When my running group Advent Running posted that they were going to enter teams into the Surrey Cross-Country League, I jumped at the opportunity. XC was something I had been talking about with some friends and, having never tried it at school because I definitely did not run as a teenager, I wanted to give it a try.
Yesterday saw the 3rd match of the season, and the first one in 2017. Two days earlier I’d come down with a nasty cold that kept me at home all day, but it was mostly gone by race day so I was hoping to be able to run fast, and yet…
The XC race was awful. Pure torture the entire run, brought on by mud, snow, hills and 2km more distance than the standard 6km.
We arrived an hour before the race to see some snow over the other side of the field. I haven’t run in snow in over 3 years, and it should have clicked in my brain that snow = cold. However, after a warm-up run around some of the route and then some activation drills I decided just to wear a vest and shorts for the race. I did go back-and-forth on the decision for a while, but eventually went with ‘colder = faster’, which in all fairness does tend to work for me. This race though taught me that I have a coldness threshold which I severely fell below.
We lined up at the front of the pack and I was chatting race strategy with Alice before we set off. We agreed: stick together, run ~4:45 for the first few kms, then slowly increase speed and pick people off in front. Easy.
In practise, not so easy. Mel shot off on the start line and the rest of us followed behind, me trying to stick closely with Alice and Stella as much as possible. For the first km it was fine – fast running dodging some tree roots and hanging branches but sticking closely with the girls. Watch beeped 4:35, ok, a bit fast. Then came the first hill: a mud-slide of an affair which reaffirmed my need to train inclines. Crested it and kept going, now running through actual patches of snow. At the back point of the loop there was another hill, on which I was overtaken by Emily, putting me in 6th or 7th place and at the same time my watch went off for the second kilometre: 4:56.
And that was that: I gave up. I was freezing cold, it had started raining and I knew I didn’t have it in me to try and push forward and place in the top 5 scorers for the team. The only thing that got me through the next 2km to finish the first lap in a semi-decent time was the knowledge that I could pull over to where our bags were and put on an extra layer. By the time I got there though, I had warmed up just enough that I didn’t want to stop or DNF, so started off again on the second lap.
It was slow, I was overtaken by so many people, but I didn’t care. For every smiley face from our cheer squad (thanks so much ladies!) I grumbled something back about how much this all sucked, how it should all be over already. One marshal said ‘This is fun! You love mud’ to which I replied something along the lines of ‘You’re a liar!’ – oops!
With 1km to go there was a downhill section and coming out of it my legs finally remembered that this was a race and I regained some speed. Not that I was overtaking anyone, everyone else around me seemed to have done exactly the same thing and we were all frantically moving towards the finish line. 20m to the line and Claudi shouts at me ‘GO GET HER’ about a lady just in front, so I break into a mad sprint, the lady breaks into a mad sprint and it’s neck and neck down to the line where I juuuuust stick my foot over the line before she does. MINOR SUCCESS!
Lining up to be recorded I touched my arms and couldn’t feel my skin because it was numb from the cold. I nearly cried before putting on all the layers I possibly could.
I’m not proud of that race, but I definitely learned a lot. 1) Wear more clothes! 2) Running in slippery mud and snow is very very different to running on road, and I can’t expect the same speeds in both arenas. 3) Train hills! 4) Be more realistic in approaching races, and acknowledge that with the tail end of a cold and having run a sneaky parkrun beforehand, I really shouldn’t have expected anything fabulous. 5) I FINISHED. That took quite something.
Big well done to the whole team – we don’t yet have results due to various mix-ups and rain washing away the handwritten finishing order, but I know we had some strong runners who posted amazing performances. It was a tough day made better by sharing the experience with friends.
[Photos by Emily, Lorna, Abi and the Surrey League]
— Edit: Our A team ended up coming in 4th place, with the Bs in at 11th! Superb result with a number of runners really close in behind each other 💪🏃