and came 2nd for the team (up from 4th). It was a great result to get for my last cross-country race while living in London. Best of all, for the first time every I wasn’t afraid of the mud! Looks like I might not hate cross-country so much after all 😉