It was a busy Saturday morning… an ‘easy’ parkrun (is it ever easy at Gladstone?!), picking Neil up on way back to ours for a swift bacon and egg bagel whilst we filled up flasks and packed up our spikes and other cross country paraphernalia - making sure to pack plenty of bin bags to shelter us from the mud and rain! Neil had consumed a variety of canned beers the night before, so I was sure he was going to bail on us. But either through real commitment or due to mild bullying, he came through and joined us for a XC road-trip to Luton for the third instalment of Chiltern League fun!
We arrived to a mild drizzle and instantly joined the currently tame looking toilet queue… just in time! By the time we had joined the team by our flag, the line had tripled in size! (XC tip #1 right there…. toilet early!) Bill sorted us out with our numbers and we all got pinned up. It was at this point that I realised, in my bacon fuelled haste this morning, I hadn’t put on my hoops yet. There was no way I was stripping off in that weather… it was FREEZING!! So I neatly pinned on my bib and zipped my vest inside my jacket to warm it up before I slipped it on over my neon t-shirt as close to the start of the race as I possibly could! After hearing tales of the course, I screwed in some new 12mm spikes with ice cold hands, then gloved back up to wait until it was my time to run. I soon realised I was the only girl! It was quite a weird feeling, knowing everyone I was with had longer to wait that I did.
Suddenly, it was five minutes before the start of the race and there were no other women runners to be seen in my vicinity! I quickly stripped off my lovely warm layers, pulled on my spikes and hoops, and ran to the start-line... where I joined a jumping crowd of runners trying to keep warm under a condensation cloud of hot breath, before the race went on its way. Get ready… the fast girls at the front trotted a few steps forward and assumed the ‘on your marks’ position. 3-2-1-BANG! We were off on our way!
Neil had briefed me on the course in the car on the way… it was a pretty flat route, ending with a killer hill! There was very little mud, but I really enjoyed the grip I got from the longer spikes on the corners and on the one very slippy patch in an otherwise rock solid field. Literally! My poor new 12mms were hitting stone after stone and felt as if they were poking back through, up into my shoe! I was losing places to all the trail shoe wearers as they dashed past me on my hard land. Why did I change them!?! But then something wonderful happened… The next corner had a dog marshalling it… AND around that corner was the most beautiful grassy down-hill! The view was stunning… but so was the grip from the long spikes! PHEW! I had made the right decision to make the change after all! I flew down past some of the more carefully running trail-shoers and got back into my stride. But then I remembered…. what goes down… must go back up again! THE HILL!!
It did not start well… STEPS! I tried to run up the first couple, but with a combination of deep treads and hard ground, it was much easier to walk them and put the pace back on when were back on the pure slope And what a ’slope’ it was. It seemed to go on forever, making Parliament Hill even seem kind! I thought about walking, but decided to try and work on my technique instead… taking smaller steps and pumping my elbows back. Finally I could see the throngs of people at the top of the hill! There was really great crowd support… it felt like you were part of something like Le Tour de France, running through the supports close on both sides. The cheering really pulled me up that last slog and round along the final flat to the finish line… which was also a lot longer than I was expecting! After my legs started to feel a little more normal after the hill climb, I did everything I could to put in a last sprint to the finish… with great support from the QPH boys!
I can’t believe I’m saying this… but I LOVED it! It was bloody tough at the end, but a really lovely run. Who’d have though Luton would be so pretty!
Next up were the men. After they had all readied themselves, I took a quick pre-race photo and they calmly headed over to the start. Being the only QPH female runner at the race, it was a little quiet spectating, but I followed the masses from point to point to grab a few photo opps and give some cheers as the boys speeded past. They were all looking super strong! The first of the club to pass me were Neil, Sam and Alex running as a pack, followed by Andy then the duo of Alban and Matt P. Next up was Patrick, followed by Trevor and then Bill. After seeing them all through, I ran over to another viewing corner… just in time to see Neil and Sam dash past, closely followed by Alex. After watching most of the gang come through, I headed over to the top of the hill. I didn’t want to miss seeing that battle!
Up came Neil and Sam… with Neil just a matter of steps ahead. Somehow they were still smiling! I ran as fast as my snow boots would let me over to the finish, just in time to see Sam cross the line a matter of seconds ahead of Neil. I hear that Neil had pulled ahead earlier in the course, but Sam had gained some time back up the hill. (XC tip #2 - learn to love hills! This is something I definitely need to do!) Running back over to the hill I sadly missed Alex, but got there in time to see Andy making his way up the hill. Next up were Matt and Alban, with Matt just starting to gain a little bit of a lead. He finished a mere 2 seconds ahead of Alban, with Alban having a great result - his fastest ever cross country race! That marathon training is paying off! Patrick was next… pulling off his hat as he ran past, regretting his choice of wearing it! (XC tip #3 - It may seem cold at the start… but you soon warm right up! Feel free to chuck any layers at me if you need to on future races!) Unfortunately Trevor had to pull out due to an injury, so it was just Bill left to tackle the ascent… and he did so to quite the fan club of female spectators cheering his name! With a cheeky thumbs up he was off to the finish line… my cue to head back to our flag to congratulate everyone on their runs, crack open the flasks and exchange run notes!
I really love the atmosphere of cross country! We have such a lovely club with such friendly people... it’s such a fun experience to share with everyone. You can't not feel part of the team when you're at a XC race! Even if you're running on your own, you're not alone. There is always someone cheering you on and waiting for you at the end. If you’re questioning yourself over whether you’d like to run in the cold and mud or not… why not come along to spectate and see for yourself... You’ll be converted in no time!
So that was that! Another Chiltern League under the belt. We all piled into our cars and headed home… with a pitstop for us in a service station Burger King (I didn’t realise I was so hungry, until I inhaled a whole meal in a matter of minutes) and finishing in the pub for the passengers of Trevor’s car.
Well done everyone… we just need some more girls next time! Don’t leave me on my own again… please?!
Emma Jones - 00:29:17 (50th)
15th team - 33 points (15 teams)
Sam Sutherland - 00:33:59 (21st)
Neil Hutchison - 00:34:03 (23rd)
Alex Johnston - 00:36:03 (44th)
Andrew Britton - 00:41:22 (98th)
Matt Peffers - 00:43:33 (108th)
Alban Millas - 00:43:35 (109th)
Patrick Brennan - 00:44:52 (118th)
Bill O'Connor - 00:55:44 (132nd)
9th team - 419 points (17 teams)
15th Vet team - 43 points (17 teams)
For full results click HERE
The next Chiltern league cross country fixture is on 13th January at Keysoe Equestrian Centre.