Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Cross-country debut

It was a day of running debuts on Saturday for the Wilkinson family.

Firstly, my son Ollie completed his first parkrun (Ollie is 8 years old) and then in the afternoon, I ran my first cross-country race since my school days, some 23 years or so ago.

We turned up at the Newbold Comyn cross-country course (in Leamington Spa) to be greeted by the site of hundreds upon hundreds of runners clad in the vests of many different running clubs. First impressions, there are some serious runners here!

I headed for the Sphinx AC (my club) tent and started to get ready.

About this time some of the women runners started to head back to the tent after completing their earlier run. I had expected that cross-country would involve a little but of getting muddy, but now I realised just how muddy that would be! Waist down was all mud. Waist up, it was a rough split of 50-50 as to whether it was just major mud splatterings or totally covered. Faces were splattered too, with the odd camouflage like hand swipe of muddiness across the face, clearly after a hands-down incident of some sort. This was going to get messy!

With no spikes in my assorted collection of running footwear, it was either my brand spanking new Saucony trail shoes (first time out of their shoebox) or a pair of old football boots, of which I had taken two pairs. I opted for the moulded stud football boots. I'm not what the right choice of footwear was and I'm not even sure if there was a right choice, but with hindsight, I don't think moulded studs was it!

Pre-race preparation basically consisted of a quick stretch and a walk/jog to the start line a couple of minutes away. I had already decided that a warm-up was just going to be energy wasted. I'd soon get warmed-up on the way round and I wasn't going to take it too seriously anyway. Just get round and try to enjoy it was my mantra on this occasion.

At the start line we must have been 50 or so abreast, and at least 15 deep. There was a bit of a false start as we moved forward to the start line. Then seconds later, the hooter went and we were away across a meadow of ruts and tufted grass specifically designed for ankle breaking. I started sensibly.

We reached the first corner, where 50 a breast quickly turned to 5 a breast and STOP! We all bunched up together and could hardly move. Luckily no spikes in the back of my calf. On to corner two and into a narrow wooded area where it went from 5 abreast to 2 or 3 abreast and another STOP! After this point the field was spread out sufficiently to run your own race.

Along the path, through the woods and then came the legendary ditch. I had been told about this ditch and on advice had looked at the YouTube videos the day before. I had shown them to my sons who had spent 10 minutes watching the You've Been Framed style video amidst howls of laughter as poor fellows half made it through the ditch before tumbling and sprawling into he muddiness head-first. It was very funny an I just wanted to make sure that I was not one of those clips this year.

I decided on a one foot in the ditch approach and this worked well as I got through unscathed and away up he steep bank on the other side.

A few hundred yards further on and it was UP! Up Beacon hill. Its not a large hill, you are probably only running up for 70 metres or so, but its so steep that you feel as though you almost stop. And some did. Around the beacon at the top, then straight back down, trying not to let the body get too far ahead of the legs.

Another few hundred yards and that was lap one done. Only two more to go! This is going to hurt!

I had hoped to start slowly and speed up, but there was no chance of speeding up as that would only risk not finishing. Anyway, how can you speed up when you feel like you are wearing ice-skates or doing wheel spins whenever you try to apply some power.

On the second lap I took the same line through the ditch. I again used the "one foot in" method, of course mis-timing my steps to ensure the other foot was soaked this time! But again I was away unscathed. If you can count knee deep in muddy water and splattered with mud as unscathed! Beacon hill was a bit harder this lap too. Still, I managed it without stopping.

Lap three gave my last chance to mess up the ditch and thanks to the guy in front of me stopping dead in front of me, this time it was the both feet in approach. As I had pre-supposed, this was not a good method and resulted in a slip and hands and knees down slide into the bank on the other side. I was quickly up and away again with no great dramas, but this was certainly not escaping unscathed. The gloves were off now, literally, as the soaked with gloopy mud was not worth keeping them on. Strangely I tried wiping the mud off on my face. That didn't help much either!

Last time up the hill and somehow I again managed it without stopping. Many others were either walking or climbing up this time round!

Final sprint into the finish was not so much a sprint as a hard slog. I did look ahead and spot one rival in the same division who I forced myself to beat, but luckily, after him there were no more in sight, so I just made sure that no one came past me.

I looked up my result yesterday and was pleasantly surprised to find out that I had come 108th out of 216 runners in division 2, finishing the 10km in 44:30 as the 5th points scorer for the club's 1st team. Not too bad.

But most of all, my lasting memory will be of how much fun it was. It will certainly not be my last cross-country race. And I don't suppose I can give much higher praise than that. Just great clean (no, very dirty) fun!

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