Friday, 2 October 2015

Braving the NE mud...

Last weekend I went over to Durham to visit my parents. Never being one to turn down a challenge to get out of my comfort zone, I decided to make a "guest" appearance at the first race of the North East Harriers Cross Country League. I fully admit that XC is not "my thing" - firstly it's rather short, secondly it's rather fast, and thirdly you have to be able to pick your feet up! Still, I hope that trying something like this can only benefit me in terms of strength and speed.

With some of the DCH ladies pre-race

I went along to Tanfield with friends from Durham City Harriers, who kindly let me use their tents for kit storage/changing....and let me eat their cakes afterwards! It was interesting to see how many people I actually knew from various NE clubs from various trips home and races.
The first thing that struck me was how well attended the event was - with the U11s being the first race off, right up through the age groups to the senior and vet men (of whom there were a record number of participants - over 600). This mean that there was a great friendly supportive atmosphere, as everyone tried to encourage their friends, colleagues, clubmates and even rivals whether there were recovering from their own run, warming up pre-race or just there to spectate. The army of club tents in the field brought to mind a Harry Potter-esque quidditch tournament.
The different age groups had different courses marked out on the farmland normally used for equestrian events, but each were a "true cross country" courses involving muddy climbs, uneven descents, half-buried logs, some straw underfoot, deer running out of the trees across the course, twists and turns and even a "water jump". The senior and vet ladies' race consisted of 2 long laps (making up 4.2miles in total), each of which contained this ankle-deep 10m long stretch of water (with a photographer conveniently positioned at the far side).

Starting lap 2

To divide up the field, and make the race more interesting, runners are seeded based on their performance in the previous year's league, with the "slower" pack starting 2 minutes ahead of the "medium" pack, who are in turn chased down by the "fast" pack 2 minutes later. As a new participant, I had to start with the slow group and so my objective was to see how far I could make it before my friend Rosie caught up with me (I know I had a 4 minute start on her, but then again, she is an international XC runner).
I started over to the side of the course as there was the usual pack sprint start, that I cannot even dream of taking part in, but by the time we reached the first hill, I found myself leading the charge to pick the best line (or rather the "line of most grip" in the mud). There was another lady who looked to be a fast runner also making her first appearance (and hence in the same start group), so I thought that she was right behind me (it was only when I watched the video of the water jump  later that I realised I'd opened up a considerable gap). As I splashed into the water (with a new type of "girlie arms"), I could see Rosie leading the fast ladies to the base of  the first hill, so it was game on.
It could have become a bit of a lonely run after that, but there was plenty of support out on the course (from spectators, marshals and men out warming up), and as I approached the end opf the first lap, there were some of the U20 women to chase down as they finished their race. At the time I wondered if I should be offended that one of the men out for a warmup asked a marshal if I was last but, as a friend pointed out to me later, it was actually flattering that he thought I was in the U20/U17 race (it must be that face cream I don't use!!). Oh, how I wished that I could enter the finish funnel at the end of that lap with the younger ladies, but instead I was waved on for another go round the course.
What is likely to be my only XC Gold medal!
That lap was more of an effort, as I could definitely feel my legs protesting that they still had 100K in them. I secretly wished that Rosie would come flying past so that I could then walk up the hills (clearly just those hills out of sight in the woods) without losing face, but the 4 minute buffer was good enough that even though she skipped through the whole field (ie she passed almost 400 ladies), I was able to cheer her in from the safe position of beyond the finish line! It shows that I run more marathons than XC races as I thought that the medals we were handed were for finishing, rather than gold and silver for our positions!!
I wouldn't say that I was a XC convert, but I did enjoy the friendliness and camaraderie of the day....and the cake that was in plentiful supply afterwards!!

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