"GET HER! CATCH HER! DESTROY HER! KEEP RUNNING! FINISH HER! KILLLLL HERRRRRR!!!!!" These were the words shouted at a 10 year old girl by (I assume) her father as she sprinted up a hill to catch some other 10 year old girl who happened to be wearing different coloured stripes. I am not sure whether she caught her mortal rival. I don't know what her punishment would have been for failure. No cartoons for a week? No going out with friends for a month? No boyfriends until she is 27? I did see one girl crying her eyes out. I'm not too sure what I had gotten myself into here. Certainly felt more intimidating than my last race in Greece. At least there I could be sure that no one was going to try to kill me.
I have been suffering a 2 week post race depression, more so than I had done before. For the whole year I have had the insane summer of madness to look forward to. During the summer I always had the next challenge to look forward to. Once Spartathlon was over and once the pain disappeared I felt quite low as there was nothing epic on the horizon. I am done with ultras for the year, I have a few marathons to keep me out of trouble. Still I was really looking forward to Cross Country. I had not done this for years. In fact the last time I ran a XC race I was chicked. It was a Man's race, she just said she was running with the guys to chat them up. I have no idea why she was talking to me, I couldn't breathe.
Cross Country is a really big deal for the Serpentine and I really wanted to get involved in some of the club events. My attendance in club races has been poor over the past years since I got into ultra running. I am determined to do as many XC races as I can fit in for the Serpies this year, not that I will be any use in the scoring stakes, only the top million score any points. I was ready to see how laughably bad I have become at trying to run fast.
The first fixture of the Metropolitan League (there are lots of leagues, I don't understand, I just turn up and run round till they tell me to stop) was in Woodford Green, the weather was great, sunny and dry, which was bad for cross country as it's supposed to be muddy and wet. People who know about these things were discussing how 3mm of metal might change their fortunes during the race. 9mm or 12mm? Or trail shoes? I had no idea. I wore my Walshs for the first time ever and did not want to get them dirty.
The course was 8k, in 3 loops (I thought it was 2) with at least 1 hill each lap and from memory 1 puddle. I started at the back and within 1k I was walking through a narrow section, just like the UTMB. I was confident of finishing before midnight though.
For loads of people I spoke to this was their first cross country since school. That brought back memories. I remember the stories before we went to "big" school about the miles and miles you have to run in the mud and if you did not finish in 35 minutes you had to do it again in your pants. It was not the most nasty rumour before going to that school. There were more, stuff that happens in the toilets between 8-9, don't ever sign up to the French exchange student program and don't get left alone with the woodwork teacher, he is fearsome with all those vices.
I had never ran any kind of distance before but cross country when I was 11 was the first time I realised that I actually liked running and I was (relatively) good at it. My approach was simple, on seeing the 100m stretch of road into the parks I thought "don't set out like you are running a 100m race, take it easier". I did this and I was fine. At least half the kids did just that, ran out like it was a race to the end of the road and then collapsed as soon as we hit the trail. Most of these kids were thick (I grew up in Leicester, it's a high proportion) and some of the fatter ones would try and hit the smaller kids as they went past. They were usually easy to avoid though, fat knackered kids pose little threat as they are imobile. On giving them a wide berth they may yell at you that they will get you after school bit for the next 20 minutes or so I was safe. Oh and by the way Ashley Wilson I don't recall you getting me back for that? How are you you fat twat? How is prison?
I was stuck behind a load of people in Woodford and was a bit apprehensive about making a move for it as I would probably blow up and look ridiculous. All the way round I got comments such as "only 100 miles to go" and "76 more laps". I actually thought it was over as I came in from the second lap, I had no idea what 8k was or how much 40ish minutes was, the sun was still in the same position in the sky for all of the race. How am I supposed to tell the time? Overtaking people is actually quite a tactical thing (as I imagine it is at the sharp end of races). There is more to it than just running faster than someone for a bit, you have to be in position and respond to any increase in pace they may show. It's more like formula 1 than running. At least that is how I imagine it is at the front, I was plodding along looking at some Highgate Harriers fat arse.
I really want to use these as fun speedwork. It's been a long time since I've gone out and tried to run fast for any length of time. The promise of cake at the end and a heaving pub full of Serpies is enough to get me out of bed for 8k. A bit less than Naomi Campbell.
The Serpies ended up smashing it all round. The Men's and Women's team won. They also each came 5th place too (like I said I don't really understand). I came 252nd out of at least 253 runners. My time was 36.06 and more importantly my shoes did not get a speck of mud on them.
I really enjoyed it in the end. The next one I can make is on the 23rd October and is for the Liddard Trophy (I don't understand). It really helped ease the post Spartathlon blues. I couldn't make a habit of it though, next week is a lovely and hard trail marathon. I just hope that no one shouts at me.