It was a long coach ride up from London to Staffordshire for the National Cross Country Championships. This was only my second XC race of the season despite making a pledge to do more. The 40 odds Serpies on the bus seemed nervous, particularly as we passed the Watford Gap where a bout of incontinence struck everyone and caused us to have to stop in 2 service stations. We don't go up norf that often.
It was raining all the way up, prompting conversations about 12mm or 15mm. At first I thought it was triathletes talking about their dicks but later realised that they were talking about length of spikes. I had no idea. I listened to about 5 different theories of mud but all of this would be of no use since I didn't have any spikes. I was wearing my imacculately clean Serpie coloured Walsh fell shoes.
On arrival we were presented with a huge field of mud on which to pitch our stand. It was just like Glastonbury except there were a lot less beards. All the other running clubs had tents and ground mats whereas we had just a flag sticking out of the ground and a lot of clean shoes. No one would have guessed that we were the biggest running club in the country.
I think that cross country running seems to be stuck in the 50's. The women run less distance than the men. 6k vs 8k in normal races and then 8k vs 12k in this race. In the distances I do I am used to running alongside women who have to complete the same distances and will often comfortably beat the men. I can understand the seperation of races (for crowding reasons) but not of distance and a lot of youngsters get into running this way and will think that this is normal. I am sure that I am not the first person to complain about this, I suspect that most of the women fell the same way. Or perhaps they are not worrying their pretty little heads about it?
There were lots of races before ours and we were told that due to some mud that the races were going to be cut short which was a massive disappointment to everyone. I had already broken my rule of not spending longer travelling to a race than it takes to complete (6 hours driving for 1 hour running??) and was very aware that the shorter they made the race the more likely it was that I would be last.
We watched the girls race before us, they had their 8k shorted to 6k and this consisted of 3 short laps of 2k and there was no hill. We stood and clapped as girls in various states of exhaution tried to compete with the terrain. It looked like really hard work and occassionally you spotted a girl with mud all over her face who had stacked it ealier. I tried not to laugh but it is hard.
It was the widest start line I have ever been on. I was too fat to get anywhere near the front and was happy to start at the back. We had been told that we'd be running 10k and that was going to be one short lap of 2k and 2 long laps of 4k which includes "the hill". The gun went and like greyhounds (and labradors) we all squeezed into a narrower stream of mud churners and ran towards the crest of a small incline.
Not long in I bumped into Stuart Shiperly and chatted to him for a bit. It didn't really seem like the sort of race that you should be chatting in and everyone seemed quite serious. I pushed on after the first 2k lap, some of the sloppy inclines were really hard going. There was not a huge amount of space and people would run zig-zagged and get in the way quite a lot. I ran up every hill and often bumped into someone who suddenly decided to stop and walk.
The 2nd lap involved passing the start again and going down into a very large puddle, around some grassy areas and then up the "big hill". It wasn't really that big and in fact it was easier than much of the rest of the course because it had not been cut up by other races as it was left out of them. It's a shame the girls were not allowed to do this as they would have really enjoyed it and it would have churned it up for us and made it a proper mud chute. I loved the idea of people slipping on their arses and slidding back down the hill.
One more big lap and I was done. I was really impressed with my choice of footwear and would recommend them for this kind of thing. At no point did I lose any traction and unlike long spikes (apparently) it does not hurt to run on harder ground. I finished in the top 64.363% which is exactly what I was aiming for. 53 minutes to do a 10k. I've done slower.
It was an awesome weekend where the Serpie girls took bronze and the Men's were 12th (I think). The girls results were the best national ranking ever. The good thing about being nearly last is that you don't have to hang around for long at the end, they all have to wait for you. We got on the coach covered in mud and headed to Derby for a night out with the Shire folk. We eventually found a really nice pub but not before walking through the centre of Derby and being horrified by the lack of clothes on it's ladies. Take back what I said earlier, I think the women really do prefer it shorter.
Girls like things shorter.